The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Bonchoe – The last yak to the slaughter

Chundu pow makes an offering

Haa’s guardian deity will be appeased without this ancient bloodletting rite

Ritual: It was a fine beast. The pair of even sharp horns almost look implanted on its head, its jet-black fur appears oiled as it runs down to its belly, almost touching the ground.

But with a coarse rope running through its nostrils and its head tied to the trunk of a big pine tree (lha-shing), the yak appears subdued. As if it knew its fate. It didn’t move an inch as curious people took its last photographs.

The yak draws attention as it is cleansed, and a few men push and pull it to a thicket next to the celebration ground. When the men return, they are carrying meat with blood their hands. Amidst the sound of singing and dancing, the yak was sacrificed to Ap Chundu, the protective deity of Haa.

The meat is taken straight to the kitchen next to the celebration ground. The Bonchoe ritual requires the yak to be cooked and served to the people attending the ritual, after the offering is made to the Ap Chundu. The cook, busy chopping the meat, said everything, including the innards, will be cooked and served.

Some, disturbed by the fresh meat carried to the kitchen, said they have brought their own lunches. “How can we eat meat of an animal that was standing in front of our eyes a while ago?” said a spectator. “I don’t like the practice.”

The nameless yak, however, will be the last yak to be sacrificed to Ap Chundu.

Doing away with the sacrifice was discussed a few times in the past but, as an age-old tradition, they didn’t dare test the wrath of Ap Chundu. This time, after consulting with the dzongkhag and gewog staff, and the family who carried out the tradition for years, they decided to seek Ap Chundu’s permission to stop killing yaks when appeasing him.

A decision was reached to roll the dice and see if the deity would approve the new idea. Monks conducted Ngoensel (prayers to appease Ap Chundu), and the Chundu pow (shaman) recited prayers, as Samar gup, Tshewang Tandin, who is also the dzongkhag tshogdu’s chairman, was asked to roll the dice.

“Ap Chundu gave us the consent,” said the gup after rolling the dice. “We can appease him without having to kill a yak every year during the Bonchoe.

The gup said that, although people didn’t like to see yaks killed, they never made an issue out of this, as it was a tradition practised for years. “Recently, some villagers shared their concern.”

Haa dzongkhag’s Sungkop, Pempa Tshering, said, as a Boenchoe (a type of bonism), the practice of offering fresh meat and blood was an integral tradition. “We tried stopping it once but, on the recommendation of the Chundu pow, we started it again,” Pempa Tshering said. “The pow then said discontinuing the practice would bring bad luck to the dzongkhag.”

Ha dzongda Sonam Wangdi said it was good that they could do away with the killing of animals. “But still, we have to ask for permission from the Je Khenpo,” he said. The dzongda explained that such kind of practices have existed in different parts of the country. “Except for Haa, rituals with animal sacrifice are out of vogue in many places,” he said.

The last yak

Meanwhile, Yangzom, 52, from Yangthang village said she was so relieved to hear the news. “It was hard to believe,” she said. Another villager, Penjor, 45, said there was no better celebrations than the stopping of yak sacrifices.

“Whenever I came to the Bonchoe, it was the yak tied on the lhashing that always disturbed me,” he said.

However, the Bonchoe will not go vegetarian. “We’ll buy meat and manage it,” the gup said.

By Nima Wangdi
Source: Kuenselonline

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

China’s massive infrastructure build up in Bhutan: Report


By Niticentral Staff on October 7, 2013

China is building up infrastructure in Bhutan which will enable People’s Liberation Army for massive military build up in this reason.

According to a Research and Analysis Wing report, China is constructing road from Gotsa to Lepola via Pamlung.

A part of Bhutan is already occupied by China and now the construction of road will give the Communist country to have an easy access to the Indian territory bordering with Bhutan.

Though the Government of India has not yet reacted to the report accessed by a private news channel, but it is crucial to see what stand the Government takes in dealing with the situation created by China which is getting audacious day by day and creating troubles for India in its eastern frontier region.

Chinese incursions: Bhutan suffers alongside India

By Claude Arpi on October 14, 2013

The Indian press recently reported that China was building ‘a massive infrastructure in Bhutan’. A report of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), intelligence agency, apparently warned that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had constructed a new road from Gotsa to Lepola via Pamlung.

While it is difficult to ascertain the details of the RAW report, it is an open secret that China has been very active on Bhutan borders. On August 9, Kuensel, a Bhutanese publication, reported that the National Security Advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon arrived in Thimbu to ‘congratulate’ the new Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay after the latter assumed office. Tobgay was indeed happy to host Menon in Bhutan; Delhi had just promised some 5,000 crore Rupees to assist the implementation of Bhutan’s 11th Plan and its Economic Stimulus Plan. However, oh surprise, Shivshankar Menon was accompanied by the new Indian Foreign Secretary, Sujatha Singh. Why this ‘double’ visit? The NSA does not usually travel with the Foreign Secretary. Indeed, there was more than the usual patting. It soon became clear that the NSA’s main purpose was to advise the Bhutanese Government on how to handle border talks with China.

The 21st round of boundary talks between Bhutan’s Foreign Minister, Rinzim Dorje and the Chinese vice minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was to be held a couple of weeks later. This made Delhi nervous. These border talks indeed have serious strategic implications for India’s security and Delhi’s own negotiations with China probably needed to be ‘synchronised’ with Thimpu. The New Indian Express asserted: “NSA spoke to his interlocutors about the current status of the India-China border talks. But, with the political leadership in Bhutan being brand-new, Menon took the opportunity of the Foreign Secretary’s visit to share Indian ‘experience’ and knowledge of Chinese negotiation tactics to advice Thimpu on the way forward.”

Delhi was particularly anxious after Thimbu had decided, during a previous round of talks with China, to have a joint technical field survey in one of the disputed areas in the central sector (eventually, the 21st China-Bhutan border talks held in Thimphu on August 22 agreed to conduct the joint survey of the 495 sqkm in the Pasamlung area, north of Bumthang). Another claim by China, the Doklam Plateau is adjacent to the hyper-strategic Chumbi Valley. That is the real nightmare for India.

It is a fact that China never liked India’s monopoly over Bhutan’s foreign affairs. Liu Zengyi, a research fellow at Shanghai Institute for International Studies wrote in The Global Times, “New Delhi sees Bhutan as little more than potential protectorate”. Referring to China’s attempts to establish diplomatic relations with Bhutan, the Chinese scholar admitted: “India won’t allow Bhutan to freely engage in diplomacy with China and solve the border issue.”

The Global Times’ article alleged that Indian ambassador to Bhutan VP Haran followed a ‘carrot-and-stick’ policy and ‘played a big role’ in the victory of the Opposition Peace and Democratic Party (PDP) over the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT). Beijing acknowledges that for India, China’s advances in the Doklam area is a strategic threat to the Siliguri corridor: “As a country located between China and India, Bhutan serves as a buffer and is of critical strategic importance to the Siliguri corridor, a narrow stretch of land (known as ‘chicken’s neck’) that connects India’s northeastern States to the rest of India. …Delhi worries that China will send troops to the corridor if a Indian-China military clash breaks out.”

It is indeed a serious issue for India. Even if India’s special influence over Bhutan is acknowledged by China, New Delhi needs to keep a tab on the China-Bhutanese negotiations, which could definitively impact the India-China talks. Though China and Bhutan do not have direct diplomatic relations, last year, Jigme Thinley, the then Bhutanese Prime Minister met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of a United Nations summit in Rio, establishing a first formal contact. Historically, during the 1962 India-China border war, Beijing was not too happy when the Bhutanese authorities permitted some Indian troops to retreat through southeastern Bhutan.

