Nepal, Bhutan & Tibet

Bhutan: A Kingdom Besieged

Bhutan: A Kingdom Besieged

Bhutan: A Kingdom Besieged

Source: Bhutannica

By Jigmi Y. Thinley


The “hermit” kingdom has been forcibly shaken out of its cloister. The mystical charm of this tranquil Himalayan sanctuary has been eclipsed by a smog of gloom. Indeed, Bhutan has become a subject of interest to journalists, politicians, academics and the common man alike. While the opinions of scholars on Bhutan will be increasingly, sought and valued, even those who were earlier oblivious to the existence of Bhutan, appear to find in this country a cause to defend or challenge. Bhutan’s aspiration to of becoming a mountain paradise of exemplary social harmony and economic prosperity had begun to materialize in a uniquely fertile setting. It is now an elusive dream. The country is engulfed in a crisis, and the very foundations of the last kingdom of ancient Mahayana Buddhism is being shaken.

The situation in the south is not a simple problem. Its causes are as complex and perplexing as the resultant shocking human drama that is unfolding before us. Its roots lie deep within the cultural, historical and political complexes of the indigenous inhabitants, the southern Bhutanese of Nepalese origin and the recent economic migrants from Nepal. It is clear that psychological disorientation, emotional trauma and a sense of insecurity pervades throughout the entire kingdom. Just who is the victim or villain is a valid question. The answer must be sought through a deeper understanding of the problem.

In trying to understand the situation, there is the danger of drawing hasty conclusions on the basis of values and standards which may not be entirely relevant to Bhutan. The problem as such, is at risk of being viewed out of context leading to possible inaccurate conclusions which could, in turn, strengthen one’s misconceptions and biases. Yet another obstacle to obtaining the truth in such a case is the spontaneous reasoning that arises out of natural human compassion for those who appear to be innocent victims.

Any one who visits a refugee camp sees in the transparent shelters and living conditions, more than the plight of refugees, the harsh and cruel realities of life and death itself. He sees in it the immediacy of the inescapable “biological trap” of which Hemingway writes so eloquently. It becomes so clearly visible in a sea of humanity, where every man, woman and child is exposed and is there to reveal the cycle of life – of birth, sickness and death. Whether these have anything to do with their being refugees is often unwittingly ignored. But it is this reality that often shocks the visitor and blurs his mental and visual perceptions. He is moved to share an immediate sense of solidarity with the victims while assuming an uncompromising position against any party perceived or alleged to be the perpetrator. Thanks to television, this message is brought home more vividly and with sharper focus.

But the misery of life in a refugee camp can never be understated or denied. It is sad that anyone should suffer the deprivation and despair of a refugee. It is even more tragic that the refugee is often the victim of manipulation in a political struggle the outcome of which may give him no gain but the process of which gives him much suffering.

This paper aims to address the more enquiring mind. It attempts to offer an insight to the problem by facilitating a wider and deeper perspective of the socioeconomic and political aspects of its root causes. It identifies who are the southern Bhutanese and traces their first entry into Bhutan. It examines the various factors and compulsions which account for their departure from Nepal, and attempts to determine the reasons and causes that finally led to the return-migration of those detected to be illegal immigrants to their homeland alongwith a significant number of southern Bhutanese.

The paper is presented in eight sections. Each section deals with a major aspect of the southern Bhutanese problem. Beyond that, the paper examines the legitimacy of the demand for political change by the dissidents and delves into the question of whether there is a hidden agenda. It inquires whether the cause of the unrest could have originated beyond the boundaries of Bhutan and explains why the Bhutanese authorities never had any reason to suspect the uprising of September ’90 by the southern citizens. The final section of the paper discusses Bhutan’s perception of the problem and the future.


The Nepalese of southern Bhutan who are known as ‘Lhotsampas’ among the Bhutanese since the late 1980’s originally migrated from Nepal. They include a large number of the ethnic groups of that country which, according to the first king of the united Nepalese nation, Prithvi Narayan Shah, comprised four varnas (caste divisions) and thirty-six jats (tribes/ cultures) during his reign (1743-1775). The problem in southern Bhutan has given cause for speculation on the actual date of entry and the role of the Nepalese in certain major historical events. Some discussion on this subject thus appears to be relevant. What then of the claim that the Nepalese arrived in Bhutan during the reign of the Shabdrung? No Nepalese appear to have even visited Bhutan during the reign of the lst Shabdrung. There is, however, evidence that since the temporal reign of the Deb Minjur Tenpa (1667-1680), Newari craftsmen who were renowned for their artistic skills in metal work were commissioned by Bhutan for execution of religious objects and casting of statues. The Tibetans too employed the Newaris for the same purpose and even minted their coins in Kathmandu long before the unification of Nepal. These artisans have no historical connection with the Nepali speaking people of southern Bhutan.

