Rationale for Forming the Non-Resident Bhutanese (NRB) Platform
You all are aware that we are identified as people of Bhutanese origin wherever we are settled outside Bhutan. It is written in our PR/Green Cards, citizenship documents and passports. That is our identity and we have to be proud of our origins.
Our country of birth or origin is Bhutan even for those of us who were born in the refugee camps in Nepal or while living in other countries. Our forefathers had toiled hard in Bhutan to build Bhutan into what it is today. The history of Southern Bhutanese (called Lhotshampas in Dzongkha) roots back to the founding of the Bhutanese State under the leadership of Zhabdrung Nagwang Namgyal as its spiritual and temporal leader. We love our country of birth, and our rights to contribute towards economic progress and prosperity of Bhutan should continue irrespective of the country we are resettled today. In addition, most of us have relatives and friends within Bhutan and their well-being is our well-being too.
In this perspective, we are supporting the concept of Non-Resident Bhutanese which has been floated by Bhutan National Democratic Party (BNDP) and Druk National Congress (DNC) since 2009. It is an issue of justice; it is our inherent rights, and our link with Bhutan must continue through the NRB platform. We should keep our differences aside, organize ourselves as a vibrant Bhutanese Diaspora a common platform and begin communication with people inside the country with commitment and sincerity. NRB will be a mutually beneficial arrangement in the long-run to all the stakeholders.
Building on what has been done, we want to place the need of NRB in its historical context, the unfortunate episode of refugee creation and scope of work for NRB in the years to come.
The history of people of Nepali origin in Bhutan perhaps dates back to the first visit of Guru Padmasambha from Nepal sometime in the 7th century AD to bring Buddhism to Bhutan. The next phase of organized immigration of people according to the Nepalese historians based on documents in Nepalese archives was sometime during the reign of the Zhabdrung Nagwang Namgyal himself, the founding father of Bhutan. The mass scale settlement in southern Bhutan, as proven by receipts of tax payment with families inside and outside Bhutan, and documents with the then administrators, is the post Anglo-Bhutan War of 1864, when Bhutan lost the productive flat lands in the Duars along its southern frontier to the British India Empire.
Technically, it does not matter which ethnic group came first, and which group played critical role in building the nation state in the past; what matters most is whether or not an individual is a citizen and the kind cognition he/she enshrines for the country. Nevertheless, it is important for us to remind ourselves, and our people inside the country, that our roots in Bhutan was not recent. We are Bhutanese as anybody else in the country, and our love for the country is second to none.
The Bhutanese soil is soaked with our labor whether it was clearing the malaria infested forests in the southern districts, construction of national highways and rebuilding the national secretariat – Tashichhodzong. If we talked to our resettled elderly people whether in the northern most state of Alaska or the southernmost Florida, they have story to tell. They have worked for many months as conscripted laborers, whose relatives died at the construction sites, and the nostalgic moment they had had when the fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck said during the National Day celebration in Gaylegphu: “You are not Nepalis from Darjeeling district of India or from the Kingdom of Nepal; you are Lhotshamapas – the people of south Bhutan – as Bhutanese as anybody else”.
The comfort feeling that was carefully nurtured by the third and the fourth kings received a brutal assault because of the misunderstanding on the concept, and the manner in which two important policies of census enumeration and cultural integration were implemented in Southern Bhutan.
During the late 1980s Bhutan adopted its Bhutanization program that was introduced purportedly to accelerate the integration process of Lhotshampa people into the mainstream Bhutanese. Together with it came the census re-enumeration exercise, cadastral land survey and the concept of implementing the greenbelt all along the southern border, where the Lhotshampa population concentrated.
The stubbornness of the authority not to entertain any appeal for redressal and highhandedness with which those policies were implemented, and the mislaid doubt of Lhotshampa loyalty towards the Bhutanese State created the refugee exodus from Bhutan after the peaceful protest movement of 1990, which was crushed ruthlessly. The peaceful demonstrations, which were meant to seek redressal of human rights violation, were met with imposition of military administration in southern Bhutan with the reign of terror, arbitrary arrests and coerced eviction of innocent people that forced them to seek shelter outside the country. Being unable to find a secure shelter along the Indo-Bhutan border in Assam and West Bengal, the evicted Bhutanese as refugees were compelled to knock the doors of Nepal for protection. Mercifully, Nepal provided the required humanitarian assistance with the help of UNHCR.
Simultaneously with the opening of the door Nepal started with “quiet diplomacy” and sat with Bhutan for bilateral talks in 1993 with sole objective of repatriating us back to Bhutan in honor and dignity. Despite several rounds of bilateral talks between Bhutan and Nepal, and upon completion of joint verification exercise of Bhutanese refugees by Bhutan and Nepal in Khudunabari camp, no solution was in the offing. The neutral position of the key actor India for resolving the Bhutanese refugee imbroglio led to the international community coordinated by the United States to decide for resettling us overseas. Though our best option would have been to return to Bhutan and continue with our simple life as it was 20 years ago, we had to opt for the next best option offered by the international community to end our uncertain refugee life. Thus we are now dispersed around the world in four continents.
We are Bhutanese and our right to seek justice does not end with the resettlement. We will heartily take citizenships of the countries that have come to our rescue in our hour of dire need but there is a need to continue seeking their assistance to resolve this problem amicably. All the countries of our resettlement are successful democracies, and as every conflict needs to have a solution amicable to all stakeholders, these country governments could also help us seek justice as non-resident Bhutanese. The NRB status once recognized by the Government of Bhutan could be an option to move forward for mutually beneficially solution. For this to happen, all of us need to unite in a single platform to become an internationally supported lobby group.
Non-Resident Bhutanese Platform
Non-Resident Bhutanese (NRB) platform is neither a social organization nor it is affiliated to any political party. It is an organization dedicated for the long-term welfare of Bhutan and all Bhutanese people. It has emerged as an outcome of the third country resettlement of Bhutanese refugees who had spent more than two decades in the UNHCR organized refugee camps in Nepal. Unlike the non-resident Nepalese (NRN) or non-resident Indian (NRI) groups promoted by their respective governments to tap resource and talents for the greater benefits of their respective countries, ours is created by the resettled refugees with the demand for the recognition by Bhutanese Parliament.
At present some 85,000 Bhutanese refugees have already been resettled in USA, above 5000 in Canada, around 5000 in Australasia and a couple of thousands in European countries (Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom). These are highly industrialized and developed countries, which exercise powers beyond their international boundaries. The resettled Bhutanese together with Bhutanese working professionals in overseas countries would constitute nearly 20% of the total population of Bhutan in the near future. It is an enormous resource for a small, landlocked country like Bhutan.
Bhutan cannot afford to lose this precious resource. The resettled Bhutanese are poor immigrants today but they will graduate into entrepreneurs, professionals, academicians and social workers tomorrow. Their power of influence would expand beyond the borders of their newly adopted countries.
Bhutan has an opportunity to engage the resettled population for promoting its national interest, deepen its diplomatic relationship beyond its immediate neighbors, and seek support and solidarity at times of national crisis. Also, they could potentially become source of capital, knowledge and technology transfer to Bhutan. To realize these benefits, Bhutan needs to heal the wounds of the past misdeeds and begin a process of reconciliation of its larger Bhutanese diaspora for the greater benefit of the country and people of its origin within and outside its political boundary.
NRB platform will continue its peaceful campaign for the recognition of the resettled refugees as Non-Resident Bhutanese. Its long-term objective is to constitute an effective and cohesive Bhutanese Diaspora with the goal of contributing to Bhutan’s socio-economic development, and promote peace and harmony among all the ethnic groups, irrespective of caste, ethnicity and religion. In essence, the NRB will initially focus:
To establish a global network of Bhutanese communities. Its membership will be open to all resettled Bhutanese people and those Bhutanese who are working outside the country. The membership is not open to Bhutanese refugees who are still under the protection of UNHCR.
To work towards re-establishing connection between the resettled refugees and their family members, relatives and friends inside the country and to promote people-to-people level relationship between the newly adopted countries of the resettled Bhutanese and their motherland Bhutan.
To work with the government of Nepal and India for providing an easy access to cultural and religious resources to the resettled Bhutanese. The cultural connection to Nepal and India is very important for psychological health of the resettled Bhutanese until Bhutan establishes formal mechanism to enable them to reconnect with the people and their place of origin in Bhutan.
To seek support and solidarity of our fellow Bhutanese citizens for passing a resolution in the Bhutanese Parliament to accord us Non-Resident Bhutanese status and eventually encourage Bhutan to create a separate ministry for overseas Bhutanese to look after the affairs of the Bhutanese Diaspora.
To make an effort to support research and developmental activities for the preservation of history of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal and to work towards establishing Bhutan-Nepal Foundation so that the ancient cultural and religious relationship between the two countries are preserved and promoted.
These are some of the core issues at which the NRB could focus initially. The ad hoc advisory committee was formed on voluntary basis to give shape to the idea. The ad hoc advisory committee and well-wishers of NRB concept would start working soon with fellow resettled Bhutanese and Bhutanese carrying Bhutanese passports to elect NRB Commissioning Committee which should be based on democratic principles in commensurate to population size and location. Eventually, the NRB Commissioning Committee will be responsible to call the first assembly of NRB, write its constitution and elect the office bearers. It would require a great deal of networking and organizational skill to realize the NRB platform at global level.