I read the article “Bhutan is no Shangri-la” with great interest. It was sent to me from different parts of the world- including Father Michael and Myra who were in Bhutan recently and we spent a week together so I have put them also in the copy of this email.
Mr. Vidhaypati Mishra writes very eloquently. However, he does not mention the name of his village back in Bhutan in his article so it becomes difficult to connect with him. The description does not give lead to any suggestive conclusions. Buffalo are very very rare in Bhutan – so I am not sure from which part of Bhutan his family migrated. I am myself a southern Bhutanese (Lhotsampa) of the ethnic Nepalese origin. No one told me and my family to leave our country. I remember a cousin of mine with his wife had walked over Dagala pass in thigh deep snow from Dagana to meet us in Thimphu and to say good bye. It was January of probably 1991. We asked him why were they leaving the homeland and the home so lovingly built. The reason he gave was that they were scared because everyone was leaving the country. I had six uncles and two aunts. Many of their generations have migrated from the country during this time. Recently, I met a couple of them over phone from NYC and the reason they gave me was pressure from the rebellious leaders who were behind the uprising. These leaders threatened the people to leave the country. When the people did not listen, they went to their homes in darkness dressed like soldiers and threatened people to leave. I do not wish to name these leaders who took advantage of the innocent people and made them suffer in the camps for last two decades. These leaders had a slogan “you will be short by six inches” if you do not comply to their instructions. They proved by chopping heads of few people (their own people). They scummed so low that they started to loot, rape, kill, blast schools and bridges – these were people who left Bhutan willing or under fear to Jhapa.
My grandfather came to Bhutan from Sikkim in 1910. My father, aunts, uncles, were all born in Sikkim. I was born in Bhutan. Bhutan had already a parliamentary system introduced by the third King as far back as late 1950ies. I remember my father was chosen from south as a chimi (people’s representative) and did not take up the post saying that he was aging and gave the place to his nephew – who I believe still lives in Jhapa refugee camp old and sick. He has a wish to come back to Bhutan while all his children have migrated to different parts of the world. It was in late 1950ies, due to a lot of migration problem from Nepal and neighbouring Indian territories that the assembly took a decision to make a cut off year for migration and decided as 1958. Anyone who had migrated before Dec 1958 were Bhutanese by registration. However, the borders being very porous, the migration continued with bribing the local authorities, and they kept sipping in Bhutan. I am not sure which year but it was in late 1970ies that Times had reported 60% of the Bhutanese population were comprised of ethnic Nepalese. This was an alarming figure for a small country like Bhutan. In 1980, an informal demographic census was carried out. I attended several administrative blocks in the group for census under different districts of Tsirang, Sarpang, Dagana, Samdrup Jongkhar and Chukha. We found many who had settled in Bhutan after 1958.
The country underwent changes in its census and immigration act in 1977 and 1985 trying to be more inclusive so that those who had migrated after 1958 would have the opportunity to naturalize themselves through proper process. There were senior government officials from south who took the opportunity to be leaders in this confusion hoping that they become the democratic leaders in future – and many of them or their parents were migrants after 1958. They started planning refuting the government already from 1986. When one of the senior citizens went fishing in my village Kalikhoa during 1987, on his return he encouraged me to go to King and report. I did not dare because I had no knowledge what they were doing and what was their purpose and intention – but postering and visiting houses of people had become intense already during that time. Most of upheaval seeds were watered sadly in the schools of south – teachers were very involved, as I learnt later.
The writer was too young to understand at grade 4 – he could have been ten years old – what he writes is from hear and say. Nepali was not banned after 1989, it was taken out of curriculum already in 1984. The senior Lhotsampa officials were consulted by the education department if Nepali was required because Patsalas existed were Nepali teaching and learning were undertaken. It was a conscious decision of the department to remove the Nepali curriculum from schools – on consensus. The concept of one nation one people is misconstrued by Lhotsampas. It had a deeper meaning – “integration”. There were even incentives for either of Lhotsampa female or male marrying one from the north. The incentive were money and five acres of land. The Fourth King desired for a peaceful Bhutan knowing that a country can only be happy if it was integrated.
I cannot verify or imagine the story of torture he writes in his article – may be it is true to some extend. I think such things are common when there is benefit of doubt – in any country be it Americas (hear about the Iraq, Vietnam and many other stories) that has internal revolt. However, if they were forced to sign the migration certificate and leave – why did they have to leave through forest. Most Lhotsampas resettlement is close to Indian Boarder. If the claim that the Lhotsampas were asked to leave the country how did they miss my family and hundred of other families living still in Bhutan? May be Mr. Mishra was too young to remember and understand clearly why his father was leaving the country then. Rather we all suffered here living in Bhutan more than those in Jhapa due to loss of trust from our norther brothers and sisters. I am still doubtful if we have proven ourselves as loyal citizens – it takes generations – remember this was the second time of rebellious move of Lhotsampas. The country cannot embark giving citizenship to all those living in Bhutan – during this problem may left and returned, some took chance and entered the country and while others are recorded as left the country. It needs deep verification and His Majesty is granting citizenship with every verification slowly but surely.
The claim of Lhotsampas in Jhapa that they fought for a democratic Bhutan is not true. The third King had already begun the process of democracy and it was thereafter fully architect-ed by the Fourth King. He had devolved power to the people completely already 30 years before he handed the Kingdom to his heir as democratic King. First, people rejected the idea of democracy and then he told them that until then the people were lucky to have good serving Kings but there was no assurance that the same would hold in unforeseeable future and therefore it was time for people to take back the country they had handed over to Wangchuck dynasty 100 years ago, and take a collective decision to lead their own future’. When finally the democracy came to being. People did not understand what had changed – they said where is democracy. For us, we identified democracy with our neighbours which were violent in their beings.
It is also not true that Bhutan did not try to resolve the problem. Nepal signed an agreement with Bhutan which Bhutan still honours. It was in Dec 2003 that the joint verification team started to announce different steps into returning the refugees to Bhutan; they were pelted with stones and beaten up with bamboo sticks and they had to run for their lives. Since then Nepali Government has never been steady. However, the only solution was resettlement. I have heard Bhutanese leaders requesting international community to help resolve the refugee problem through resettlement. My heartfelt thanks to the nations who have embraced the refugees and given them homes in their hearts and land. I have heard and visited a few and they are doing extremely well in the US. I spoke to a few and they had no ill feeling against Bhutan. Their only wish was to come to Bhutan once as visitors.
I wish you Mr. Mishra and your family all the very best in your lives – Please remember what lord Krishna taught Hindus in his gathas – “whatever happens, happens for better -do your best in a positive way and leave the rest to me.” I send you my deep love and sorry if you still are sour with my beloved country. Please encourage everyone to leave Jhapa and find a new meaning in every ones lives.
Dr Saamdu Chetri
Thimphu : Bhutan