Bhutan: A Kingdom Besieged

Bhutan: A Kingdom Besieged

Source: Bhutannica

By Jigmi Y. Thinley


The "hermit" kingdom has been forcibly shaken out of its cloister. The mystical charm of this tranquil Himalayan sanctuary has been eclipsed by a smog of gloom. Indeed, Bhutan has become a subject of interest to journalists, politicians, academics and the common man alike. While the opinions of scholars on Bhutan will be increasingly, sought and valued, even those who were earlier oblivious to the existence of Bhutan, appear to find in this country a cause to defend or challenge. Bhutan's aspiration to of becoming a mountain paradise of exemplary social harmony and economic prosperity had begun to materialize in a uniquely fertile setting. It is now an elusive dream. The country is engulfed in a crisis, and the very foundations of the last kingdom of ancient Mahayana Buddhism is being shaken.

The situation in the south is not a simple problem. Its causes are as complex and perplexing as the resultant shocking human drama that is unfolding before us. Its roots lie deep within the cultural, historical and political complexes of the indigenous inhabitants, the southern Bhutanese of Nepalese origin and the recent economic migrants from Nepal. It is clear that psychological disorientation, emotional trauma and a sense of insecurity pervades throughout the entire kingdom. Just who is the victim or villain is a valid question. The answer must be sought through a deeper understanding of the problem.

In trying to understand the situation, there is the danger of drawing hasty conclusions on the basis of values and standards which may not be entirely relevant to Bhutan. The problem as such, is at risk of being viewed out of context leading to possible inaccurate conclusions which could, in turn, strengthen one's misconceptions and biases. Yet another obstacle to obtaining the truth in such a case is the spontaneous reasoning that arises out of natural human compassion for those who appear to be innocent victims.

Any one who visits a refugee camp sees in the transparent shelters and living conditions, more than the plight of refugees, the harsh and cruel realities of life and death itself. He sees in it the immediacy of the inescapable "biological trap" of which Hemingway writes so eloquently. It becomes so clearly visible in a sea of humanity, where every man, woman and child is exposed and is there to reveal the cycle of life - of birth, sickness and death. Whether these have anything to do with their being refugees is often unwittingly ignored. But it is this reality that often shocks the visitor and blurs his mental and visual perceptions. He is moved to share an immediate sense of solidarity with the victims while assuming an uncompromising position against any party perceived or alleged to be the perpetrator. Thanks to television, this message is brought home more vividly and with sharper focus.

But the misery of life in a refugee camp can never be understated or denied. It is sad that anyone should suffer the deprivation and despair of a refugee. It is even more tragic that the refugee is often the victim of manipulation in a political struggle the outcome of which may give him no gain but the process of which gives him much suffering.

This paper aims to address the more enquiring mind. It attempts to offer an insight to the problem by facilitating a wider and deeper perspective of the socioeconomic and political aspects of its root causes. It identifies who are the southern Bhutanese and traces their first entry into Bhutan. It examines the various factors and compulsions which account for their departure from Nepal, and attempts to determine the reasons and causes that finally led to the return-migration of those detected to be illegal immigrants to their homeland alongwith a significant number of southern Bhutanese.

The paper is presented in eight sections. Each section deals with a major aspect of the southern Bhutanese problem. Beyond that, the paper examines the legitimacy of the demand for political change by the dissidents and delves into the question of whether there is a hidden agenda. It inquires whether the cause of the unrest could have originated beyond the boundaries of Bhutan and explains why the Bhutanese authorities never had any reason to suspect the uprising of September '90 by the southern citizens. The final section of the paper discusses Bhutan's perception of the problem and the future.


The Nepalese of southern Bhutan who are known as 'Lhotsampas' among the Bhutanese since the late 1980's originally migrated from Nepal. They include a large number of the ethnic groups of that country which, according to the first king of the united Nepalese nation, Prithvi Narayan Shah, comprised four varnas (caste divisions) and thirty-six jats (tribes/ cultures) during his reign (1743-1775). The problem in southern Bhutan has given cause for speculation on the actual date of entry and the role of the Nepalese in certain major historical events. Some discussion on this subject thus appears to be relevant. What then of the claim that the Nepalese arrived in Bhutan during the reign of the Shabdrung? No Nepalese appear to have even visited Bhutan during the reign of the lst Shabdrung. There is, however, evidence that since the temporal reign of the Deb Minjur Tenpa (1667-1680), Newari craftsmen who were renowned for their artistic skills in metal work were commissioned by Bhutan for execution of religious objects and casting of statues. The Tibetans too employed the Newaris for the same purpose and even minted their coins in Kathmandu long before the unification of Nepal. These artisans have no historical connection with the Nepali speaking people of southern Bhutan.

In attempting to establish a precise entry date of the first Nepalese to enter Bhutan, the reports of Ashly Eden (1863) and David F. Rennie (1864) are particularly illuminating. They, like their preceding compatriots who visited Bhutan, such as Turner, Bogle, etc. speak of the absence of any Nepalese settlements in the foothills. Eden takes special note of their absolute absence. He wrote that 'there were only two grass huts and three or four cattle sheds, few men and a few women, and this constituted the whole garrison and town of Sipchu' (Sibsoo Sub-Division under Samchi District), the site of the first Nepalese arrivals. Later Rennie, who was attached to the British forces also observed that Samchi consisted of 'twenty houses and a monastery' with some Mechis and Bengalese engaged in agriculture.

The first sightings of Nepalese in the southern foothills are reported by Charles Bell in 1904 followed closely by John Claude White in 1905. All Bhutanese records confirm that no Nepalese settled in any part of Bhutan until then. Therefore, since the most authentic source is the Kasho (letter) of authorization from Ugyen Wangchuck who was then the Tongsa Penlop, it is clear that the first and legal arrival of the Nepalese took place at the turn of this century, immediately or soon after the Kasho was issued.

The claim that the Nepalese had a role in safeguarding the sovereignty of the country, is clearly baseless since they did not enter southern Bhutan or any part of the duars area of West Bengal or Assam until long after the Sinchula Treaty with the British was signed. This is corroborated by Eden's report which states that his Nepalese porters, "were unwilling to enter Bhutan, the inhabitants of which were not looked upon with favour ... there the coolies left in considerable numbers being afraid to cross the frontier" (Teesta Bridge). Arthur Foning, a Kalimpong Lepcha, writes that this bore testimony to how effectively the Bhutanese territorial interests were guarded.

It can therefore, be stated emphatically that no Nepalese ever crossed beyond the Teesta river until after 1865, let alone penetrate into Bhutan by which time the boundaries of Bhutan had been redefined and withdrawn far beyond the Teesta river (Kalimpong sub-division) and the fortress of Dalimkot which is now in ruins.


· Drawn by red blood are these boundaries
· like enclosures in, every field
· Wherever you look, drawn are the lines
· Like the pigeons encaged
· Men are closed in these traps.
o (Vijay Malla, Translated from Nepali by Michael Hutt)

The migratory habit of the Nepalese is a cultural trait common among the multiple ethnic cultures of Nepal. The theme of the poem (above) is an expression of the conscious or subconscious yearning of the typical Nepalese youth to break out of the cage in which he finds himself entrapped. To the people of this country, who have served and fought battles for foreign nations in many distant lands and who enjoy the facility of free movement across the Indian sub-continent's, the territorial boundaries are cruel barriers. But the boundary is a reality. It is a necessary evil that must be respected.

