The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

BHUTAN ON A HOT TRIPOD: Talk on refugee on a card

I cannot relate the issue but the run shown the heat at their buttocks.

1. Last year Senetor John Mc Cain deegation visited Bhutan and gave an assignment to submit her report to US on three major and 5 minor points;

The Bhutan Insurgencies As refugees depart for U.S., camps in Nepal foster nascent resistance

Don Duncan, GlobalPost

Bhutanese refugee camp in Nepal.
THIMPHU, Bhutan — The impressive necklace of cliff-perched fortresses that dot this Himalayan nation's mountainous perimeter are a testimony to Bhutan's long-standing effort to keep out foreigners.

In the 1980s, however, the tiny Buddhist nation of just 600,000 sandwiched between the People's Republic of China and India found itself with what it considered to be a foreigner problem.

Bhutan's minority population of ethnic Nepalese had mushroomed to represent one-third of the population, causing then-King Jigme Singye Wangchuck to start a "one nation, one people" policy to deport and strip many of their Bhutanese citizenship. The campaign ended with the expulsion of about 105,000 Nepalese through beatings, torture and murder committed by the Royal Bhutan Army that lasted until the early 1990s, human rights groups and deportees say.

"We left because we were scared that they would imprison us, that they would beat us, that I would be raped," said Matimya Moktan, 41, who arrived in Nepal in 1991 and now lives in a small mud stick hut with her three children and husband in one of seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal.

Locked in political limbo, these camps have become breeding grounds for a fledgling militancy that seeks to overthrow Bhutan's monarchy just two years after the king abdicated in favor of his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who heads a constitutional monarchy that permitted the nation's first democratic elections last year. "We are preparing a protracted people's war," said Comrade Umesh, a 27-year-old leader of the Communist Party of Bhutan, one of a handful of Maoist militant groups that have developed in the camps. The groups now have little more than handmade explosives, pistols and ragged Communist literature with which to wage their insurgency but Indian intelligence sources say they may soon acquire much more capacity through recent alliances with two Indian separatist groups: the National Democratic Front of Bodoland and the United Liberation Front of Assam operating in the restive Indian states of Sikkim and Assam located between Nepal and Bhutan.

"Through these alliances, the Bhutanese refugee militants can learn how to make more powerful bombs, acquire superior weaponry and fight more effectively," said the Indian intelligence source.

So far, the insurgency has been limited to occasional bombings that have damaged bridges, fuel depots and electrical transformers in southern Bhutan and the capital of Thimphu. To date, there have been no deaths and just one injury, a woman who suffered a minor shrapnel wound, according to Bhutan's national newspaper, Kunesel.

Bill Frelick, refugee policy director for Human Rights Watch, says the insurgents, who are believed to number between 600 and 1,000, are still too weak to launch an effective revolution. But other analysts say the alliance with militant Indians, the continuing relocation of refugees and recruiting forays into Bhutan are worrisome signs.

In 2006, the United States and a handful of other Western countries offered to resettle more than 70,000 Nepalese refugees. About 7,000 have already left the camps and the rest will be gone within four years, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Frelick said the insurgents could take advantage of the resettlement program by using future remittances to buy weapons and exercising more and more radical influence rendering camps devoid of more restrained voices. "You could end up with all the more moderate people leaving the camps," he said.

For the moment, the militants regularly cross into Bhutan through thick jungles that straddle the porous border to lecture and train ethnic Nepalese residents who remain in Bhutan, refugees say.

"If all we had to show were our weapons, we wouldn't get very far," said Umesh. "So we teach our ideology and train cadres in making explosives and in guerrilla fighting. We are laying the groundwork in Bhutan both ideologically and militarily."

While the government hopes the nation's fledgling democracy will keep the estimated 100,000 ethnic Nepalese in Bhutan from insurrection, the rebels predict their ranks will increase, citing a lack of state services, special travel permits required to leave the south and a ban on Nepalese from becoming citizens. Perhaps with that in mind, the government plans to reopen 15 schools and build more health centers in Nepalese areas by the end of the year.

"The best way a country like Bhutan can defend itself and prevent security problems has to be through the people," said Prime Minister Jigme Thinley. "By the end of five years, there will be absolute parity in terms of the provision of services and infrastructure. This is how we can prevent conditions for discontent and disaffection from growing in our country."

Research assistance provided by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute in New York.

Lyonchen to visit Japan, discuss business

August 25, 2009 · Filed Under more top stories
The Prime Minister, Lyonch hen Jigmi Y Thinley will vis it Japan from August 27 to September 3, on the invita tion of Japan Junior Cham ber of Commerce.
He will be accompanied by Cabinet Secretary Dasho Tashi Phuntshog and Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry president, Topgyal Dorji.
The PM will deliver a key note address on Gross Na tional Happiness at Fukuoka and hold high level meetings with the Japanese captains of Industry and Commerce. He will also visit Tokyo and meet Madam Sadako Ogata, the President of Japan Inter national Cooperation Agency (JICA) and attend functions organised by the Japan– Bhu tan Friendship Association and the Parliamentary Group for Bhutan.
The visit is expected to open new business opportu nities and strengthen the ex isting close ties of friendship between Japan and Bhutan, according to a Foreign Minis try press release.
The Prime Minister leaves today.

