The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Saturday, March 23, 2013




Bhutan is a tiny landlocked, mountainous kingdom perched on the eastern Himalayas surrounded by India in the south, east and west and by the Autonomous Region of Tibet in the north. The country has three main ethnic groups - Ngalongs of Tibet Stock in the west, Sharhops of Tibeto-Burman origin in the east and Lhotshampas of Nepalese ethnicity in the south. The country has an estimated population of around 6,00,000. In Bhutan there is no written constitution nor an independent judiciary to impart justice, the judiciary works like simply another government department with no qualified legal practitioners. Under such circumstances each and every right of the individual as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are under the mercy of the rulers.

Under the situation the Student Union of Bhutan (SUB) was formed on 23 March, 1988 inside the country by the college students and people in different government services and institutions. After one and half years of clandestine low profile activities (for it was unlawful to form any kind of association or union) it was forced to operate from outside following governments crackdown and arrest of some of its activists in late 1989.SUB is a platform shared mostly by Bhutanese Students and Youths in various fields regardless of their religious faith, races, caste, creed, sex etc. maintaining its own identity and rising above partisan politics, this oldest body has always been in the forefront of the Bhutanese movement.

WHEREAS; the incessant violation of fundamental rights of individuals by the Royal Government of Bhutan raised the consciousness of the student body in Bhutan caused the creation of an Union on March 23, 1988 at the Sherubtse College in Kanglung, Tashigang.
HEREAS; the Union upholds and reaffirms its faith in the respect of fundamental Human Rights in the Dignity and worth of the Human Person and in the equal rights of men and women regardless of ethnicity, caste or creed as enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
WHEREAS; disregard and contempt for Human Rights have resulted in barbarous acts by the Royal Government of Bhutan.
WHEREAS; the Royal Government of Bhutan continues, inter-alia, to show utter disregard and contempt for article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with regard to the Right to Education.
NOW, THEREFORE, WE do covenant and declare, through this Union to struggle for fundamental Human Rights, Dignity of the Human person and Democratic reforms, and to secure for all students and youth in Bhutan, regardless of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, the right to education and full development of the human personality.
FOR THESE ENDS, WE do resolve to accomplish these aims and objectives and do hereby constitute and adopt the STUDENTS UNION OF BHUTAN as hereunder.
1.1  There shall be an organization named the STUDENTS UNION OF BHUTAN, hereinafter called SUB by abbreviation.
1.2SUB shall maintain an independent position without affiliation to any political any Party.
1.3The Head office of SUB shall be located at Phuntsholing Bhutan.
1.4Functional and other branch offices of SUB may be located at other places, including territories outside Bhutan, depending upon the circumstances and need for such establishments.
1.5SUB shall function a purely non-profit, service oriented, mass based organization
2.1The SUB flag shall be rectangular with a width to height ratio of 1.35 to 1.00. The base color shall be blue. Three yellow stars shall be placed in a straight line on the top of the flag and a brown pen, lying on the book shall point to the extreme right star.
2.2The blue background of the flag symbolizes vastness and humanity. The open book and pen represent wisdom and knowledge, white further signifying purity and peace, and brown symbolizing thought and expression. The three yellow stars stand for brightness, youth & students rights and destiny.
3.1SUB shall seek avenues and opportunities for the education of children affected by the current movement for democracy and Human Rights in Bhutan.
3.2SUB will promote the ideals of democracy and freedom of the individual. It will cooperate with and assist any organization struggling for Human Rights and Dignity of the Human Person in Bhutan.
3.3SUB shall take up the cause of prisoners of conscience, Human Rights activists and other innocent people in Bhutanese prisons.
3.4  SUB shall highlight the gross violation of Human Rights by the current repressive regime in Bhutan.
3.5SUB shall respect and safeguard the Sovereignty and Territorial integrity of Bhutan.
3.6In a democratic Bhutan, SUB shall :
  Endeavor to secure the rights of youth & students, and safeguard these rights against any form of exploitation.
