Senator John MC Cain’s visit to Bhutan had immense effect on the Bhutanese government’s way of treating the past and present opponents. For the first time, the issue of the floating population will be discussed. One such immediate effect will be seen when the winter session of the parliament shall discuss on the issue of the families divided and broken due to several state sponsored crackdowns on the opponents in the past.
This time, the focus is mostly on the remaining relatives of the people who fled or were evicted from Bhutan in the 1990s. There may not be much to surprise the victims of earlier evictions or from other parts of the country. The people’s representatives from the eastern districts may talk on the problem of the people in the south, many in favor and a few in opposition; they shall try their best not to mention the problems of their region.
The earlier government had faced and dealt with several disputes, each time crushing the opponents or rebels by death or eviction. The last two major fracases took place in southern districts in 1990s and in eastern districts in 1997. The first one resulted in the exodus of estimated one hundred fifty thousand people residing in the southern Bhutan, most of whom took refuge in Nepal and after a long wait are being resettled in first world countries.
The second was an uprising in 1997 in the east, when the activists and local leaders were incarcerated or disappeared by the government forces. Both these movements were under the aegis of exile based political parties calling for democratic reforms, which the monarchy perceived as a threat to its survival. In response, activists and supporters were treated brutally. Many fled, others remained as silent victims, their lands and properties were confiscated and names were transferred to a different census register. In the national census conducted three years ago, this population of around one hundred thousand was termed as “floating population”, which makes twenty percent of the total population.
Unlike, in the earlier parliamentary sessions where debates were presented after a rehearsal, the actual pattern in the present system is still in the making; whether the members shall speak of the people or the whip of the party.
The problemTo suppress the movements, government devised various methods to restrict the moment of the people, to limit their access to the welfare facilities and ultimately to coerce them to flee. No objection certificate (NOC), police clearance, travel document, categorization in the census registration, stop on the land and property transfer registration, confiscation of citizenship cards, refusal to issue new cards, were some out of many methods executed. These restraints and limitations created miserable plight, compelled them to flee from the country. Not all did. Many challenged to resist and lived with it. It was an acid test of nationalism. After two decades the people’s representatives will be talking of some of these issues with some optimism and enough hesitation.
No objection CertificateInitially the brain child of the present Prime Minister, NOC, was the most effective tool government used to sieve people and their relatives who took part in the anti government protest from the rest. All those people and their family members involved in the movement were denied NOC. NOC was made mandatory for the admission and to get to next higher grade in schools, enter a university, and apply for job and business license.
Police Clearance Police acquired the movie and still photographs of the people who participated in the protest rallies and demonstrations, later labeled by government as anti national activities. Based on the photographs, police gave clearance for NOC or other permits.
Travel DocumentTo travel from one village to another, people have to get TD from the authority. It takes long time to get, if at all, and one TD works for a single entry. The security is the main reason given for the method.
Categorization in the Census Registration Department of immigration and census, classified the people into seven categories and registered into seven files, named as F1 to F7. Census teams place people into one of seven categories: F I Genuine Bhutanese F2 Returned migrants (people who had left Bhutan and then returned) F3 "Drop-out" cases – i.e. people who were not around at the time of the census F4 A non-national woman married to a Bhutanese man F5 A non-national man married to a Bhutanese woman F6 Adoption cases (children who have been legally adopted) F7 Non-nationals, i.e. migrants and illegal settlers
Besides, the families from which some family members have fled are registered into a different file. Some of the people who were absent in the census in 1992-93, but present in the subsequent census are suspected to be those who were unable to get registered in UNHCR run refugee camps in Nepal and returned to Bhutan. Citizenship cards of these people are confiscated and they are without new cards which other citizens have. In the last national census, these two groups were referred to as “floating population”, because they at any time were expected to spill or get flushed into exile.
Stop on the Land and Property Transfer RegistrationThe transfer of land and properties from parents to children or purchase is not registered for more than a decade. The land and properties are bought and sold, have passed through many owners, but in absence of legal registration, the real owners are in a mess.
Confiscation of Citizenship Cards and Refusal of New CardsThe citizenship cards were confiscated from the people falling in other than F1 category, and the floating population. Last year, before the census, new cards were distributed nationwide. But this big segment is deprived of it. They were not allowed to participate in the election.
If and when the parliamentarians get a chance to speak on the plight of the victims affected with these discriminatory policies, it would be wiser if they talk in a wider perspective and pass laws in the greater interest of the people and the country. All Bhutanese people must be treated equally. Carrying a political ideology or keeping a different ideology should not be treated as different class of citizens. Citizenship cards and all the benefits must be given impartially to all the citizens and no force and no reason whatsoever should have authority to revoke citizenship. All the people must get back the land, houses and properties, they or their family members possessed in the past. Those whose houses were demolished must be compensated. The tags like the “relatives of anti nationals” or “anti nationals” should be dropped from use. Those imprisoned for participating in the democratic movements should no longer be incarcerated as the country itself has adopted democracy.
This parliament may not have capacity to deal with the issue of the evicted people and the Bhutanese refugees in exile, it is still the best they take care of the people who are living an appalling life in their constituencies.