The disregard for international boundary and spread of the Nepalese cultural area has been the cause of increasing concern for the countries and the states of India to the west, east and south-east of Nepal. Yet if nothing, little appears to have been intended or achieved by the parent state to overcome the compelling circumstances that force the Nepalese to continue their trans-national migratory tradition in search of land and opportunities. This is frustrating the people in the affected areas. It is an established fact that the exodus of out-migration from Nepal in extremely large numbers is a continuing phenomenon which shows no sign of abating. The people of the fragile mountain cultures and economies are thus, seriously concerned. These areas include mainly Assam, the northeastern hill states of India, as well as Burma and Bhutan.
A study on the causes and compulsions for this phenomenon has revealed the following: 1. Political upheavals and economic deprivations: These appear to be the prime cause for the Nepalese to be constantly on the move either within or outside the country. While incessant wars and instability as well as the repressive conditions that prevailed under the Rana regime were valid reasons in the past, the inequalities of development and its failure to reach out to the vast rural populations under the difficult geophysical conditions, give little cause for the villager with the spirit of adventure to stay on. Urged by his free spirit, he thus ventures out to find greener pastures. By modern definition, he is labeled an "economic/migrant refugee".
The first major stimulus to the migratory trade of the Nepalese to venture beyond the boundaries of their country arose in the early 19th century. When Darjeeling was acquired by the East India Company, to build a sanitarium and a difficult road in the late 1830's the Nepalese were recruited in the absence of local labourers. Again, when the tea industry in Darjeeling reached the stage of commercial production in 1856, the Nepalese were the first choice for tea garden labourers. Against the large scale import of Nepalese who settled in the area, the indigenous Lepchas who comprised a small population, faded into an insignificant minority in their own homeland.

After the signing of the Sinchula Treaty of 1865 under which the Bhutanese ceded the Kalimpong sub-division alongwith the 18 duars, the hitherto forbidden land of the Lepchas lay open to the Nepalese. Soon the Lepchas were driven deeper and deeper into the forests while the aggressive, colonizing Nepalese took over the more fertile areas for conversion to permanent agricultural land. Even the forest succumbed to the heavy axe of the "intruders" and " the children of nature, like the birds of the sky" and their culture fell prey to those who are now masters of their homeland. With the destruction of their environment, the Lepchas had lost their habitat and source of sustenance. If not for the effort of certain missionaries, the fragile Lepcha culture and language may perhaps have been lost forever.

What the Lepchas were able to achieve by way of preserving their culture under almost 200 years of Bhutanese rule, they had lost within a few decades after the arrival of the Nepalese. Arthur Foning, a Kalimpong Lepcha in his book "Lepcha, My Vanishing Tribe" laments that "The British may have done this for our good but, as seen later, the result proved to be a complete disaster and a sort of a curse for us Rong-folk". Indeed, as he adds, "the process of disintegration started". The next victims were the "Lho-MonTsong-Sum" or the three races of the Bhutias, the Lepchas and the Limboos of Sikkim. Here again, their combined strength could not withstand the onslaught of the Nepalese agricultural colonialists. To speed up the process, certain Sikkimese noblemen conspired successfully with the Newari merchants and the British to overcome resistance which until 1875 had prevented their penetration. Within 16 years, the proud "Lho-Mon-Tsong-Sum" had become a minority in their own land.

After Sikkim and Kalimpong, the spread of the Nepalese continued across the Bengal Duars where tea gardens and townships were also being established and where they now form a major ethno-political group. It was natural that as they moved further east, Bhutan should fall in their path. However, the areas of southern Bhutan were initially only skimmed as a result of the assertion of strict measures to control entry of Nepalese except by authority of Kazi Ugyen Dorji in accordance with the "Kasho" of Tongsa Penlop.

2. Mercenary role: This tradition was established soon after the Anglo Nepal war of 1814-1816 during which the Nepalese proved their military prowess and gallantry in war. Independent India continues with the tradition while the British on their part, maintain a separate arrangement. This is, perhaps, the main influencing factor that has nurtured and sustained the migratory spirit. The fact that, until recently, the recruits came from the remotest villages had a profound impact on the migrant farmers. To this reason may be attributed the boldness, even in the simple villager to leave the safety of the village threshold and cross the national boundary to traverse fearlessly and settle in difficult and strange lands often against strong local resistance.
On the subject of the Nepalese martial characteristics, it may be said that the Rajputs of Chitor who once ruled over almost all the principalities of Nepal had a major influence over the indigenous inhabitants of the country. On the other hand, the Gurungs and the Tamangs are themselves descendants of the imperial Tibetan armies that were once posted on the Tibetan frontiers with Nepal.

Furthermore, their role in the Indian and British armies and the 2nd World War have had a decisive influence on their settlement across the entire length and breadth of India and even as far as Burma and beyond. The exact Nepalese population in India is not ascertainable, but it is generally known that in a more or less continuous belt from Himachal to the eastern most hill state of India where there is a concentration of their population, the number is close to 10 million. With the facility of free movement in India, their number is rising rapidly to the consternation of those with whom they are competing for land and jobs.. 3. Population Explosion: Much like Bhutan, Nepal is a mountainous country. Most human settlements are situated on the steep slopes of the mountains. The delicate balance between man and nature is visibly and alarmingly pronounced. Unless the mutuality of dependence is appreciated and the balance maintained, man and mountain stand to destroy each other. In Nepal, this delicate equilibrium has been disturbed. The reproductive capacity of man has overtaken the productive capacity of the land. With one of the highest growth rate in the world, Nepal has seen its population quite literally, explode.

Twenty years ago, Christopher Haimendorf wrote in his introductory note in the report (SOAS) on the conference on 'The Anthropology Of Nepal' that between 1930 and 1961, the population of the kingdom grew from 5.532 -million to 9.753 million. Going by the present growth rate of approximately half a million per annum which is almost equivalent to the entire Population of Bhutan, his projection of 25 million by the end of the century appears to be falling short especially if the out-migration figures are to be included. He further adds that 'even today many thousands of villagers ... migrate every winter in search of work, and while most of them return ... it is not unusual for men to stay for a year or more in India'. Nepalese are compelled to search for economic opportunities of both short term and long term nature outside their country.

The Nepalese population now accounts for 20.1 million (Almanac, Asia week) with an annual growth rate exceeding 2.3% is most disturbing for both Nepal and her neighbours. Over eleven million Nepalese, constituting 60% of the total population live below poverty line.

Against the background of population explosion, which the country's economy cannot absorb even with the present high level of international assistance, the productive capacity and area of arable land itself is diminishing alarmingly. The reasons for this include excessive stress on the land and deforestation; the resultant depletion and denudation of the top soil caused by surface run of rain water; gully formation, sheet erosion and the flash floods that even affect the valley bottoms; and the occurrence of adverse micro-climatic changes. Even the forest belt in the terai which had provided a 'breathing space' has virtually disappeared. The farmer is thus squeezed out of the land that he has rendered infertile. While hopefully, the land may slowly cure itself, there is no other solution than for the more adventurous and the younger to seek a source of alternative livelihood outside his village.


Upon Kazi Ugyen having been formally permitted to recruit Nepalese in the southern foothills, he initially recruited 'sardars' (contractors) whose function and responsibilities were to recruit and organize the Nepalese into groups of 'Tangyas' to conduct logging operations for sale of timber to neighbouring India. Once this was done, the more competent sardars were appointed as contractual landlords who were placed in charge of parceling the cleared forest into plots for allotment. They realized the land utilization fees as well as the return from sale of timber which continued to be harvested. These contractual landlords were given considerable latitude in the administration of their respective areas of control. Some emerged to enjoy the confidence of the Kazi and even that of the Paro Penlop who exercised administrative jurisdiction over Samchi. Because of the authority vested in them for various reasons, not the least of which may have been due to communication difficulty, they even interacted with their British counterparts across the border on behalf of the state.

After the recruitment in Samchi, except for minor lapses and for a good number of years, strict vigil was kept by the contractual landlords against illegal immigrants. It would appear that the inhospitable nature of the southern foothills (highly malaria prone with large herds of elephants) was in itself a major deterrent as observed by several British visitors including Eden and Rennie. In fact, this was one of the main reasons why until the 1950's no other parts of foothills were colonized except the malaria free hills of Chirang District.

Towards the early 1950's, the Nepalese began to acquire larger plots of land and encroached into the forest lands. From Samchi they began to spread westward and towards the north while those in Chirang began to push the indigenous people of Daga northwards, and spread southwards. It was around this time (1951-'54) that the Bhutan State Congress Party was formed under the leadership and as an extension of the Nepal Congress Party which had launched a successful rebellion against the Rana regime in Nepal. Fearing their spread into the interior parts of Bhutan and the helplessness of the government to wield effective control over them, the Government halted further northward spread.