Fight against all forms of discrimination.
Serve the people and community at large.
Help the administration during the times of emergency and natural calamities.
Work for the upliftment of the weaker sections of society, with special emphasis on women and children
  Help preserve the cultural heritage and traditional value systems, and promote national integration.
Create linkage and promote solidarity with students and peoples in other nations
4.1  Any Bhutanese citizen having attained the age of Fifteen (15) and fulfilling the criteria below may acquire membership of SUB:
He/she abides by this Constitution.
  He/she is a student of trainee, or was a student or trainee at the time the Bhutanese movement for Human Rights and Democracy was launched in 1988.
He/she works, or was working in 1988, in an educational or training institution.
He/she is not a member during the current movement, of any other Bhutan-based organization.
5.1An elected president shall be the Chief Executive of SUB.
5..2An elected Vice President shall function as the assistant to the Chief Executive.
6.1  The functions of SUB shall be carried out through office bearer appointed by the President as noted under Article 15.
7.0  Committees
7.1Central Committee: SUB shall have a central committee comprising a maximum of twenty-seven (27) members, including the President and Vice President.
7.2Executive Committee: SUB shall have an executive committee comprising a maximum of eleven (11) members, including the President and Vice President.
7.3Standing Committee: SUB shall have a standing committee comprising a maximum of seven (7) members. No member of the committees under clauses 7.1 shall be appointed in the standing committee
8.1Every member of SUB shall have the right to cast his vote in the election of the President, Vice President and members of the Central Committee.
9.1Any member of SUB shall have the right to present himself as a candidate in the elections of the Union.
9.2The General Body of SUB shall elect, by simple majority, a President and Vice President.
9.3The general body of SUB shall elect members for the central committee on the basis of maximum vote count for each candidate.
10.2The tenure of elected officials shall be three (3) years
10.3There shall be no bar to the number of occasions elected officials may seek re-election.
11.1  Executive Committee: Members for the Executive committee shall be selected through a process of nomination by the President and endorsement by the central committee.
11.2Standing committee members for the standing committee shall be selected through a process of nomination by the president and endorsement by the executive committee.
12.1General body meetings shall be held at least once each calendar year.
12.2The Central Committee shall meet at least thrice each calendar year.
12.3The Executive Committee shall meet as and when deemed necessary.
12.4  In addition to any regularly scheduled meetings, the President may call emergency or extraordinary meetings of any of the committees or the central body as and when necessary.
13.1The quorum required for the conduct of Central Committee meetings shall be fifty percent plus one.
13.2The quorum required for the conduct of Executive Committee meetings shall be two-thirds.
14.1A vote of no confidence against the President may be tabled with the support of at least one third (1/3) of the Central Committee.
14.2All members of the Central Committee shall be present when a vote of no confidence is tabled.
14.3The President shall be removed by a majority of not less than two third (2/3) of the Central Committee.`
14.4Elected members other than the President may be removed by a simple majority of the members present and voting at the General body meeting.
15.1All appointments for the various posts in SUB shall be made by the President upon the recommendations of the executive committee.
16.1The President shall have the power to accept the resignation of any member of SUB, including office bearers and members of the different committees.
16.2The Central Committee shall have the authority to accept the resignation of the President, Vice president and General Secretary.
17.1The president, upon the recommendation of the executive committee, shall have the power to suspend or expel any non-elected member of SUB, including office bearers and members of the different committees, acting in violation of the constitution and bye-laws laid down within the framework of the constitution.
17.2  In the case of elected members, including the President and Vice President, cases of disciplinary action must be supported by at least one third (1/3) of the voting members. The actions to be taken against the errant elected member shall be approved by two-third (2/3) majority in the general body meeting
18.1The financial resources required to undertake the activities of SUB shall be raised through :
Membership subscription
Donations and endowments
  Sale of SUB literature and publication
Fund raising activities.