Prime Minister Meets Mr. Katsuhiko Hibino and Mrs. Hibino

24 June, 2009

Mr. Katsuhiko Hibino, Professor Tokyo University of Art, and Mrs. Hibino called on the Prime Minister today at 2.30 pm. Mr. and Mrs. Hibino are on a visit to the Asian countries to create art works to be exhibited at the Asian Pacific Festival at Fukuoka this year.

During the meeting, Mr. Hibino displayed the creative art works done by the some of the Bhutanese students below ten years of age symbolizing Bhutan – Japan Friendship. The Professor said that children below ten years of age are most creative and, hence, they must have the opportunity to exercise their imagination through art.

The Hon’ble Prime Minister, in elucidating the tenets of Gross National Happiness, said that culture, was one of its four pillars. Lyonchhen said that creativity was important for the individual, society and nation for advancement as well as to help preserve artistic heritage of mankind. In that regard, he thanked the visiting professor and his wife for inspiring the Bhutanese children and letting their creative energy to flow.

Introducing alarm fencing in southern dzongkhags


The alarm fence

August 22: There’s some good news for farmers especially in southern dzongkhags who lose crops and livestock to wild animals. The Nature Conservation Division of the Agriculture ministry is introducing alarm fencing.

The harvest season is approaching. This is when wild animals like elephants attack crops. And this is a problem that farmers face every year. But now finally a solution may be in sight.

The agriculture ministry is installing alarm fencing. To install the fencing, about 40 forest officials from across the country took part in a day-long training today.

The Agriculture Minister Lyonpo Dr. Pema Gyamtsho said protecting wildlife habitat is as important to safeguard crops from wild animals.

The alarm fencing is designed to scare off the animals. Wild animals will set off a siren and a flash light as they push against the fencing.

The device was first demonstrated in Tangmachu during the RNR week in February this year. It is currently being used at the Thrumshingla National park.

Pressure on to perform well

Phuntsho Choden

LG Elections: Literacy & Skills Test27 August, 2009 - Nganglam gup, Tenzin, is under a lot of pressure these days. The 46-year-old says that voters in his village in Pemagatshel expect him to re-contest in the local government (LG) elections this year. This came after election commission officials said that candidates have to sit through various literacy and skills tests to be eligible to contest. He is a trained legal counsel and, according to voters there, he will qualify with ease.

Dorokha gup Chandra Prasad, on the other hand, has decided to contest in the LG elections. But the 30-year-old gup is anxious whether he will be able to qualify the tests or not, especially the written test in Dzongkha.
The election commission of Bhutan’s (ECB) announcement to conduct various skills tests for LG candidates before elections has garnered a lot of attention among voters, both in rural and urban areas, and those wanting to contest the elections. With LG elections supposedly nearing, some have welcomed the criteria, while others are apprehensive.

A guideline, specifying the details of the tests, was released on August 25, stating that ECB will develop a set of standard question papers, format for oral test and a scoring system for the literacy and skills tests. ECB will give the certificate to those LG candidates, who score above 50 percent overall in all tests.

“We’ll be appointing a committee of experts for individual assessment of candidates through these well structured tests,” said chief election commissioner, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi. “Gups, mangmis and tshogpas have important decision making responsibilities at the local level and people should have the choice to elect someone, who is educated and capable.”

A ‘functional literacy test’ will include a written and verbal test in Dzongkha to assess the candidate’s ability to write, read and comprehend official papers on the subject of local governance.

A ‘possession of skills test’ would consist of computational skills, where the candidate will be asked to add, subtract, multiply and divide. The candidate will also be assessed for analytical and managerial skills.

“It shows that election of local government leaders is being given a lot of importance. They want people, who can write, comprehend, speak well, have leadership traits and are able to assist the gewog administrative officers,” said Toewong gup in Punakha, Touchu.

However, the literacy and skills test for LG elections will not be a cakewalk for aspiring candidates, as well as for the ECB officials.

With elections in 205 gewogs, ECB officials said that it is going to be a “lot of work,” recording the oral exams and compiling answer sheets of more than 500 candidates from test centres in every dzongkhag. “We haven’t yet worked out the details of how we’re going to arrange the tests and how many people we might have to recruit to conduct or assess the skills,” said an official.

Asked why such tests are to be conducted only for local elections and not for parliamentary or thromde elections, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said that there was an assessment system in place, when candidates had to produce their certificate of a formal university degree. “Local leaders have a very important role to play and they’ll be the foundation of good governance.”

Recently, a 41-year-old former civil servant had gone to visit his family in a village in Mongar and was approached by many people to stand for the gup elections. “The general public is aware that they need more qualified candidates,” he said. “I’ve told them that I had other plans. But I’ve seen them ask a lot of other people, who are at least high school graduates, to contest.”