After development programmes were initiated in 1961, education, health and other facilities began to be established in the two districts. The greatest impact of early development, both positive and negative, was to be realized from the establishment of a network of malaria eradication units along the southern belt which catered even to the tiny population of Nepalese in the Sarbhang area. While the positive impact was obvious, the eradication of malaria in the region invited further immigrants who were aggressive in their intent and action to 'colonize' the vast stretches of the fertile land. Gaylegphug or the entire Sarbhang Dzongkhag which until 1962 was known as Hathisa, meaning elephant land, soon became a target of the Nepalese immigrants. The once impregnable area of dense subtropical forest has now lost its verdant cover along with much of its fauna and like much of southern Bhutan, except for the protected wild life reserves and forest plantations, it has become an ecologically vulnerable area having undergone dramatic micro climatic changes.

Once the 5-year development programmes began to yield results, government effort to control immigration was thwarted by the earlier settlers who colluded with their ethnic kith and kin to prevent detection, falsify records and facilitate infiltration. Free education, free health services, employment opportunities, highly subsidized agriculture inputs, generous rural credit schemes, the security of a politically stable country were the main inducements that led to the influx of Nepalese immigrants in the 1960's and 1970's. In addition to the new arrivals, those who had come in legally as labourers for the many development schemes also began to infiltrate into the villages.

The encroachment on government protected forests by the Southern Bhutanese was a major problem encountered by the government often leading to confrontation with the migrants, until very recently. Even as the government embarked on a policy of conservation and afforestation, eco-environmental degradation became uncontrollable in the south. While taking full advantage of government leniency towards the southern Bhutanese they were capable of conceiving the most clever methods of undetectable encroachments. Presently, the legal average land holding among the southern Bhutanese is 8 acres while that of the northern Bhutanese is 2.3 acres.
Another peculiar observation among the settlers in the south is the interethnic exploitation that often comes to play. The pioneers among the Nepalese are usually the non-Bahuns who are more simple of mind and physically stronger. Once the forest is cleared via the slash and burn practice- and the land is tamed, the Bahun and the Thakuris follow with cash and guile. Before long, the pioneer is in debt and his mortgaged land has changed hands. The 'pioneers' are either rendered landless and termed 'Sukum-Basis' (landless people)or carve out, usually illegally, new plots. "ere the forest authorities are alert and assertive, the "Sukum" Basis" apply for "Kidu" (special dispensation) from the King which are either given individually on a case wise basis or in groups. The granting of "Kidu" land in groups has resulted in the establishment of new settlements specifically for the southern Bhutanese in recent years.

As much land as possible is generally colonized and managed through polygamous practice. A man may have several families each of which may live separately and look after separate properties often scattered in different blocks or dzongkhags (districts). The possessions of the farmers which include crop fields as well as orchards etc. are perceived commonly as a saleable wealth and are often sold for various reasons. This application of monetary value to the land and the comparative detachment of the farmer from it is uncharacteristic of the typical Asian farmer who is deeply and inextricably attached to the land.

Yet another peculiarity among the southern Bhutanese in general is to build very small and light structured temporary homes despite their comparatively higher income from the more intensive form of mixed farming systems. Their northern Bhutanese counterparts who on the average, own smaller land and hardly enjoy any income from cash crops, tend to build and live in much larger houses indicating a much higher sense of belonging and permanence. At the same time, the southern farmer, typically, does not invest his money in the bank or income generating fixed assets in the country. Invariably, their income is mainly converted to such highly liquid forms of asset as gold or silver which are usually buried in the ground.

These behavioral peculiarities of the southern Bhutanese farmers have often been seen as pointing to the transitory nature of their domicile in the country, reflecting a lack of attachment and sense of belonging to Bhutan. While the linkage with their adopted home and country thus appears tenuous they maintain a tenacious link with Nepal, their motherland. The suspicion that they did not in general sever their umbilical cord" with Nepal is further strengthened by the presence of the portrait of the Nepalese King and Queen while the Bhutanese King's portrait usually found no space in their homes. Added to this was the discovery that even senior government officials and prominent farmers visited Nepal to obtain Nepalese citizenship cards.
Often land disputes arose between the southern Bhutanese and their neighbours as a result of their northward incursions. Such disputes continue to take place since the foothills of the south were the winter grazing grounds of the Paropas of Paro, the Hapas of Ha and Dung Metaps of the Chukha Dzongkhags. These disputes which continue even today usually are resolved in favour of the southern Bhutanese. Consequently, the cattle herds of the northern Bhutanese and their dairy products have dwindled considerably over the years. Those who have lost a source of livelihood speak bitterly of government injustice. It is not uncommon even now for the remaining herders to find their shrunken pastures to have been converted to orange, cardamom, ginger and arecanut gardens or even paddy fields each winter.

The Doyas, who represent one of the oldest inhabitants of Bhutan and who, at one time occupied significant tracts of land in Samchi have also found themselves pushed out of the fertile land. Today, they are to be found in 3 main communities (two in Bhutan and one in India) confined to the marginally arable land in what was once their homeland. Inspite of there having been no effort on the part of the Government to provide any meaningful support, these communities have miraculously survived with their culture fairly intact simply by the act of evasion and escape from their new neighbours. It is felt that unless these communities are given special protection, they are now highly vulnerable to final extinction. Elsewhere in the country, namely the Dagana, Kheng, Martshala and Serthig-Lauri areas, similar encroachment and loss of traditional grazing grounds have, occurred.

It would be a matter of reasonable curiosity to inquire how this tiny nation survived as a sovereign state despite the Tibetan and Mongol invasions and its proximity to the British Colonial power in India. Of the many reasons attributable to this, the most important and popular one that the Bhutanese insist upon is their unique Drukpa identity which give it a distinctively separate form from any country or culture. It is this that, they believe, established an appreciable level of national homogeneity and cohesion among the various linguistic and ethnic groups in the country. They consider this to have engendered the will to survive, the genius to fashion the means and the strength to defend their nation state.

It was observed that many of the southern Bhutanese lacked a sense of belonging to the country.
This was particularly found wanting in terms of identity, patriotism and allegiance in relation to the country, the people and the institution of monarchy. A British colonel reporting on 7th December 1931 informed his government that the Nepalese constitute a population which did not owe allegiance to the Bhutanese King. There was in the south a growing population whose loyalty and allegiance lay outside their own country. On the other hand, the tenacity with which they held on to the elements of what constitute Nepalese national identity, except among few village communities, was very noticeable. At the same time, the prevalence of class and caste distinction which developed on the basis of sanskritization during the pre unification days of Nepal Was virtually unchallenged even in Bhutan giving cause for further concern. Government development agents, including low caste Southern Bhutanese, belonging mainly to health and teaching cadres, were often insulted by high caste behaviour during interaction with local southern population. Such sentiments and unfortunate circumstances appeared only to distance the population from the other Bhutanese.

Thus, the centrifugal implications on the Bhutanese polity arising particularly from the existence of two separate national identities could not be ignored. The government, therefore, launched a series of measures to counter this threat to national integrity under the national integration policy.

3. Development activities in the south were accelerated, intensified and expanded with the larger share of the development budgets being allocated to the southern Dzongkhags. The 4th, 5th and 6th five-year plan periods, covering the years 1976 to 1992, saw a dramatic rise in the number of schools, health facilities, agricultural extensions, communications infrastructure etc. in the south. In addition, the policy of the Royal Government to ensure equitable distribution of all national and regional facilities led to the establishment or upgradation of several educational, health and agricultural institutions in the south. Some of the largest development projects were also undertaken in the south. These include the Hill Irrigation Project of Chirang, the Gaylegphug Area Development Project, the resettlement projects of landless southern people etc.

4. Establishment of Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) by authority of a Royal Charter which established a merit based civil service by government with a clear set of criteria, rules and regulations for recruitment/ appointment, transfer and promotion including all career development opportunities: The Commission is also responsible for human resource development under which mandate it established merit based procedures for selection of students for higher education and training abroad.