In attempting to establish a precise entry date of the first Nepalese to enter Bhutan, the reports of Ashly Eden (1863) and David F. Rennie (1864) are particularly illuminating. They, like their preceding compatriots who visited Bhutan, such as Turner, Bogle, etc. speak of the absence of any Nepalese settlements in the foothills. Eden takes special note of their absolute absence. He wrote that ‘there were only two grass huts and three or four cattle sheds, few men and a few women, and this constituted the whole garrison and town of Sipchu’ (Sibsoo Sub-Division under Samchi District), the site of the first Nepalese arrivals. Later Rennie, who was attached to the British forces also observed that Samchi consisted of ‘twenty houses and a monastery’ with some Mechis and Bengalese engaged in agriculture.

The first sightings of Nepalese in the southern foothills are reported by Charles Bell in 1904 followed closely by John Claude White in 1905. All Bhutanese records confirm that no Nepalese settled in any part of Bhutan until then. Therefore, since the most authentic source is the Kasho (letter) of authorization from Ugyen Wangchuck who was then the Tongsa Penlop, it is clear that the first and legal arrival of the Nepalese took place at the turn of this century, immediately or soon after the Kasho was issued.

The claim that the Nepalese had a role in safeguarding the sovereignty of the country, is clearly baseless since they did not enter southern Bhutan or any part of the duars area of West Bengal or Assam until long after the Sinchula Treaty with the British was signed. This is corroborated by Eden’s report which states that his Nepalese porters, “were unwilling to enter Bhutan, the inhabitants of which were not looked upon with favour … there the coolies left in considerable numbers being afraid to cross the frontier” (Teesta Bridge). Arthur Foning, a Kalimpong Lepcha, writes that this bore testimony to how effectively the Bhutanese territorial interests were guarded.

It can therefore, be stated emphatically that no Nepalese ever crossed beyond the Teesta river until after 1865, let alone penetrate into Bhutan by which time the boundaries of Bhutan had been redefined and withdrawn far beyond the Teesta river (Kalimpong sub-division) and the fortress of Dalimkot which is now in ruins.


· Drawn by red blood are these boundaries
· like enclosures in, every field
· Wherever you look, drawn are the lines
· Like the pigeons encaged
· Men are closed in these traps.
o (Vijay Malla, Translated from Nepali by Michael Hutt)

The migratory habit of the Nepalese is a cultural trait common among the multiple ethnic cultures of Nepal. The theme of the poem (above) is an expression of the conscious or subconscious yearning of the typical Nepalese youth to break out of the cage in which he finds himself entrapped. To the people of this country, who have served and fought battles for foreign nations in many distant lands and who enjoy the facility of free movement across the Indian sub-continent’s, the territorial boundaries are cruel barriers. But the boundary is a reality. It is a necessary evil that must be respected.

The disregard for international boundary and spread of the Nepalese cultural area has been the cause of increasing concern for the countries and the states of India to the west, east and south-east of Nepal. Yet if nothing, little appears to have been intended or achieved by the parent state to overcome the compelling circumstances that force the Nepalese to continue their trans-national migratory tradition in search of land and opportunities. This is frustrating the people in the affected areas. It is an established fact that the exodus of out-migration from Nepal in extremely large numbers is a continuing phenomenon which shows no sign of abating. The people of the fragile mountain cultures and economies are thus, seriously concerned. These areas include mainly Assam, the northeastern hill states of India, as well as Burma and Bhutan.
A study on the causes and compulsions for this phenomenon has revealed the following: 1. Political upheavals and economic deprivations: These appear to be the prime cause for the Nepalese to be constantly on the move either within or outside the country. While incessant wars and instability as well as the repressive conditions that prevailed under the Rana regime were valid reasons in the past, the inequalities of development and its failure to reach out to the vast rural populations under the difficult geophysical conditions, give little cause for the villager with the spirit of adventure to stay on. Urged by his free spirit, he thus ventures out to find greener pastures. By modern definition, he is labeled an “economic/migrant refugee”.
The first major stimulus to the migratory trade of the Nepalese to venture beyond the boundaries of their country arose in the early 19th century. When Darjeeling was acquired by the East India Company, to build a sanitarium and a difficult road in the late 1830’s the Nepalese were recruited in the absence of local labourers. Again, when the tea industry in Darjeeling reached the stage of commercial production in 1856, the Nepalese were the first choice for tea garden labourers. Against the large scale import of Nepalese who settled in the area, the indigenous Lepchas who comprised a small population, faded into an insignificant minority in their own homeland.