Closing the Buddhist knowledge gap

Gyalsten K Dorji

Mahabodhi Society general secretary advises keeping youth abreast
27 August, 2009 - Visiting the Memorial Chorten in Thimphu, Dr Rewatha Thera, asked a Bhutanese lam what the decorations or flags adorning the structure for the annual Moenlam Choenmo symbolised. The lam, after some hesitation, replied that he had no idea.

“How can you your younger generations understand when some of your monks don’t in the first place?” asked Rewatha, a Sri Lankan monk of the Theravada school.

Dr Rewatha Thera, a Sri Lankan and a monk for the past 25 years, is the general secretary of the Mahabodhi society in India; a large Buddhist organisation that will have Prime Minister Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y Thinley as their next president until 2013.

Dr Thera, who last visited Bhutan 10 years ago, noticed that Buddhist traditions and rituals were maintained “very nicely” but that explanations on these aspects are lacking. He offered an encounter with some Bhutanese students he met in Kolkata, India. “They chanted Buddhist prayers, but when I asked them if they understood what they were reciting,” he said, “they replied, we don’t know.”

“The time has come to explain to our young,” said Dr Thera. Sri Lanka is also experiencing the same knowledge gap that is currently evident in Bhutan, according to Dr Thera. He said one barrier towards understanding Buddhism by younger generations in Sri Lanka was that most sutras and other Buddhist texts were in the ancient language of Pali. But most of these texts had been translated into local dialects and were now being read more widely by interested Sri Lankan youth, he said.

Dr Thera provided another example in the neighbouring city of Darjeeling, where Buddhist texts were being translated into Nepali and being distributed free of charge. “Bhutan can follow this example,” he said, especially if its society was concerned about the loss of culture and tradition to newer forms.

Another way Sri Lankan Buddhists monks address the knowledge gap, said Dr Thera, was giving younger monks larger responsibilities through talks and lectures with the public. “They usually come up with new ways of teaching that the youth can identify with,” he said.

“It helps you to understand the world around you, it makes life simpler,” said Dr Thera, on why, if at all, it is necessary to close the Buddhist knowledge gap. He said Buddhism was a “deep philosophy” but that it could be as simple as having compassion for everyone around you and being involved in social work.

Dr Thera suggested Bhutanese monks become more involved in social work. He pointed out that, in Japan, youth disillusioned by a increasingly materialistic Buddhist clergy, had been drawn back towards the philosophy after it integrated social work into its practices.

The decorations adorning the memorial chorten during the moenlam choenmo are trashi dhargyes, symbolising a combined form of the eight lucky signs. Ironically, Dr Thera received this explanation from a Japanese scholar accompanying him.

New Thai school inspired by GNH

By Gyalsten K Dorji

26 August, 2009 - The approach that humanity should not rely solely on economic indicators to measure progress is gaining ground in Thailand.

Generating a paradigm shift away from materialism, and towards public policies centred on alternative development practices, is the ambitious goal of a new school recently established, in collaboration with the centre for Bhutan studies (CBS), in the south-east Asian country.
The other two founding partners of the school are Chulalongkorn university and a non-governmental organisation that deals with social justice and ecological issues, the Sathirakoses Nagapradipa foundation.

The new institution, called the School for Well-being, describes itself as an independent think-tank, learning and research centre that will focus on empirically based advocacy. It will attempt to transform a wide range of society, from college students and “potential leaders,” to business entrepreneurs and government policy makers, towards “caring for ourselves, fellow sentient beings and nature.” By instilling such characteristics in its students, “genuine happiness” will be cultivated, which will empower people, leading to a transformation or paradigm shift towards a sustainable, socially just, and meaningful world.

But the institution will not be a Buddhist religious school. It will only draw on Buddhist practices and principles, according to officials of the school interviewed by Thai daily, the Nation.

To facilitate this objective, the school will offer inter-disciplinary studies to clarify the goals of the program, spiritual exercises, and cross cultural experiences. The latter will take place in Bhutan, because of its gross national happiness policy.

According to CBS president, Dasho (Dr) Karma Ura, students will travel and stay in Bhutan for ten days, during which CBS will provide an empirical platform of an alternative development practice and its achievements. The students will also interact with Bhutanese academics, public policy makers, religious personalities, and regular citizens.

Dasho Karma Ura expressed his happiness that CBS would be working with Chulalongkorn’s faculty of political science department, which will play the lead role in developing the school.

The school begins operating next month.

Capacity building for democracy

By Phuntsho Choden

BRIDGE CEDP Workshop25 August, 2009 - Members of the National Assembly, educational institutes, media, election commission and civil societies will meet in Paro today to develop a professional module called ‘Democracy In Our Place’ to explore concepts of democracy and good governance.