19.1No amendment that affects the basic character of the constitution shall be made.`
19.2The constitution shall be amended by a minimum majority of two thirds (2/3) in the central committee, and shall come into effect upon its approval by the general body meeting.
On today’s date April 7, 1992, we the executive members officially endorse and adopt these bylaws:
President:                                                    Bishwanath Chhetri (Mr)
Vice President:                                           Tarabir Subedi (Mr)
General Secretary:                                       Kamal K. Dhital (Mr)
Secretary, Adm. & Finance:                        Tek Bir Chhetri (Mr)
Secretary, Indian Affairs:                          Narayan Timsina (Mr)
Secretary Press & Publicity:                    Hem Kant Neopaney (Mr)
                                                                   Chatur Singh Tamang(Mr.)  
Secretary, Camp Affairs:                            Arun Rai (Mr)
Secretary, Public Relation:                          Prahlad Dahal (Mr)
Secretary Women Affairs:                          Bhim Maya Subba (Ms)

Royal Government of Bhutan contempt and disregard for Human Rights have resulted in the barbarous acts by it an continues inter alia to flout  Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This incessant violation of Human Rights by the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB) raised the consciousness of the students and people on the other fields leading to the formation of The Student Union of Bhutan (SUB) on March 23, 1988, Sherubtse College in Kanglung Bhutan.

The SUB is a pioneer, an independent and the only students' body in the Bhutanese movement for Human Rights and Democracy. It is formed to acquire, extend and restore Human Rights and Democracy. The Union upholds and reaffirms its faith in the respect of Fundamental Human Rights, in the Dignity, worth and full development of human person and  in the Equal Rights of men and women regardless of ethnicity, cast, creed, religion, language, political beliefs and other opinion as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Aims and Objectives:

  1. SUB will seek avenues and opportunities for the education of children affected by the current  movement for Human Rights and Democracy in Bhutan.
  2. SUB will promote the ideals of democracy and freedom of individuals. It will co-operate and assist any organization struggling for Human Rights and Dignity if Human person in Bhutan.
  3. SUB will take up the cases of prisoners of conscience, Human Rights Activists and other political prisoners.
  4. SUB shall highlight the gross violation of Human Rights by the current repressive regime in Bhutan.
  5. SUB shall respect and safeguard the Sovereignty and Territorial integrity of Bhutan.
  6. SUB shall create linkages and promote solidarity with students and people in other nations.
In a democratic Bhutan, SUB shall;
  1. endeavor to secure the rights of students, and safeguard these rights against all forms of exploitation.
  2. fight against all forms of discrimination.
  3. serve the people and community at large.
  4. help the administration during the time of emergency and natural calamities.
  5. work for the upliftment of the weaker sections of the society, with special emphasis on women and children and
  6. help preserve the cultural heritage and traditional value systems, and promote national integration.
The current crisis which has been afflicting Bhutan since last ten years is the fruit of the seeds sown by the inherent unsecured political institution of absolute monarchy. Alarmed by the tremor of the global upsurge of democratic movement in the eighties it experienced, government enacted some biased laws and regulations victimizing the Southern Bhutanese directly. This strategy essentially to divert national attention from the outside and prevent any possibility of nation wide call for democratic reforms and ensure the continuity of privileges of a selected few guaranteed by absolute monarchy.
Some Biased Acts and Discriminatory Policies:
  1. Census Policy:The crux of current crisis is the fundamental issue of, nationality right of citizens. the Citizenship Act of 1985 which was implemented in 1988 making 1958 as the cut off year, requiring everyone to produce and land tax receipt of 1958 as a proof of domicile in country. The malafide intentions of the government became fully stark when the census team refused to acknowledge receipts issued prior to 1958.
  2. Driglam Namza - A Cultural InvasionTo further add to the woes of southern Bhutanese, Driglam Namza, a code of etiquette of the ruling class was imposed in 1988. It directly interferes with one's personal rights as one has to follow, the prescribed culture, and tradition. The use of the weapon ofDriglam Namza to invade the culture and tradition of other ethnic groups is an unprecedented cultural genocide in the history of mankind and an open non-compliance to Article 27 of UDHR.
