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State and civil resistance


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State and civil resistance

  1. 1. State and Civil Resistance State and Civil Resistance: A Narrative from Bhutan1 Abstract The violation of human rights under the aegis of the State has of late become pervasive on the land; the mass organized resistance like the Long March toward democracy is fast germinating in the soil. The Amnesty international, Red Cross Society and Indian print media have also been drawing attention of the world community towards this resilient Monarchy in the eastern Himalayas. The State is the vanguard of such a monotonous conception of the nation. It has combined with utter callousness and contempt shown to the collective memory of the people. The collective memory is through relevant, and therefore must be kept alive. It is time to have an alternative reconstruction of the dynamic history of political unrest, resistance and rebellion of the masses in the country. Moreover, the event of Long March of the Bhutanese refugees and contemporary stalemate in the political resolution of the problem are warranted to be narrated. Key words: human right, civil resistance, nationalist ideology, national integration, democracy movement, Nepali, Red Cross Society, state terrorism, Amnesty International, collective memory, Long March Introduction Bhutan is one country in south Asia, which is still falling off the map. Both official as well as academic literatures fail to cover this country. Peruse an official report, a monograph or a book on the South Asia! Nothing substantial in terms of the quantitative information and data pertaining to this country would be traceable at all. Notwithstanding the negligence, the recent spurt of internal political dynamism in the Shangri-la does quality to be treated as interesting. The violation of human rights under the aegis of the State has of late become pervasive on the land; the mass organized resistance like the Long March toward democracy is fast germinating in the soil. The Amnesty international, Red Cross Society and Indian print media have also been drawing attention of the world community towards this resilient Monarchy in the eastern Himalayas. What attracted, and yet attracts the adventurists, tourist and scientists to this country has been the dragon motifs, lofty Himalayan mountain ranges and richly diversified reservoir of flora and fauna. What distinguishes Bhutan as a unique nation today however is the forceful articulation of a monolithic conception of nation in public parlance. Such a conception is inspired by the status- quo-ist nationalist ideology. The ideology is explicitly expressed and the associated worldview communicated to the masses by members of the ruling oligarchy in all public 1 It was originally published in the Journal of Assam University, vol.5, no.1, 2000, with an extended title. Mahmood Ansari 1|Page
  2. 2. State and Civil Resistance addresses across the nation. The State is the vanguard of such a monotonous conception of the nation. This has remained as yet uncovered by the media. The royal proclamations of late have even required the crazy distortion of the narratives of the social and political history on the one hand and the forceful promulgation of the so-called official one history on the other. These have combined with utter callousness and contempt shown to the collective memory of the people. The collective memory is through relevant, and therefore must be kept alive. It is time to have an alternative reconstruction of the dynamic history of political unrest, resistance and rebellion of the masses in the country. The themes are elaborated, and ensuing claims defended in the present chapter. The mode of presentation of argument is description; an attempt has been made to develop a descriptive framework. It is divided into six brief sections. The first section deals with the monolith of State-ist conception of the nation in the backdrop of hierarchical social set up in the country. The second section describes the genesis of civil servitude of the masses orchestrated by the twin medieval institutions of Driglam Namjha and Tsa-Wa-Sum. The third part attempts to capture the origin of social resistance by narrating the short history of Nepali settlement in the country. The facets of political unrest of the masses are elaborated in the forth section. The fifth section evaluates the dynamics and configuration of the State terror. The event of long march of Bhutanese refugees, and the contemporary stalemate in political resolution of the problem are reported in the last part of the critical profile. 1. Stateist Ideology – a Monolith Bhutan is a very small nation in the eastern Himalaya. It is a landlocked culture pitched between two giant civilizations of India and China. It is a sovereign hereditary monarchy in the south Asia. It is a Buddhist agrarian society. It is a mid-way house between the feudal and capitalist economy. The capitalist institutions and organizations in the sectors of economic activities have of been encouraged to develop though without allowing for adoption of the democratic framework of decision making and governance. The State, polity and society claimed to be integrated in a symbiotic relation in the nation. The State, since its inception in 1907 in the so-claimed secular and modern form, is actually pervasive in the life of the nation. The State-ist conception of nation is the core of nationalist ideology in Bhutan. The national agenda are to attain the Gross National Happiness (GNH), establish the paternal regulated society and strengthen the drupka version of political governance in the nation. These agenda help in establishing hegemonic control of civil society rather than attaining the material prosperity and economic development in a nation which is one of the poorest and largest foreign aid recipients in Asia. Development in Bhutan is not judged simply in terms of material wealth. His Majesty the Kind has stressed that other less quantifiable goals, such as the spiritual and emotional well being of the population, should receive equal emphasis. His Majesty has also stated that preservation of Bhutan’s cultural heritage and its rich and varied natural resources are as much a priority as economic development (Planning Commission, 1995, p.2). Mahmood Ansari 2|Page