With the emergence of the RCSC in 1982, guarantee of equal opportunities to employment with merit as the single criteria for all personnel action in government and corporations became established. The process toward this direction had already been initiated in 1977 under a Royal Command with the establishment of the Department of Manpower which later became the RCSC. In addition to the appointment of southern Bhutanese in the Commission, it was also ensured that certain key positions in the Secretariat were filled by southern Bhutanese. Thus the greatest beneficiaries, as intended, were the southern Bhutanese as all possibilities of discrimination etc. were totally eliminated. The percentage of civil servants in the government reached 38% in 1989 from less than 5% in the early 1970s.


The King has always been deeply committed to bringing the southern Bhutanese into the national mainstream. It is significant to note that even during his early childhood when he received his education in an exclusive school in Paro, he ensured the inclusion of southern Bhutanese children. While his late father had already initiated certain steps to integrate the southern people, it was during his reign that major efforts to achieve effective integration on a broader and deeper scale were undertaken to optimize the role of the southern Bhutanese in determining the destiny of the nation.

Although there was always the alternative choice to take measures that would marginalise and limit the role and sociopolitical capacity of the southern people, the government chose to frame a sincere well intentioned policy of genuine integration which was translated into a series of programmes covering all aspects of socioeconomic development. It was also reasoned that acceleration of development in the south to achieve an absolute parity in developmental benefits between the Nepalese people and the rest, would serve to make visibly clear the true intentions of the Royal Government. At the same time, it would enhance and ensure the capacity of the Nepalese to participate equally in the national mainstream via equal accessibility to education and employment opportunities. To this end, the government undertook a vigorous programme of integration of which the salient features include the following:

1. Introduction and usage of the term Lhotsampa in 1985-1986: The term simply means southern people on the basis of their regional location. Until this term was introduced, the southern people were referred to variously as Nepalese, paharias, and 'rintsam gi miser' (people of the borderland). The introduction of this term not only gave them a standard Bhutanese nomenclature but also implicit.in it was that country's acceptance and recognition of the Nepalese as a distinctly different cultural and linguistic unit in the ethnically diverse Bhutanese society. Anyone who referred to the southern people by the earlier terms was subjected to a fine of Nu.500/- on the spot under an executive circular Issued by the Home Ministry.

2. Lifting of restrictions against the entry and travel of southern Bhutanese as well as acquisition of land in interior Bhutan: This was an event of great significance which was immediately recognized by all.

3. Development activities in the south were accelerated, intensified and expanded with the larger share of the development budgets being allocated to the southern Dzongkhags. The 4th, 5th and 6th five-year plan periods, covering the years 1976 to 1992, saw a dramatic rise in the number of schools, health facilities, agricultural extensions, communications infrastructure etc. in the south. In addition, the policy of the Royal Government to ensure equitable distribution of all national and regional facilities led to the establishment or upgradation of several educational, health and agricultural institutions in the south. Some of the largest development projects were also undertaken in the south. These include the Hill Irrigation Project of Chirang, the Gaylegphug Area Development Project, the resettlement projects of landless southern people etc.

4. Establishment of Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) by authority of a Royal Charter which established a merit based civil service by government with a clear set of criteria, rules and regulations for recruitment/appointment, transfer and promotion including all career development opportunities: The Commission is also responsible for human resource development under which mandate it established merit based procedures for selection of students for higher education and training abroad.

With the emergence of the RCSC in 1982, guarantee of equal opportunities to employment with merit as the single criteria for all personnel action in government and corporations became established. The process toward this direction had already been initiated in 1977 under a Royal Command with the establishment of the Department of Manpower which later became the RCSC. In addition to the appointment of southern Bhutanese in the Commission, it was also ensured that certain key positions in the Secretariat were filled by southern Bhutanese34. Thus the greatest beneficiaries, as intended, were the southern Bhutanese as all possibilities of discrimination etc. were totally eliminated. The percentage of civil servants in the government reached 38% in 1989 from less than 5% in the early 1970s.

5. Recruitment of southern Bhutanese into the army and the police were also increased with special consideration given for officers training. In order to increase the number of southern officers, the RBA allotted 50% of the slots for officers training to the southern candidates for several years. The success of the policy both in intent and action was apparent since by 1989, their percentage in the Army and Police was beyond 25%.

6. Almost all major industries and commercial centres were established in the south on the basis of purely economic considerations as the main criteria. Under the integration policy, long term political implications were given little attention. While the southern towns of Samchi, Phuntsholing, Gaylegphug and Samdrupjongkhar are now the biggest commercial centres apart from Thimphu, all major industries are located in the southern districts whether they be hydro power generation, mineral or wood based industries.

Beyond these measures, the Royal Government initiated further steps to accelerate integration by providing special incentives and gestures. It is these steps which were seen as signs of weakness by the southern Bhutanese. These are listed below:

a. Certain key positions in the government were given to southern officers, some of whom had not been able to demonstrate any professional competence. This action which was aimed to increase the number of southern civil service officers among the policy makers had some negative impact on the credibility of the RCSC. It was at this time that civil servants openly passed such remarks as "to receive 'kidu' and rise rapidly in government, one must be born in southern Bhutan".

b. No legal action was taken against southern Bhutanese farmers for encroachment on government forests for their cash crop plantations or expansion of paddy and dry fields. The government initiated, some action only when Bhutanese farmers in other areas who, unable to escape severity of government action, began to question the uniform application of law. Even rural taxes were far lower for the southern citizens until 1980 when criticism from their compatriots impressed the southern representatives to request for uniformity during the 52nd session of the National Assembly.

c. It was a common perception among civil servants that while southern Bhutanese officers were likely to be exempted from severe forms of government action, others were less likely to be so privileged. This became apparent when certain high ranking district administrators were terminated from service and imprisoned for minor misuse and misappropriation of government property and funds. A southern counterpart escaped im 'prisonment because the government was unwilling to press charges of corruption. Likewise, the government did not initiate any legal proceedings against Teknath Rizal, even when it was established that he was guilty of treason for which the only punishment under the law of Bhutan is capital punishment (not imposed on any one since 1964). He was instead only questioned and released after two days of detention in the police officers' mess.

d. Five sanskrit pathshalas were patronized by the government. Full salaries of teachers were paid by the government and other forms of support were also given. At the same time, the government approved plans for the establishment of an apex sanskrit institution in the south where students from the various sanskrit pathshalas could obtain higher education. The only reason why it was not built was the dispute between the people of Dagapela and a strong lobby group led by Teknath Rizal who wanted it built on his land in Lamidara, Chirang. The purpose and intention behind government support for the pathshalas was to ensure that the Hindu culture among the southern Bhutanese Hindus is preserved, and that there would not be a dearth of pujaris (priests/religious functionaries). In addition to this, several students were sponsored by the government for higher studies in sanskrit at the Benaras Hindu University even after the government had stopped all scholarships for Buddhist studies in the 1980s.

e. In order to ensure that there would be no disparity in the standards of education and therefore, access to future job opportunities, all the village schools in the south which were run privately with no trained teachers or set curricula were taken over by the government and upgraded to full fledged primary schools. This was done in addition to the numerous government schools that were opened. A programme of integration through the education system was also initiated through student exchange. Southern and northern students were well distributed in the boarding facilities in each junior and high school thereby ensuring a mix of students. This was advantageous to the southern children since there were more primary schools in the south than any other region. More southern students therefore qualified for placement in the north.

f. Even against initial resistance from prominent farmers, the government undertook to eliminate the practice of exploitation of cash crop growers of southern Bhutan by middle men who were both southern Bhutanese as well as Indians. Soft loans were facilitated to the growers to buy back their land and to be released from the trap of perpetual indebtedness as well as to improve the plantations. This affirmative action taken by the government in the late '70's had a substantial impact in that, the high percentage of southern farmers who grow cash crop surpluses (orange, cardamom, ginger and fish), now obtain the full value of their produces. Furthermore, to maximize their income, the State Trading Corporation of Bhutan and the Food Corporation of Bhutan established and facilitated the direct accessibility of the produces to markets and major buyers in India and Bangladesh.

