May 31, 2007

Shame on India! (shame on Bhutan!)

Two days ago, some thousands of Bhutanese refugees (who are of Nepalese origin) started their long March to go back to Bhutan. But the Indian security force stopped them, tensions followed and there was merciless shooting from the Indian security force. One young Bhutanese refugee died and many more were injured.
Why does India do all this? When these poor people were being forcefully evicted through India, Indian security forces didn't do anything. Now when they are trying to go back, they are stopping!
Bhutanese establishment has accepted to be a semi-colony of India. That may be the reason that India does what Bhutan wants with these people of Nepali origin. What about their human right? Bhutanese Nepalese have made very big contribution to Bhutan since they were there from late 1800s. But they have been evicted from that land. And they didn't even rebel against Bhutanese ruling class, they never demanded another state.
So much for the double standard of 'the largest democracy' of the world! Shame on India! And of course shame on medieval Bhutanese ruling class!
It is so sad that this refugee crisis hasn't got much attention from the world press or human rights watchdogs. More than 1,00,000 people are living in makeshift camps in eastern Nepal since more than two decades. The reason may be that they are not as violent as Arabs! May be western world recognizes violence only!
And now, US and other western countries are saying that they can accept some of these refugees. But that is not the permanent solution! Bhutan has such an asshole cunning governement that it will take this as a chance to evict more people of Nepalese origin. First, Bhutanese Nepalese should be repatriated and then they can choose whether they want to live in Bhutan or go elsewhere.
It is so sad that western countries, especially US, doesn't seem to have any south Asia policy. It depends too much on India. And India doesn' t behave well with its small neighbors if they want to breathe freely. Bhutan has accepted to breathe according to Indian control, so it can mistreat and evict its own people.
Shame on you again India! You will never become a superpower! Superpower needs a big heart, especially towards your neighbors! Even if you become superpower, you will never be respected by your own neighbors (and remeber that you are not respected now too!)
Here is the background and some analysis on Bhutanese refugee crisis, from

d a b a l i
t h e b h u t a n e s e r e f u g e e s
h i s t o r i c a l b a c k g r o u n d