The meeting is part of the BRIDGE civic education development project (CEDP) to build capacity of people working in areas of democracy and governance. The election commission of Bhutan (ECB) and Australian electoral commission (AEC) organised the meeting jointly.
“The project is to improve skills, knowledge and confidence, both of election professionals and others in the electoral process. It is also for participants from various fields to explore the concepts of democracy,” said chief election commission, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi.

He said that BRIDGE (building resources in democracy, governance and elections) is one of the most comprehensive professional development courses available in election administration.

ECB officials said that the project aims to develop a module that will serve adults, who are working in the fields of democracy or governance, or for those who simply want to be more informed or engaged in the political life.

The CEDP project is funded by AusAid and managed by the BRIDGE office based in the Australian electoral commission. “The project team had tried this module in Vanuatu, a small island nation in the Pacific, and the second and final trial will be in Bhutan,” said Dasho Kunzang Wangdi.

Once the professional development module has been developed and trialed to assess its impact, the module will be formally submitted to BRIDGE partner countries and made available to the rest of the world, said officials.

HRH Ashi Sonam Dechan Wangchuck will be inaugurating the BRIDGE CEDP workshop opening today. ECB officials will also be releasing electoral do*****ents on rules, regulations and guidelines for the 2009 local government elections.

What kind of leader do we want?

Bhutan Times

THE RECENT POLITICAL brouhaha over the PM’s State of the Nation address brings one thing to the fore: The growing concern over the excessive strength of his personality and government.

To his detractors the Prime Minister’s stance is an imperious show of strength by an already powerful government, to his admirers it is what we have come to expect from the man—an honest if highhanded sharing of what he thinks would be the best way for us to work together in the interest of the nation.

Clearly we have elected a man of action, a man who is not afraid of calling out and suggesting a code of conduct for an entire institution and, indeed, the nation if he feels the need. In this respect the PM’s State of the Nation address was not the evidence of a man playing to the lowest common denominator but that of a leader attempting to reason to the highest common factor: our Bhutanese sense of honor, restraint and decorum.

However, given the subsequent criticism of the PM and his statements, the question we might ask is this: what exactly do we look for in a leader?

Do we want someone who is always affable but indecisive? Or are we better off with the kind of person who is not afraid to take risks if he’s convinced about the course of action his government needs to take? It is interesting to note that history best remembers the leaders who were not afraid to speak their minds even though it might not have been the smartest political move at the time.

Going against popular wisdom Winston Churchill once said:

We shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets

The outcome of the Second World War vindicated Churchill’s leadership and immortalized these words. Think where he and, indeed, his nation would be if he had simply raised his hands and said “I surrender”. Obviously the perceived conflicts between the government’s position and such elevated bodies as the National Council are being resolved in the higher corridors of power for the political health of the nation. As responsible media professionals we can strive to report the events simply as they unfold without coloring it with opinion, hearsay, or editorializing on pages where the reader looks for news.

While on the subject of the media, we could remind ourselves that even in the world’s freest, most accessible democracies, Presidents, Prime Ministers and Heads of State often take questions on issues of national importance but mainly at scheduled press conferences. To be invited to one, a reporter needs to earn a press pass through years of consistent work. As a writer myself, I hope the current accessibility of the government doesn’t change, but perhaps it is time to understand that even in the oldest of democracies a reporter can’t just lob a question at a head of state and expect to have a response instantly.
The complex and intricate relationships with reliable government sources and access to the highest echelons of power are generally cultivated through responsible and balanced journalism, an unerring pursuit of the truth and, above all, respect for one’s sources. Or else, a President or Prime Minister can easily deny access by invoking national security concerns or perceived threats to his or her personal safety.

Worse still would be to fall into that deplorable category of lowbrow journalism considered to be in “poor taste”. That’s why no reporter who ever worked for the National Inquirer, a sensationalist rag in the US, can claim to have interviewed a President, Prime Minister, or indeed anyone of any significance.

Yes, an independent media must hold the nation’s elected officials responsible. But, by the same token, journalists must also conduct themselves professionally. Do your research first to ensure you do not waste the interviewee’s time, which, as elected officials with manifold obligations to the public, one must assume to be valuable.

Whether we admire or bristle at the PM’s style of leadership, the election results have left us with the people’s choice. Now let’s let him do his job. Electing a government by such an overwhelming majority only to render it ineffectual by hobbling it with political quibbles seems counterintuitive.

The humble suggestion of this column would be this: Let’s reserve our judgment until the government has undeniably failed our trust. Then, render your verdict in that most democratic of ways—by pushing the all-important button in the privacy of your voting booth.

The big rural experiment


Bhutan’s experiment with farm roads began in earnest in the Ninth Plan. People asked, and the government gave.

With the rationale of making rural life more comfortable and attractive, the farm road vision was thus born. In the Ninth Plan several villages were connected, and the roads continue to be taken to some of the remotest corners of the country.

The DPT manifesto promises road to all 205 gewogs as pre-condition for growth and development. The government, therefore, is gearing up to construct about 1,500 kilometers of farm roads in the next four years.