After the signing of the Sinchula Treaty of 1865 under which the Bhutanese ceded the Kalimpong sub-division alongwith the 18 duars, the hitherto forbidden land of the Lepchas lay open to the Nepalese. Soon the Lepchas were driven deeper and deeper into the forests while the aggressive, colonizing Nepalese took over the more fertile areas for conversion to permanent agricultural land. Even the forest succumbed to the heavy axe of the “intruders” and ” the children of nature, like the birds of the sky” and their culture fell prey to those who are now masters of their homeland. With the destruction of their environment, the Lepchas had lost their habitat and source of sustenance. If not for the effort of certain missionaries, the fragile Lepcha culture and language may perhaps have been lost forever.

What the Lepchas were able to achieve by way of preserving their culture under almost 200 years of Bhutanese rule, they had lost within a few decades after the arrival of the Nepalese. Arthur Foning, a Kalimpong Lepcha in his book “Lepcha, My Vanishing Tribe” laments that “The British may have done this for our good but, as seen later, the result proved to be a complete disaster and a sort of a curse for us Rong-folk”. Indeed, as he adds, “the process of disintegration started”. The next victims were the “Lho-MonTsong-Sum” or the three races of the Bhutias, the Lepchas and the Limboos of Sikkim. Here again, their combined strength could not withstand the onslaught of the Nepalese agricultural colonialists. To speed up the process, certain Sikkimese noblemen conspired successfully with the Newari merchants and the British to overcome resistance which until 1875 had prevented their penetration. Within 16 years, the proud “Lho-Mon-Tsong-Sum” had become a minority in their own land.

After Sikkim and Kalimpong, the spread of the Nepalese continued across the Bengal Duars where tea gardens and townships were also being established and where they now form a major ethno-political group. It was natural that as they moved further east, Bhutan should fall in their path. However, the areas of southern Bhutan were initially only skimmed as a result of the assertion of strict measures to control entry of Nepalese except by authority of Kazi Ugyen Dorji in accordance with the “Kasho” of Tongsa Penlop.

2. Mercenary role: This tradition was established soon after the Anglo Nepal war of 1814-1816 during which the Nepalese proved their military prowess and gallantry in war. Independent India continues with the tradition while the British on their part, maintain a separate arrangement. This is, perhaps, the main influencing factor that has nurtured and sustained the migratory spirit. The fact that, until recently, the recruits came from the remotest villages had a profound impact on the migrant farmers. To this reason may be attributed the boldness, even in the simple villager to leave the safety of the village threshold and cross the national boundary to traverse fearlessly and settle in difficult and strange lands often against strong local resistance.
On the subject of the Nepalese martial characteristics, it may be said that the Rajputs of Chitor who once ruled over almost all the principalities of Nepal had a major influence over the indigenous inhabitants of the country. On the other hand, the Gurungs and the Tamangs are themselves descendants of the imperial Tibetan armies that were once posted on the Tibetan frontiers with Nepal.

Furthermore, their role in the Indian and British armies and the 2nd World War have had a decisive influence on their settlement across the entire length and breadth of India and even as far as Burma and beyond. The exact Nepalese population in India is not ascertainable, but it is generally known that in a more or less continuous belt from Himachal to the eastern most hill state of India where there is a concentration of their population, the number is close to 10 million. With the facility of free movement in India, their number is rising rapidly to the consternation of those with whom they are competing for land and jobs.. 3. Population Explosion: Much like Bhutan, Nepal is a mountainous country. Most human settlements are situated on the steep slopes of the mountains. The delicate balance between man and nature is visibly and alarmingly pronounced. Unless the mutuality of dependence is appreciated and the balance maintained, man and mountain stand to destroy each other. In Nepal, this delicate equilibrium has been disturbed. The reproductive capacity of man has overtaken the productive capacity of the land. With one of the highest growth rate in the world, Nepal has seen its population quite literally, explode.