  3. Greenbelt PolicyIn contradiction to government's plan to give priority to the agricultural sector in order to achieve self sufficiency in food grain, the "green belt" policy, which aimed at converting one kilometer wide east and west arable southern border into forest was advocated.If implemented, the policy would have displaced around 30% of the population from their original settlement. So, it was more a policy, with utter political motive, has now become clear with the government felling down immature forest plantation in the south to meet its financial needs.
  4. Forced LabourThough serfdom or slavery was completely abolished, in 1986 the National Assembly resolved to form "National Workforce" a force of Workers to meet labour requirements of the country This discriminatory policy required, at times coerced people, to enter into a contract for two years, which in   many instances the contract never expired. The labour conscription from southern  Bhutanese for government  and private estates lasts from fifteen days to a year. And those who are demanded labour for having shown their sympathy towards the Human Rights activists or having participated in the demonstration or given donations are never paid. This policy has greatly affected people's economy in the south and has added to their misery and has made the mockery of Article 4 at the UDHR.
  5. Education Policy: As in other departments/ministries, like Foreign Affairs, Civil Administration, Druk Air, Immigration and Census, Education Department is one, where government never given jobs to a Southern Bhutanese. Even the post of a school principal is reserved for the ruling class.
The Right to Education constitutionally guaranteed in the civilized nations does not prevail in Bhutan. Even the limited available schools facilities are not distributed fairly; for e.g. out of ten high schools only two are in the south and two in the east. Nepali language is removed from the school curriculum and Nepali books were burnt and Dzongkha the language of 12-15% population is made compulsory and the only limiting factor for getting admission in the schools and college and seeking employment.
The college offers very limited subjects and the scholars are compelled to study as per the interest of the Government. The study of Human Rights, Political Science etc. are unimaginable. The government in Bhutan has grossly violated Article 26 of UDHR.
Public dissent and governments counter action
The worst part of the policies was Government's high-handedness in implementation by over zealous officials which prompted a cohesive reaction from the students and led to the formation of SUB on March 23,1988 in Sherubtse College, Kanglung Bhutan. This was followed by similar action by students in other institutions like Deothang Polytechnic and National Institute of Education(NIE) Samchi, Mr. Tek Nath Rizal, the then Royal Advisory Councilor, has to flee the country after three days of harrowing interrogation and torture for having dared to apprise the King about the high handedness of the census team and seeking his intervention into improper conduct of census exercise.
Immense tolerance and every attempt by southern Bhutanese to adjust to the way of life conditioned by the government, failed to win any sympathy. Instead, the government carried with greater intensity and brutality, the plan designed towards the accomplishment of ultimate crime "Cultural genocide".
The students volunteers were compelled to come out in the streets to voice against the draconian policies and regulations of the government in 1990. But the Government instead of recognizing the genuine cause of the people resorted to gun solution and came down hard against the display of public dissent.
Between October 20th to November 1990 the King and his close hard-line associates sat chalking out master plan for countering the crisis. It was decided that the army should be raised to over 20,000 strong men. The difference in land shown by the cadastral survey and the earlier survey with the excuse of illegal land encroachment would be confiscated.
The development activity in the south have been frozen in order to shield southern Bhutanese from exposure to external visitors and also to meet Government expenditure to handle the crisis. The Government started giving arms training in six newly opened training centres to other groups and started instilling in them a feeling of hatred against the Nepali speaking Bhutanese. Thus arousing passions and promising suitable rewards like allotment of lands and other opportunities specially to Sarchops in the east, if they supported the monarch.
At the same time the Royal Government of Bhutan made hue and cry about the non-violent movement and tried to label it as an anti-national terrorist movement by illegal economic immigrant and a handful of politically motivated people. It further tried to justify its every sinful deeds in the name of preservation of unique culture, natural environment and pursue sustainable development in the international fora.