  3. 3. State and Civil Resistance There is officially only one history, one culture, one language and one social project imposed on the masses. The State has appropriated for itself the expressions of culture of subordinate sectors; some part of the latter has been preserved exclusively as museum exhibit at ceremonial occasions and some incorporated in the officially prescribed customs and traditions albeit in a limited and selected manner. Moreover, parts of the history and elements of culture have of late been purposively selected from the past and reconstructed into an ‘invented’ tradition of the nation. The nationalist official ideology permits the ruling oligarchy to attain the national agenda through the two core medieval social institutions of Driglam Namjha and Tsa-wa-sum. The core institutions are centered at maintenance of patron-clientele relations at the level of decentralized units of society, based on customs and traditions of feudal medieval Bhutan. The power elite and ruling oligarchy uses these institutions and the invented tradition for the so-called cultural solidarity programme and national integration policy. The cultural plurality of a heterogeneous and segmented society has conclusively been underplayed by the State, and the populist nationalist ideology has recently embarked upon the project of cultural revivalism – a cultural monolith. The polity is founded upon hierarchic structures symbolizing the levels of ruthless power and coercion. Despite attempts to project the façade of formal structures of democratization and decentralization by the rulers, the political system is basically governed by the despotism of monarchy in substantive spirit. The political system comprises of the three structures of national legislative assembly and royal advisory council at Thimpu, the dzongkhags administration at the district and gup and chimi panchayats at the village settlements level. The structure gives the glimpse of the façade of decentralized political set up. Actually what is noteworthy is that the efficacy of gup and chimi panchayats has long gone on the wane, and at present: There is no formal constitution, but the written rules (which are changed periodically)govern procedures for the election of members of the Royal Advisory Council (Lodoi Tsode) and the legislature/ National Assembly (Tshogdu), and defines the duties and powers of those bodies ………………..…. The peoples’ representatives have their names endorsed at the village assemblies …………………... The Royal advisory Council is a sort of permanent government department and it is in permanent session ……………….... For administrative purposes, the country is divided into eighteen districts (Dzongkhags) ………………….. Each district in Bhutan is headed by a chief administrator (Dzongda) and a person in charge of Judicial matters (Trrimpon) …………………….. The lowest administration unit in all districts is the bloc (Gewog) of several villages (Dogra, 1990, pp. xiii-xvii). The philosophy of administrative decentralization of government (without financial counterpart) is a widely popularized principle, which has been implemented in a few pockets. The beneficiaries are however a small group of elite only till date. The civil society is equally pyramidal in power, prestige and status. There are sharp cleavages between the ruling elite and civil masses. Bhutanese civil masses comprise of three sections of ethnic population-the drukpa (westerners of Tibetan origin), the scharchopa (easterners of Indo-Tibetan root) and the Ihotshampa (southerners of Nepali stock). The social configuration is as such that: Broadly speaking, the Bhutanese people are composed of three different racial elements: the Mongoloid and the Indo-Aryans of Assam and upper Burma. The majority of the people in Bhutan are called Bhutias. They are of Tibetan descent and are also known as the Dragon people (Drukpas). Hindus of Mahmood Ansari 3|Page
  4. 4. State and Civil Resistance Nepali origin form 25 to 30 per cent of the population of Bhutan, while some small communities in eastern Bhutan appear to be related to the hill tribes of Assam (Dogra, 1990, p. xii). The drukpa is the most privileged and patronized ethnic sect; the Ihotshampa the least privileged, and rather neglected one by the State machinery. The economic stratification, continuing since the medieval period, set aside, the racial differences are kept alive by the machinery of the State in the memory of the populace. The ruling and power elite positions are occupied by the lyonpo (nominated ministers in the national assembly of the Government), the dasho (recipients of the red scarf awarded by the kind) and the rabdey (spiritual heads in the hierarchical structure of religious organization). The druk gyalpo (the hereditary king), the royal family and the lodrey shogdey (Royal Advisory Council) members stand at the top in power, status and prestige. The dominant positions give them the edge over value formations in the society1. The monarchy has always claimed that there exists a kind of symmetry and symbiosis among para-institutions of the society. This is however merely a façade. The conflict and tensions are endemic. This is certainly due to the monotony of civil life and lack of individual freedom. These in turn are the outcomes of hegemonic relations of the ruling elite with the masses in this Shangri-la of merely six lakhs population. A highly perceptive travel writer, associated with the Times, London, has aptly remarked. I began to detect another strain which has grown more apparent to me the longer I spent in the country: the fact that the government is more than ready to make all the people’s decisions for them ……………………….…. what he [a top Bhutanese official] neglected to say-protesting so much – was that the majority of the voters, and even the candidates they choose, were illiterates; that none of the advisors [Royal Advisory Council members] wanted, or was likely to go against the kind; that in many respects Bhutan is still in a state of benevolent despotism. The government provides all its people with free education and health care; in return, however, it feels free to make certain demands of them. All buildings must be constructed in the traditional style. No school trip may be taken out of the country. No Bhutanese may study abroad unless he is sponsored by the government. If he is sponsored, he must sign a pact promising to return to serve the country. And, when returns, he must go through a re-education programme to remind him of his heritage. Christian churches are banned in Bhutan (Iyer, 1993, pp. 107-8). What the travel writer probably forgot to mention is that the head of the State, Druk Gyalpo, does not believe in the family institution of monogamy for himself. The foreign minister of the country was the biggest landlord, and had held the portfolio for over two decades. The people did not have quantified knowledge of their own life since there were no precise and reliable estimates of the aggregate population, sex ratio, age distribution and classification of the working population in the country. There are severe strictures on the freedom. The television viewing was banned (in the early years of twenty-first century, the ban was surprisingly lifted). There were only four movie halls across the country. The wearing of English caps, T-shirts and trousers at public places were fined. The semi-literate section of the bureaucracy could still project the nation as the only surviving reservoir of unique culture in the south Asia (Ansari, 1996). The State sponsored spate of recent political violence, atrocity and brutality against the Lhotshampa Bhutanese population set aside, the victims of such project of invented traditions based cultural revivalism is whole civilian sector outside the power and ruling elite in this lonely Mahmood Ansari 4|Page
  5. 5. State and Civil Resistance Himalayan kingdom. The individuals are not able to realize their full human potentials in a free and fair atmosphere. The family and school do work but at the mercy of the State (Ansari, 1998). The community is decaying and community values passed from generation to generation are vanishing fast under the weight of monolithic nationalism. The State has become over pervasive and over-arching enough to leave space for any other institutions of the community and society to perform autonomously. 2. Civil Servitude - Genesis The suffocating survival matrix forced upon the civilian masses by the State has been conducive in strengthening the hegemony of the apparatus of the state. This is the principal strategy of legitimization under the monarchy. The legitimizations achieved on the basis of the sound working of the overwhelmingly significant institutions of the driglam namjha and tsa-wasum. These help in sustaining the ethos at the centre of which the social institution of servitude occupies an important place. The plight of poor, illiterate and unprivileged masses who are victims of the grand nationalist ideology inspired monolithic practices are undoubtedly evident to all traveling cross and staying in the country. The orchestration of civil servitude is at its peak nowadays. The driglam namjha is a set of manners, etiquette and conduct to be observed at public occasions and parlance. It originated in the medieval period during Shabdrung Nwang Namggyel’s rule in Bhutan. The Shabdrung initiated the process of political and administrative unification of the county in the thirteenth century. It was accomplished through the twin strategies of constructing defended monastic palaces-cum-fortresses at strategic locations for better administrative governance, and implementing the driglam namjha codes to strengthen the equation of super-ordination and subordination between the ruling class and the masses in medieval Bhutan. The legacy continues till today. It was herded down to the present generation through basically oral tradition and therefore as modified codes of conduct. There were many additions made to it by the local village headmen and dashos from time to time. It requires today on the part of socalled inferior people, comprising of peasantry, artisans and urban shop-keepers and traders, facing the superior status citizens to follow a full three part prostration of body with the white silken scarf (resting on the shoulder) touching the ground. One has to give un-obstructive pass by cornering oneself to either side of the path way in the prostrating position. The wishes are expressed by taking one step forward followed by two steps backward with hands wide open in the same position of prostration. The dialogue is to be conducted with prior permission only (sought through a suitable mediator) in the standing position with head bowed down, eyes looking at the ground and statements uttered slowly in almost whispering tone and laden with praise worthy adjectives and ornamental phrases. No element of criticism about any aspect of life of the superior status person is permissible. The masses have to fail in the line for feast only after the reversed person has finished roughly quarter of his food in the plate. The honourable citizen maintains a straight standing position with head high, chest wide open and hands closed on the back or comfortable sitting position with head high, chest wide open and hands closed on the back or comfortable sitting position on a chair of certain exclusivity. The status is Mahmood Ansari 5|Page
  6. 6. State and Civil Resistance determined on the basis of bureaucratic rank or spiritual position in the hierarchy, with the former presently occupying a more dominant criterion. The Tsa-wa-sum is an official slogan emanating from the hard core of the nationalist ideology of unbridled loyalty to the king and patriotism demanded from the masses for the sake of national unity and integrity of the county. It is a modern weapon having its origin in the invented tradition and custom of the nation. It is a highly evasive and slippery concept. The literal meaning of the terminology is ‘King, Country and People’. It actually refers simply to the faith in patriotism. In essence, it however works as a device to protect the hegemony of the state machinery. It serves to indoctrinate the masses as well. The national policies, programmes and directives issued by the government are all justified to be in accordance with the guiding principles of tsa-wa-sum. The free of cost labour services to be performed by each and every household annually under different categories like the goongda-woola, dzongsey-woola and sapto-lemi (all indigenous Bhutanese terminologies) are declared compulsory in the name of this nationalist slogan. Under the goongda-woola, at least one member aged seventeen years or above from each household (principally rural household) is annually recruited by the village headman to work for 15 days to repair and construct the district head-quarter dzongs, monasteries and connecting feeder roads at the government prescribed wage rate of Rs. 15.00 for male and Rs.13.00 for female. The dzongsey-woola requires a member of each household to work on seasonal maintenance of dzongs twice a year at the wage rate of Rs. 7.00 for male and Rs. 6.00 for female for unspecified period till the work is completed. The household individuals are recruited by the village headman for so-called ‘service-oriented projects’ inside the villages on the reward of ‘certificates’ only under sapto-lemi. It is worth remembering that all these labour services are compulsory; the failures to perform shaptolemi, for example, is fined at Rs. 24.00 per day to Rs. 35.0 per day per household, varying from areas to areas in the country (ILO, 1991). The scope of control emanating from these institutions have of late been widened to such an extent that a critical outlook and appreciation of the unique concept formulated by the King called ‘Gross National Happiness’ is equally declared to be violation of the tsa-wa-sum. Nowhere in the world is such a concept being coined and used. It is a completely alien concept to both the western as well as oriental mind. However, no critical discussion on it is permitted. The sound working of these institutions combined with the nationalist ideology of maintaining a paternalistic regulated society has simply meant that the freedom of civilian population is causality. The feudal lords of the yesteryears are the business magnets and political barons today, the ordinary citizenry are bonded and their voices scuttled. 3. Social Resistance - Origin Bhutan is a monarchy; it is not at all a democratic set-up. The system could have worked for long without the lubricants provided by the democratic aspirations and ideas. The state of affairs is however not as such at present. It is true that the evaluative criteria of democratic values, principles and practices can probably not be applied to judge the performance of the system. The notion of freedom is however hot bound with the particular nature of political system. The performance on this criterion has been rather highly disappointing in the country. Mahmood Ansari 6|Page
  7. 7. State and Civil Resistance That is one of the reason that masses could not keep themselves aloof, a civilian resistance has built up over the last two decades2. The origin is of course to be traced back far in the history of settlement and citizenship. The Lhotshampa immigration in the southern Duars on the border of Assam and Bhutan, presently located on the Indian side, had started well back in the nineteenth century, according to the oral tradition. These immigrants of the Nepali ethnic origin had settled initially as ‘tangyas’ (forest labourers), and later on, as family labour-based households3 in the areas presently demarcated as Samchi district and gradually in Chirang, Sarbhang, Geylegphug and parts of Samdrup Jongkhar district in Bhutan in order of sequence. They were very popular with the Drukpas. The then most powerful ponlop (the monastic title of the provincial governor under Deb Rajah of Bhutan), the Tongsa Ponlop, gave urgent responsibility to then Bhutan agent in India, Kazi Dorji, to recruit more Napalis for timber extraction works in the dense tropical forests in southern foothills of the country (MHA, 1993, p.3). The event of formal invitation set the trend of immigration and settlement at a fast track which continued till 1950s. The Nepalis were then conferred Bhutanese citizenship under the Nationality Law of Bhutan, 1958, it was one of the positive achievements of the political agitation in the southern Bhutan carried out by the Nepali segment of population during 1952-54. Any further settler immigration of Nepalis in the country was henceforth banned, particularly since 1959. The story of settlement seemed to he ending there with the Lhotshampas establishing themselves. They had started following the Government- prescribed norms of co-operative peaceful coexistence as Law and tradition abiding citizens fulfilling the pledges, reflected in the Resolution No. 8 of the 13th session of the National Assembly passed in 1959 (MHA, 1993, p.37). In other words, they had also surrendered themselves to the life under civil servitude engineered by the twin institutions of driglam namzha and tsa-wa-sum. The developments were however bound to occur over three decades down the line. First, despite best efforts on part of the Nepalese to internalize the social ethos based on Drukpa Budhist customs and tradition, the Nepali ethnic culture remained resilient enough to evoke fears among the ruling elite; the Lhostshampa’s little tradition survived. Second, the population of southern Bhutan increased phenomenally; the production of orange fruit and its export to Bangladesh expanded; and, the Nepali inhabited south excelled in regional economic prosperity. Third, an elite section was born who started thriving to have a share in political power and governance. These developments were however not acceptable to an anti-Nepali vested interest group within the ruling Drukpa oligarchy. A well devised national integration policy was invented; three crucial issues of so-called national importance were raised to be resolved in the mid-1980s. These issues related to the citizenship, human population census and national dress code. First, the Bhutan Citizenship Act was passed in 1985. It offered tremendous opportunity to the royal Government. It enabled the government to check not only the citizenship and naturalization procedures for immigrants but also subsequently order deportation. The deportation provision affected mainly Lhotshampas of the South. An interesting dimension is worth quoting: A foreign woman who marries a Bhutanese man must wait fifteen years to gain Bhutanese Citizenship. A Bhutanese woman who marries a foreign man immediately losses all her rights. The Bhutanese love their country and just in case they don’t the government reminds them that they must (Iyer, 1993, p. 108). Mahmood Ansari 7|Page
  8. 8. State and Civil Resistance Moreover, the Act provided for the cassation of instruction in Napali language in the schools. Such a ‘crassly insensitive’ provision amounted to ‘closing the stable door after the horse was bolted’ (Griffin, 1995, p.87). In both letter and spirit, the Act was too hard to bear with for the Lhotshampas in particular. Second, demographic sample survey was undertaken in 1984. It was followed by the comprehensive human population Census, first of its kind, in 1988. In many respects, it departed from the methodology adopted in the partial Census of 1980. For example, in the southern Bhutan, a conscious attempt on the part of census operation agents to advance the enumeration work in arbitrary fashion was detected. Quite a significant size of the Lhotshampa households was being missed from enumeration deliberately by the agents. The citizenship card held by many Lhotshampas were declared fake and invalid4. The Government subsequently ordered the several thousand people to leave the country, Since they were discovered to b ‘nonnationals’ on the basis of 1988 Census; the latter supposedly utilized the criteria laid down under the Bhutan Citizenship Act of 1985. Thirdly, the Government announced the most urgent agenda of its ‘invented’ tradition in the name of national integration policy. It made legally binding for all citizens to speak Dzongkha as national language and wear man’s Khoh and women’s Kira as national dress in all public places. This was virtually amounting to adding fuel to the summering fire. A pertinent point to note in this regard is that: Though the Bhutanese national dress gives a distinct identity to its citizens and is very comfortable for mountainous living, it is extremely difficult to wear in the South (especially during summers) which experiences a subtropical hot and humid climate. While the wards of the rich people violate the dress norms right in the national capital. Thimpu (a fact which was admitted in Bhutan’s national English weekly, Kuensel), and tampering with the dress in the South, especially by the Napali-speaking, would invite severe penal measures (Ramachandriaih, 1994. p. 1818). The state succeeded in re-establishing the hegemony over the Lhotshampa masses for sometime with these crass measures. The initial reaction of the Lhotshampa Bhutanese citizens was to flee away to avoid social harassment, economic deprivation and erosion of their ethnicity. They started to take shelter in the neighboring countries of Nepal and India. The refugee camps up in these countries. 4. Political Unrest – Facets The Lhotshampas wanted to stay back with dignity. The choice of out migration under distress was compelled upon the Lhotshampas and other Tibetan ethnic people in Bhutan as exemplified by the recent political history. The passivity of people was of course not warranted under the situation. The refugee camps facilitated the formation of associations, organizations and parties. The political demonstrations were organized. This marked the beginning of the social resistance turning into political turmoil inside Bhutan, however. Mr. Tek Nath Rizal, whose immediate unconditional release from detention was recommended on the basis of him being found the prisoner of conscience by the Amnesty International, Mahmood Ansari 8|Page
  9. 9. State and Civil Resistance London, way back in 1993, and presently appealed for by the Appeal Movement Co-ordination Council, Nepal, was a southern Bhutanese member of the Lodery Tshogdey (Royal Advisory Council) during the last quarter of 1980s. He wrote about the phenomenon of arbitrariness resorted by the Census 1988 officials and agents in the southern Bhutan to the King. He was expelled within months from Bhutan. He had to resort to distress-outmigration to Nepal, where he subsequently engaged himself in advocating the cause during the short period of exile. He also started publication of leaflets and booklets voicing his opinion and ideas, including the publication of the famous piece titled “Bhutan: We want Justice”. The Amnesty International Report of December, 1992 did not find anything in the latter publication that might contain threats of armed uprising against the State of Bhutan or the advocacy of violence on the land (A1, 1992, P.9). Still, the rules in Bhutan got the deportation order passed. He along-with 45 other activists, was later arrested in the land of Nepal and handed over to the Bhutanese authority in November 1989. He was kept in shackles for nearly 20 months at Wangdiphodrang, Bhutan, and subsequently, shifted from there. Despite frequent requests made by the Amnesty International, his place of detention is yet not disclosed by the authority. He has been detained by the Government till date without charge, trial and access to legal counsel. His wife was permitted once to meet him; otherwise, no relatives have ever been allowed to meet him. The detention and confinement of Mr. Rizal and other political asylum-seekers further convinced the people of the necessity not only to stay back but also struggle for the just and dignified existence inside the country. Mr. Rizal, while in exile, had already helped mobilization of the deserted Lhotshampa Bhutanese, and contributed to the formation of the People’s Forum for Human Rights at Kakarbhita in Nepal of 7th July 1989. The spirit was carried forward and further facilitated by the formation of the Bhutan’s People Party at Garganda in India in June 1990. The avowed express objectives of the party was declared to be the evolution of parliamentary form of government, stoppage of violation of human rights and establishment of independent judiciary in Bhutan. The fleeing swamp of people launched the Bhutan National Democratic Party in February 1992 in Kathmandu in Nepal. These were the spontaneously undertaken tactical steps in organizing the refugee settlers in Nepal camps as political pressure group. The political upheaval was manifested inside the country also. A series of public protest demonstration as part of the collective self-ascertain were organized, supposedly under banner of the Party, in different parts of the Southern Bhutan during 17 th September to 16th October, 1990. In Samchi district alone, 4000 people were estimated to be to be the participants in the demonstration. The Royal Bhutan Army and Police were deputed to deal with the demonstrators; they came heavy on the latter immediately. The arrests were made. The school and hospitals in the southern Bhutan were turned into detention cells. Then came the Statedirected violence of all sorts. The State directed control as well as violence picked up as the time went by. A leading international publication has summarized the political affairs in the following way: Bhutan’s politics in the 1990s have been characterized by ethnic unrest in the Southern region of the country. Bhutan’s large Nepalese population (roughly half the population) joined by disaffected Bhutanese elements, began to protest against what they regarded unreasonable domination by the Buddhist Drukpa or indigenous Bhutanese. At the centre of dispute lay the Nepalese perception not entirely unjustified that official Bhutanese policy envisaged the adoption of a Buddhist dominated Dzongkha (speaking culture). Mahmood Ansari 9|Page
  10. 10. State and Civil Resistance Tension was increased by the Nepalese community’s lack of voting and political rights, although many of them were either born in Bhutan or had spent most of their lives in the country (Griffin, 1995, p.87). 5. State Terrorism – Dynamics The monarchical state has got more alarmed since 1990. It has intensified the coercion and terror which has not remained confined to police and army actions. The state machinery has initiated several measures to redefine and further defend the status-quo, and alienate the aspirants of democracy. A multi-pronged strategy has been devised. First, the systematic official campaign has started which asserts that Historical documents, including British records, do not report on the presence of any Nepalis in Bhutan until the beginning of the twentieth century (MHA, 193, p.3). In other words, the Nepali-Bhutanese have been declared to have migrated to Bhutan ‘uninvited’. The so-called authentic papers and historical documents, whatsoever if these really exist, are however never cited. The British records on marauding raider and violent blackmailer Drukpa Bhutanese visiting duar areas of Indo-Bhutan boarder, presently in Assam (Pemberton, 1835; Unauthored, 1991-1992), are on the other hand suppressed. Second, the Nepalis who could not be declared illegal migrants have unfailingly been made victims of human rights violation by the State machinery. There were instances whereby the funeral processions of Nepali people were being stopped in the way, and forced to perform the last rites according to the dominant Buddhist customs in the post-190 political demonstration era in Bhutan. The Brahmin Nepalese had been forced to wear the dresses of Lamas, Buddhist monks. The elderly ladies been forced to cut their long hairs since the social customs and mores of life of the Drukpa sect did not permit it. The ornaments of young females-so dear to Lhotshampa women-were forcibly removed from their bodies. The vermilions from the forehead were washed away forcibly. In other words, there had been various dimensions of encroachment of human rights in the country notwithstanding the changing ‘forms of denial from the King’ advertised from time to time (Mukherjee, 1996). According to the testimonies gathered by the Amnesty International (1992) from the Lhotshampa Bhutanese in the refugee camps of Nepal, the police and army personnel’s had continuously been committing atrocities in Bhutan. The familiar mode of tortures had been raping the women, beating the men and forcibly evicting the households of civilians by taking them under custody without charges since 1990. Thousands of Nepali speaking people was arrested under unfounded charges of suspected involvement in the activities harmful to the government policy of national integration. Many detained women died later as a result of rapes and gang rapes by the militia; a few became pregnant and ultimately mother of unwanted babies. Men were tortured, and threatened with dire consequences in case of failure to leave the country at once. The detained people were given inadequate diets, and kept under the unhygienic conditions of the jail. Their deaths in custody are not reported to their relatives. The Amnesty International Report also brings to light the case-study of one Mr. H P Sapkota: he was arrested in Assam and handed over the Bhutanese authority in September, 1990 and died in January 1992 due to malnutrition and poor prison conditions, but the death was never Mahmood Ansari 10 | P a g e