Though Bhutan formally has maintained a policy of neutrality, during the following years, Thimphu quietly expanded its economic ties with India. In the 1970s, several incidents of cross-border intrusions by Chinese soldiers as well as Tibetan herders were reported and when Thimphu and New Delhi protested against the incursions into Bhutan, Beijing ignored the Indian protest, responding to the Bhutanese complain only.

In 1996, China offered a package deal to Bhutan: Beijing was ready to renounce its claim over the 495 sq kms of disputed land in the Pasamlung and Jakarlung valleys in exchange for the Doklam Plateau, a smaller track of disputed land measuring a total of 269 sq. kms located in the Northwestern part of Haa District. The Doklam Plateau is extremely close to India’s ‘chicken neck’ area (The Chumbi Valley) and the Siliguri corridor connecting the Northeast to the rest of the country.

Since then, talks are going on.

In 1998, China signed a peace agreement with Bhutan to ‘maintain peace and tranquility’ on the Bhutan-China border. For the Bhutanese, it was a de facto recognition of their territorial integrity and independence. A Bhutanese blogger believes that for Bhutan, “This is clearly a case of being caught between a rock and a hard place.” It is clear that the claim on the Doklam Plateau is a second thought for China. In 1959, there was no discrepancy between the Chinese and Bhutanese maps (except for eastern Bhutan where Beijing did not recognise the McMahon Line). At that time, Beijing commented: “The strength of a horse is known by the distance travelled, and the heart of a man is seen with the passage of time, …China’s peaceful and friendly attitude toward India will stand the test of time.”

The ‘passage of time’ has shown that China was an unreliable horse, not only the PLA has intruded in several areas of India and Bhutan, but it has also built important infrastructure, such as the road from Yatung to Phari in the Chumbi Valley cutting across the Doklam Plateau. The Chinese engineers have also built traversal roads and set up a communication network within the disputed area. How to dislodge the Chinese is not an easy proposition.

By grabbing the Doklam Plateau, Beijing considerably enlarged the Chumbi Valley and its access to Sikkim and Siliguri; let us not forget that the Siliguri corridor is one of India’s most critical areas along the India-China border. Let us hope that Delhi will keep watching and preserve its vital interests.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Waiting for the King

28 October 2013
By Aletta André
Bhutan recently held its second round of general elections. Is the government in Thimphu serious about extending full citizenship to the Lhotshampas who remain in the country?

‘A political party can’ enfranchise those who voted for it. Will the PDP?
flickr/ Akshay Davis

There had been a minor celebration that afternoon at Raj's house in central Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. A few relatives had gathered to eat cake together – the remains on small plates were still visible in the kitchen when I joined them for dinner in the evening. The reason for their shared joy was a small, off-white card, resembling that issued by any bank. Only this one had the name and picture of Raj's uncle Vivek on it, and the essential letters CID: Citizenship Identity Card.

Vivek had been stateless for more than 20 years. As many other ethnic Nepalis in Bhutan, he says he lost his Bhutanese citizenship during the uprisings of the early 1990s. Two of his brothers and his parents were amongst the estimated 80,000 people who left the country at that time. They are in the US now, after having spent two decades in a camp in Nepal. For Vivek, missing his close relatives was just the beginning of his troubles. Soon after they fled he was registered by census officials as ‘F5’ (a non-national man married to a Bhutanese woman), and until now all attempts to revive his citizenship had been in vain.

As a result, Vivek had no access to any government job, his children had no access to higher education, the whole family needed a special road permit to travel through the country, he was denied a loan and he lost the right to his family's land and property in south Bhutan. Time lost cannot be regained, so the kitchen celebration was a bitter-sweet one – even more so because some of those present were still waiting for their luck to turn around. Like five-year old Anuj – Raj points him out: "He is my nephew, born stateless. Both his parents have a CID now, but he does not. We don’t know why.” Such cases highlight how arbitrary the nature of the granting of citizenship in Bhutan can be, with the power to do so still vested solely with the King.

Electoral promises
Change, or at least the promise of it, seemed to be in the air for Bhutan's stateless 'Lhotshampas' – southerners, as the ethnic Nepalis are often called, after the region where most are settled. Vivek's was not the only CID issued to them in the recent years in which Bhutan has developed as a democracy.

Fresh hope arose during the 2013 parliamentary elections – the second since the country made the transition from absolute to constitutional monarchy in 2008 – that were held in two rounds in May and July. Candidates of the country's former opposition, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) promised to resolve the 'census issue', as it is known in Bhutan, during their campaign in the southern districts, and these promises were widely covered in the national media. It was even said that some formerly stateless people received CIDs during the campaign, proving for some that the King had been involved behind the scenes in the run-up to the election. Others refuse to believe that the stories of newly acquired CIDs are true, and think they must have been made up by the party in order to win votes.

Indeed, whether the stories were true or not, the PDP pledged in its 2013 manifesto that 'solving the census issue will be prioritised' during the first 100 days in office. After more than 50 days in office, however, recently appointed Home Minister Damcho Dorji gave a rather conservative interpretation of how the issue should be solved. When asked how many people are deprived of citizenship cards in an interview with the national newspaper Kuensel on the 9th of September, Dorji sidestepped the question, replying “citizenship issues can be resolved only if we find a lasting solution to the problem of continuing illegal immigration into our country.” Dorji was not pressed to elaborate on the subject of stateless people already living in Bhutan, or if and how the census issue would indeed be prioritised by the government in Thimphu.

The issue was prominent enough to have featured in the election campaign of one party though (although no mention was found in the manifesto of the incumbent Druk Phuensum Tshogpa). While most Bhutanese claim that Lhotshampas with citizenship cards are not discriminated against and participate in all aspects of society, including politics, hardly anybody denies anymore that there is indeed a 'census issue'. The former Prime Minister has even mentioned it as one of the main issues facing the country. During a press conference in March this year, he said that granting citizenship to people who have the right to it was one of the two top priorities of the King, along with giving land to landless people. "One of the saddest situations to be is stateless. Where there are people whose status is yet to be determined is a sad thing,” he was quoted inKuensel.

The promises made during the campaign may well have influenced the election result in the southern constituencies, where the PDP won every seat. Ritu Raj Chhetri, who contested the elections on a PDP ticket and is now MP for the Sipsu constituency in south west Bhutan, says that the inclusion of the issue in his campaign “definitely” contributed to his victory. Chhetri, who won with more than 70 percent of the vote, also emphasises that only the King can grant citizenship, but says that it is possible for politicians to appeal to His Majesty on behalf of others. Though Chhetri says this was not done as part of the campaign, he promises to do so as an MP.

"People are looking to resolve this issue now, with an open mind," says Chhetri. He estimates that there are about 3000 to 4000 residents without citizenship in Sipsu, an area with 12,000 voters and about 23,000 inhabitants. In the whole of Bhutan, he thinks there might be 30,000 stateless people, but when asked about the figure of 80,000 quoted by the international organisation Human Rights Watch, he says this might also be correct. "I think that 30,000 is a conservative estimation."

There is no public government record of how many stateless people there are in Bhutan, let alone how many of them are Lhotshampas or how many would qualify for registration in the F1 or 'genuine citizenship' category. According to the CIA World Factbook, 35 percent, or just over 250,000 out of about 725,000 residents of Bhutan are ethnic Nepalis. Based on the last census in 2005, international organisations such as Human Rights Watch say there are about 80,000 stateless people amongst them.

At the time of the last census, which was conducted in 2005, there were 672,425 people counted, out of which 37,443 were considered 'floating population', consisting mainly of migrant workers. Of the 634,982 residents of Bhutan, 552,996 were citizens, according to information given during the 85th session of the National Assembly held in 2006 (a translation of which is available on the National Assembly's website). That means that almost 82,000 residents of Bhutan were non-nationals in 2005, and according to Human Rights Watch most of them are likely to have been people of Nepali ethnicity. There is no updated estimation, however, and the Bhutanese government has never commented on this number.