Twenty years ago, Christopher Haimendorf wrote in his introductory note in the report (SOAS) on the conference on ‘The Anthropology Of Nepal’ that between 1930 and 1961, the population of the kingdom grew from 5.532 -million to 9.753 million. Going by the present growth rate of approximately half a million per annum which is almost equivalent to the entire Population of Bhutan, his projection of 25 million by the end of the century appears to be falling short especially if the out-migration figures are to be included. He further adds that ‘even today many thousands of villagers … migrate every winter in search of work, and while most of them return … it is not unusual for men to stay for a year or more in India’. Nepalese are compelled to search for economic opportunities of both short term and long term nature outside their country.

The Nepalese population now accounts for 20.1 million (Almanac, Asia week) with an annual growth rate exceeding 2.3% is most disturbing for both Nepal and her neighbours. Over eleven million Nepalese, constituting 60% of the total population live below poverty line.

Against the background of population explosion, which the country’s economy cannot absorb even with the present high level of international assistance, the productive capacity and area of arable land itself is diminishing alarmingly. The reasons for this include excessive stress on the land and deforestation; the resultant depletion and denudation of the top soil caused by surface run of rain water; gully formation, sheet erosion and the flash floods that even affect the valley bottoms; and the occurrence of adverse micro-climatic changes. Even the forest belt in the terai which had provided a ‘breathing space’ has virtually disappeared. The farmer is thus squeezed out of the land that he has rendered infertile. While hopefully, the land may slowly cure itself, there is no other solution than for the more adventurous and the younger to seek a source of alternative livelihood outside his village.


Upon Kazi Ugyen having been formally permitted to recruit Nepalese in the southern foothills, he initially recruited ‘sardars’ (contractors) whose function and responsibilities were to recruit and organize the Nepalese into groups of ‘Tangyas’ to conduct logging operations for sale of timber to neighbouring India. Once this was done, the more competent sardars were appointed as contractual landlords who were placed in charge of parceling the cleared forest into plots for allotment. They realized the land utilization fees as well as the return from sale of timber which continued to be harvested. These contractual landlords were given considerable latitude in the administration of their respective areas of control. Some emerged to enjoy the confidence of the Kazi and even that of the Paro Penlop who exercised administrative jurisdiction over Samchi. Because of the authority vested in them for various reasons, not the least of which may have been due to communication difficulty, they even interacted with their British counterparts across the border on behalf of the state.

After the recruitment in Samchi, except for minor lapses and for a good number of years, strict vigil was kept by the contractual landlords against illegal immigrants. It would appear that the inhospitable nature of the southern foothills (highly malaria prone with large herds of elephants) was in itself a major deterrent as observed by several British visitors including Eden and Rennie. In fact, this was one of the main reasons why until the 1950’s no other parts of foothills were colonized except the malaria free hills of Chirang District.

Towards the early 1950’s, the Nepalese began to acquire larger plots of land and encroached into the forest lands. From Samchi they began to spread westward and towards the north while those in Chirang began to push the indigenous people of Daga northwards, and spread southwards. It was around this time (1951-’54) that the Bhutan State Congress Party was formed under the leadership and as an extension of the Nepal Congress Party which had launched a successful rebellion against the Rana regime in Nepal. Fearing their spread into the interior parts of Bhutan and the helplessness of the government to wield effective control over them, the Government halted further northward spread.

After development programmes were initiated in 1961, education, health and other facilities began to be established in the two districts. The greatest impact of early development, both positive and negative, was to be realized from the establishment of a network of malaria eradication units along the southern belt which catered even to the tiny population of Nepalese in the Sarbhang area. While the positive impact was obvious, the eradication of malaria in the region invited further immigrants who were aggressive in their intent and action to ‘colonize’ the vast stretches of the fertile land. Gaylegphug or the entire Sarbhang Dzongkhag which until 1962 was known as Hathisa, meaning elephant land, soon became a target of the Nepalese immigrants. The once impregnable area of dense subtropical forest has now lost its verdant cover along with much of its fauna and like much of southern Bhutan, except for the protected wild life reserves and forest plantations, it has become an ecologically vulnerable area having undergone dramatic micro climatic changes.

Once the 5-year development programmes began to yield results, government effort to control immigration was thwarted by the earlier settlers who colluded with their ethnic kith and kin to prevent detection, falsify records and facilitate infiltration. Free education, free health services, employment opportunities, highly subsidized agriculture inputs, generous rural credit schemes, the security of a politically stable country were the main inducements that led to the influx of Nepalese immigrants in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In addition to the new arrivals, those who had come in legally as labourers for the many development schemes also began to infiltrate into the villages.