However, people are already beginning to question the rationale behind the experiment. Given the rate at which rural folks are migrating to urban centers, critics say farm roads might not be sustainable in the long run.

Who will maintain the roads? Who will use the roads? Isn’t taking farm roads to all the gewogs a waste of government resources? Is the experiment wrong?

The lengthy miles

In the Ninth Plan a total of 1,132 kilometers of farm roads, including power tiller tracks, were constructed in the country.

Punakha tops the list with 88 kilometers, followed by Trashigang with 81, and Lhuentse 73. Punakha also has the highest number of farm roads, 30, followed by 28 in Bumthang and 22 in Paro. Gasa has the least farm roads, 4.

The highest number of farm roads was constructed in 2007 and 2008, totaling to 289.58 kilometers. Records show that the number of farm roads constructed increased by four times between 2002 to 2004.

Adding another 1,500 km in the 10th Plan will take the grand total to 2,632 km.

The rationale

The DPT manifesto states that connecting every gewog with roads will improve the quality of life and access to health and education services and profitable returns for farm produce.

The agriculture minister, Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho (PhD), said the major bottleneck for increasing farm productivity is due to lack of infrastructure - roads. He said without farm roads even if there is an increase in production of farm products, the products don’t reach the market.

“And if farmers have to carry whatever little they produce on their back and if it doesn’t even pay the cost of their labor and cover their wages for carrying the goods to town, farming doesn’t make sense,” he said.

For 76-year-old Karsang in Bartsham, Trashigang, farm roads have immensely improved the village life. He said the road opened up avenues to all other services. Bartsham was one of the earlier gewogs in Trashigang to be connected with a farm road.

Today, Bartshampas enjoy a better life. Affluent families own power tillers and even cars. The road has been diligently maintained, and it has brought numerous opportunities to the people.

The agriculture minister said that with road access immense opportunities for farmers to market their products have been created. Roads have also helped farmers bring in farm inputs like seeds and fertilizers.

“Roads facilitate all other development activities. And that is exactly the rationale behind our priority to farm roads,” said Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho.

A wish list?

Today, farm roads feature in every gewog’s wish list. The local governments are frantically identifying all possible roads in the dzongkhags.

However, Guidelines for Farm Development prepared by the agriculture ministry states that the prioritization or selection of farm roads will be done by the Gewog Tshogde based on the criteria set by the agriculture department.

Dzongkhag Rural Access Planning (DRAP) states that a farm road must serve 10 households a kilometer. It estimates the construction of one kilometer at Nu 3 million, and states that villages with a travel time more than one hour will be given preference. It further states that a farm road will also depend on technical feasibility.

Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho said the government’s priority will primarily focus on areas where farm roads are feasible.

Will the roads hold back people?

A study by the agriculture ministry states that if the current rural-urban migration trend continues, about half of Bhutan’s population will be living in urban areas by the year 2020.

It states that although it will be difficult to keep people back in villages, the government must, however, make rural life more attractive and meaningful if the rapid drift is to be controlled.

A farmer in Pemagatshel said over the telephone that people from many villages in the dzongkhag have left for urban areas. First, it is the children who move out for education, and once they find jobs parents follow them, he said.

However, the agriculture minister is optimistic that farm roads will play a crucial role in keeping farmers back in the villages.

“We will not be able to stop rural-urban migration altogether but we will be able to create more opportunities for employment and income generation in rural areas,” he said. “A young person will realize that plowing his field with a tractor is much more attractive than with a pair of bullocks. And to reach the tractor there we need farm roads.”

Is the experiment sustainable?

Absolutely, said Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho.

He explained that before the construction of a farm road, the people benefiting from it must give the assurance in writing that they will carry out the routine maintenance. This doesn’t include major damages, though.

Moreover, in order to enhance the sustainability, the ministry is looking for better quality roads by increasing the construction cost from Nu 1 million to Nu 3 million a kilometer.

The agriculture minister said the priority given to farm roads will not be a waste of government resources. Rather, farm roads are assets.

“Farm roads are assets for people to embrace better lives,” he said. “When we have roads we will have people making use of the land and the resources. In fact, we are creating conducive conditions for people to stay back in villages.”

However, only time will tell if the experiment will succeed or if it is merely a wish-fulfiling stunt.

Birds have left the nest

Gopilal Acharya
Of shuttered homes

If you are on a tour of remote villages you probably will not miss the empty homes; some almost falling down, others neatly double-locked.

Where are the inhabitants of these deserted homes?

They have left the village, replies the gup. Some have gone to the capital and some have re-settled in other dzongkhags, running small businesses or laboring in other people’s farms and orchards.

Many villages in most dzongkhags have empty homes - old battered rural structures with a hangdog look. According to studies, Zhemgang tops the list (of dzogkhags from where maximum residents have migrated) followed by Lhuentse, Pemagatshel, Mongar, Haa, Trashigang, Tsirang, and Samtse.