Chhetri calls it 'amazing' that the issue has not been solved after all these years, especially after a growth in inter-marriage between Lhotshampas and other ethnic groups due to a policy of resettlement which has brought people from all over Bhutan to the south of the country. "The issue has been cancerous," he says. "Initially it just affected the south, but now it is becoming a national issue."

The year 2013 has seen a big change, says journalist Rabi Dahal. Because politicians such as Chhetri discussed the census issue so clearly during their campaign, the media was able to write about it. That was not the case during Bhutan's first elections in 2008, says Dahal, who is himself from the Lhotshampa community.

"Everybody knows at least somebody without citizenship in Bhutan, but earlier we felt, me and other Nepali journalists, that it was still better not to write about it," Dahal explains, sitting in his office at the Bhutan Observer newspaper. "It was more of a taboo. But people are now aware of their democratic rights, that people who can vote can raise issues."

"It is with this in mind that people in the south casted their vote," says Pankaj, a Lhotshampa who voted in the central-southern district of Sarpang. He wants to meet only at a private place in the outskirts of Thimphu. And like Raj and Vivek, he is not willing to be quoted with his real name.

The 34-year-old has had citizenship and the right to vote for several years now, but he knows what it's like to be stateless in Bhutan, and what it’s like to suffer for being related to people who left during the 90s. He was still at school when six of his seven siblings left the country. Together with one of his elder brothers, who already had a government job at the time, he stayed because they were based in north Bhutan and therefore did not experience the unrest in the south that led to the mass emigration. But along with his relatives, Pankaj's documents also disappeared. In the following years he studied in India; ironically higher education in Bhutan is largely closed for those without a CID, while travel as far as India is still permitted.

After his return in 1999 Pankaj faced many problems – not only because his relatives were labeled anti-national for having allegedly taken part in demonstrations and having joined a refugee camp in Nepal, but more so because one of his brothers across the border chose not to remain silent about the events that led him there. Even after resettling in a third country he continues to write articles in local newspapers and letters to politicians, arguing that he was forced to leave Bhutan and wants the right to return. "I was registered as F1 [Bhutanese citizen], but still I was not issued a CID-card”, Pankaj remembers about his return to Bhutan. “The reason was my brother. The officials at the census office told me so themselves." For the same reason, Pankaj was not able to get a No Objection Certificate (NOC) either, which in Bhutan is necessary for higher studies or government employment.

He found a job in the private sector and in 2005 finally received his CID and NOC. When we meet he is wearing a gho, the traditional northern Bhutanese knee-length robe. The Royal Edict that made this the national dress and compulsory wear in and around government buildings and public gatherings in 1989 contributed to the escalation of the unrest in the early 90s when Lhotshampas were reportedly arrested for not wearing it, even in areas away from government buildings. Pankaj claims the gho is no longer a symbol of discrimination or a reminder of the conflict that caused his family to leave. "This is an opportunity to us. If I wear a gho I can show others that I am Bhutanese."

The past does still haunt him though. "Things have become more relaxed, and most people are not punished anymore for the fact that their family members left the country," Pankaj believes. But he is still worried, and refuses to specify the country where his brother lives, out of fear of being recognised. He understands what his brother is doing, but explains it would be better for everyone, including his parents who still live in the south of Bhutan, if his brother would keep a low profile. "It is hard, because he would love to come back. But I always request him to remain quiet, to just live his life and quit his attempts to bring his cause on the political agenda there, because we have to live here. In the eyes of others, he is involved in activities against the government here. They might come to me for inquiries, it might affect my status."

Waiting in the camps
'The people in the camps', as those who are internationally recognised as refugees are known in Bhutan, remain a subject of controversy. Many Bhutanese believe what the government has repeatedly told international government representatives: that they left Bhutan voluntarily and that no unnecessary violence was used by the Bhutanese government. Accounts from refugees dispute this fiercely however, and numerous international human rights organisations have documented claims that Lhotshampas were tortured, harassed and forcibly driven from their homes and land.

For some northern Bhutanese, especially young people, these stories provide uncomfortable glimpses of the darker side to the ‘one nation one people’ government policy. "The situation was not handled well by the Bhutanese government," says one friend over a beer in one of Thimphu's crowded bars. His whispering tone shows that the topic has not completely left the taboo sphere yet. "I think nobody here is proud of what happened at that time," he says.

Despite their refugee status, the Thimphu government has also repeatedly stated that most of the people who ended up in the camps in Nepal during the unrest of the 1990s were actually poor Indians and Nepalis looking to benefit from the facilities of the UNHCR-managed refugee camps, such as education, health care, housing and food. Many non-Lhotshampas believe the same, some including offers of resettlement in third countries to the perceived benefits that could have attracted non-genuine refugees to the camps. Those offers have, however, been almost twenty years coming, and there are still many who have rejected resettlement and continue to wait in Nepal for the chance to return home.

The government had initially promised to repatriate those refugees deemed to be ‘bonafide Bhutanese’ who were evicted forcefully from Bhutan, and to consider the citizenship applications of those who were found to be Bhutanese but voluntarily emigrated. A Joint Verification Team of Bhutanese and Nepalese ministers conducted a survey between 2001 and 2003, which placed almost 70 percent of the people in the camps in the second category, but it can be disputed how ‘voluntarily’ they left. As many refugees have reported, they were forced to sign migration papers, thereby losing their citizenship as per Bhutanese law. In any case, they now wanted to go back.

During the Maoist insurgency in Nepal, however, the Bhutan government played up reports of Maoist influence in the camps (how widespread support for the Maoists was among refugees is unknown) to stall the verification and repatriation process. The work in progress within Bhutan to develop democracy was mentioned as well in talks with third party countries. At the end of 2007, the King of Bhutan Jigme Wangchuck told an American diplomat that “it is prudent to wait for democratic elections to take place in both Bhutan and Nepal before taking on the repatriation issue.” By then, the United States had already agreed to resettle 60,000 refugees.

As reported by UNHCR in April 2013, almost 80,000 people from the camps in Nepal have now been resettled – the vast majority in the US, several thousand in Canada and Australia and some hundreds in New Zealand and a few European countries – while around 25,000 still remain in Nepalese camps (the total number of people had naturally grown to over 100,000 in the course of almost two decades before resettlement started). A month previously Kuensel quoted from the prime minister's State of the Nation report that "those who have been resettled in the eight countries send heart-warming reports of having found a new and dignified life of hope and confidence in the future."

"They are happy," says Siddharth, a government employee, about his parents and brothers in the US. I came to meet the tall, lean 50-something man in his office for an interview about a completely different topic, but once we sit down for tea afterwards he starts telling me about his family. He does so without caution and in the presence of his northern Bhutanese colleagues, who seem familiar with such stories. "We are friends," Siddharth explains, "we can discuss everything informally – just not formally", making clear he too prefers anonymity.

For his 80-year-old parents who hardly speak English, resettlement in the US is far from easy, but they are cared for by their other son and above all just happy to have left the camp in Nepal, says Siddharth, who regularly speaks to them via Skype. However, they have given up on ever returning to the country of their birth, and in Bhutan, Siddharth has become reconciled to the fact he will probably never see his parents again. Being registered as F5, a non-national man married to a Bhutanese woman, he has a green coloured card with the letters SRP (‘Special Residential Permit’), which allows him to continue his work, but not to travel any further than India. Even if he had a passport, the journey would be a financial challenge.