g. The King himself made considerable efforts to build a personal rapport with the southern Bhutanese. He undertook frequent visits to the southern villages and met the villagers and knew many village headmen and elders by name. During these visits, the problems and needs of the villages were discussed which resulted in many special projects for the south. Furthermore, the King always made it a point to take with him southern Bhutanese officials during these visits. Special meetings with the southern government officials were also held frequently.

h. Inter marriage between southern and northern Bhutanese were encouraged. Special cash incentives of Nu. 10,000/- were even paid to those who engaged in such inter marriages, irrespective of the gender of the claimant. It is sad to note, that these people are among the prime targets of the terrorists. Given the constant threats they are subjected to, such people are reluctant to work and live in the south.

i. The late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck once told Father William Mackey, a prominent Jesuit educationist, that Bhutan is like a bird which can only fly with both wings. The two wings, he said, are the ancient religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. Based on the fact that Buddhism, as practised in Bhutan, has the entire pantheon of Hindu Gods well ensconced in Mahayana Buddhism and its rituals, the government promoted the theme of compatibility between the two religions. Even new temples built in southern Bhutan emphasize this with both Hindu and Buddhist shrines in the same temple. The King himself and the royal family participate regularly in the Hindu Tika Ceremony with southern citizens each year and, Dassai, the biggest Nepalese festival was declared a national holiday in 1980.

The above policies and actions were the deliberate results of a genuine political commitment of the government to integrate the southern people into the national mainstream. These were all in keeping with the spirit of the National Assembly resolution of 1958, according to which, Nepalese immigrants resident in Bhutan until 31 December 1958 were granted citizenship by registration. Each successive amendment to the Citizenship Act of 1958 is less restrictive and more liberal, demonstrating the continuing concessions the National Assembly was willing to make to the people in the south.

The policy of integration has been condemned by the dissidents as a deliberate policy of the government to undermine the Nepalese culture and language. The particular element of the integration policy that has been criticized as violation of human rights has been excluded from the above list to be discussed separately. This pertains to the enforcement of Driglam Namzhag by the Royal Bhutan Police and District authorities. The other subject of criticism concerning the exclusion of the Nepali language in the curriculum of the primary education system is not an element of the integration policy. Nevertheless, it too warrants some discussion.

Unless one has an intimate understanding of the Bhutanese culture, history and ethos and is sensitive to the continuing relevance of the role of the Drukpa identity in shaping Bhutan's history and destiny, the importance of 'Driglam Namzhag' may not be fully understood. As in all cultures, there are nuances and inexplicable behavioral patterns which even the most perceptive anthropologist cannot honestly claim to understand except by imbibing them through birth or long term association as a member of the community. Driglam Namzhag is one such aspect, the nuances of which find expression both in form and spirit.

Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal the visionary patron Lama and ruler of Bhutan, who gave to Bhutan unity and the Drukpa identity spent much time and labour on the subject of Driglam Namzhag which he promoted. Literally, it means traditional values and etiquette. Carried beyond its immediate connotations, it represents the very essence and soul of the vast cultural heritage which today rests alone in this Himalayan kingdom. "Driglarn Namzhag" is the fountain of all the common social values and traditions of the Bhutanese society. Such virtues as respect for the teacher, the sovereign, parent and elder; the institution of marriage and family; civic duties and behaviour that keep together the strands of the Bhutanese social fabric, emanate from this source.

If, in the collective wisdom of the highest elected law making body" the National Assembly, which after due deliberations in the villages and districts, found it relevant and necessary to continue its practice, then that is the will of the nation and it must prevail. And if, in the pronouncement and enactment of that will, certain groups with vested interest find reason to disagree, it is no cause for concern. But when the selfish will of such groups prevail upon those who were, consciously and willingly, an instrument in the formation of that majority will, then there is cause enough for sadness, more than anything else. This unfortunately, is the story of the 'southern' opposition to Driglam Namzhag.

In their opposition to this policy component of the integration policy, the dissidents have demonstrated a lack of their understanding of the country's heritage. Further, it is even being alleged that they have perhaps, unwittingly voiced their innermost feeling of unwillingness to identify with Bhutan and accept the national identity. This unfortunate position has been seen to articulate further, the unreasonable attitude of the dissidents as well as their failure to appreciate the complexity of the culture and values of the people whose homeland they share and to whose country they too belong. While they have not been in any way motivated by the national integration policy actions to become "Bhutanese" in spirit, it is thus understandable that their demand for political change is not viewed as being inspired by any sense of noble patriotism or respect for Bhutan's ethnic diversity.

Although the dissidents appear to have only seen or understood the element of form (dress code) in Driglam Namshag, it appears that even the importance of form alone has now gained some acceptance among the dissidents upon hind-sight. As with any man, the true beauty of one's distant home and the colours of ' the land are seen only upon reflection from the soil of another land. It is more plausible, however, that upon discovery that one's claims for human rights must begin by respecting those of others, that they have changed their position on this subject on which they had spoken with much vehemence. In fact this was a main cause for their uprising. (During the uprising, they had denigrated the national flag by trampling upon it, burning it and raising their own flag in its place. They had also stripped naked those wearing the traditional attire). Having now seen legitimacy in the preservation of the Bhutanese identity, the dissidents speak of their acceptance of 'gho' and 'kira' by the southern people even before the Driglam Namzhag policy was introduced. They now support the government explanation that there was some fault in the provocative manner in which it was implemented by overzealous functionaries. One would then conclude that, with the recent adoption of more popular demands by the dissidents, the issue of Driglam Namzhag is put to rest.

The issue of language has been raised on the ground that teaching of Nepali was stopped in the government primary schools. Until 1988, Nepali was being taught upto grade 5 in all the primary 5 schools in. the south as a third language and not as a medium of instruction (The medium of instruction in all government schools from Year one is English). The decision to exclude the language as a separate subject was taken on several technical grounds after prolonged years of debate among education policy makers which included international educationists as well.
Their main reasons for recommending the policy change were the following:

1. Since English Language has been adopted as the medium of instruction since 1961 and as Dzongkha is taught as a second language, the inclusion of a third language, Nepali, puts the child in southern Bhutan at a considerable disadvantage given the heavy curriculum. The introduction of New Approach to Primary Education (NAPE) in 1985 and the consequent review and consensus for a need to reduce the number of subjects led to the decision to drop Nepali from the formal curriculum in the southern schools. Furthermore, there is a common examination that every primary school child must sit in order to qualify for admission into the junior high school system. Students from the south had to sit for an extra subject. Many of the government officials did not allow their children to take the extra subject. For those who are genuinely interested in studying the language, there is no restriction on private tuition or joining the sanskrit pathshalas.

2. There are many southern Bhutanese children in the northern schools where Nepali was never taught.

3. There was growing criticism from the other language groups that their languages were not being taught in schools while Nepali, seen by many as a foreign language, was being taught.

4. It was reasoned that Nepali is the national language and lingua franca of another country and that, in southern, Bhutan, there existed many ethnic groups from Nepal alone who have their own ethnic languages. Under the circumstance that the languages of the Gurung, Newari, Sherpa, Tamang, Limbu etc. cannot be taught, the continuation of Nepali teaching was considered discriminatory and supportive of another country's suppressive policy to undermine other linguistic cultures. Furthermore, the Nepali language was only serving to accentuate the dichotomy of two distinctive national cultures in Bhutan. This is opposed to the Royal Government policy to promote national cohesion and integration under a 'national culture' which is based on the recognition of the diversity of ethnic, religious and linguistic cultures in Bhutan and the commitment to respect and promote them equitably.

Nepali is still recognized as one of the national languages of Bhutan. It is one of the two officially recognized languages used in the National Assembly, the other being Dzongkha. It is widely used in the courts of law and government offices in the south. It is also used by government media and at all important gatherings at national and local levels. All important government documents are translated and circulated in this language. Furthermore, the news media in Bhutan print or broadcast Nepali editions and programmes.

