Reasons for writing
Recently I read this article from google groups (which we are expected to), http://www.revengetorealization.com/2015/03/04/unresolved-history-of-bhutan-were-there-crimes-against-humanity/,
which has also surprisingly received positive responses from well-read commentators.
Initially I felt, here was a specimen of a budding generation trying to find its way through sufficiently murky historical waters. But my doubts came to being after some careful consideration.
Also in the past year there has been much drum beating about the truth commissions and I did perceive a general lack of historical analysis in the whole debate. I chose not to speak before, because I was still expecting our bigger and better contributors to draw the line for us. That optimism too turned into doubt. I sincerely think that perhaps our noteworthy writers and thinkers may have sunk their heads in despair. Or they probably see their insights as futile in these factual swamps. This is understandable. I on the other hand feel that at least once in a while, it is important to flush out the accumulated junk at our bases, especially when the conversations begin to repeat. Hence I also do not expect positive responses to this post.
I dedicate this brief analysis to the lost cause of the Bhutanese refugees.
It is plain as clean water half a century ago. The citizenship act of 1958 only had 10-year residence requirements. Once fulfilled people became citizens. And citizen or not, historical land distribution and acquisition was yet another matter. People were actually given productive land and that does not happen anywhere today.
The Citizenship Act of 1977 increased the residence requirements from 5 to 15 years for government servants and 10-20 years for other foreigners. Yet scores of people met this requirement on the conclusion of the 1979-1981 census, therefore citizenships were issued to them. Many also forget about the Marriage Act of 1980, and how it candidly defined who was a “non-Bhutanese”. It was a gender discriminatory Act as it used the male gender as the basis for accepting or depriving citizenship.
Even in 1953 during the 1st session of the National Assembly it was being decreed to send monks to the Nepali villages to convert them to Buddhism. In 1979 the national assembly during its 51st session was discussing whether it was appropriate to use other languages other than Dzongkha in the National Assembly. If restrictive citizenship laws can be introduced in 1977, then it would be safe to assume that Ngalongs had been thinking about assimilation for a long time. This is how they were thinking.
Then came the arbitrary Citizenship Act of 1985, which not only redefined what Bhutanese citizenship meant i.e. by introducing the qualifying threshold of 31 December 1958 before which one had to be in the country to be a citizen, but also repeated a census almost 7 years since the last one. The 1988 census was focused only on the Lhotsanepali people and also classified them into seven categories that made it difficult to gain citizenship. Not only had the laws changed for new would-be Lhotsanepali citizens, but citizenships that were previously distributed under the 1977 Act were also revoked under the 1985 Act.
So why wouldn’t people protest? A right to peacefully protest is an internationally recognised right, as part of the freedom of political expression. If you were unhappy about how a government can classify you as non-citizen, why wouldn’t you protest, especially if you are already a citizen and suddenly the next year you are not?
The King repeatedly changed the law to decrease the number of Lhotsanepalis and effectively removed Nepali culture from the face of Bhutan. This is the truth that we have accepted for the last three decades. The king was a racist man driven by greed to protect his monarchy. And he succeeded at it.
Dr. Sammdu in the earlier cited article remarked that the “so-called leaders began the protest movements in 1986”. This is actually untrue because people were initially involved in peaceful protests after Driglam Namza was introduced in January 1989 and Nepali language and culture was banned in February 1989. The census after the 1985 Citizenship Act itself was completed in 1988 and the citizenships were being distributed or revoked thereafter. So what movement in 1986 is Dr. Sammdu talking about? A blatant lie, which the younger generations are, still unequipped to reply to.
On the side note, I would like to stress the lack of discrimination felt before 1985. To give you real examples, my father and other family members were touring Bhutan during their national service between 1983-1985. They as citizens, registered before 1958, had a wonderful time growing up in Bhutan with education and opportunities. And like many other thousand individuals and families became involved in the protests of the 1990s, because they actually had some damn good reasons for it.
It is sometimes theorized that the King did not have bad intentions, and that the situation was overtaken and exacerbated by ill-minded officials and advisors of the King. A middle path of reconciliation has also been recently advocated for, and I completely like the idea of reconciliation. But on what terms will this reconciliation occur if it ever does?
Middle path for what?
A middle path made popular in the ancient times by Buddha, is justified when there are two political absolute ideas at two extreme ends of a scale. For example, Buddha created the middle path of the four noble truths between Brahmanism on one side, which encouraged wealth, power and pleasure (material gains) and the Sramanas who completely rejected material wealth and encouraged a life of asceticism that freed them from worldly pleasures. Buddha said you could have a bit of both and actually attain Nirvana.