The same is true for his two brothers in the USA and their sister, who resettled in Denmark with her husband. Siddharth doubts whether they would want to live in Bhutan again, as they have just started new lives, where they may still be stateless but have jobs, a house of their own and the prospects of future citizenship. "We are all happy," he insists, smiling. "The only difficulty is to be separated as a family like this. My children have never met their uncles and grandparents. We can never visit each other, and talk only over the phone.”

Like Pankaj, Siddharth lived in the north of Bhutan at the time his family left, as he was based there for his government job. Siddharth has been lucky to have kept his job (many without a CID card have been fired from government posts since the 1990s), although he has yet to receive any of the usually standard career promotions. Having given up on obtaining a CID, Siddharth has focused on getting it for his two sons, who inherited his status. That meant that when they both passed out of high school with top marks and qualifications to study medicine or engineering on government grants, they had to watch others take their spots, which were reserved for 'genuine citizens' only.

This year in April, the two boys, now 21 and 24, appealed to the King and got their citizenship granted. They will graduate from Bhutanese engineering colleges. Once citizenship is granted, Siddharth says Lhotshampas get equal opportunities. Like Pankaj, he wears his gho when required, has friends from other ethnic groups and does not see much discrimination. "I only feel a bit sad that my sons never learned proper Nepali," he says.

Nepali was taken out from school curricula in south Bhutan in 1989 to promote the national language Dzongkha, but it is still widely spoken by Lhotshampas and other Bhutanese alike all over the country. It is the only language Siddharth's illiterate wife Meena understands, even though she was born in Bhutan and registered as a citizen. So their sons grew up speaking Nepali at home, but never learnt how to write it. While agreeing the country needs one national language, Siddharth believes Lhotshampas deserve to study their mother tongue and hopes the new political climate will eventually provide for that. "These days people are able to ask for citizenship. Maybe next elections they will be able to raise the language issue."

Whether the People’s Democratic Party will live up to its electoral promises of addressing the plight of those who remain ‘stateless’ in Bhutan, remains to be seen.

Back at Raj’s house, his brother-in-law Anand exhibits cautious optimism. It is one day before the last election round in July when we meet. Just a week before, Anand, who has a green SRP card like Siddharth and works for a private tour company, received a letter saying that he qualified for a CID and could expect more information within days. "I hope it's real, and not just for elections," he says. "I have tried for 20 years and never succeeded. Every time I have to go to my native village to pick up documents from the local administration and pay for a translator to write the application in Dzongkha – but I never hear back, so I keep retrying." Anand says this is his last attempt. "If I don't get my census registered this time, I will leave the country. Why would I stay?"

For many of those still languishing in the camps of eastern Nepal, resettlement is becoming a more and more attractive option. High level talks between Kathmandu and Thimphu failed to restart after their breakdown in 2003 and any hope of redress or repatriation for the Lhotshampas in the camps does not look forthcoming anytime soon.

The first session of the second Parliament of Bhutan concluded recently in Thimphu, with parliamentarians in the National Council and National Assembly debating the introduction of a Right to Information Bill, the preservation and restoration of religious artefacts and a taxation agreement between Bhutan and India. The ‘census issue’ remained absent from the official agenda.

With fresh hopes of citizenship and matching rights however, the impatience of many of the Lhotshampas is growing – and the question is now what a growing habituation to the promises of democracy and free media will do to their tolerance of any more disappointments in becoming fully-fledged citizens of Bhutan.

Anand has not lost hope yet. “I am still waiting eagerly to get the CID,” he writes to me two months after we met, and two months after he received the letter saying that he qualified for citizenship. “Why would I stay?” he had wondered at that time, believing he would not get his citizenship despite the promises of the letter. But when he had not heard anything two months later and was confronted with the next question, “Where would I go?” the only answer that came to mind was: “home”. His words reflect the sad patience of a man who has been waiting for 20 years and who, in the end, sees no other option than to just continue waiting.

~ Aletta André is a freelance print and radio journalist from the Netherlands. She has been living in and travelling around South Asia since 2008 and can be followed on Twitter @alettaandre or on

~ This report was supported in part by the Postcode Loterij Fonds for journalists by Free Press Unlimited.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Refugee Family First Time Homeowners

By Mitch Simon

October 22, 2013BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) - A Buffalo family, who has found refuge in America from Nepal, are now the owners of a brand new home on the West Side.

Habitat for Humanity volunteers and students at McKinley High School worked to build the home for the Tiwari family over the past year.

This is the first home the family has ever owned.

The Tiwari's pitched in over 500 hours of labor on the project.

Sweat equity is a requirement for Habitat for Humanity homeowners.

Habitat for Humanity Buffalo has built 12 homes in the city over the past year.

There is a cost for homeowners. They are required to pay a zero interest 30 year mortgage which represents the actual cost of materials to construct the home.

Is democracy discriminatory?

Buddhist scholar says yes, with respect to religious personalities and (non-graduate) villagers

Politics: Depriving religious personalities from the electoral process is a “total slap” in the face of Bhutanese tradition, Constitution and the dignity of a human being.

Challenging what is perhaps the most controversial clause in the country’s electoral law, an eminent scholar of Buddhism and Bhutan, Dr Karma Phuentsho said such exclusion of religious persons was “atrocious”.

“One can at least understand disallowing religious personalities to be non-partisan, just as civil servants, but depriving them of fundamental right to vote is ridiculous,” he said.

Speaking to students at the Royal Thimphu College yesterday on Buddhism and Democracy, Dr Karma Phuntsho, who is also the founder of Shejuen and Loden foundations, said article 7, clause 6 of the Constitution stated “a Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to vote”.

“Why have we not practised it?” he said, and proceeded to present the argument from different angles.

From the historical perspective, he said, Bhutan was founded by Zhabdrung, a religious person, and ruled by monks and religions personalities for 60 percent of the country’s history.

He said, to a great extent, Bhutanese always attributed religious persons for doing the rituals to ward off invaders, and believed in the power of deities on the side of Bhutan.

“Even now, whenever we talk about kings, we refer to them as choegyap or religious kings,” he said.

“It’s ridiculous that religious persons should be excluded from such important role of nation building, of protecting sovereignty of country and of electing leaders that will run the country for at least five years,” he said.

Culturally, he said, people consulted religious figures to start anything new, like starting business or constructing house.

“But on one very important matter, we keep religious persons out and decide to make decisions without them, let alone seek advice,” Dr Karma Phuntsho said.

From the social lens, citing examples of villages like Gangtoe and Ura, he said half the households comprise gomchens, which means half the decision-making villagers aregomchens.

“You exclude them from making a decision that is vital for the welfare of village, what do you expect?” he said. “Of course, a very partial decision, a decision that isn’t informed by the needs and realities of the community.”

The particular clause, he said, was totally counter-productive from the political perspective.

He said exclusion of religious persons meant narrowing down the choice of leaders.

The other electoral clause that invited criticism, requiring of university degree to seek candidature in politics, he said, also did the same.

“Regulations such as these only add to the problem of voter apathy and, as such, instead of building a vibrant, participatory democracy, we stifle it right from the start,” Dr Karma Phuntsho said.

Countering the arguments stated in the past for having the law, which was to keep religion above politics and that “democracy was about discrimination” and monks should not get into it, he said that was a very “artificial segregation of human life”.

He said an individual played religious, political and social roles and duties, basically a cluster of so many identities and to draw a artificial line on how religion was above politics was “nonsensical”.

“We don’t normally put religion up somewhere, removed from our lives,” he said. “The whole purpose of religion is lost then. It’s something we need to live by every moment of life. Religious principles ought to inspire us.”

He said, in segregating religious life from a person’s political life, in case of a Parliament member, for instance, would mean ruthless, immoral politicians, “because to a large extent, people are made good through spiritual and religious interventions.”