  11. 11. State and Civil Resistance reported to his relatives. Many prisoners have died in the course of time due to illness like malaria, dysentery and diarrhea. The convicts used to be kept under shackles till mid-1992. Despite serious requests made by the Amnesty International, the delegation was neither permitted to visit the places of detention in the country nor were they allowed to watch any judicial proceedings of the High Count of Bhutan against the convicts on the plea of unacceptability by the officials and people of Bhutan. The Amnesty International Report finds the violations of the International Human Rights standard rampant in Bhutan. Third, the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal and India are declared to be possessing fake Bhutanese Citizenship Identity cards. The Lhotshampa in Bhutan occupying important civil servant positions are implicated in financial embezzlement. And, those Nepalis who want to join the mainstream of the nation are pushed to the police stations to acquire No Objection Certificates. The Bhutanese officials’ position circulate through print media as well as oral discourse is that the Bhutanese Citizenship Identity cards were printed in the commercial press in Calcutta in a great haste4, and henceforth the possibility of duplication of cards can not be ruled out (MHA, 1993). The implication is that a large number of Lhotshampa Bhutanese taking refuge in Nepal is holding this fake identity card. Many Lhotshampa civil servants have been implicated in financial embezzlement, either after outmigration from the country or just before, to tarnish the image among other officials. The requirement of getting a No Objection Certificate from the police station to be eligible for admission in the institutions of higher learning from class X onward and seek a job in the country has been introduced as a strict rule since 1991. It is the Lhotshampa students, who end up not getting an NOC under the prevailing situations in the country. There has been substantial decline in the enrolment of Nepali students, who have already been deprived of taking Lhotshampa as optional language in schools, in the Sherubtse College over the years. To quote an observation: During my two year’s stay at Sherubtse College, Kanglung (affiliated to India’s Delhi University and the only degree College in Bhutan) as a Lecturer during 1991-93, I was a witness o a substantial decline in the intake of Nepali-speaking students due to this stipulation of NOC. There were several students who were summoned, in the middle of the academic year or during exams, by the census authorities and told to leave the country. The discrimination is much worse in giving the jobs (Ramachandraiah, 1994, p.1818). Fourth, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Thimpu, has started publishing booklets periodically, with colored photographs and prints inside. The literature accuses the Lhotshampa Bhutanese dissidents as anti-national and terrorists responsible for peace-less-ness in the nation. All activities in the southern Bhutan are periodically attributed to the Lhotshampa Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. The ministry declares that 40 rapes, 58 murders in 211 kidnaps had been committed by the anti-national terrorist, who comes from the refugee camps in Nepal to Bhutan occasionally, till 5th June, 1993. The coloured photographs of the victims of violence of all sorts are published to arouse the sentiments of people against the Nepali Bhutanese – the socalled anti-national terrorists. One such publication is titled ‘The Southern Bhutan Problem: Threat to Nation’s Survival’ and other titled ‘A Brief Pictorial Summery of the Terrorists Activities in Southern Bhutan’, both published in the first half of 1993. The literature is especially distributed in the schools and other educational institutions. It asserts with confidence that the so-called anti-nationals always come from the refugee camps in Nepal to Bhutan. Such propaganda is however not backed by any kind of reasonable evidence in the literature circulated by the Ministry. It is further worth remembering that these publications have come to Mahmood Ansari 11 | P a g e
  12. 12. State and Civil Resistance arouse the sentiments of youth population in the school and educational institutions, and have only become permanent feature after the submission of Amnesty International Report on Bhutan in December, 1992. Last, a government weekly newspaper and the only newspaper (or call it a news magazine) in the country, the Kuensel, has continuously been engaged in the divine task of reporting unfailingly almost all kinds of violence and criminal activities of individuals or groups in the southern Bhutan by attributing these to Ngolops (anti-nationals) and terrorists without publishing any legal evidence or otherwise of the political motivations behind the acts. The editor of Kuensel once argued with an interviewer that the paper did not publicise the southern Bhutanese problems throughout the late eighties because it feared a serious ethnic rift; the paper started publishing news stories on the anti-government protests when these acquired the dimensions of serious violence (Rhodes, 1995, p.41). Is there anybody to digest the logic of such morality of a mass media? The fact is that paper started doing so since only 1991 on a warpath. It was the time the government had already controlled successfully the demonstrations and unrest. The purpose of mass media news was merely to consolidate the position of the government. Such a multi-pronged strategy, centered at the operational method of curbing violence with violence, has continuously been misfiring. The demand for democracy has become rather widespread. The orchestration of civil servitude through the social institutions of driglam namjha and tsa-wa-sum had been adding fuel to the simmering fire. The strategy of counter to the social resistance by the political unrest among the civilian masses with the state terrorism has brought the fire almost in the open. 6. Present Stalemate - Long March The dynamic situation of unrest has arrived at a dead end where neither the monarchy is ready to voluntarily dismantle the political system in favour of democracy nor the refugees have been left with any other option than intensified struggles to return home with safety and dignity. India being the Big Brother in the south Asia could have agree to mediate; the appeal for mediation has been raised from the quarters of both the refugees as well as royal establishment. The Big Brother however has chosen to remain neutral – calling the issue of settlement of refugees a bilateral one between Nepal and Bhutan5. Such a stand on part of India is reason enough to further cement the stalemate. The stalemate was in retrospect triggered by three crucial developments in succession. First, the voice of dissent spearheaded by an ethnic minority of Lhotshampa of south Bhutan, with the newly emerging tacit support of Scharchopa of eastern Bhutan has recently taken the form of a Long March from Nepal to Bhutan’s capital, Thimpu. It began on 14 th January 1996. It was organized by the Appeal Movement Coordinating Council (AMCC) on behalf of more than 70,000 ‘Lhotshampa Bhutanese’. The refugees were surviving a life of miserable dislocations in the five camps located in districts of Jhapa and Morang in the eastern Nepal under the humanitarian assistance of food and shelter regularly donated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The March was morally backed by the Support Organization for Bhutanese Refugees (SOBR) and various other India groups. It aimed at pleading the State to end the widespread gross violation of human rights, make arrangements conductive for the Mahmood Ansari 12 | P a g e