The encroachment on government protected forests by the Southern Bhutanese was a major problem encountered by the government often leading to confrontation with the migrants, until very recently. Even as the government embarked on a policy of conservation and afforestation, eco-environmental degradation became uncontrollable in the south. While taking full advantage of government leniency towards the southern Bhutanese they were capable of conceiving the most clever methods of undetectable encroachments. Presently, the legal average land holding among the southern Bhutanese is 8 acres while that of the northern Bhutanese is 2.3 acres.
Another peculiar observation among the settlers in the south is the interethnic exploitation that often comes to play. The pioneers among the Nepalese are usually the non-Bahuns who are more simple of mind and physically stronger. Once the forest is cleared via the slash and burn practice- and the land is tamed, the Bahun and the Thakuris follow with cash and guile. Before long, the pioneer is in debt and his mortgaged land has changed hands. The ‘pioneers’ are either rendered landless and termed ‘Sukum-Basis’ (landless people)or carve out, usually illegally, new plots. “ere the forest authorities are alert and assertive, the “Sukum” Basis” apply for “Kidu” (special dispensation) from the King which are either given individually on a case wise basis or in groups. The granting of “Kidu” land in groups has resulted in the establishment of new settlements specifically for the southern Bhutanese in recent years.

As much land as possible is generally colonized and managed through polygamous practice. A man may have several families each of which may live separately and look after separate properties often scattered in different blocks or dzongkhags (districts). The possessions of the farmers which include crop fields as well as orchards etc. are perceived commonly as a saleable wealth and are often sold for various reasons. This application of monetary value to the land and the comparative detachment of the farmer from it is uncharacteristic of the typical Asian farmer who is deeply and inextricably attached to the land.

Yet another peculiarity among the southern Bhutanese in general is to build very small and light structured temporary homes despite their comparatively higher income from the more intensive form of mixed farming systems. Their northern Bhutanese counterparts who on the average, own smaller land and hardly enjoy any income from cash crops, tend to build and live in much larger houses indicating a much higher sense of belonging and permanence. At the same time, the southern farmer, typically, does not invest his money in the bank or income generating fixed assets in the country. Invariably, their income is mainly converted to such highly liquid forms of asset as gold or silver which are usually buried in the ground.

These behavioral peculiarities of the southern Bhutanese farmers have often been seen as pointing to the transitory nature of their domicile in the country, reflecting a lack of attachment and sense of belonging to Bhutan. While the linkage with their adopted home and country thus appears tenuous they maintain a tenacious link with Nepal, their motherland. The suspicion that they did not in general sever their umbilical cord” with Nepal is further strengthened by the presence of the portrait of the Nepalese King and Queen while the Bhutanese King’s portrait usually found no space in their homes. Added to this was the discovery that even senior government officials and prominent farmers visited Nepal to obtain Nepalese citizenship cards.
Often land disputes arose between the southern Bhutanese and their neighbours as a result of their northward incursions. Such disputes continue to take place since the foothills of the south were the winter grazing grounds of the Paropas of Paro, the Hapas of Ha and Dung Metaps of the Chukha Dzongkhags. These disputes which continue even today usually are resolved in favour of the southern Bhutanese. Consequently, the cattle herds of the northern Bhutanese and their dairy products have dwindled considerably over the years. Those who have lost a source of livelihood speak bitterly of government injustice. It is not uncommon even now for the remaining herders to find their shrunken pastures to have been converted to orange, cardamom, ginger and arecanut gardens or even paddy fields each winter.

The Doyas, who represent one of the oldest inhabitants of Bhutan and who, at one time occupied significant tracts of land in Samchi have also found themselves pushed out of the fertile land. Today, they are to be found in 3 main communities (two in Bhutan and one in India) confined to the marginally arable land in what was once their homeland. Inspite of there having been no effort on the part of the Government to provide any meaningful support, these communities have miraculously survived with their culture fairly intact simply by the act of evasion and escape from their new neighbours. It is felt that unless these communities are given special protection, they are now highly vulnerable to final extinction. Elsewhere in the country, namely the Dagana, Kheng, Martshala and Serthig-Lauri areas, similar encroachment and loss of traditional grazing grounds have, occurred.