Yet, more people, especially young adults, are leaving rural homes for the urban lure. And once in the cities and towns of their dreams they end up living difficult lives, often doing odd jobs.

A gathering of old men and women

Today, it is old men and women who are left in the villages continuing the tradition of back-breaking labor, chained to the yoke.

It is paddy plantation season in rural Bhutan, and it’s old men and women who are cutting terraces, getting the fields ready, and transplanting the nursery.

Ask them where the young men and women have gone, and the answer is straight: towns.

In the village of Kalimati in Samtse, it is 70-year-old Puney Prasad Dahal who continues to work the plough. And people like Ram Chandra Baral, 60, look after the family cattle.

They say their younger children attend schools while the older ones are away working in towns. They say they badly need helping hand in fields, especially during peak agriculture season.

Situation is equally dismal in Bartsham. Local leaders say it is a continuing exodus. Most young people who drop school pack their bags and say goodbye to their villages.

Most people leaving villages for urban centers fall under the age between 16 to 30, the most crucial members of farm hands. Therefore, in the absence of these able-bodied young adults, school-going children help their parents after school and during vacations.

The urban lure

According to a study by the agriculture ministry, if the current trend in rural-urban drift continues, about half of Bhutan’s population will be living in urban areas by 2020. And 2020 is just 10 years away.

This means farm hands in rural Bhutan, in places like Kalimati and Bartsham, will only dwindle. More rural homes will go empty and Bhutan’s urban centers will choke in social chaos.

Thimphu and Phuentsholing are already bearing the ugly brunt of rapid migration. While Phuentsholing has already crossed its expected growth rate and is in dire need for expansion space, Thimphu has enough homeless, destitute, and the jobless.

Town planners and municipalities in these urban centers have enough work in hand. Drinking water, electricity, parking space, vegetable market, illegal settlements, and garbage are some major headaches. Urban poverty and enclave development are two major issues these cities will have to tackle.

More bad news for Thimphu

Studies show more than 28% of annual migrants are moving to the capital. There is a clear indication that Thimphu will host more migrants in the years to come. Phuentsholing, Paro, and Gelephu are other top destinations for the migrants.

Moreover, the rapid drift is reflected by the fact that more than 72% of all urban dwellers are migrants from rural areas. And about 63% of the migrants have at least been to primary school. Most migrants are men (60%), meaning it is women who are left behind to take care of farms.

School leavers don’t want to go back to their villages, and even those hard up for jobs continue to scour cities and towns desperately waiting for miracles to happen.

Take the case of Sonam Tshering, 24, from Tsirang. He attended school till Class VI, worked his family farm for five years, and came to Thimphu looking for a better life.

Today, he cleans drains for the municipality and hides away from familiar faces. But he has no qualms about what he is doing because he never wants to go back home to his old parents.

The DPT promise

The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa Manifesto doesn’t have a section solely dedicated to rural-urban drift though it does talk about related issues in snatches in its various sub-sections.

It talks about generating employment for the rural communities and the poor through cottage industries, small enterprises, credit guarantees, and access to micro credit facilites.

The Manifesto talks about making farming less strenuous and more cost effective through mechanization and other support services. Village training for youth in technical and business skills for farm based enterprises is also being promised.

The DPT Manifesto, however, doesn’t talk about how the government will attract and retain young adults, especially those who have been to school, in villages. It doesn’t have a clear answer to overcome farm labor shortage.

In a reverse promise, the Manifesto states that the DPT government will work hard to receive more urban dwellers by according high priority to proper town planning and urban development.

We want our children back

Farmers are desperate for their children to come back home and take the yoke off them. They say people are giving up livestock rearing because there is no one to take care of the animals.

“Our fields are fallow and our homes are empty,” says Ranjit Gurung, 73. “The birds have left the nest.”

Farmers say even if their children come home for breaks and vacations, they refuse to work saying they have lost touch with sickles and spades.

They say the migration of young adults is the major reason for farm labor shortage.

Farmers say the government must provide incentives to youths who want to go back to villages and take up farming. They say village life must be made more attractive.

“The government must help us to bring our children back home,” says Ranjit Gurung.

Happiness formula

By Tashi Dorji

May 24, 2009: Jealousy, sexual misconduct, or apathy toward reciting prayers - Bhutan is now ready with a set of mathematical formulae to measure these personal feelings and collect it all to calculate the country’s happiness.

For all those GNH skeptics who said happiness can never be measured, the Centre for Bhutan Studies is ready with the tools.

There are 72 measurable indicators grouped under nine principal domains - time use, living standards, good governance, psychological wellbeing, community vitality, culture, health, education, and ecology.

But, how is happiness calculated?

Consider that hours of sleep (a1) and trust in media (a2) are two examples of the 72 indicators that can be measured on a scale of 0 to 1.

The formula is:

GNH index = 1 – (a1+a2+…..+a72) / 72

There is one more method to calculate happiness, but the above one gives a more efficient result, Tshoki Zangmo, a researcher with the Centre for Bhutan Studies, told BT.

