“The Engima of Bhutan”

I’ve written about Bhutan before in the post “Gross National Happiness” and Ethnic Cleansing, but I wanted to mention the country again as it recently featured in a great Nation article. I highly recommend the read as it maps out the history of the ethnic Nepali expulsion from the country.

Header from the Nation article

I hadn’t connected the dots before, but it was mentioned in the article, that the deportation of the Nepali population started in 1992– right around the start of the ethnic cleansing and killings in the Balkans, and continued through the  US military blunder of the “Battle of Mogadishu” (of “Black Hawk Down” fame) in 1993, and the Rwandan genocide of 1994 (gosh– the early ’90s were some harsh times).

No wonder much of the world hasn’t heard about the forced removal, albeit largely “brutal violence” free, of 80,000 people–15 percent of Bhutan’s population of 550,000. When competing against the more high profile, flashy news stories of the day, it was probably easy to forget a quiet mountain kingdom tucked in the far corner of the globe.

Recently an American couple moved to town (the husband is attending the same university as P). They arrived in Massachusetts by way of Bhutan, as the wife was offered a teaching contract in the country after finishing her cultural anthropology master’s degree. It’s been interesting to compare notes on our various experiences in lesser traveled to Himalayan nations.

She is now working with a local refugee organization that helps newly arrived Iraqi and Bhutanese (of the 108,000 Bhutanese in Nepali camps in 2007 50,000 have been resettled in the United States). I’m curious to hear more about her experiences with the refugees. I wonder what their thoughts are about interacting with an American who was able to travel and live in a country that they are no longer welcomed to return to or even visit.

6 responses to ““The Engima of Bhutan”

  1. There are several reasons for this

    First of all, the Indian govt has a serious security problem with China and Bhutan occupies a very strategic piece of geography

    Bhutan, currently an defacto Indian protectorate, and has over 50000 Indian troops based on the China-Bhutan border, if it switched to China, could seriously jeopardise Indian defenses of its North-east provinces

    That makes the Indian govt keep quiet, when Bhutan ethnic cleanses Hindus

    Next the Indian govt is officially a secular govt and does not complain about Hindu persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Bhutan etc

    Second, it is not realised that Buddhist monks and Buddhist religion is defacto extremely hostile to Hindus ( event though they overlap a lot and many Hindus worship the Buddha)

    In Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bhutan, the buddhist clergy has led mobs in murdering and ethnic cleansing Hindus

    In 1950, Myanmar got rid of 10% of its population who were Hindus,
    And Sri Lanka has done so from 1955

  2. This was the best response I found to the article.

    “The idea of ‘ethnic cleansing’ is a narrative that is rather one-sided. There is no denying that gross injustices happened in Southern Bhutan a couple of decades ago, one that the country is still coming to terms with. But one should not forget that the spectre of demographic seige was real for many – look at how Sikkim’s ‘Tibetan’ character was within a century diluted and overwhelmed through induced migration of Nepalis (first by the British and then the Indians). Bhutan saw itself as facing similar kind of war.
    Now, this does not justify forceful removal of Bhutanese of Nepali ethnicity. If you look at the politics of last decade, Bhutan has quietly worked its own version of reconciliation. Before tackling the refugee issue, they need to tackle ethnic issue in the country and they are doing it rather well.

    “As for this specific article, I am afraid the ‘causal’ link he draws (there was an ethnic cleansing 20 years ago; the royalty he met this time are all so polite and nice – hence, the royalty is being nice to hide its past) is unsubstantiated and even absurd. If he had access to Bhutan and met the polite rulers, why didn’t he ask them directly about the refugee issue? Otherwise, it looks as if he enjoyed the hospitality and then without any research (nothing he says about the past is not unknown) as to WHY question, he wrote this ‘lazy’ piece

    “I don’t imply that someone who enjoys a country’s hospitality should not be critical. Far from it.
    (a) Be honest in the first instance – make it clear to the hosts that you are bothered and disturbed by a specific issue – and don’t hide that in the name of being polite.
    (b) Don’t draw connections that are indefensible – for instance, here it is all about ‘Bhutanese state having a dark secret, Bhutanese state experimenting with GNH, Bhutanese royalty being very polite, hence both GNh and politeness is a mask to hide the dark secret’
    (c) do some research. Speak to Lhotsampas in Bhutan and ask them their experience. The writer of the piece does nothing of this sort. On the Southern question as such, Bhutan does need its own version of truth and reconciliation.

    “But this article contributes to nothing on that. It neither helps Bhutan nor does it help the refugees living in the camps. It only helps the writer in terms of establishing his credential as an expert on the basis of his one trip where he did no research.”

  3. I am dating someone who resided in these camps for several years (he is in his fourth year in America). He and his family have relocated here together, so they are “close to home” and I me them very early in our relationship (both a great and difficult thing!) I love reading your blog- my boyfriend (who now works as a social worker for refugee communities) is the only person in his large bhutanese community who has dated an American. Obviously, we are met with much interest and curiosity from both of our communities, and must work together to understand and blend our unique cultures. It is comforting and reassuring to read about others who are doing the same, and have found success. Thank you :) -Rose

    • Thank you Rose!

      If you are ever interested in writing a guest post from the perspective of being in a relationship with someone from the Nepali-Bhutanese community let me know. It would be very interesting to hear your perspective.

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