Congressional Briefing on Bhutan in Washington DC

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By B.M Rai and Bhuwan Gautam

The Congressional briefing on Bhutan took place on November 17th, 2014 at Washington DC. It was organized by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF). There were 27 resettled Bhutanese delegates from 14 cities representing 10 different States of the US. Delegates presented issues on domestic and foreign policies and requested US State Department, Senate Officials and Congress members for their help towards finding permanent solution on the protracted Bhutanese refugee problem.

At the US State Department:

Picture 4: Group picture of the delegates inside the Capitol Hill

Delegates inside the Capitol Hill. Photo Courtesy: Balaram Gurung

The delegates met US State Department officials and apprised on the domestic and foreign related issues, and appeal for playing a vital role by exhorting adequate diplomatic pressure on Bhutan so as to ensure no injustice and human suffering continues in the land of “Gross National Happiness”, the last Sangri-La on earth.

Mr. Madhav Sharma, Chairman of Bhutanese American Organization of Philadelphia gave an overview of his personal story of becoming a refugee from his native land, his life in the refugee camp in Nepal and in the US now. He also highlighted domestic issues of resettled refugees such as language barrier faced by adult and elderly refugees, citizenship test preparation difficulties, unemployment problem and other post resettlement stressors.

Chhabilall Sharma, Bhutanese Psychiatrist based in Minnesota highlighted the need for increased appropriations for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to fund specific programs that address the mental health, economic, and cultural needs of Bhutanese refugees. He also emphasized the language barrier faced by Bhutanese Refugee elders.

Mangala Sharma, Bhutanese woman activist raised issues related to resettled women and children and emphasized on skills development, in a bid to stabilize families to address post-resettlement stressors.

 Audience of panel discussion at Capitol Hill

Audience of panel discussion at Capitol Hill. Photo: Balaram Gurung

On foreign policy, Mr. Narad Adhikari, senior Bhutanese human rights activist  highlighted on the historical background of Bhutanese refugee issue and bilateral talks between Bhutan and Nepal. He also mentioned that bilateral negotiation between Bhutan and Nepal has no relevance anymore and needs to be repealed now in order to open doors for other international agencies and governments to involve and engage directly to work in a broader prospective to find out a satisfactory and justifiable solution on the Bhutanese issue.

Mr. Parangkush Subedi, Bhutanese community leader urged the State Department to:

  • Put international pressure on the Bhutanese government to protect the linguistic, cultural, religious, and civil rights of all ethnic and religious minorities in Bhutan
  • Democratize and allow open participation by all political parties, including political parties in exile.
  • Repatriate all those refugees, who wish to return with honor, safety and dignity
  • Designate resettle Bhutanese refugees as Non-Resident Bhutanese (NRB)
  • Establish US direct diplomatic relationship with Bhutan.

 At the Capitol Hill

At the Capitol Hill, 27 Bhutanese delegates were divided into four groups. They met Congressmen and their staffs representing Massachusetts, Pennsylvenia, Virginia, Georgia, California, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Indiana, Utah, Maryland, Colorado.

Each group was led by a representative from HAF. Issues were raised on same topics with elaborate discussions. On the domestic front, emphasis was given on language barrier by the elderly people for the citizenship test, mental health and suicide risk factors.

On foreign issues, early repatriation of refugees living in the camps in Nepal, who wish to return to Bhutan with dignity and security, ensure vibrant democracy and human rights in Bhutan by allowing every citizen to participate in the process of democratization without any discrimination, and recognition of resettled Bhutanese as Non-Resident Bhutanese, which would open the door for family reunion – were the main issues raised with the Congressional Staffs.

Picture 1: Panelists on Congressional Briefing at Capitol Hill (From left Suhag Sukla, Madhap Sharma, Doria Barmente and Dr Chhabilall Sharma

Panelists on Congressional briefing at Capitol Hill (From left Suhag Sukla, Madhap Sharma, Doria Barmente and Dr Chhabilall Sharma. Photo: Balaram Gurung

Mr. Madhap Sharma and Dr Chhabilall Sharma were the panelists representing Bhutanese delegates while Doria Bramente, the co-producer of the film The Refugees of the Sangri-La, highlighted the rationale behind making Bhutanese refugees documentary. The panel was moderated by Suhag Sukla, Executive Director of Hindu American Foundation.

Other members of the Bhutanese delegation were: BM Rai, Mohan Tamang, DP Basnet, Biswanath Chhetri, Sarman Samal, Kishor Pradhan, Tulsa Sharma, Ganesh Subedi, Rajen Giri, Chuda Dahal, Tika Acharya, Leela Kuikel, Mukti Raj Gurung, Bhagirath Khatiwada, Suraj Budathoki, Motikhar Bhujel, Bhuwan Pyakurel, Balaram Gurung, Laxmi Niroula and Gopal Subedi.

The night before the Congressional Briefing, the documentary ‘The Refugees of Shangrila’ was screened for the general public at the auditorium of a Hindu Temple in the DC area, followed by a panel discussion on the Bhutanese issue.

On the following day, the Bhutanese American Advocacy Day began at 9:00AM with the briefing to the US State Department Officials followed by panel discussion to the Congressional Staffs and diplomats of various countries. The program concluded successfully at 6:00PM with the meeting of Congresswoman Tulshi Gabbard, the first Hindu lawmaker in the United States.

Delegates with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu Lawmaker in the United States elected from the State of Hawaii

Delegates with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, fourth from left, the first Hindu Lawmaker in the United States elected from the State of Hawaii. Photo: Balaram Gurung

It was the first ever advocacy program on Bhutanese refugee issue carried out by the resettled Bhutanese with support from the Hindu American Foundation and it was coordinated by Jay Kansara and Parangkush Subedi.

The program sponsored by the Hindu American Foundation under the title, ‘casualties of Gross National Happiness’.

Here is the short video clip for its preparation: