In 1989, when the Royal Government of Bhutan adopted and implemented multi culture eroding “One Nation, One People” policy in Bhutan apparently aiming to promote and practice only on culture belonging to the royal elites, the cultural, religious and traditional values of other diverse communities, especially the ethnic Nepali Bhutanese was adversely infringed. Under this policy every citizen, no matter what religion, culture or tradition they practice, it was made mandatory to follow only one religion – that is Buddhism, speak only one language – that is Dzongkha, and wear only one dress – that is Gho for man and Kira for woman. Anybody disobeying the royal command was termed as an act of treason, liable for financial penalty to imprisonment for life.
The ethnic Nepali Bhutanese, who are known as Lhotshampas, made several appeals to the King through their representatives seeking his reconsideration on the policy which grossly violated their fundamental rights. However, the King did pay any attention to their petition, which compelled them to organize a peaceful demonstration in 1990. Instead of considering on the peaceful appeal of the people, the government imposed martial law, where arrest, torture, louting, killing and imprisonment in a solitary confinement began rampantly. The innocent people became so insecure and could not think what to do.
Thousands have to flee into exile looking for safety, shelter and means of survival, while hundreds were arrested and put behind the bar without trials. People, who managed to flee into exile landed up in Nepal and lived in the UN sponsored refugee camps, waiting for a conducive environment to exercise their right to repatriation to their homestead with safety and in dignity. By 1991-92, over hundred thousand Bhutanese citizens were registered as refugees in the UNHCR camps in Nepal.
Back in Bhutan, the Lhotshampa community continued to face discrimination and all kinds of harassments. Life became so miserable. They were denied rights to practice their own culture, learn their own language, and almost 80 thousand individuals were denied to enjoy their voting franchise even after the so-called democracy was ushered in the country in 2008. In country of Gross National Happiness, as is claimed by the government, people were suffering a lot and no one was seen to be happy.
The bilateral negotiation initiated between the governments of Bhutan and Nepal failed to yield any tangible result to pave the way for an early repatriation of the refugees because of the adamant position taken by the royal government of Bhutan, which created tremendous frustration among the people. The funding agencies started expressing their fatigues for unable to raise enough funds to finance the refugee education, health and other welfare programs. Living for over two decades with complete uncertainty was unendurable.
At this juncture, the UNHCR brought a proposal of resettlement program in 2006 aiming to give an opportunity for the refugee community to restart their lives. A committee of core countries was formed under the leadership of the United States. The other countries were Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway and Netherlands. The Government of the United States offered to accept 60 thousand plus refugees, while the other countries joined hands to bear their share under the burden sharing solution program of the refugee problem. Ultimately, resettlement program started in 2008, and since then over 70 thousand refugees have been resettled in the US.
In Western Massachusetts alone, there are over two thousand Nepali speaking Bhutanese refugees resettled since 2008. Many more are still in the pipeline to arrive. Obviously, life in a developed alien country wasn’t easy and very hard to embrace new way of life in a fast paced living environment, who had spent such a long period of time in the refugee camps. The cultural shock, language barriers and no or limited work experiences was a big challenge for anybody to resume a normal life. Though the resettlement agencies, the city and government agencies extended their full support with immense help, it wasn’t easy due to several limitations to cope up their daily challenges.
As a result, some of the likeminded youths and educated elders joined hand to form an organization with the nomenclature of Bhutanese Society of Western Massachusetts in June 2010, aiming to provide necessary services to the community to help strengthen the resettlement program effectively and successfully. Though we are still in a toddler’s stage due to the lack of adequate resources, we are optimistic to do better in the community. There is growing interest and enthusiasm among the educated youth members of the community to participate in the organization, which is a biggest strength and potential asset for our existence.
Bhutanese Society of Western Massachusetts(BSWM) looks forward for larger participation and bigger support from all walks of life for the cause of community development, which is only the goal of the organization at this point of time.