It would be a matter of reasonable curiosity to inquire how this tiny nation survived as a sovereign state despite the Tibetan and Mongol invasions and its proximity to the British Colonial power in India. Of the many reasons attributable to this, the most important and popular one that the Bhutanese insist upon is their unique Drukpa identity which give it a distinctively separate form from any country or culture. It is this that, they believe, established an appreciable level of national homogeneity and cohesion among the various linguistic and ethnic groups in the country. They consider this to have engendered the will to survive, the genius to fashion the means and the strength to defend their nation state.

It was observed that many of the southern Bhutanese lacked a sense of belonging to the country.
This was particularly found wanting in terms of identity, patriotism and allegiance in relation to the country, the people and the institution of monarchy. A British colonel reporting on 7th December 1931 informed his government that the Nepalese constitute a population which did not owe allegiance to the Bhutanese King. There was in the south a growing population whose loyalty and allegiance lay outside their own country. On the other hand, the tenacity with which they held on to the elements of what constitute Nepalese national identity, except among few village communities, was very noticeable. At the same time, the prevalence of class and caste distinction which developed on the basis of sanskritization during the pre unification days of Nepal Was virtually unchallenged even in Bhutan giving cause for further concern. Government development agents, including low caste Southern Bhutanese, belonging mainly to health and teaching cadres, were often insulted by high caste behaviour during interaction with local southern population. Such sentiments and unfortunate circumstances appeared only to distance the population from the other Bhutanese.

Thus, the centrifugal implications on the Bhutanese polity arising particularly from the existence of two separate national identities could not be ignored. The government, therefore, launched a series of measures to counter this threat to national integrity under the national integration policy.

3. Development activities in the south were accelerated, intensified and expanded with the larger share of the development budgets being allocated to the southern Dzongkhags. The 4th, 5th and 6th five-year plan periods, covering the years 1976 to 1992, saw a dramatic rise in the number of schools, health facilities, agricultural extensions, communications infrastructure etc. in the south. In addition, the policy of the Royal Government to ensure equitable distribution of all national and regional facilities led to the establishment or upgradation of several educational, health and agricultural institutions in the south. Some of the largest development projects were also undertaken in the south. These include the Hill Irrigation Project of Chirang, the Gaylegphug Area Development Project, the resettlement projects of landless southern people etc.

4. Establishment of Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) by authority of a Royal Charter which established a merit based civil service by government with a clear set of criteria, rules and regulations for recruitment/ appointment, transfer and promotion including all career development opportunities: The Commission is also responsible for human resource development under which mandate it established merit based procedures for selection of students for higher education and training abroad.

With the emergence of the RCSC in 1982, guarantee of equal opportunities to employment with merit as the single criteria for all personnel action in government and corporations became established. The process toward this direction had already been initiated in 1977 under a Royal Command with the establishment of the Department of Manpower which later became the RCSC. In addition to the appointment of southern Bhutanese in the Commission, it was also ensured that certain key positions in the Secretariat were filled by southern Bhutanese. Thus the greatest beneficiaries, as intended, were the southern Bhutanese as all possibilities of discrimination etc. were totally eliminated. The percentage of civil servants in the government reached 38% in 1989 from less than 5% in the early 1970s.


The King has always been deeply committed to bringing the southern Bhutanese into the national mainstream. It is significant to note that even during his early childhood when he received his education in an exclusive school in Paro, he ensured the inclusion of southern Bhutanese children. While his late father had already initiated certain steps to integrate the southern people, it was during his reign that major efforts to achieve effective integration on a broader and deeper scale were undertaken to optimize the role of the southern Bhutanese in determining the destiny of the nation.

Although there was always the alternative choice to take measures that would marginalise and limit the role and sociopolitical capacity of the southern people, the government chose to frame a sincere well intentioned policy of genuine integration which was translated into a series of programmes covering all aspects of socioeconomic development. It was also reasoned that acceleration of development in the south to achieve an absolute parity in developmental benefits between the Nepalese people and the rest, would serve to make visibly clear the true intentions of the Royal Government. At the same time, it would enhance and ensure the capacity of the Nepalese to participate equally in the national mainstream via equal accessibility to education and employment opportunities. To this end, the government undertook a vigorous programme of integration of which the salient features include the following:

1. Introduction and usage of the term Lhotsampa in 1985-1986: The term simply means southern people on the basis of their regional location. Until this term was introduced, the southern people were referred to variously as Nepalese, paharias, and ‘rintsam gi miser’ (people of the borderland). The introduction of this term not only gave them a standard Bhutanese nomenclature but also it was that country’s acceptance and recognition of the Nepalese as a distinctly different cultural and linguistic unit in the ethnically diverse Bhutanese society. Anyone who referred to the southern people by the earlier terms was subjected to a fine of Nu.500/- on the spot under an executive circular Issued by the Home Ministry.

