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BHUTAN- update No. 4



It was gratifying to see that a large number of scholars, refugee representatives, political leaders and some important people from India, Bhutan and Nepal responded to our papers, notes and updates on Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal.  The reaction was mixed- some were vehemently critical, some supportive in parts, but overall the response to our analysis and suggestions thereof was positive.

Some of the points mentioned were--

* State sponsored resettlement on lands left by the Refugees has begun in a big way:

It is now reliably learnt that a decision was taken by the  Bhutanese authorities to settle people from central and eastern hill regions soon after the Bhutanese of Nepali origin were evicted from their lands and sent across the border to India.  This meant that Bhutan government had no intention of taking back any of the hundred thousand or more of the refugees.

 It follows that the refugees were not considered as Bhutanese citizens by Bhutan no matter what negotiation they carried on with the government of Nepal.  The government of Bhutan headed by the King has acted in bad faith in going along with Nepal government to classify the refugees into four categories and the undertaking to take back genuine citizens of Bhutan.   (See paper on the problem of Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal)

 Some details have since been received about recent resettlement carried out in the lands left by the refugees.  Over 210 families have arrived at Chengmari sub division in Samchi district and they are to be settled at Ghumauney, Nainital and Chengmari blocks.  The settlers are mostly Khengs ( from central Bhutan) and Ngolongs.  

 New settlers have been brought in Chirang District.  Even Kuensel, the official media of Bhutan government has mentioned about the allotment of land in this district.

 Most of the settlers are reluctant to continue in the warmer southern climate and have indulged in indiscriminate cutting of trees.  They are being forced to stay on and eventually, there could be problems between the Lhotsampas and the new settlers.

 It is understood that a team from the Amnesty International visited the villages of Lali, Taklai, Danabari in Gaylephug subdivision where over 1200 families from east and central Bhutan have been resettled.  Some photographs have been taken by the team to see whether the refugees will be able to identify their lands.  The report of the Amnesty International has not been made public, but there are indications that the report is not favourable to the Bhutanese government.

* Why should Nepal take up with Government of Bhutan over the resettlement of lands and not India?

 The argument is that the Nepal government was generous enough to allow its land to be used by the refugees on a temporary basis when the Govt. of India, stamped the papers of those refugees coming out of Bhutan and escorted them to the Nepal border.  Beyond keeping them Nepal has no responsibility.  It is Nepal which has to take up the case of re settlement because it was the Nepal government which raised the issue with Bhutan government for solving the Refugee question and in subsequent meetings agreed to the classification of the refugees for their return.  When the negotiations are continuing and the official organ of the Bhutan government praises the Nepalese counterparts of their understanding of the issue, is it not a wrong signal when resettlement goes on simultaneously in the lands vacated by the refugees?  As said before aren't the Bhutanese delegations discussing the issue in bad faith?  Should not Nepal protest?

* Election of genuine representatives to take part in the negotiations will not be possible if done by NGOs who have their own agenda.

 It is true to some extent that NGOs have their own axe to grind and they are not immune from the influence of  host government (here Bhutan) as well those governments funding such agencies.  But the idea that the refugees should take up their cause themselves, elect their representatives (mode of election could be worked out), so that the elected leaders could with confidence take up the issue which affects them and thousands of their people, is itself a good one.  Also, identification of genuine citizens suggested in our last note appears to be the only way out in view of the impasse caused by the classification agreed to by Bhutan and Nepal.

* The Refugee issue could be solved in no time if India decides to deal with the issue and a call from 7 Race Course Road, Delhi will do.

 We have maintained before and we continue to say that the problem could be solved only through the mediation of Indian government.  It looks that government of India is content with the present situation where the Refugees are all located in eastern Nepal and there is no demonstrative sympathy of ethnic Nepalese residing in India.  The UNHCR is providing whatever it can for the daily sustenance of the refugees and Bhutan government is happy.  Why disturb the status quo?     

 The government of India is aware of the resettlement and  inhuman conditions of the refugees living in eastern Nepal.  There is no point in trying to wake up a person who pretends to be asleep.  But the government of India will wake up--   

 a. If the issue ever gets internationalised.

 b. If there is a link up of the refugees with insurgent  
    elements of the north east.

 c. If the refugee situation turns violent affecting the  
     stability of Bhutan and area adjoining Bhutan.

* The present leaders of the Refugees have vested interest in the status quo.  They have already obtained Nepali citizenship and have no interest in the problem as such. 

There is one point which needs to be emphasised.  Various political parties involved in the refugee question are not united and there are charges and counter charges.  One way would be as said before is to elect genuine representatives through whatever modalities that would be acceptable and then go to the governments concerned for solving the problem.  Unless the refugees are united and evolve a common strategy, they will be exploited by vested interests.

* At the moment despite the "cosmetic" changes made to make the government more representative, the government and the King are one and the same in Bhutan.  If there is, genuine democracy as is understood in countries like India, the refugee question will get automatically solved.

 Good governance does not follow democracy.  The most recent example is the one next door in Nepal.  That country has seen as many governments as that many years after constitutional monarchy was introduced.  Instability continues.  Is it not reflected in the scant attention shown by the successive governments on the Bhutanese Refugee question?

 We maintain that the King is still the unifying factor and he is in a position to bring in evolutionary changes for more representative government. He is also aware of the problems.  What surprises us is that he is not making any move and on the contrary supporting the resettlement of lands left by the refugees.

* The Shabdrung system should be brought back so that there are checks and balances in the governance of Bhutan.

 There is no doubt that Checks and balances are required in Bhutan so that decision taken on governance are acceptable to the broad spectrum of people.  But will the return of Shabdrung bring in the checks?  Will it not create two centres of power instead of one and will that in any way contribute to bring in democracy?  It is doubtful.  A scrambled egg cannot be unscrambled.  It will be a retrograde step and put back the ushering in of democracy further when the present ruler is a person who is attuned to the needs of the people and who is in a position to bring about the changes.

* Why should South Asia Group take up a dead issue?  

The issue is not dead, though many would like it to be so.  We have no ulterior motive in  taking up this issue.  Imagine a situation where thousands of people are made stateless and  evicted, say in Central Europe.  Will the world at large be a mere onlooker?


Dr.S.Chandrasekharan                             08-04-199