Borrowing Buddha’s ideas and using it for Bhutan’s history requires equally recognisable poles. And talking about our history, which is sufficiently clear, what new middle ground are we thinking to deduce with a truth commission?
Tek Nath Rizal, a member of the National Assembly was well known as the representative of the Lhotsanepalis and was also involved in commissions. These commissions created by the monarch were investigating corruption within a broad range of industries and government departments inside Bhutan. Many relatives of the Royal family were implicated and this is considered to be one of the main reasons behind the sudden changes that were followed by conspicuous communication barriers between the King and the people.
But hello! If the King was really willing to listen to Tek Nath Rizal and the concerns he raised about the corruption inquiry and about Lhotsampas in April 1988, why would a well mannered King respond to that, with extreme measures such as the ‘One Nation One Policy’, dress codes and ban of Nepali language in schools in Jan-Feb 1989?
His reaction, half a year later does not make sense.
Commentators including Michael Hutt often point to the Gorkhaland movement that started in 1986 in the neighbouring country of India as one of the factors that motivated the King of Bhutan to change his policies? Perhaps Dr. Sammdu and many others like him have confused the Gorkhaland movement of 1986 with the Lhotsanepali movement of 1990 inside Bhutan. I admit we do appear similar in our physical appearances, don’t we?
Nine years of truth
I find it quite appalling that others and we, repeatedly discount the policy changes that started before 1977 and ended in 1985 – all before the Gorkhaland movement, Teknath Rizal’s investigation, Driglam Namza and Nepali culture ban that led to the Lhotsanepali political agitations.
The nine years of drastic ethnic cleansing measures between 1977-1986 actually gave birth to the later protest movements of the Lhotsanepalis against the authorities. It does not matter when, how and who started the protest movements. My uncles were involved in it, so what? Even if they were not involved in the protests, I would have still raised the same questions and doubts in relation to further historical analysis.
Many had not even heard of the Gorkhaland movement in 1986 inside Bhutan. It was only in 1990 that the persecution of Lhotsanepalis in Bhutan personally affected thousands and that led to political agitation. The Gorkhaland analysis was featured in discourses much later. Of course there was going to be a government crack down. And of course we were going to face consequences for our political opinions. And of course propaganda would be used against us.
But no Lhotsanepali should forget the basic facts, you reckon?
Voicing an opinion in that era of communication was not easy. There weren’t computers, and there weren’t high tech smart phones. Protests were done in the old way. Also when people want to protest for their rights, they do not enrol in a university course to learn how to protest, do they?
So what is all the point of this suspicion and leader bashing?
Wherever there has been injustice in the world, it is always the people with opinions and a bit of guts, who stand up for the rest! Yet many now sit on their blubbery bottoms, chew up commissions and puke on our leaders for their past efforts. Yes we do have to question each one of their ideas and later agendas. But, why raise red flags against established facts?
Why don’t we acknowledge widespread caste discrimination and accept that we have to work very hard on social cohesion? We could perhaps use a truth commission for that, couldn’t we?
But I have realised through hard work that denial and silences are the first steps taken by individuals who tolerate oppression whether internal or external.
Convince the king
Let us look at ourselves a bit impartially, shall we?
The Lhotsanepalis did not have an army protecting them. In fact the monarch, to crush the Lhotsanepalis, used the Royal Bhutan Army. Could a change of the protest flags, or change of pitch of voice or change of song could have convinced a racist King to change his mind? You will probably think that I am getting too imaginative here, yet criticism for our leaders, without research and against established facts, is apparently not too imaginative.
In essence I am doubtful whether we are being realistic about truth commissions? Who is going to come and testify, and about what?
Thousands of political prisoners who faced the bare brunt of gruesome torture and barbaric treatment by the authorities, followed by forceful eviction of over a hundred thousand Lhotsanepalis beginning from 1989 until well after 1994, and the recurrent unwillingness expressed by the monarchy later through the joint-verification processes to eventually un-settle us all appear clear enough. Also the pervasive and current ethnic cleansing policy of No-Objection Certificates are big facts that do not require further elucidation, so what truth are we chasing?
The assimilationist policies of Bhutan that began well before 1977 were brutal, demeaning and disproportionate to the cultural and economic threat we actually posed. Period.
This Human Rights Watch report http://www.hrw.org/reports/2007/bhutan0507/3.htm.
And this BBC Timeline (although incomplete) http://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-12641778,
helps us a great deal in revisiting those crucial details.