He said there was a fundamental misconception about discrimination and democracy.

But democracy was about going beyond electoral process and having it in all aspects of life, but in thinking so, he said it was not just about one’s right but responsibility as well.

In that, being able to discriminate good from bad, right from wrong, was good.

“It’s fundamental for proper, smooth running of society,” he said. “It is basically our faculty, capability to discern good from bad. Democracy is about such discrimination.”

On the university degree requirement, he said, it was sad the whole educational system was biased against the traditional form of education, gone in favour of modern, secular and scientific system.

He argued on how a university graduate, trained through mass education, was preferred to one tutored with great deal of attention from a master, how it was considered a token to stand for election, while a villager, who spent all his life, knowing the ground reality and problems, does not.

By Kesang Dema

More than 15 percent of Kangyur translated into English

Dzongsar Khyentse rinpoche with editors of the translation team at Shechen monastery, Bodhgaya

The monumental task is turning out to be even more complex than at first supposed

84000: It is said the Buddha taught more than 84,000 methods to attain true peace and freedom from suffering. But these teachings are as good as unavailable for most mortals, since only five percent of these have been translated into languages in use today.

Four years ago, a non-profit organisation called the 84000, chaired by Dzongsar Khyentse rinpoche, took on the enormous and “infinite” task to translate into English from Tibetan, the 70,000 pages of Kangyur text in 25 years and 161,800 pages of Tengyur in 100 years.

According to the 84000 website, Kangyur means the “translated words (of the Buddha),” and is the entire collection of texts regarded as buddhavacana or “Buddha-word” translated into Tibetan.

Tengyur means the “translated treatises” and comprises the Tibetan translations of works written by Indian Buddhist masters, explaining and elaborating the words of the Buddha.

Currently, 144 translators in different countries have translated 10,026 pages (more than 15 percent) of the Kangyur into English. Fourteen completed translations, representing more than 650 pages of Tibetan text are now published online.

But in the process, some pertinent questions recurred and to seek clarification on issues, a few members of the editorial team of the translation group met with Tibetan scholars and rinpoches in a three-day seminar that began on October 22 at Shechen monastery in Bodhgaya, India.

One concern was that scholars with knowledge of classical languages such as the Sanskrit are in decline, the danger of losing this legacy was increasing.

The editor in chief of the translation team, Tom Tillemans, said, “translation isn’t a project of mapping one word to another,” adding that translators need to be “accountable” for their work.

Tom Tillemans said the situation has got more complex than what was imagined initially. The problems encountered by the translation team, who are highly qualified in their own field, were related to the terminologies, grammatical considerations and style.

“We can’t, in many cases, simply translate the Tibetan text in abstraction from Sanskrit,” he said. “Kangyur is very different from Tengyur, in respect of the literary problems.”

Another editor of the translation team, John Canti, said that 2,800 pages of Kangyur needed to be translated every year to complete the project on time. But he said that, on an average, only five pages could be translated daily and that too depends on the complexity of text.

While it was the Tibetan scholars, who were the first to translate the words of Buddha from Sanskrit, John Canti said that only 10-15 percent of the Sanskrit version exists in a reliable edition. For works of which no Sanskrit version survived, the Tibetan version in Dege is taken as the “starting point.”

If the Sanskrit version is close to the one underlying the Tibetan translation, the English translation will either be from Sanskrit or from Tibetan, while taking account of the Sanskrit as close as possible.

If significant difference is noted in the two versions, John said the English translation would be either one of the two or both, depending on the cases.

The chairperson of 84000, Dzongsar Khyentse rinpoche, while making his opening remarks at the seminar, acknowledged Chokyi Nyima rinpoche, who initiated the idea. He said, as a facilitator of the dharma, it is the basic responsibility to make the words of Buddha available to everyone who wishes to access it.

“As a follower of Buddha and also a human being, I think our endeavour is really significant and important,” Dzongsar Khyentse rinpoche said.

However, he said, that this kind of activity should have been done 20 years before. “I personally consider this event as most important, and hope it will continue as time goes”.

Chokyi Nyima rinpoche also highlighted that dharma has been spreading across the globe, and that the words of Buddha should not only be confined to Tibet. But making this possible was a risky business and tremendously challenging.

The project aims to publish all its work online, so that it can be accessed all across the globe. Moreover, the online version has different features to explain the meaning of every word in English from both Sanskrit and Tibetan.

John Canti said publishing in form of books would be costly, while international distribution would be too difficult. Limited number of copies would be printed for the libraries. Every volume of the source text would make about 20 modern books in English.

The project is funded by 108 founding sponsors and thousands of individual donors. The Khyentse foundation also made a major contribution during the initial phase.

According to the 84000 website of the 70,000 pages of Kangyur, 5,525 have been sponsored for translation.

The venerable professor Samdhong rinpoche, Khenchen Pema Sherab rinpoche, Professor Sampa Dorji and Ratna Vajra rinpoche attended the conference as senior scholars. Chokyi Nyima rinpoche and Dzongsar Khyentse rinpoche also attended the seminar as the advisors, as did several other translators and editors.

By Tshering Dorji, Bodhgaya


Saturday, October 12, 2013

From Bhutan to Minnesota, their journey is not over

Larger view

Bandana Pyakurel, 17, and her cousin Phul Maya Khatiwada, play with Khatiwada's 6-month-old daughter, Ruby. Bandana's brother, Prakash, looks on. They are part of a small Bhutanese community that has resettled in an apartment complex on St. Paul's North End. (MPR Photo/Laura Yuen).

A new group of refugees is arriving in Minnesota. They're coming from Bhutan, a tiny Asian country wedged between China and India. Tens of thousands are expected to resettle in the United States over the next several years.

About 150 of those exiles have been quietly starting their new lives in the Twin Cities. But their journey is far from over.

St. Paul, Minn. — A bundled-up Mangala Sharma is shivering on a doorstep in St. Paul. About a dozen Bhutanese families have settled into a cluster of brick apartment buildings on the city's North End, and Sharma is paying them a visit.

"Today is such a cold day," she said, waiting to be buzzed in. "It's hard on refugees, too."

Right now, the group of Bhutanese in Minnesota is so small that you might as well think of it as one big extended family, even if they're not all related.

Since last spring, Sharma has helped bring many of her relatives and in-laws to the Twin Cities from refugee camps in South Asia. Bhutan threw out ethnic Nepalese in the early 1990s, claiming they were there illegally.

These new Minnesotans represent just a sliver of one of the largest resettlement programs now under way. The United States has offered to take 60,000 Bhutanese refugees, who have lived in camps for nearly two decades. Experts say the relocation slots could be filled within five years.

Like family

Inside an apartment, husband and wife Parashar and Phul Maya Khatiwada say only one thing is missing from their lives.

"We feel everything is good, but we not get any jobs," said Parashar. "We searched everywhere, with many companies, but we (did) not get any jobs."

It's a plight that many resettlement agencies acknowledge: The Bhutanese are coming here with dreams of becoming self-sufficient, and with relatively strong English skills to boot. But the disastrous state of the U.S. economy has kept many of them at home, hungering for work.

The Khatiwadas are afraid what will happen next month, when some of the cash assistance they receive is likely to run out.
"They don't have income, so everything they have received is from the people of Minnesota."
- Bhutanese community leader Mangala Sharma

But Phul Maya Khatiwada says they have a lot to be thankful for. "They are wonderful," she said. "They help me so much."

"They" are the generous strangers who have all but adopted her as a sister.

In fact, one of those early helpers, Maureen Shealer, arrives at the apartment, along with her mom, two sisters and a niece. They're here to celebrate Phul Maya's 24th birthday -- over momo dumplings and pizza.

