Bhutan Is No Shangri-La
Date 2013/7/5 1:26:32 | Topic: Hindu Press International
DAMAK, NEPAL, June 28, 2013 (NY Times by Vidhyapati Mishra): Before my family was expelled from Bhutan, in 1992, I lived with my parents and seven siblings in the south of the country. This region is the most fertile part of that tiny kingdom perched between Tibet and India, a tapestry of mountains, plains and alpine meadows. Our house sat in a small village, on terraced land flourishing with maize, millet and buckwheat, a cardamom garden, beehives and enough pasture for cows, oxen, sheep and buffaloes. That was the only home we had known.
After tightening its citizenship laws in the mid-1980s, Bhutan conducted a special census in the south and then proceeded to cast out nearly 100,000 people -- about one-sixth of its population, nearly all of them of Nepalese origin, including my family. It declared us illegal immigrants, even though many of us went back several generations in Bhutan. It hasn't let any of us move back.
The enormity of this exodus, one of the world's largest by proportion, given the country's small population, has been overlooked by an international community that is either indifferent or beguiled by the government-sponsored images of Bhutan as a serene Buddhist Shangri-La, an image advanced by the policy of "gross national happiness," coined by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in the 1970s.
Bhutan even helped inspire the United Nations last year to declare March 20 the International Day of Happiness -- a cruel irony to those of us who were made stateless by the king, who was an absolute monarch when we were expelled.
Many of our ancestors were recruited from Nepal in the mid-19th century to cultivate the arable land of southern Bhutan. We are known as Lhotshampa -- literally, people of the south. The Drukpas, the Buddhist elite, and the Hindu Lhotshampa had coexisted, largely in peace, until 1989, when the king introduced a "One Nation, One People" policy imposing Drukpa social norms on everyone. The edict controlled the smallest details of our public lives: how we ate, dressed and talked. The Nepali language was banned in schools, and Hindu patashalas, or seminaries, which teach the Sanskrit scriptures, were closed.
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