Since the late 1800s, Lhotshampas (people of Nepali origin) began immigrating to southern regions of Bhutan in search of farmland and economic prosperity. Southern Bhutan had been shunned by the Drukpas (Buddhist Bhutanese of Tibetan origin) because of malarial conditions. Little contact developed between the Drukpas in the north and the Lhotshampas who had settled in the south. Through the years, the Lhotshampas retained their Nepali culture, language and religious traditions, which starkly differed from that of the Drukpas.
Until the mid 1980s, for perhaps a century, there was little visible conflict between the Drukpas and the Lhotshampas. However, tensions between the two groups surfaced in 1985 with the passing of legislation which mandated that Lhotshampas adopt Drukpa culture, language and religion. Among other things, television viewing was banned along with the use of the Nepali language, and a national dress code, which consisted of the Drukpa bakkhoo, was enforced in public areas. Protests ensued, followed by violence and killings. A national program was instituted to verify the citizenship of Bhutan's residents. A large majority of Lhotshampas were classified as illegal immigrants and a deportation program was instituted. The Lhotshampas organized demonstrations calling for the repeal of the newly implemented laws. The government cracked down on the demonstrators. What followed was a series of arrests, atrocities and the forceful eviction of the Lhotshampas. As the violence escalated, even Lhotshampas who had lived in the country for generations, began to flee to save their lives.
Between 1988 and 1994, more than a hundred thousand refugees made their way across the mountains of northern India into south-eastern Nepal, seeking refuge in camps constructed under the supervision of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
The Conflict
Several explanations have been offered as reasons for the souring of relations between the Drukpas and the Lhotshampas. The most widely accepted reason appears to be cultural friction. The Bhutanese government, which is predominantly Drukpa, feared their Buddhism-based culture was slowly being swamped by the Hindu traditions and cultural practices of the Lhotshampas. In the early 1980's, roughly 30 percent of the Bhutanese population was considered to comprise of Lhotshampas, with their numbers increasing steadily.
However, another school of thought contends that the real reason for the conflict was more political than cultural. Bhutan has remained a monarchy despite democratic movements in neighboring countries. The king, with a cabinet of appointed ministers (exclusively Drukpas until the late 1980s), holds absolute political power and has been generally upheld in high esteem by the Drukpa populace. However, as the Lhotshampas became educated and began infiltrating high-level positions in the government, the Drukpa elite became fearful of the viability of their political stronghold. Tensions between the Drukpa elite and the Lhotshampas emerged slowly and came to a boil in the late 1980's. Some reports indicate that Lhotshampas organized demonstrations calling for democracy in Bhutan. Their resulting eviction is considered to be the efforts of the king and the Drukpas elite to maintain absolute power in the country. It was known that in neighboring Sikkim, which used to be an autonomous state until 1973 (it is part of India now), the Lhotshampas had gradually replaced the aboriginal Lepcha and Bhutiya communities as political elements, later believed to be the primary reason for Sikkim's consolidation into India. The Drukpas feared a similar occurrence in Bhutan.
The Sequence of Events
There had long been an ambiguity in Bhutan's endeavor to economically catch up with the rest of world. During the mid 1900s the late king Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, the father of the current king, implemented policies aimed at modernizing Bhutan and uplifting it from economic backwaters. The king saw economic development as necessary not only for the well-being of his people, but also for the sustenance of his monarchy. But, through various government policies aimed at modernizing Bhutan, an increasing number of Bhutanese people became exposed to the West. Many Bhutanese (both Drukpas and Lhotshampas) traveled abroad and brought back notions of democracy and political freedom, and began criticizing the monarchy as dictatorial and despotic.
Consequently, most of the economic development programs were brought to an abrupt halt in 1985. Opposition to the monarchy was suppressed. Contact with foreign countries was cut off. Television antennas were dismantled. Tourism was curtailed. Lhotshampas were identified as a threat to the Drukpa monarchy and legislation was passed that attempted to destroy their cultural and religious identity. The Drig Lam Namsha (code of cultural correctness) mandated all Bhutanese (specifically Lhotshampas) to wear traditional Drukpa clothes in public. Use of Dzonkha, the Drukpa dialect, was made mandatory in all public areas despite the inability of a large number of Lhotshampas to speak the dialect and the fact that king Wangchuk himself was known to speak Nepali language in casual conversations. The practice of Hinduism (by the Lhotshampas) and any religion other than Mahayana Buddhism was prohibited. Other rules included specific hair-styles and ways of addressing each other in public.
The Lhotshampas protested against these laws as gross violation of their human rights and openly defied the Drig Lam Namsha. The government responded by claiming such actions were a clear case of rebellion against the king, the kingdom and the government. Violent confrontations ensued. In addition, the government passed new legislation in 1985 which set forth fresh criteria for Bhutanese citizenship. Nullifying any prior legislation, the new laws stipulated that only those individuals who could provide proof of being a resident of Bhutan prior to 1958 were eligible for citizenship. Any individual who was unable show proof of residency in Bhutan prior to 1958 (including those who had already been granted citizenship through previous legislation of 1977) were deprived of their citizenship status. The only acceptable proof of being a resident of Bhutan prior to 1958 was registration with the Ministry of Home Affairs. However, according to historians, the Ministry of Home Affairs did not exist in 1958. It was established ten years later in 1968. Thus, the new legislation made it next to impossible for Lhotshampas to claim Bhutanese citizenship. The US State Department's Country Report on Human Rights in Bhutan states: "In recent years, assimilation has given way to Bhutanization... The (1985) citizenship law retroactively stripped citizenship from Nepalese immigrants who could not document their presence in Bhutan prior to 1958, a nearly impossible requirements in a country with widespread illiteracy, which only recently adopted administrative procedures."
During September and October of 1990, the conflict reached its peak. A series of hunger strikes and public demonstrations resulted in violent confrontations and killings. The army was deployed to stem the demonstrations and what followed was mass murder, rape, torture and incarceration. According to the US State Department report, "Tens of thousands [of ethnic Nepalese] were forcibly evicted from the country. Still more fled the country voluntarily in the face of officially sanctioned pressure, reportedly including arbitrary arrests, beatings, rape, robberies and other forms of intimidation by the police and army."
Media Coverage (or Lack Thereof)
Most foreign journalists who applied for visas to enter Bhutan were turned away. A New Delhi writer who was denied a visa, was however given two bottles of Scotch whiskey to show that there were no hard feelings. Only a few selected journalists were invited into the country, where they were treated as royal guests -- housed in diplomatic guest houses and driven around in chauffeur-driven vehicles. But, they were shielded from the political conflict in the southern part of the country. A New York Times correspondent reporting on the situation in southern Bhutan quoted only Drukpa Bhutanese officials and the king as sources.
Amnesty International, during its trip to Bhutan in early 1992 received a similar red carpet treatment. Secretary General Jan Martin however, expressed disappointment at not being allowed to visit the District of Chirang, where the conflict was taking place. Refugees who were in Bhutan during Amnesty's visit but who escaped later, reported various government tactics to conceal traces of the conflict, such as retiring the army into the hills and populating the homes of Lhotshampas who had fled the country with Drukpas, during Amnesty's visit.
The Future
Repatriation of the refugees seems unlikely in the current scheme of things. It is understood that any such measure would have to be the initiative of neighboring "big brother" India. Since both Nepal and Bhutan are economically dependent upon India, India wields enormous political power over these two smaller countries. Furthermore, according to a 1949 treaty of friendship between India and Bhutan, the government of Bhutan agrees to be "guided" by the advice of the government of India with regard to its external affairs. Without India's support, Nepal cannot exercise pressure on Bhutan to repatriate the refugees. Thus far, India's response to the issue has been solemn indifference, if not a slight support for the Bhutanese government. A series of talks between the Prime Minister of Nepal and Bhutanese as well as Indian officials have failed to produce any significant development towards finding a solution to the refugee crisis. Meanwhile, thousands of men, women and children continue to live under tarpaulin roofs on thatched huts, on food and clothes from donor agencies, with an uncertain and bleak future ahead of them.

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