Shealer, a kindergarten teacher, befriended the Khatiwadas while working at the World Relief resettlement agency last summer. One of her tasks was taking a very pregnant Phul Maya to prenatal check-ups shortly after she arrived in Minnesota.

"We had a connection right away," Shealer said. "She calls me if she needs me, and I call her if I need her. We're just like normal friends."

In fact, Shealer was the one who held Phul Maya as the expecting mother wept after learning that her baby would be born with spinal bifida.

Today, that baby is now a bubbly six-month-old named Ruby. Phul Maya Khatiwada said if her daughter were born in the camp, both infant and mother probably wouldn't have survived.

Volunteers with resettlement agencies in Minnesota have been crucial to refugees like Khatiwada, Sharma said.

"They took her to the hospital, they brought food, diapers, toothpaste, and all this furniture you see here," Sharma said. "They don't have income, so everything they have received is from the people of Minnesota."

Sharma, who spent several years living in Atlanta before moving to the Twin Cities suburb of Lauderdale, has emerged as a community leader here. But even she has lived in Minnesota for less than two years.
"I can't think of another country where people know less about the situation that the refugees left."
- UNHCR settlement officer Larry Yungk

Sharma is helping plan the first-ever "Bhutan Day" next month to call attention to some common challenges. The event, scheduled for Feb. 28, will also celebrate their culture and offer everything from yoga lessons to advice on how to survive Minnesota winters.

About 7,000 to 8,000 Bhutanese refugees are scattered across the United States, from Georgia to Idaho. So far, not one city has emerged as a magnet for the community, but that could change with secondary migrations.

Larry Yungk, a senior resettlement officer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said he sympathizes with the Bhutanese refugees because their community is so small, and their story hasn't been widely told.

"I can't think of another country where people know less about the situation that the refugees left," Yungk said. "What people know about Bhutan is a utopia, Shangri-la, kind of thing. But I don't think people look at it as a country where one-sixth of the population was ethnically cleansed."

While the Bhutanese government has in recent years begun to allow outside influences such as TV and the Internet, the nation remains largely insular. The Buddhist kingdom even has an official quotient measuring quality of life, called the "Gross National Happiness." The country's unfettered Himalayan views have attracted vacationing celebrities and other well-heeled tourists.

The contrast in climate here in Minnesota has presented problems for some Bhutanese refugees. Elderly individuals who speak no English say they feel isolated in their apartments.

Even 37-year-old Parmananda Khatiwoda, who also works at World Relief in Richfield, says the weather has been his biggest hurdle.

"I started coming to work on Jan. 2, and I changed three buses, so that's challenging," he said with a laugh. "I've never, ever come across this cold in my life."

Coming to the U.S., he said, has been a long odyssey. Khatiwoda still recalls the humility he felt at the camp in Nepal, as he stood in line for rations of rice and lentils.

"You felt like such a beggar," he said. "People who have a lot of ego or self-respect, it's really difficult. That went on for 17 years."

Worse yet, he said, was the realization that his own government denied him.

"You don't have a country. You want to work. You don't have citizenship," he said.

But he says one day, that will change -- here in his new country.


BMF to support media studies program


Bhutan Media Foundation and Sherubtse College signed a formal agreement on September 28 to support the Media Studies undergraduate degree programme that the college launched last August.

BMF’s executive director Dawa Penjor and officiating director of Sherubtse College Dr Sonam Wangmo

The foundation’s executive director Dawa Penjor and one of the board members Needrup Zangpo was at Sherubtse College from 27-29 September 2013 to discuss BMF’s possible interventions to support the Media Studies programme.

“BMF’s support to the program will consist of guest lectures, specialised training programs, workshops and seminars on various subjects of journalism and media,” Dawa Penjor said.

As a part of the collaboration, BMF will facilitate students and faculties to intern and work with the Bhutanese, Indian and international media agencies as well as exchange programs and support the strengthening of the student newsletter and campus Radio.

From the next academic year, Sherubtse College will also offer one to two seats for in-service Bhutanese media persons to pursue undergraduate degree in media studies. BMF will identify the candidates who fulfill the college’s admission criteria, and also search and establish scholarships.


Vanishing tongues

Languages of some remote communities are in immediate danger of extinction

COVER STORY Lama Shacha Tenzin, Angay Choden and Dadum have one thing in common besides being elderly members of their communities. They share a concern for the tongues they speak.

Lama Shacha Tenzin, 80, is from a remote village call Daksa in Gongdue, Mongar. Choden, 78, is from another remote village of Rukha from Wangduephodrang, and Dadum, 80 from the Doya community in Dorokha, Samtse.

While still being remote, their communities have felt and experienced the impacts of modernisation and development.

Lama Shacha Tenzin’s Gonduepkha, Choden’s Olekha and Dadum’s Lhotam have been recognised as dialects, among several others, under threat of disappearing, by linguists, who are currently in the process of documenting and preserving these tongues.

In Gongdue, only a handful can communicate in Gongduepkha, while the majority has moved on to other languages like Dzongkha, Sharchopkha and English.

“The youth don’t show much interest to learn their native tongue,” he said. “There’s modern education and new modes of communication.”

Gongdue has five chiwogs with 330 houses. It is one of the most remote gewogs in the country and, officially, it is five-day walk from Mongar town.

The gewog centre is at Daksa, which has highest number of people with 33 households. It has a school, a renewable natural resources centre (RNRC) and a basic health unit (BHU).

Currently, a farm road from Silambi gewog to Gongdue is under construction. These two gewogs are also the poorest in the dzongkhag.

Before many lived in the huts with banana leaves for roofing. With help from Tarayana foundation, many have built traditional one-story houses with CGI roofs.

Along with such developmental activities and exposure, the dominance of other languages has come.

Even in his family, Lama Shacha Tenzin said, children, who were currently living in other districts, preferred to speak other languages. “When I answer calls, they speak to me in Sharchopkha or Dzongkha.”

Gongduepkha, he said, was spoken by ancestors since time immemorial, but it was now waning.

Kuenga, 51, is the youngest among those who can speak Olekha in Rukha, Wangdue

Angay Choden worries that her native tongue, Olekha, dies with her generation

In Rukha, bonism rituals involve use of Olekha

Dadum, 80

“We’ve managed to hold on to our traditional way of life and have many customs intact,” another elderly community member, Abi Yeshi, 70, said. “But our tongue may only be a name in future.”

Roads, education, radio, inter-cultural marriage, people from outside settling in the community, she said, has also impacted on the use of Gongduepkha.

“It saddens us to see it happen,” she said. “But there is comfort only in the fact that younger generation who were getting well versed in Dzongkha and English, have better opportunities for employment.”

“As communities open up different cultures are accepted and it breaks down social and cultural barriers,” Gongdue gup, Kencho Tshering said. “Over time local languages lose charm and utility.

In Rukha, Wangduephodrang the local tongue Olekha is under similar threat. Village elders say Olekha was the tongue once spoken by Rukha community. Now only a handful of locals are comfortable speaking it for everyday communication.

Most of the words are similar with that of Reti, the language spoken by the Monpa community in Trongsa.

“In fact, Oleps are also believed to have originated from Reti and settled down in Rukha valley while practising shifting cultivation,” Angay Choden, 78, who is originally from Reti said.

Apart from Angay Choden, four other elderly members of the community speak Olekha. Kuenga, 51, is the youngest to have thorough knowledge about the tongue.

“When we’re gone, our native tongue will end with us,” Angay Choden said.

Today there are around 17 households in the village, but all originated from two machims(ancestral houses) belonging to two early settlers, who were siblings.