Following the formula, Bhutan’s GNH index after a survey of 950 respondents from 12 dzongkhags was 0.812. This means that among the 950 respondents the happiness level is 81%.

The dzongkhags surveyed included Dagana, Tsirang, Wangduephodrang, Samtse, Zhemgang, Pemagatshel, Samdrup Jongkhar, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Gasa, Haa, and Thimphu.

The survey conducted between December 2007 to March 2008 showed Haa to be happiest district with an index of 0.8273 and Dagana to be the least happy with an index of 0.8026.

Each respondent was asked a long list of questions and an interview took about half-a-day to be completed.

If the 72 indicator indexes are first weighted to the nine domains, the GNH index is 0.805 and the happy-dzongkhag list changes with Wangduephodrang topping the list with a weighted index of 0.818 and Trashigang trailing as the least happy with 0.790.

The survey was an improved version of the three-month pilot conducted between September 2006 and January 2007 where 350 people in nine dzongkhags were interviewed. It took about seven to eight hours for one interview.

While the GNH index is the aggregate of all its indicators, there are specific formulas to measure the 72 specific indicators. For example, the survey of 12 dzongkhags on a question ‘Do you practice meditation?’ with the ideal answer as ‘occasionally’ revealed the lowest index of all questions with 0.098. The highest index was 0.995 on the question ‘How important is it for children to learn discipline?’ with the ideal answer as ‘very important’.

Of the nine domains, the GNH index on education is the lowest with 0.548, while time use is the highest with 0.970.

Putting GNH into practice

A question that has always challenged the study of GNH is how to put the GNH principles into practice?

The CBS claims to have an answer for this, too.

The measure of GNH indicators can serve as evaluative tools against any kind of initiative before it is implemented. It can be used to know in advance whether the initiative is in tandem with the principles of GNH.

Similarly, all government policies and programs can undergo an exercise before it is implemented to gauge whether it is pro-GNH.

“The CBS has come up with a set of pro-GNH screening tools and recommends all government policies and programs to undergo the exercise before it is implemented. We have submitted a proposal for the same to the GNH Commission,” said Tshoki Zangmo.

The Secretary of the GNH Commission, Karma Tshiteem, said the Commission has endorsed the proposal and it will soon be presented to the cabinet. “Once the cabinet approves it, we will be using the (screening) tools in policy making.”

The GNH screening tools can be applied in two phases, at the project level and the policy level. It has been designed to scrutinize projects and policies to be implemented at three levels: those meant for all ministries and sectors (for example, good governance), for respective ministries (health, education), and for individual sectors (youth employment).

For a long time, Bhutan envisaged pursuing GNH through the four pillars of sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, environmental conservation, preservation and promotion of culture, and good governance.

Talking to the media earlier, the CBS president, Dasho Karma Ura, said: “The four pillars evoke and capture the imagination more easily. At the same time, the metaphor of four pillars is restrictive as it is not all-embracing or encompassing as GNH itself.”

Addressing the fourth international conference on GNH in Thimphu on November 24 last year, Prime Minister Lyonchen Jigmi Y. Thinley said: “With such a sobering awareness, my government has begun a spirited journey of combining democracy and GNH…We have pledged to consolidate and strengthen the conditions that will enable each citizen to find happiness.”

More to do

The 72 indicators developed by the CBS can still be fine-tuned and improved with further research to make it more representative, said Tshoki Zangmo.

The two initial surveys done by the CBS, with financial assistance from the government and the UNDP, was not nationwide because of which a national GNH data is still desired.

The CBS plans to conduct a nationwide survey next year and has approached the UNDP for financial support.

An official told BT that the 2010 budget programs will be finalized only at the end of this year. “We will look into it then,” he said.

A major setback in conducting GNH surveys is the volume of questions and the time taken for individual interviews. In both the initial surveys, enumerators took more than six hours to interview one respondent. In the second survey of 950 respondents, a 72-page questionnaire had 290 questions and 604 respondents were farmers and 791 were from rural areas which meant that the enumerator had to verbally explain the question to the respondent and fill up the answers.


Coming out with the formula is a commendable achievement for the CBS given that it was mandated by the government to develop the GNH indicators only in 2005.

Of late, high priority has been placed in defining the country’s course in the line of GNH.

In January 2008, the Planning Commission was renamed as the GNH Commission. The DPT government has committed itself to the principles of GNH and Lyonchen Jigmi Y. Thinley has announced to establish GNH committees at the ministerial, dzongkhag, and gewog levels.

Gift to the world

The ingredients of the statistical combination to quantify happiness are designed to suit only the Bhutanese context. However, the mathematical rules can be extended and customized to measure GNH of any economy.

Recalculating Happiness in a Himalayan Kingdom


Published: May 6, 2009
THIMPHU, Bhutan — If the rest of the world cannot get it right in these unhappy times, this tiny Buddhist kingdom high in the Himalayan mountains says it is working on an answer.

