HRDI News Nepal, Bhutan & Tibet

Bhutanese Refugees and SDF

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Summary: An estimated one-sixth of Bhutan’s population, who are Hindus have been forced to leave Bhutan have immigrated as refugees to USA. Hindu population has essentially been “ethnically cleansed” from Bhutan.

SDF Bhutanese Refugee Assistance Program:
Sanatana Dharma Foundation (SDF) is strongly committed to the preservation of the unique cultural identity of the Bhutanese Hindus. For the last 1.5 years, volunteers of SDF have been actively assisting newly arrived Bhutanese refugees in the following:

1. Financial assistance of a short term nature
2. Procurement of essential basic materials such blankets, clothing, clothes, etc. This has been done in concert with generous volunteers and other Hindu organizations
3. Driving lessons
4. Organization of cultural functions for promotion of Bhutanese Hindu heritage

SDF Supported Events:
Gita Jayanthi on December 20,2009  at DFW Hindu Temple.
Rudra Mahotsav on April 25,2010 at DFW Hindu Temple.

Historical Background behind the Bhutanese Refugee Situation:
Bhutan has been ruled by an absolute monarchy since 1907. The fourth hereditary King Jigme Singye Wangchuck shifted power to his heir Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck on December 9, 2006. The former monarchy unveiled its first draft Constitution in 2005 which was subsequently accepted by the Parliament which mandated that power remain with the King. Bhutan thus remains a theocratic state dominated by only Buddhist ideals that are enshrined in the Constitution of the nation.

Bhutan has been home to a number of ethnic and religious groups, including Drukpa Buddhists and Hindu Lhotshampas. Although Drukpa Buddhists are politically and religiously dominant, Lhotshampas, who are descendants of Nepalese who moved to the southern lowlands of Bhutan in the nineteenth century, comprised a substantial minority. The Hindu Lhotshampas remained largely un-integrated with Bhutan’s Buddhist Druk majority. However, under Bhutan’s Nationality Law of 1958 they were allowed to hold government jobs and enjoy Bhutanese citizenship.

By the 1980s, however, the Bhutanese Buddhist majority expressed concern over the rapidly growing Lhotshampa population and feared that a demographic population shift would eventually threaten the majority culture. Draconian nationalist policies were enacted that stripped many ethnic Nepalis of their citizenship and civil rights and banned the use of Nepali in the educational curriculum. This was followed by a violent pogrom of intimidation of the Hindu Lhotshampas including arbitrary detention and torture that made tens of thousands of Lhotshampas stateless, forcing them to flee to Nepal and West Bengal (India). It is estimated that one-sixth of the kingdom’s population has been forced to leave (greater than 100,000 people). The Hindu population has essentially been “ethnically cleansed” from Bhutan.

Efforts at arriving at a mediated solution have been fruitless. Resettlement began in November 2007 with the United States accepting the largest share of refugees. It is estimated that there are at least 800 Bhutanese refugees in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex.

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