There were only two concrete houses belonging to two siblings until 2000, when the other 15 were also built in a uniform style with support from Tarayana foundation.

Tekpa, 80, a village pawo, said Oleps were thekhelps (taxers) of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Since they were living in thetsamdro (pasture) of the Punakha dratshang, they were asked to leave.

“Some left for Nabji Khorphu, some to Pasakha and some even to Tibet,” Tekpa said. “Only two siblings chose to remain back and that’s how Oleps exist.”

Rukha village is surrounded by a chain of hills and it takes seven hours by foot from Taksha bridge on the Wangdue highway.

Maize and rice are the staple crops. Farmers have piggeries, and recently two fishery ponds were started. Bonism, which practises sacrifice, is still prevalent. Ritual performed by the pawo requires a pig or ox as sacrifice to local deities to release the patient’s soul.

It is in this ritual that the Olekha is used, apart from the few elderly who speak it.

Otherwise, Dzongkha, which was once a second language, has now taken over as the main language in the community. Most members of the community can also speak Lhotshamkha fluently.

Cross-cultural marriage, education, and developmental activities, elders said, was the reason why Dzongkha took over.

“Though my father was an Olep, I can’t speak a word of it; my father would communicate in Dzongkha and I was never taught Olepaikha,” she said.

Tekpa’s wife, Kilem, 74, said the youth were also disinterested. “We try and teach them the basics, but they don’t come forward and are reluctant,” she said. “There’s no passion and sometimes it’s also seen as inferior to speak our tongue.”

Though the Oleps have a good number of songs, not one has been recorded and none in the community can count till ten in Olekha.

Far south, in Lhoto-Kuchu originally known as ‘Doya’ under Dorokha dungkhag in Samtse, the elders believe they are slightly in a better position when it comes to preserving their tongue. The dominant tongue in use is the local dialect, Lhota officially known as Lhop.

The community, which is a five-hour drive from Samtse, has three parts, Lhoto-Kuchu Jigme, Lhoto-kuchu Singye and Lhoto-kuchu Wangchuck.

No one in the community knows how the Lhota dialect came about. Elderly Doyabs said they believe in maintaining what their ancestral have left for them.

While it would have been a surprise to hear a Doyab speak Dzongkha about a few decades back, it is now ordinary. Elders in the community say, over the years, with development, people from other communities started coming in and, with them, came different languages, like Dzongkha and Lhotshamkha.

While multilingualism was encouraged and appreciated, the elders said they did not discourage them to learn their own too. Few said, if the trend continued, Lhotam might be heading down the same road as other threatened languages.

Dadum, 80, said the elders made sure to speak in Lhotam among themselves, and it was compulsory for children to speak in their own dialect. “We don’t want them to forget their language,” he said. “But we don’t discourage them from learning Dzongkha too.”

The community, however, has young Doyabs, who can only speak basic Lhotam and are more fluent in Dzongkha. “Parents are advised to be responsible.”

As a teenage, Dadum said he never heard of Dzongkha or anyone speak it. “I only remember meeting people, who spoke Lhotshamkha, since they were living in neighbouring villages,” he said.

Because of the proximity, Dadum picked up Lhotshamkha but never learnt Dzongkha.

“Our children started going to school and picked up different languages,” he said, adding these new languages were of use when they visited Samtse.

Dzongkha, he said, also came in with government officials working in their communities, and through the non-formal education (NFE) program started in the 1990s.

Penden Lham, 20, said she picked up Dzongkha after joining the NFE. “The first word I learnt was lopen (teacher),” she said. “It was difficult at first but we picked up, and I think it’s good for us to know another language apart from our own.”

Like Dadum and Penden Lham, Doyap’s speak Lhotam among themselves. “But we do fear that it might disappear, so we ask children to communicate with us in Lhotam only,” Dadum said.

Almost all, which is 985 men, women and children living in the three communities speak Lhotam.

Omchu, 56 said it was comfortable speaking in their own tongue. “But we worry sometime that our language might come to an end like our attire,” she said. “The young hardly ever wears our attire.”

Another villager Nima said sometime he is overcome with feelings that development, while bringing in a lot of possibilities, also kills the uniqueness and identity of a community.

For the youth, Lhotam doesn’t serve a purpose beyond their villages and learning Dzongkha is not a fad but a necessity. “We don’t see harm in talking in Dzongkha, after all it is a language too,” a Doyap taxi driver, Cho Thinley, 30, said.

By Dechen Tshering, Mongar
Tshering Namgyal, Wangdue
Yangchen C Rinzin, Samtse

The great family festival of Himali Hindu communities

A ten-day celebration of the victory of good over evil
Dasain is the biggest and most important festival of the Himali Hindu community, especially the followers of Shakti/Devi or Shakta cult, to mark the victory of good over evil.
Dasain begins on the first day of the bright fortnight of Ashwin (the month of Hindu calendar). It falls in September/October every year.
This festival is generally celebrated for 15 days, from Aswin Shukla pratipada to Purnima (full moon). The main celebration is for nine days, which are on the 7th day (Fulpati), 8th day (Mahastami), 9th day (Mahanawami) and 10th day (Dasain, Dashami or Vajayadashami), followed by the five-day Dasain celebration up to Purnima. But the 10th day is the most important.
The first day of the Dasain festival is called “Ghatasthapana” that falls on Aswin of the Hindu calendar, corresponding to the first day of the month of the Bhutanese calendar (tshe-chi).
On Ghatasthapana, the Himali Hindus worship diyo (an oil-fed lamp), kalash (auspicious jar with water and flowers) and Lord Ganesh, in accordance with Vedic rituals, and sow maize, wheat, barley seeds in a pot filled with soil, sand and cow dung for germination of the auspicious jamara (golden shoots). The jamara adds a lot of colour to the celebration of Dasain. The celebration of Dasain without these seedlings and red tika would be like celebrating Christmas without pines and poinsettia.
Prayers are also offered to Durga Bhavani, the goddess of power, and to the goddess Mahakali, Mahalaxmi and Mahasaraswati, marking the beginning of the Navaratri (nine nights).
During the Navaratri, thousands of devotees visit shrines of Goddess Durga Devi/Bhavani in the early morning. People also recite sacred verses and hymns dedicated to Durga Devi/Bahavani at temples and shrines, as well as at their homes.
The Fulpati festival is observed on the seventh day. Fulpati consists of the kalash (traditional jar) filled with holy water, banana stalks, jamara, belpatra, pomegranate, jayanti flower, ginger plant and sugarcane, which are tied with a red cloth, and offered to Durga.
The eighth day is known as Maha Astami, and the ninth day of the festival is called Nawami. The Mahanawami festival on the ninth day of Navaratra signifies the reign of good over evil.
The worship of Durga over nine days culminates formally on the day of VijayaDashami (tshe-chi), after the “abhishekh” or sprinkling of holy water on the head to mark the beginning of Dasain.
The golden maize, wheat and barley shoot (jamara) and the auspicious red tika are offered on the forehead by parents to their children, and by elders to their juniors on Dasain festival, with blessings of peace, progress and prosperity. The red tika also symbolises the blood that ties the family together.
On Dasain, people visit relatives to receive tika and jamara from their elders. The tikareceiving function is celebrated for five to seven days until full moon day (tshe-chenga).
This festival is also known for its emphasis on family gatherings, as well as on a renewal of community ties. People return from all parts of the world, as well as different parts of the country, to celebrate together.
Buying and wearing new clothes is an important part of the festival. For many people in the villages, new clothes come only with Dasain.
Bamboo swings are also constructed as a way of celebration. These swings are called ‘ping’ in Lhotshampa, and present the best of local culture, tradition, community spirit and fun. The swings are normally constructed a week before Ghatasthapana, and dismantled only after the festival of Tihar, which comes after Dasain. Different kinds of fairs and celebratory events are also organised during the festival.
This year Dasain falls on October 14, and the auspicious time to apply tika is around 9am.
According to the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, Lord Ram defeated Ravan on the tenth day and restored peace and harmony. It is said that lord Ram was successful in the battle, only when goddess Durga was evoked. The festival is thus named as the ten-day festival, Dasain, among Himali Hindu community.
Buddhists remember this day, as Emperor Ashoka of the Indian subcontinent abandoned violence on this day, and took the path of Buddhism.
The main deity to be worshipped during the entire period of Navaratri is Durga Devi, the universal mother goddess. In other words, she is the one, who presides over the entire ceremonial rituals of Dasain. According to the very old Hindu text, Devi Puran, Durga is said to have assumed nine different forms each day. The age-old Hindu tradition recommends that the nine different forms of the mother goddess be worshipped during this holy period.
The Himali Hindu tradition of Shakti or mother goddess worship has a very ancient origin. According to some scholars, its antiquity goes way back to the Vedic period. When we take a look at the Vedas that go back as far as 6000 years BC, we encounter several interesting hymns dedicated to Devi, the universal mother goddess. Some of her earlier names mentioned in the Vedas are Usha, Vac, Ratri and Aditi. All these names owe their origin to the Vedic concept of the universal mother goddess.
In the Puranic era, Devi appears to have been duly honoured with many symbolic names, such as Chamunda, Durga, Kali, Laxmi, Saraswati and so on. However, she is basically identified with Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva. The Devi Mahatmya of Markandeya Purana, said to be one of the most popular works ever known in the history of Hindu religion, tells us how all the gods in the remote past had to rush to Devi Durga for shelter, when they were defeated by demons in the war. Since it was only Devi, who could destroy the demons and rescue her devotees from miseries, she has always been regarded as Maha Shakti and worshipped accordingly by all Hindus. She is said to have emanated from the fully combined energies of all the gods, including the Hindu triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
It is for this festival that the Himali Hindus most liberally spend their hard earned money. The amount spent on special food and new clothes for family members is the most significant part of their Dasain expenditure.