2. Lifting of restrictions against the entry and travel of southern Bhutanese as well as acquisition of land in interior Bhutan: This was an event of great significance which was immediately recognized by all.

3. Development activities in the south were accelerated, intensified and expanded with the larger share of the development budgets being allocated to the southern Dzongkhags. The 4th, 5th and 6th five-year plan periods, covering the years 1976 to 1992, saw a dramatic rise in the number of schools, health facilities, agricultural extensions, communications infrastructure etc. in the south. In addition, the policy of the Royal Government to ensure equitable distribution of all national and regional facilities led to the establishment or upgradation of several educational, health and agricultural institutions in the south. Some of the largest development projects were also undertaken in the south. These include the Hill Irrigation Project of Chirang, the Gaylegphug Area Development Project, the resettlement projects of landless southern people etc.

4. Establishment of Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) by authority of a Royal Charter which established a merit based civil service by government with a clear set of criteria, rules and regulations for recruitment/appointment, transfer and promotion including all career development opportunities: The Commission is also responsible for human resource development under which mandate it established merit based procedures for selection of students for higher education and training abroad.

With the emergence of the RCSC in 1982, guarantee of equal opportunities to employment with merit as the single criteria for all personnel action in government and corporations became established. The process toward this direction had already been initiated in 1977 under a Royal Command with the establishment of the Department of Manpower which later became the RCSC. In addition to the appointment of southern Bhutanese in the Commission, it was also ensured that certain key positions in the Secretariat were filled by southern Bhutanese34. Thus the greatest beneficiaries, as intended, were the southern Bhutanese as all possibilities of discrimination etc. were totally eliminated. The percentage of civil servants in the government reached 38% in 1989 from less than 5% in the early 1970s.

5. Recruitment of southern Bhutanese into the army and the police were also increased with special consideration given for officers training. In order to increase the number of southern officers, the RBA allotted 50% of the slots for officers training to the southern candidates for several years. The success of the policy both in intent and action was apparent since by 1989, their percentage in the Army and Police was beyond 25%.

6. Almost all major industries and commercial centres were established in the south on the basis of purely economic considerations as the main criteria. Under the integration policy, long term political implications were given little attention. While the southern towns of Samchi, Phuntsholing, Gaylegphug and Samdrupjongkhar are now the biggest commercial centres apart from Thimphu, all major industries are located in the southern districts whether they be hydro power generation, mineral or wood based industries.

Beyond these measures, the Royal Government initiated further steps to accelerate integration by providing special incentives and gestures. It is these steps which were seen as signs of weakness by the southern Bhutanese. These are listed below:

a. Certain key positions in the government were given to southern officers, some of whom had not been able to demonstrate any professional competence. This action which was aimed to increase the number of southern civil service officers among the policy makers had some negative impact on the credibility of the RCSC. It was at this time that civil servants openly passed such remarks as “to receive ‘kidu’ and rise rapidly in government, one must be born in southern Bhutan”.

b. No legal action was taken against southern Bhutanese farmers for encroachment on government forests for their cash crop plantations or expansion of paddy and dry fields. The government initiated, some action only when Bhutanese farmers in other areas who, unable to escape severity of government action, began to question the uniform application of law. Even rural taxes were far lower for the southern citizens until 1980 when criticism from their compatriots impressed the southern representatives to request for uniformity during the 52nd session of the National Assembly.

c. It was a common perception among civil servants that while southern Bhutanese officers were likely to be exempted from severe forms of government action, others were less likely to be so privileged. This became apparent when certain high ranking district administrators were terminated from service and imprisoned for minor misuse and misappropriation of government property and funds. A southern counterpart escaped im ‘prisonment because the government was unwilling to press charges of corruption. Likewise, the government did not initiate any legal proceedings against Teknath Rizal, even when it was established that he was guilty of treason for which the only punishment under the law of Bhutan is capital punishment (not imposed on any one since 1964). He was instead only questioned and released after two days of detention in the police officers’ mess.