The argument that the government suddenly changed its attitude does not stand to reason. Had Bhutan been politically unstable, where a change in government could have taken place, then it is plausible that policies could also have changed. But in Bhutan, there is a stable government, where the same leadership that so earnestly framed the integration policy still continues.
It is thus fair to state that, no other country has done as much as Bhutan to respect, accept and integrate an immigrant culture and race. While the recent uprising must be seen as a pointer to the failure of the policy, it's impact on development in the south and special privileges for the citizens of Nepalese origin had attracted large numbers of illegal immigrants. It was therefore, inevitable that the integration policy which was counter productive in so far as it caused greater and highly visible Nepalese infiltration, called for an accurate and thorough census.


Demographic data is the most basic information that a state is required to maintain for the purpose of fulfilling its obligations to the people. In the case of Bhutan, the critical importance of conducting census accurately and frequently has been adequately established in the preceding sections. How the census is actually conducted is something that is most likely to differ from country to country as per the multiplicity of uses for which the information is intended. In the advanced societies, technology is a great asset that simplifies the process of gathering and verifying, the data. In a mountainous country like Bhutan, with very limited communication infrastructure, limited trained manpower and a high illiteracy rate, the business of conducting census is not a simple task inspite of the small population. This has been complicated by the long and porous southern border of approximately 720 Km. The fact that the country is situated among some of the most populous states in Asia does not help. In fact, it is in relation to the illegal immigrants from Nepal that the census activities of the government has aroused undue interest.

Bhutan is not the only country which is faced with immigration problems. The whole of Western Europe, the USA and most countries which are contiguous to less developed or politically unstable countries are faced with this problem. Where it becomes a serious problem is when illegal immigrants assume an aggressive stance and threaten to destabilize the country and seize power.

Illegal immigration into Bhutan is being politicized with the support of certain sections of the southern Bhutanese and Nepalese in the region across the border. Under the guise of human rights and. political discontent the perfectly legitimate action taken by the state is being questioned and condemned. The immigration problem faced by the industrialized countries fades into insignificance when compared with that of Bhutan. Yet a prominent European leader was so concerned that he likened his country's immigration problem to an invasion. When one takes into account the singular source and 'race' of the economic migrants, the nature of the threat becomes even more alarming. In Bhutan, the survival of the indigenous race and a rich cultural heritage is at stake.

The few groups of Nepalese who were initially brought into southern Bhutan as 'tangyas' and those who followed them were granted citizenship by an Act of the National Assembly in 1958. Although there were only two districts where they were settled at the time, they quickly spread throughout the southern territory converting the hitherto vast and impregnable forest including Hathisa (elephant land) into rice and maize fields. Scattered among five Dzongkhags with millions of their ethnic kin across the border, they began making claims of majority over the Bhutanese population. In 1952, when their population was far below 15%, they claimed to represent 64% and called for political change. There is something strangely identical about the recent uprising and the earlier movement.

While the Bhutan State Congress was organized by the current Prime Minister of Nepal in 1951 by his own public admission, there are reasons to believe that there exists a strong political nexus between the dissident parties and political groups in Nepal. Their claims and demands have changed somewhat, but the long term goal has remained the same. Here it is significant to note that the Nepali Congress Party also organized the party in Darjeeling, India at the same time. While the southern population is now larger, they share the same weakness of not having any support from the Drukpas. Unmindful of this weakness, they staged a rebellion during which they even desecrated the national flag and raised their own "national flag". Whatever their stated demands, the main cause that triggered the violent demonstration was the conducting of a comprehensive census by the Department of Census and Immigration. The Department had carried the mandate that all illegal immigrants should be identified as per the provisions of the National Citizenship Act of 1958 and the 1977 and 1985 resolutions of the National Assembly.
The results of the census revealed exactly what was suspected and which could not be explained by any demographic extrapolations. Planned and systematic infiltration by the immigrant Nepalese had been taking place. While they took advantage of the social, cultural and linguistic affinities with the southern Bhutanese, the latter found themselves divided between the desire to keep on the right side of the law while being pleaded upon, coerced, threatened and morally obliged to co-operate. There were those too, who were willing to collude voluntarily, seeing economic and political advantages of immediate and long term nature. Since census is traditionally conducted by local authorities which in turn leave the actual enumeration to the village authorities, the illegal immigrants had managed to escape detection and find a place in the records. Following methods of infiltration were discovered which gave cause to suspect the planned and deliberate nature of infiltration for the dual purpose of achieving demographic changes and overcoming chronic labour shortage given the large land and plantation holdings in the south:

1. Entry-by matrimony: A very popular method of infiltration into the country is by marrying Nepalese outside Bhutan44. As polygamy is very common among the Southern Bhutanese, multiple wives are invariably followed by their close and distant relatives establishing a consequent web of matrimonial alliances both within and outside the country. Contrary to their cultural traditions, the brides bring in their husbands often to be accompanied by relatives. Land would be acquired or given to such relatives and the co-operating village headman would be obliged to authenticate their claims for registration for a fee or favour.

2. Entry by "reverse adoption": Adoption of foreigners (age no bar) is commonly practiced. Entire families are 'adopted' by individuals or families who are already established in the country. Such adoptions range from domestic servants and share croppers to total strangers with economic means. One case 1 came across was in Bhangtar when the head of the family (a soldier) did not want to emigrate while members of his extended family wanted to leave. Finally, it emerged that his family members who wanted to leave had been adopted by him and as they themselves claimed not to be citizens, wished to sell their property and depart for Nepal where they claimed arrangements had been made for purchase of land and property.

3. Entry by acquisition of land and house: This method required direct collusion of the village authorities and the people's representative in the National Assembly. Since one criteria for granting citizenship was the possession of'land and a house, before which a photo had to be taken, immigrants would hire or purchase plots large enough for a hut, then build a hut and acquire a plot number.

4. Entry as orange, cardamom porters, farm hands etc: Large numbers of porters to transport the cash crops used to be recruited from Nepal each year. Many never returned. When this was discovered, the matter was deliberated upon in the National Assembly and the practice discouraged since 1986. To overcome undue hardships to the farmers, soft loans were given to purchase mules and ponies. At the same time, the local village authorities were asked to encourage local farmers to transport the orange crop since the season does not conflict with their normal agricultural activities.

5. Entry by falsification of documents: In collusion with the village and local authorities, outright falsification of documents took place. Through this practice, some illegal immigrants were even elected to the National Assembly45. 6. Entry by displacement: Since registered land and house were the most reliable criteria, purchase of registered land and house by immigrants was used as a full proof means. Often the seller thus displaced acquired new plots or claimed to be a "Sukum Basi", who, having no difficulty in establishing his citizenship was eligible for "Kidu" land as discussed in an earlier section. Sometime the sellers returned to Nepal where they acquired property and settled permanently.

7. Entry by 'resurrection': A peculiarity among the southern Bhutanese is reported to be their unwillingness and continued resistance to the govemment's policy of compulsory rural life insurance, which is most popular among northern Bhutanese farmers. It was later discovered that the minimal occurrence of death in Southern Bhutan was due to the sale of identity of deceased person.

8. Entry by enrollment in schools :Migrant Nepalese residing across the border obtained admission in Government schools which were usually run by expatriate teachers. These unsuspecting school authorities gave admission and certificates which were then used by the parents as proof of their citizenship. Through this process many illegal immigrants not only entered Bhutan but acquired government scholarship for further studies in India and abroad and enabled them to infiltrate into the civil service and the army to acquire very high positions.

9. Entry by intimidation, bribery, force etc: This happened frequently. Paradoxically, such methods are now being used by the dissidents to compel the people to join the camps.
In addition to those who entered through the above described means, many labourers recruited directly from Nepal for various development projects such as road construction, diffused among the southern population.

These methods of infiltration were mainly discovered or proven during the census of 1988. They explain why the unsuspecting Government failed to detect illegal immigration. The systematic manner in which they were carried out lend a degree of validity to the use of the term "silent invasion". It has now been established that beyond the simple social and economic reasons, the large scale undetected infiltration was conceived to overcome the demographic strength of an unsuspecting people. They also help explain why the government had to go beyond the normal procedures of enumeration and verification during census. This in essence, meant the conducting of census under the direct supervision of central authorities which had hitherto been a local responsibility discharged mainly by the village headmen. Until then, records were maintained in the Dzongkhags and sub-divisional offices allowing easy tampering.


