A Quiet Change

The ad­vent of tele­vi­sion in Bhutan in 1999 en­abled the coun­try to open up and in­ter­act with the rest of the world but change that comes in a greater vol­ume and oc­curs too fast can also have ad­verse ef­fects.

Southasia - - Technology - By Shairose Ukanji The writer is a Mass Com­mu­ni­ca­tion grad­u­ate who writes ex­ten­sively on so­cioe­co­nomic is­sues.

The jour­ney from be­ing a hid­den king­dom to as­sum­ing the dis­tinc­tion of the world’s youngest democ­racy en­tails nu­mer­ous sig­nif­i­cant episodes, the most im­por­tant be­ing the le­gal­iza­tion of tele­vi­sion in 1999. This year, when the United Na­tions cel­e­brates Novem­ber 21 as World Tele­vi­sion Day, Bhutan will be the new­est mem­ber in the lot.

This tiny Hi­malayan coun­try neigh­bour­ing In­dia that once had strict sur­veil­lance over its con­tacts with the out­side world and like­wise over ex­ter­nal in­tru­sion, ex­plic­itly em­braced the most pow­er­ful global com­mu­ni­ca­tion medium. Elec­tronic and print me­dia were

IN­DIA flooded with cov­er­age and jour­nal­ists flew to a coun­try that had un­know­ingly made his­tory. Per­haps, le­gal­iz­ing tele­vi­sion in the late 20th cen­tury alone might not have been so alarm­ing. How­ever, a coun­try in self­im­posed iso­la­tion that held onto an­ces­tral Bud­dhist tra­di­tions and feared mod­ern­iza­tion for years had fi­nally given up - and that made news.

Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth Dragon King of Bhutan, born to a dy­nasty of ab­so­lute mon­archs, was seen as a change agent by the Bhutanese af­ter he came to power in 1972. In his ten­ure, the coun­try saw nu­mer­ous de­vel­op­men­tal moves. Among these was the es­tab­lish­ment of the first Bhutanese news­pa­per, Kuensel, launch of in­ter­net ser­vice and open­ing of the Bhutan Broad­cast­ing Sta- tion, to name a few. Wangchuck left the throne to his son in 2006 and or­dered coun­try­wide elec­tions in 2008, the seeds of which he had al­ready sown. Iron­i­cally, it was the King and not his sub­jects who strug­gled and as­pired for a change in form of govern­ment, re­sult­ing in a con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy. Gross National Hap­pi­ness, an idea coined to as­sess the coun­try’s de­vel­op­ment and progress in terms of peo­ple’s con­tent­ment rather than a mea­sure­ment and ac­com­plish­ment of eco­nomic stan­dards and goals, was purely Wangchuck’s con­tri­bu­tion to his King­dom.

With the ad­vent of TV, the im­me­di­ate and dras­tic change that oc­curred was in the fam­ily setup. So­cial change was mostly seen in seat­ing ar­range­ments at home. Where fam­i­lies would once face each other to en­joy lively in­ter­ac­tive ses­sions for hours started fac­ing their tele­vi­sion sets. The streets in Bhutan were vis­i­bly de­serted dur­ing ‘prime­time’ shows. Emer­gence of a mid­dle class sub­se­quently be­came in­evitable with com­mer­cial­iza­tion tak­ing deep roots in so­ci­ety. The beloved box flooded with in­ter­na­tional chan­nels opened fron­tiers to iden­ti­fy­ing new role mod­els with for­eign celebri­ties. The Gross National Hap­pi­ness, the in­spi­ra­tion for change in Bhutan, was built on the idea of strength­en­ing Bhutanese iden­tity rather than suc­cumb­ing to for­eign in­flu­ences.

The ad­vent of tele­vi­sion in Bhutan has made it a func­tion­ing part­ner in the 21st cen­tury and has ex­posed it to the global po­lit­i­cal econ­omy. Though change might be slow, quiet and not wel­come (to some), it is in­deed a rev­o­lu­tion. Bhutan is wit­ness­ing a grad­ual shift in the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem which rep­re­sents a rev­o­lu­tion of sorts that marks a steady in­crease in lit­er­acy, a rev­o­lu­tion that has speeded up the pace of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments and a rev­o­lu­tion that has all the pow­ers of di­lut­ing Bhutan’s once rigid cul­ture and tra­di­tions. Bhutan now has one foot in moder­nity and the other in the past. Its im­mi­nent fu­ture would be some­thing to be­hold, whether the rev­o­lu­tion is for bet­ter or for worse.

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