  1. Clamp Down: The government started hunting down the demonstrators. The security forces opened fire on the demonstrators. State terrorism like rape, loot, plunder, arrest without warrant and prolonged detention without trial, was a strategic move by the government to quell the voice of the people. Today southern Bhutan is under army rule with huge force of army stationed at various points.
  2. Closure of Schools and Other Facilities: After the demonstration by SUB, the government became more hostile, towards the Students. Schools in Southern Bhutan were immediately closed down and were converted into army barracks and temporary prisons, directly affecting the career of over 40,000 students. This was followed by withdrawal of public facilities like health and essential commodities. To further ensure that, students are punished, all southern Bhutanese students are asked to produce No Objection Certificate (NOC) from authorities, certifying his/her or even his/her relatives on involvement in the movement. The government even went up to the extend of concealing scholarship of there who were studying in India.
  3. Destroying of leadership: In order to destroy the leadership and give death to the movement, Govt. arrested village head, National Assembly members and prominent citizens of both Nepali and Sarchop origin who would have taken effective leadership in the movement. Virtually all village headman and assembly members of southern Bhutan are either in prison or in exile.
  4. Eviction and Mass Exodus: When the fully unleashed security forces went on the spree of mass torture, arrest, loot, plunder and other forms of intimidation, the people succumbed to the government's hostile regulations and terror tactics. Seeing no point in desperately sticking to their homes under continuous threat and uncertainty for life, people started fleeing the country leaving behind everything they owned. The government also started systematically evicting people after forcing them to sign "voluntary migration forms". This resulted in the mass influx of people seeking refuge in Nepal.
Plight of Bhutanese Students:
Students are the hardest hit group and the maximum sufferer and this struggle after the peaceful demonstration, the government intensified its hunt for the student activists. All schools in southern Bhutan were closed down, and served as prisons and barracks. Students studying in the other areas were also denied education on grounds of his relatives participating in the demonstration. Those who wish to look for jobs to earn his/her living were also denied on same ground.
With the unleashing of terror and violence by the repressive Thimphu regime, the number of Bhutanese evicted or fleeing the country increased, today there are over 85,000 Bhutanese sheltered in the UNHCR monitored eight camps in Nepal.
Because of the tremendous influx of students, SUB had to re-orient its activities and take initiatives to open school in various camps before any agency turned up for help. Today these students are benefiting from the Refugee Education Programme financed by CARITAS Nepal and UNHCR. However, there are thousands who, for some reasons cannot dream continuing their studies in order to make their life a meaningful one.
Ten years have passed since the problem in Bhutan first began. The government however, failed or has shown little interest to resolve the problem. Instead, the government has been trying to malign those who are struggling for human rights in Bhutan with baseless charges. The government is using all the machinery at its disposal to misinform the world about the genuine cause for dissent, and making every effort to quell the voice for justice.
Government has already planned to open army wings and training centres in the South at Pinjuli, Ghumauney, Sarbang etc.  with the help of Indian Government. The Thimphu regime's determination to suppress its citizens and continue with it repressive policies has become clear with the non-inclusion of human rights issue anywhere during Nepal-Bhutan talks, and not taking the Bhutanese dissidents group in confidence. In Thimphu's context human rights activism is a punishable act. The agreement to categorize people into ''Bhutanese who have committed criminal acts' has complicated the issue of Bhutanese refugee repatriation and pushed it into uncertainty.
This utter disregard for the origin for the rights of its own citizens, including Conventions which Bhutan has committed to respect is not only a crime but also challenge to all the justice loving people of the world.
The SUB appeals to all justice loving people, human rights groups and government to exercise their influence with the RGOB and persuade it:
  • to take the refugees back home in dignity and honour;
  • to release all human rights and political prisoners unconditionally;
  • to extend full support and solidarity in our endeavor to usher human rights and democracy in Bhutan.

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