Seth Mydans/International Herald Tribune
Prayer flags above a monastery in the kingdom of 700,000.

The New York Times
Thimphu, the capital, has one traffic officer and no stoplight.

“Greed, insatiable human greed,” said Prime Minister Jigme Thinley of Bhutan, describing what he sees as the cause of today’s economic catastrophe in the world beyond the snow-topped mountains. “What we need is change,” he said in the whitewashed fortress where he works. “We need to think gross national happiness.”

The notion of gross national happiness was the inspiration of the former king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in the 1970s as an alternative to the gross national product. Now, the Bhutanese are refining the country’s guiding philosophy into what they see as a new political science, and it has ripened into government policy just when the world may need it, said Kinley Dorji, secretary of information and communications.

“You see what a complete dedication to economic development ends up in,” he said, referring to the global economic crisis. “Industrialized societies have decided now that G.N.P. is a broken promise.”

Under a new Constitution adopted last year, government programs — from agriculture to transportation to foreign trade — must be judged not by the economic benefits they may offer but by the happiness they produce.

The goal is not happiness itself, the prime minister explained, a concept that each person must define for himself. Rather, the government aims to create the conditions for what he called, in an updated version of the American Declaration of Independence, “the pursuit of gross national happiness.”

The Bhutanese have started with an experiment within an experiment, accepting the resignation of the popular king as an absolute monarch and holding the country’s first democratic election a year ago.

The change is part of attaining gross national happiness, Mr. Dorji said. “They resonate well, democracy and G.N.H. Both place responsibility on the individual. Happiness is an individual pursuit and democracy is the empowerment of the individual.”

It was a rare case of a monarch’s unilaterally stepping back from power, and an even rarer case of his doing so against the wishes of his subjects. He gave the throne to his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who was crowned in November in the new role of constitutional monarch without executive power.

Bhutan is, perhaps, an easy place to nimbly rewrite economic rules — a country with one airport and two commercial planes, where the east can only be reached from the west after four days’ travel on mountain roads.

No more than 700,000 people live in the kingdom, squeezed between the world’s two most populous nations, India and China, and its task now is to control and manage the inevitable changes to its way of life. It is a country where cigarettes are banned and television was introduced just 10 years ago, where traditional clothing and architecture are enforced by law and where the capital city has no stoplight and just one traffic officer on duty.

If the world is to take gross national happiness seriously, the Bhutanese concede, they must work out a scheme of definitions and standards that can be quantified and measured by the big players of the world’s economy.

“Once Bhutan said, ‘O.K., here we are with G.N.H.,’ the developed world and the World Bank and the I.M.F. and so on asked, ‘How do you measure it?’ ” Mr. Dorji said, characterizing the reactions of the world’s big economic players. So the Bhutanese produced an intricate model of well-being that features the four pillars, the nine domains and the 72 indicators of happiness.

Specifically, the government has determined that the four pillars of a happy society involve the economy, culture, the environment and good governance. It breaks these into nine domains: psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality and good governance, each with its own weighted and unweighted G.N.H. index.

All of this is to be analyzed using the 72 indicators. Under the domain of psychological well-being, for example, indicators include the frequencies of prayer and meditation and of feelings of selfishness, jealousy, calm, compassion, generosity and frustration as well as suicidal thoughts.

“We are even breaking down the time of day: how much time a person spends with family, at work and so on,” Mr. Dorji said.

Mathematical formulas have even been devised to reduce happiness to its tiniest component parts. The G.N.H. index for psychological well-being, for example, includes the following: “One sum of squared distances from cutoffs for four psychological well-being indicators. Here, instead of average the sum of squared distances from cutoffs is calculated because the weights add up to 1 in each dimension.”

This is followed by a set of equations:

= 1-(.25+.03125+.000625+0)

= 1-.281875

= .718

Every two years, these indicators are to be reassessed through a nationwide questionnaire, said Karma Tshiteem, secretary of the Gross National Happiness Commission, as he sat in his office at the end of a hard day of work that he said made him happy.

Gross national happiness has a broader application for Bhutan as it races to preserve its identity and culture from the encroachments of the outside world.

“How does a small country like Bhutan handle globalization?” Mr. Dorji asked. “We will survive by being distinct, by being different.”

Bhutan is pitting its four pillars, nine domains and 72 indicators against the 48 channels of Hollywood and Bollywood that have invaded since television was permitted a decade ago.

“Before June 1999 if you asked any young person who is your hero, the inevitable response was, ‘The king,’ ” Mr. Dorji said. “Immediately after that it was David Beckham, and now it’s 50 Cent, the rap artist. Parents are helpless.”

So if G.N.H. may hold the secret of happiness for people suffering from the collapse of financial institutions abroad, it offers something more urgent here in this pristine culture.

“Bhutan’s story today is, in one word, survival,” Mr. Dorji said. “Gross national happiness is survival; how to counter a threat to survival.”