Contributed by

Chhatrapati Phuyel, Dorokha, Bhutan

His Majesty Inaugurates RIGSS A Premier New Think Tank For Bhutan

His Majesty the King graced the opening ceremony of the Royal Institute for Governance and Strategic Studies (RIGSS) in Phuentsholing on Thursday. The institute was established as a Royal Initiative of His Majesty the King with the mandate or vision to promote excellence in governance, leadership and strategic studies.
His Majesty the King under whose patronage the institute was established is also the Chairman of the Institutes Governing body.
The composition of the members of the governing body gives an idea on the multi faceted and important nature of the institute.
The members of the Governing body are RCSC Chairman Lyonpo Thinley Gyamtsho as Vice Chairman with members like Chief Operations Officer, RBA Major General Batoo Tshering , RUB Vice Chancellor Dasho Pema Thinley, Foreign Secretary Yeshey Dorji, Education Secretary Sangay Zam,  Director, Bureau of Law & Order Karma T. Namgyal, DHI CEO Karma Yonten and Chewang Rinzin, Project Coordinator, RIGSS as member secretary.
The Institute has listed down some important missions on its website.  It aims to provide high-quality leadership training and education that are Bhutan-centric and globally relevant, promote critical analysis of public policies and research works that influence real-life policy decisions and serve as a think-tank for governmental, non-governmental, private and corporate organizations.
It will also provide a platform for leaders from different sectors to interact and brainstorm on critical national issues and network with leading national and international institutions and agencies to collaborate on research studies and training programs, and to allow for sharing of resources for mutual benefit
To achieve its visions and mission RIGSS will use strategies like recruiting top-notch faculty members, attracting the best candidates, providing high quality training and engaging in high-impact research activities.
It will ensure diversity of students, faculty and programs to promote diversity of ideas, develop a global profile and reach through institutional linkages, and  upgrading the quality of its programs and adopting the best practices in the operation of the institute.
The rationale of the institute is stated as, “Creating a premier institute in the country for leadership, governance and strategic studies is the vision of His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the Fifth King of Bhutan. This noble vision signifies the paramount importance His Majesty attaches to the development of intellectual capacity of our leaders and the promotion of good governance in the country as a cornerstone of Bhutan’s long term peace, prosperity and unity.”
RIGSS is, therefore, being established to provide a forum to train both incumbent and potential leaders in all major areas of nation building.
The website says that as Bhutan enters a new era in its evolution as a sovereign nation state, RIGSS offers yet another avenue for Bhutan’s leaders to come together and generate the ideas that provide solutions to the challenges Bhutan face’s as a small and vulnerable society.
The institute has an eminent 13 member faculty so far of which the six Bhutanese faculty members are ACC Chairperson Dasho Neten Zangmo, Head of Center of Bhutan Studies Dasho Karma Ura, GNHC Secretary Karma Tshiteem, National Council Thrizin Sonam Kinga and NC Eminent member Tashi Wangyal.
Other foreign faculty members are Adrian Chan from Singapore with expertise in leadership development, Professor Anup K. Sinha at Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, Secretary of the Technology Development Board, GoI Harkesh Mittal, Horacio Falcão who is an affiliate Professor of Decision Sciences with INSEAD where he has been teaching both Negotiation and International Management.
Other faculty members are  Lt General (Retd) Dr. Rajesh Kochar as former Chief of Staff of the Army Training Command, of the Indian Army, and Dean R. Sudarshan who has had distinguished careers in research, development programme design and implementation, and governance working with the  St. John’s College, University of Cambridge and UNDP and the Ford Foundation with several international publications.
Ms. Olivia Baciu is international development consultant, trainer, and evaluator, having worked in 21 countries.
The Institute currently has a 4 week Senior Executive Leadership Programme (SELP). It is specifically designed for senior public service officials and corporate executives who face the challenges of governance and decision-making The first week of the course is called the  ‘Bhutan module’ and focuses mainly on political history, structure, transition to democracy, five years plans and long term developmental goals, economic self reliance, national security and foreign relations.
The second week called governance and leadership focuses on Self-management and Leadership, Ethics, Integrity and Professionalism in Public Service, Effective Negotiation, Managing Organizational Change,Evaluation and Monitoring Tools,Good Governance, and Human Rights.The third week’s module termed ‘The political economy of public policy’ focuses on Bhutan’s Economic Opportunities  and Vulnerabilities, the Process and Politics of Policy Making, Infrastructure, Investment and Development, SMEs, SOEs  and Economic Development,  Public Finance, Riding the Waves of Globalization- Strategies for Bhutan and Democracy: Institutions and Politics of Resource Allocation.
The fourth week is an overseas field visit to a selected foreign country will allow participants to discuss with relevant institutions and officials in that country a real-life policy,management,governance issue. Participants will get to apply leadership skills and knowledge acquired during the preceding weeks of classroom sessions to this practical issue and propose a viable strategic plan. Other features of the program are policy debates on contentious issues and high quality lectures on Fridays and a 90 percent attendance will be required to avail the course certificate.
There are currently 23 mainly senior people from various government agencies taking the course. These are 2 Dzongdas, 2 Drangpons, 1 officers from each ministry, 2 members from Constitutional Bodies, 2 members from Autonomous agencies, 1 each from the RBA, RBG and RBP and two from government owned corporations.
In the future RIGSS will also aim to provide tailor made courses to Parliamentarians, media professionals, local leaders and etc.
The institute was established due to generous support from the Government of India.
The inaugural session was also attended by Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Ministers, Secretaries and Drangpons.

Tenzing Lamsang / Thimphu
Fri, Oct 11th, 2013