  13. 13. State and Civil Resistance repatriation of Bhutanese refugees and release Mr. Tek Nath Rizal (Pradhan, 1995). However, the proposed rallies, meetings and March were banned by the Indian government. Many of them were detained by the Indian Police in the month of January and again in June in 1996 to thwart their efforts to reach to Thimpu via West Bengal districts (Nagchaudhury, 1996). The interception by the Indian police on the border continued throughout 19955. The peace marchers had refused to furnish bail and instead had lodged petitions in the High Court for quashing the proceedings against them. Moreover, Mr. Dorji, who is the chairperson of the United Front for Democracy in Bhutan, was assessed by the Indian security personal on 18th April 1997 in New Delhi, on the request of Bhutanese government for deportation (Dhakal, 1997). Dorji was sought by Bhutan on charges of financial irregularities and sedition. A special aircraft of the Royal Bhutanese Airline arrived in Delhi to carry back the rebel leader. His extradition proceedings went to the Delhi High Court. The Delhi High Court gave release order of R K Dorji (SCs, 18th, 20th and 30th May, 1997). These developments meant that the next phase of the long march has been put in abeyance. Second, His Majesty the Kind and Dasho Jigme Thinley, the UN permanent representative, have for a long time maintained liberal positions intact during the proceeding of the various National Assembly Sessions since the days of unrest in the Southern Bhutan as the perusal of National Assembly Resolutions brings the fact to light Till December, 1992, almost approximately 1500 political prisoners had been granted amnesty by the King-unbelievable though very true (AI, 1992, p. 23). A small passage from the interview of the present King conducted by an Indian journalist showed his liberal political stand pursued in the beginning of the 1999s. It is worth-quoting: Bhutan is too small a country to be divided. The one nation and one people concept is essential for survival of Bhutan. But, I am sorry to say that some of the things we did to implement this have been unfortunate. We meant well, but these did not have a very god impact (Sen, 1990, pp.27-8). The liberal position of the king did evaporate by mid-1090s, however. He was gripped by the fear psychosis, more so inflated by the sway of reactionary elements in the government. To quote a finding: The fear uppermost in the mind of King Jigme Singye Wangchuk is that this dissident movement might snowball into an anti-monarchy agitation in near future and the involvement of the CPM [Communist Party of India (Marxist)] in looking after the welfare of the refugees in different camps in North Bengal has added fuel to his suspicion (Mukherjee, 1996, p.18). He consequently started a well thought out diplomatic mission to counter the democratic movement. He invited the Chief Minister of West Bengal to Bhutan. He visited India quite a few times. He tried to put the ball in the Indian court. Another passage from the personal interview of the King conducted recently is again worth quoting: There is something for India to worry about. The Indian government is aware of the situation. Everyday hundred of Nepalis are trekking into India in search of livelihood ………………….… Thousand have found a home in the Kalimpong, Darjeeling, the Dooars and Assam ………………….. All these people one day will agitate for statehood …………………….... the game plan for a Greater Nepal is gaining a momentum everyday (Bhanumathy, 1996, p.16). Mahmood Ansari 13 | P a g e
  14. 14. State and Civil Resistance Come June 1998. He changed the track of strategy. The proposal to have a Constitution of the country was then introduced for discussions. It was promised that people’s participation indecision making would increase. He replaced a few old ministers with new ones and promised that there would be devolution of power. The Royal Advisory Council and 22 members cabinet was proposed to be dismantled. The national assembly of Bhutan had been urged to pass the provisions for replacement of the king by majority voting (AIR, 5th July, 1998). Was it a move toward democratization? The Chairman, United Democratic Front of Bhutan, Mr. Penjore, however opined that the so-called democratic reforms brought about by the kind were a deception. It was a faux pass to impress the world Community. Actually, the kind has strengthened the safety net and security around himself by appointing his royal relatives as ministers in important positions. No Nepali had been appointed as the ministers. The kind should organize an impartial and fair election in the country, according to the UDFB (BBC News, 9th July, 1998). In short, the royal establishments have to sound convincing, and see credentiality brought back in committed actions. Third, India has an open border with Bhutan. The Indo-Bhutan treaty of 1949 provided for the free movement of Bhutanese inside India. The Bhutanese refugees were granted 80 kms access to India territory in the beginning of 1990s. Given the privilege of free passage, 40,000 refugees entered India eight years ago (SC, 4 June, 1997). Again, following improvements in Indo-Bangla ties, the United Liberation Front of Assam militants hiding in the training camps in Bangladesh left this base and crossed to Bhutan. The ULFA militants have recently cemented ties with and extended helping hand to the UDFB activist rebels (SC, May, June and July, 1997). Moreover, Bhutan emerged to be a conduit in the trade of Indian rhinoceros horns. The fact came to light to light when the Taiwanese authority arrested Mr. Deiky Wangchuk, the aunt of the Kind of Bhutan, on entry with a consignment of nine bear gall bladders and twenty two rhino horns worth $ 769,000 in 1993 (SC, 26 June, 1997). Under such circumstance, India stopped the passage of refugees via Indian territory. Moreover, around two thousand Bhutan army is being trained by the Indian army for joint operations against ULFA camps inside Bhutan (SC, 29 June, 1997). The prime minister of India, Mr. I K Gujral, has categorically announced that India is not involved in the refugee issue of Bhutan. Notwithstanding the official perception in the Indian bureaucracy, the fact remains that the stalemate can not be broken without the Indian involvement. Conclusion It is in the backdrop of alternative reconstruction of the narratives of historical development of political affairs and civil life under the monarchical state in Bhutan that the violent appeals to the single, homogenous and emancipatory tradition and culture made by the ruling oligarchy of Dashos, Lyonpos and Rabdeys in order to re-establish the hegemony of repressive instruments of the State is to be analysed, conceived and understood. The background also serves to evaluate the recently proposed Long March undertaken by the Lhotshampa Bhutanese refugees and their supporter and sympathizers in Nepal and India. Unless India comes forward to amicably solve the political turmoil in Bhutan neither the Nepalis would have a life of safety nor Bhutan as a nation would come on the world map in perceptible way. Will the liberation and emancipation come? When? How? The only feasible Mahmood Ansari 14 | P a g e