It was considered natural for the illegal immigrants to leave the country especially under the generous terms and conditions offered by the government. The were fully compensated (as per prevailing rates) for the land which they had illegally occupied and on which they had established themselves. The government, on the other hand, was perplexed by the number of Bhutanese citizens who too have left their country after having established their antecedents as bonafide Bhutanese citizens. Upon a closer examination of the causes for their departure from Bhutan, following reasons help explain their choice to return to Nepal.

1. Upon being discovered, the illegal immigrants, usually decide to leave. In as much as the southern Bhutanese have aided in, the infiltration and concealing of the immigrants, many southern Bhutanese express solidarity with those leaving for reasons, which among others, include the close emotional and family bonds that have been developed and exist among them.

2. Unlike the northern Bhutanese who are highly individualistic, the Nepalese are found to be susceptible to group influence. This has been well written and s oken of and is attributed as one reason for their continuing value as mercenaries who will willingly sacrifice their life in battles with the slightest concern for the cause. It has been observed that this plays a significant role in the decision of the Nepalese and southern Bhutanese to leave the country. Far removed from Nepal, and in the absence of political leaders, they have tended to look up to southern personalities who enjoy rank and status with the Government. Hence,the leadership image enjoydd by Rizal, Basnet and Subba who were close to the King. When these 'leaders' left the country, it had a telling impact on the simple farmers. Here it may be mentioned that while Rizal had left the country for purely political reasons, the Royal Audit Authority has levelled charges of misappropriating considerable sums of government funds against Basnet and Subba. Whether such embezzlements were motivated by personal greed or political reason (party funds) cannot be established.

3. The dissidents use two forms of persuasion to attract southern Bhutanese. One involves the use of disinformation flavoured with the promise of a quick return in triumph. Meanwhile, they are enticed with information about the privileged conditions under which they will be accorded 'international hospitality at the camps in Nepal. They are told about free shelter, food and clothing, amenities and daily allowance of $8 per person (not family) for the short duration that they stay there. To the innocent and illiterate farmer, this has proved to be a very effective means of persuasion.

The second and more powerful means of persuasion is the use of threat in all manner of form, the most well known being the threat to "make you six inches shorter" Those southern Bhutanese who have resisted all forms of persuasion and threats, are being targeted as victims of terrorist acts.

4. The dissident leaders have politicized the problem. By so doing, there is a mutuality of interest between the southern Bhutanese. dissidents and the illegal immigrants that they intend to fulfill. On one side, number is seen as the most powerful tool to convince the international audience of 'the mass support enjoyed by the dissidents so that international pressure can be brought to bear upon Bhutan. On the other side, the invitation to join the camps is tempting when the leaders promise that their illegal immigration to Bhutan will be legitimized along with grant of citizenship.

5. A number of people who had participated in the violent demonstrations did not return after having run away from the country to escape -legal action. The families of these people are among those who leave to join them.

6. Since the first dissident movement was begun by the present Prime Minister Nepal and as he has openly supported the current uprising, the dissident leaders are seen to represent him and the Nepalese government. Given the origin and the racial, cultural, emotional and family ties that many southern Bhutanese maintain with Nepal, the slightest provocation is enough for many to leave their homes in Bhutan. It has been recently confirmed that the dissident leaders are now recruiting "refugees" from among the ethnic Bhutanese living in the North Eastern States of India. There are those in Bhutan.who, unable to understand why so many southern Bhutanese who enjoyed equal and more privileges as citizens and have prospered under the government's integration programme, believe that certain powerful elements in Nepal are involved. In the ultimate analysis, the southern Bhutanese who leave are exercising the. freedom of choice which is afforded to them by the law of the nation.


It is normal human instinct to sympathize with the weaker, the older and the lessor. This basic instinct is often a barrier to reason, and the voice of truth to the real victim can sometimes appear never to be heard. In the problem that Bhutan is presently grappling with, it seems inevitable that the state is branded the villain and the dissidents the victims.
The majority of the Bhutanese which include the southern Bhutanese in the country think they are the victims and, in their every day life, they feel the loss of civil liberties, they experience deprivation and a pervasive sense of fear and insecurity as a result-of the terrorism perpetrated by the dissidents. Among the villagers in' the south, every day is a nightmare. But their voice is not heard by the media, and their human rights appear not to be of any importance. Explanations by the Government are dismissed as propaganda and plain untruths. Even concrete evidence is seen as fabrications,.

In a recent article on Bhutan by an Asian journalist, the story begins with a girl whose face is scarred by security people who allegedly "poured boiling water" on her. Whether this is the result of an accident is immaterial. The important thing was that it proyided a vivid personification to the theme of the story that he wished to tell. On the other hand, BBC recently aired a report on the "World Today". It was reported that a woman speaking 'non-stop' in Nepali at a Jhapa Camp claimed having been raped. The interpreter was the camp health worker. A more faithful interpretation in London revealed that the woman in fact was expressing denial of having been a rape victim. The weaker, the lessor and the poor do lie - more perhaps, than the state for he is not accountable and is motivated solely by a purpose only he or, as in this case, the camp leader, will know. In the case of the "Bhutanese refugee", that purpose does not appear to be survival.

The expulsion of such a large number of people as has been claimed cannot happen in a country so easily when the country does not have the means, militarily or in any other form. The fact that there is an absence of any resistance but eagerness and willingness to leave one's land and home must in itself convey a story. This is particularly poignant when considering the martial characteristics and the capacity of the Nepalese to include extreme hardships. The claims of dissidents for human rights is paradoxical. Their call for human rights is accompanied by acts of terrorism which trample the human rights of innocent villagers in the south. The Bhutanese Government has caught and released numerous Nepalese and southern Bhutanese who were arrested for direct or indirect committal of various crimes including terrorism. The psychological and mental trauma and physical deprivations that the dissidents speak of are the results of the actions that they themselves have been perpetrating on the Southern Bhutanese. Today, the inability of the Government security forces to give adequate security coverage to the southern Bhutanese has resulted in the organization of self protection volunteers on a village (only southern Bhutan) wise basis. It is these volunteers who have become fairly effective in preventing a greater level of terrorism. The dissidents krpow that without the villagers to join them, there will be no camps without w ic their movement cannot survive. The greater numbers would strengthen their position. The innocent farmers of the South are thus vict . ims who are manipulated, raped and tortured.

The adoption of uman Rights is a convenient banner that the dissidents and tiie Nepalese supporters have raised before the international community. But their greater aim is to generate international sympathy for the dissident cause which is to grab political power. But the Bhutanese people see no legitimacy in this demand. They are happy with the prevalent political arrangement. They. believe that the legitimacy of demand for any manner of political change can only come through the voice of true majority of the Bhutanese people. As admitted by the dissidents and as 'was the weakness of the Bhutan state Congress, the dissident parties do not have any sup'ort base beside a small section of misguided southern Bhutanese and the illegal immigrants.

While the human rights violations by the dissidents have not been questioned. thus -far, Bhutan has made every effort to respond to international concern and to abide by the spirit of her own commitment to human rights. Confident of her innocence against the allegations made by the dissidents, and eager to accept new ideas, the Amnesty International and ICRC were invited to study and appraise the human rights situation in the country and the specific conditions of the detainees. Amnesty International.'s report which has already been released gives a clearer picture of the actual human rights situation in the country & dismisses the false allegations.
In the ultimate analysis, the relevance of human rights in the context of the developing world, and in particular, that of Bhutan must be considered. To the people of Bhutan, what is most important is the process of development, the means by which the collective needs of the society can be met expeditiously in a fair and equitable manner. To this end, health care, education, transportation and above all, hope for a better and more secure future are more important than anything else. Individual freedom and liberty on which western concept of human rights is founded has little relevance to these basic aspirations. If the will of the majority is that these can be obtained through the prevailing political arrangements, then that will must prevail.