d. Five sanskrit pathshalas were patronized by the government. Full salaries of teachers were paid by the government and other forms of support were also given. At the same time, the government approved plans for the establishment of an apex sanskrit institution in the south where students from the various sanskrit pathshalas could obtain higher education. The only reason why it was not built was the dispute between the people of Dagapela and a strong lobby group led by Teknath Rizal who wanted it built on his land in Lamidara, Chirang. The purpose and intention behind government support for the pathshalas was to ensure that the Hindu culture among the southern Bhutanese Hindus is preserved, and that there would not be a dearth of pujaris (priests/religious functionaries). In addition to this, several students were sponsored by the government for higher studies in sanskrit at the Benaras Hindu University even after the government had stopped all scholarships for Buddhist studies in the 1980s.

e. In order to ensure that there would be no disparity in the standards of education and therefore, access to future job opportunities, all the village schools in the south which were run privately with no trained teachers or set curricula were taken over by the government and upgraded to full fledged primary schools. This was done in addition to the numerous government schools that were opened. A programme of integration through the education system was also initiated through student exchange. Southern and northern students were well distributed in the boarding facilities in each junior and high school thereby ensuring a mix of students. This was advantageous to the southern children since there were more primary schools in the south than any other region. More southern students therefore qualified for placement in the north.

f. Even against initial resistance from prominent farmers, the government undertook to eliminate the practice of exploitation of cash crop growers of southern Bhutan by middle men who were both southern Bhutanese as well as Indians. Soft loans were facilitated to the growers to buy back their land and to be released from the trap of perpetual indebtedness as well as to improve the plantations. This affirmative action taken by the government in the late ’70’s had a substantial impact in that, the high percentage of southern farmers who grow cash crop surpluses (orange, cardamom, ginger and fish), now obtain the full value of their produces. Furthermore, to maximize their income, the State Trading Corporation of Bhutan and the Food Corporation of Bhutan established and facilitated the direct accessibility of the produces to markets and major buyers in India and Bangladesh.

g. The King himself made considerable efforts to build a personal rapport with the southern Bhutanese. He undertook frequent visits to the southern villages and met the villagers and knew many village headmen and elders by name. During these visits, the problems and needs of the villages were discussed which resulted in many special projects for the south. Furthermore, the King always made it a point to take with him southern Bhutanese officials during these visits. Special meetings with the southern government officials were also held frequently.

h. Inter marriage between southern and northern Bhutanese were encouraged. Special cash incentives of Nu. 10,000/- were even paid to those who engaged in such inter marriages, irrespective of the gender of the claimant. It is sad to note, that these people are among the prime targets of the terrorists. Given the constant threats they are subjected to, such people are reluctant to work and live in the south.

i. The late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck once told Father William Mackey, a prominent Jesuit educationist, that Bhutan is like a bird which can only fly with both wings. The two wings, he said, are the ancient religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. Based on the fact that Buddhism, as practised in Bhutan, has the entire pantheon of Hindu Gods well ensconced in Mahayana Buddhism and its rituals, the government promoted the theme of compatibility between the two religions. Even new temples built in southern Bhutan emphasize this with both Hindu and Buddhist shrines in the same temple. The King himself and the royal family participate regularly in the Hindu Tika Ceremony with southern citizens each year and, Dassai, the biggest Nepalese festival was declared a national holiday in 1980.

The above policies and actions were the deliberate results of a genuine political commitment of the government to integrate the southern people into the national mainstream. These were all in keeping with the spirit of the National Assembly resolution of 1958, according to which, Nepalese immigrants resident in Bhutan until 31 December 1958 were granted citizenship by registration. Each successive amendment to the Citizenship Act of 1958 is less restrictive and more liberal, demonstrating the continuing concessions the National Assembly was willing to make to the people in the south.

The policy of integration has been condemned by the dissidents as a deliberate policy of the government to undermine the Nepalese culture and language. The particular element of the integration policy that has been criticized as violation of human rights has been excluded from the above list to be discussed separately. This pertains to the enforcement of Driglam Namzhag by the Royal Bhutan Police and District authorities. The other subject of criticism concerning the exclusion of the Nepali language in the curriculum of the primary education system is not an element of the integration policy. Nevertheless, it too warrants some discussion.

Unless one has an intimate understanding of the Bhutanese culture, history and ethos and is sensitive to the continuing relevance of the role of the Drukpa identity in shaping Bhutan’s history and destiny, the importance of ‘Driglam Namzhag’ may not be fully understood. As in all cultures, there are nuances and inexplicable behavioral patterns which even the most perceptive anthropologist cannot honestly claim to understand except by imbibing them through birth or long term association as a member of the community. Driglam Namzhag is one such aspect, the nuances of which find expression both in form and spirit.

Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal the visionary patron Lama and ruler of Bhutan, who gave to Bhutan unity and the D