  15. 15. State and Civil Resistance answer may be: Let the history unfold itself in Bhutan. The proposed Long March is probably a provocation to the history to unfold itself positively on a fast track of events. Notes: 1. Such a time-tested strategy of legitimization under the Wangchuk dynasty in Bhutan had become inevitable with the downfall of the Chhogyal monarchy in neighbouring Sikkim in the mid 1970s. The ruling elite in Bhutan do not wish to open scope for the masses to ask ‘one-menone-vote’ system of democracy – a prototype of what was a battle-cry in Sikkim in 1973. Again, the fear is from the Nepali section of population. This is why one often comes across the interesting biased interpretations of downfall of the Lepcha-Bhutia dominated (Kagupa sect) Buddhist Kingdom in Sikkim, obsessively furnished by the dashos in Bhutan-probably as part of the political lesson-learning exercises. 2. In a country where group representation is forbidden and every act of common people representation is forbidden and every act of common people is treated a violation of driglam namzha and tsa-wa-sum, such a massive demonstration was unique, undoubtedly, reflection of too deep a resentment. The irony is however that the government press itself informed the world community that there had been civil and political unrest in South Bhutan. See MHA (1993). 3. The government publications in Bhutan boast of self-sufficiency of farming households in the medieval period in the country. The characterization of Nepali households as self-sufficient family-labour-based form units by the author is therefore deduced from that literature. 4. Bhutan is commercially highly dependent upon Calcutta in India. A section of ruling elite, who are often termed as pro-China anti-India pressure group, is highly critical of this dependence. Such an argument about the possibility of fake presses in India is the master-mind work of this group, apart from anti-Nepali vested in the government. 5. A series of news items was covered by the Indian print media. See Special Correspondent (1996a), Special Correspondent (1996b), Special Correspondent (1996c), Express News Service (1996) and Nagchoudhury (1996). Mahmood Ansari 15 | P a g e
  16. 16. State and Civil Resistance References All India Radio (AIR) (1998), “News Broadcast”, 9 p.m., 5 July Amnesty International (AI) (1992), Bhutan: Human Rights Violations Against the Nepali-speaking Population in the South, International Secretariat, London. Ansari, Mahmood (1996), ‘Fire Breathing Dragon’, The Telegraph, 27th February Ansari, Mahmood (1998), “The Monarchical State and Education System in Bhutan”, Assam University Journal, vol. 1, no.3 Bhanumathy, K.P. (1996), ‘Problem of Greater Nepal: Rumblings in Bhutan’, The Mainstrem, vol. -34, no. -17, March 30 British Broadcasting Services (BBC) (1998), “Sudhir Bhowmik Reports from Calcutta”, 10:30 p.m., 9 July. Collister, Peter (1987), Bhutan and the British, Serinda Publications, London Dhakal, D N S (1970), “Letter to the Editor”, The Times of India (Indian Newspaper), April 25 Dogra, R C (1990), Bhutan: World Bibliographical Series, vol. 116, Clio Press Limited, Oxford (Compiled) Express News Service (1996), “150 Bhutanese Refugees Held on Border”, The Indian Express (Indian Newspaper), 20th January. Griffin, Anthony (1995), ‘Bhutan’, World Business and Economic Review, Kogan Page and Walden Publishing Ltd, London International Labour Organization (ILO) (1991), Human Resource Development Planning in Bhutan, A Report on Manpower Assessment and Planning Prepared for the Royal Government of Bhutan, Asian Regional Team on Employment Promotion, Delhi Iyer, Pico (1993), Falling off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World, Viking: Penguin India, New Delhi Karan, PP (1990), Bhutan: Environment, Culture and Development Strategy, Intellectual Publishing House, New Delhi Kocher, Sush (1997), “Letter to the Editor”, The Telegraph (Indian Newspaper), 19 May and 4 June Ministry of Home Afairs (MHA) (1993), The Southern Bhutan Problem: Threat to a Nation’s Survival, Government Press, Thimphu Mukerjee, Amitabh (1996), ‘Suppression of Human Right: Rumblings in Bhutan’, The Mainstream, vol. 34, no. 17, 30th March Nagchoudhury, Subrata (1996), ‘Bhutan Refugees-Running Out of Hope’, The India Today (Indian Newspaper), 15th February Pemberton, R B (1835), The Eastern Frontier of India, Mitttal Publications, Delhi (Reprinted: 1979) Planning Commission (1995), Bhutan: Proceedings of Round Table Conference Meeting, vol. 1&2, Royal Government of Bhutan, Thimphu Pradhan, Keshar (1996), “Bhutan Rebels Launch Sixth Round of Agitation”, The Telegraph (Indian Newspaper), 16th December Ramachandraiah, C. (1994), “Letter to Editor: On Bhutan”, Economic and Political Weekly, July 16 Mahmood Ansari 16 | P a g e
  17. 17. State and Civil Resistance Rennie, D F (1876), Bhutan and the Story of Doar War, Manjusri Publishing House, Delhi (Reprint: 1970) Rhodes, Belinda (1995), ‘Himalayan Headlines: Bhutan’s Only Newspaper Helps Usher in Change’, Far Eastern Economic Review, February 9 Rustomji, Nari (1971), Enchanted Frontiers: Sikkim, Bhutan and India’s North Eastern Borderland, Oxford University press, Bombay Sen, A.D. (1996), “Conversation-the People will Decide”, The Sunday (Indian Newspaper), vol. 17, no. 42 Sinha, A C (1991), Bhutan: Ethnic Identity and National Dilemma, Reliance Publishing House, New Delhi. Special Correspondent (1996a), “CPI Supports Bhutanese Rally”, The Telegraph (Indian Newspaper), 7th January. Special Correspondent (1996b), “104 Bhutanese Refugees Held Near Siliguri”, The Telegraph (Indian Newspaper), 5th June Special Correspondent (1996c), “News Story”, The Sunday (Indian Newspaper), 21-27 January Special Correspondent (1997), “News Items”, The Telegraph (Indian Newspaper), 16 & 19 June Unauthored (1921-22), Report on the Administration of North-East India, Mittal Publications, Delhi (Reprinted: 1984) Ura, Karma (1993), “Bhutan - A Traditional Order and the Forces of Change”, A Paper Presented in a Conference at the Oriental & African Studies, University of London, London (Mimeo) Mahmood Ansari 17 | P a g e