There is anguish among the people for the attempt of a minority immigrant group to bring about political change in collusion with illegal immigrants and Nepalese beyond the border. The Bhutanese feel that they have been betrayed by a people they had welcomed, in whom they had placed their trust and with whom they were willing to share a common destiny. But the general attitude of the Bhutanese toward their southern compatriots do not indicate any rancour.
There is a strong condemnation of the misguided action that the dissidents have perpetrated on the people and the government. The audacity with which the dissidents have undermined the rights and will of the majority, and attempted to 'take over' the country by bringing political changes which in effect would have resulted in a Nepalese (foreign) rule will probably never be forgotten. That they could have become a minority in their own country with a 'majority' population who showed no love or respect for their culture and traditions will always remain a haunting nightmare. But the Buddhist spirit of compassion and forgiveness is already visible in Thimphu. There is not the slightest sign of ethnic animosity. There are no pointing fingers. People know that the majority of the Southern Bhutanese do not identify with the dissidents and that they are Bhutanese as they always will be.

This is particularly striking for anyone who saw and. experienced the tension that gripped the capital city after the announcement of the threat of a gorkha take over in late 1990. Foreigners who visit Thimphu socially and officially see in both the worlds not only a calmness but a heartening casualness in the relationship between the northern Bhutanese and their southern compatriots. There is no ethnic strife in the capital which is now a sanctuary for the southern Bhutanese fleeing the 'anti-national terrorists of Jhapa'. The majority of the people of Bhutan are not oblivious to the thousands who have deserted their homeland at the call of the dissidents. They are aware that inspite of the attention that these people receive from various international and local agencies, there is always greater happiness, comfort and privacy in the humblest home that one can call one's own. Understandably, greater sympathy go to those who are clearly victims of disinformation and are beguiled by those who see in their swelling numbers growing prospects for their vested interests. At the same time, both the government and people are aware that the traditions and laws of the land give every citizen the freedom to renounce the citizenship and to emigrate to another country.

The congregation of such a large body of homeless people in Nepal, if indeed all are such, is disturbing. That people are dying of sickness and disease is a cause for even greater concern. But what makes it a human tragedy is that there are no reasons that are compelling enough to cause this unfortunate situation. Collectively, the dissidents and their followers have betrayed the trust of their country. It is ironic that the process by which they abandoned their homes, was in itself their first encounter with the hollowness of freedom and the exploitation of the innocent masses that democracy is often synonymous with in the developing world.

Yet there is moral respite for the Bhutanese, however misplaced it might seem, in the common knowledge that the camps with all their alarming numbers are not host to only people from Bhutan but from both within Nepal as well as from the region48. The naivety with which the government went about printing the Citizenship Identity Cards without any concern for security aspects speak further of the alternative origins of many of the cards with which the camp members claim their identity (These were printed in Calcutta at the Caxton Press in 1981 at a cost of Rs. 1.60 or US $ 0.6 per card). Then again, there is the well known fact that a prime target of every raid launched by members of the camps are the identity cards of the southern Bhutanese whose homes are no longer safe. Not so incredible are the rumours that many Nepalese from the poor and disadvantaged areas in Nepal find the camps a haven (the standard of living in the camp is higher and more comfortable than in the villages). The claim that all those in the camps are Bhutanese therefore arouse strong suspicion.

To the more discerning eye, there are in the dissident literature, photographs of 'starving' children in the laps of healthy and well fed mothers that make a mockery of the tragedy that a single frame of the camera conveys on the plight of the Somalians or the starving Ethiopians. There are reports brought back by foreign journalists who visit the camps that very few male adults and youth are visible in the camps. This has caused the people to suspect that perhaps, the rumours of the return migrants using the camps as convenient training grounds for terrorists may be true. Recently for the first time, in light of overwhelming evidence produced by the government of Bhutan the dissidents admitted to the committal of terrorism against the southern Bhutanese who refuse to leave the country and join the camps. Recently, Kuensel printed the photographs of several terrorists caught by southern Bhutanese villagers on separate occasions after they had committed artned robbery, rape of a seventeen year old girl and cold blooded murder of a woman in Sarbhang. They were from the Tinmai and Bedangi camps in Nepal and revealed the names of the camp officials who had given the orders. One of them was from Sikkim who admitted to having been registered as a Bhutanese 'refugee' with 'proper' identification documents. The government is making as much effort as possible within its means to halt the people from leaving the country. Whatever their reasons or sources of inspiration, the government considers it its responsibility to convince the people not to abandon their home and country. The King himself has repeatedly called upon the southern people not to abandon their country during these difficult times. He also went several times to personally meet those who had applied for emigration to call upon them to withdraw their application. In addition, as a gesture of special concern the southern people were exempted from all rural taxes and labour contribution for one year. Despite all these moves, most preferred to go.

Although the security situation in the south is still not conducive and inspite of the resistance of civil servants and teachers to accept postings in the south, the government has begun repairing the service facilities that were destroyed or damaged during the uprising. Many schools, health facilities and other social and communication infrastructures have started to function optimally. It is hoped that all service facilities will resume normal operations in the very near future. The people and the government are hopeful that the madness which led the dissidents to cause such unrest in the country will give place to sanity and that the people in the south will be left alone in peace to resume a normal life.

While it is obvious that all civil servants should continue to enjoy the same rank and status as in the past, even the close relatives of the dissident leaders continue to occupy high positions in the government without any hindrance or loss of personal status.
For those who have left the country and those who still intend to leave regardless. of the government's effort to dissuade them. there appears little else that can be done for them by the Bhutanese government. One can only hope that the freedom of choice that they have exercised will lead them to a safe and secure life in what they consider their homeland. It is also hoped that the Nepalese government will allow the returnmigrants to re-establish themselves by lifting the restrictions of movement imposed on them. It is only fair that the people in the camps irrespective of where they come from, if indeed they are destitute and refugees, should be afforded the basic human right of free movement and right to earn a living.

It is understandable that the displaced persons in Nepal should receive international attention and sympathy. It is hoped that the organizations involved in giving relief to them regardless of where they come from, will continue with their humanitarian work. But Bhutan is no less deserving of international understanding and sympathy. Her very survival as a nation state is threatened by a dissident group which has been able to politicize and blur the issue of illegal immigration with demands for human rights and political change. The nation which had accepted as her own an alien population is now the victim of her own generosity. A section of these people who have rejected everything that is Bhutanese including national identity, language and political traditions, threaten to take over the country with the support of ethnic kins who comprise the largest and the most aggressive trans-national migrant people in the region.
The rich and splendorous culture of the Great Wheel of Buddhism (Mahayana) which once flourished in Sikkim, Tibet and Ladakh is well on the path to extinction. Today, Bhutan, the last bastion of this rich cultural heritage is in a state of siege.

On December 10, 1992, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared this year "The International Year For The World's Indigenous People." Surely, the legitimate rights of the indigenous people of Bhutan who are faced with a real threat to their very sumval as a distinct culture and political entity will find a prominent place on the international agenda.


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4. Eden, A: Political Missions to Bhutan. Bibliotheca Himalayica, Series 1, Vol.7, New Delhi, 1972. 5. Fletcher, Harold R : A Quest of Flowers. Edinburgh University Press, 1976.
6. Foning, A.R. : Lepcha, My Vanishing Tribe. New Delhi, 1987.
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18. PINN, Fred : The Road of Destiny, Darjeeling letters 1839. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1986.
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21. Rathore, L.S The Changing Bhutan. New Delhi-5, 1974.
22. Rennie, Field DaAd : Bhotan and the Storv of the Dooar War. Bibliothaea Himalayipa, Series 1, VOI.V, New Delhi,, 1970.
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29. Sinha, A.C. Bhutan (Ethnic Identity and National Dilemma) New Delhi, 1991.
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31. Ware,J.Edgar : Report on a visit to Sikhim and the Tibetan Frontier. New Delhi, 1969.
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35. Van Walt, Michael C. : The Status of Tibet. (History, Rights, and Prospects in International Law) Westview Press, U.S.A., 1984.


1. Kuensel, Kuensel Corporation, Thimphu. 2. Himal, Himal Association, May/June 1992 and July/August 1992 issues. 3. The Darjeeling Guide, Samuel Smiths Co. Ltd., Calcutta, 1845. 4. The Bhutan Review, Vol. I, No. 1 Kathmandu, Nepal.

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