NOT QUITE SHANGRI-LA

BHUTAN’S PER­SE­CU­TION OF ITS NEPALI-SPEAK­ING MI­NOR­ITY, LHOTSHAMPA, TELLS A DIF­FER­ENT STORY ABOUT THE HI­MALAYAN IDYLL

The Gulf Today - Panorama - - SPECIAL REPORT - By Ashok Da­hal

The Hi­malayan na­tion of Bhutan, of­ten de­scribed as a “Shangrila” where hap­pi­ness is equated to wealth, is hold­ing elec­tions this week. But the Lhotshampa peo­ple, bru­tally driven out of the small king­dom in the 1990s, won’t be vot­ing.

The Nepali-speak­ing Lhotshampa were branded as im­mi­grants and stripped of cit­i­zen­ship rights when the then-king in­tro­duced a “One Na­tion, One Peo­ple” pol­icy in 1985.

The edict made fol­low­ing the cus­toms of the Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity manda­tory, in­clud­ing wear­ing their tra­di­tional dress, and speak­ing Nepali was banned.

Those who re­sisted where la­belled “anti­na­tion­als,” ar­rested and sub­jected to bru­tal treat­ment in­clud­ing rape and tor­ture, ac­cord­ing to Amnesty In­ter­na­tional.

The se­cu­rity forces made de­tainees sign dec­la­ra­tions say­ing they would leave

Bhutan vol­un­tar­ily as a con­di­tion of their re­lease.

Some 100,000 — one sixth of Bhutan’s pop­u­la­tion — fled, end­ing up in refugee camps in eastern Nepal.

One man who left Bhutan is Bhumpa Rai, who was serv­ing as a royal doc­tor when the king’s edict was pro­mul­gated.

“They hu­mil­i­ated us... they said that we are not Bhutanese and chased me and my peo­ple from the coun­try,” Rai said.

The king of­fered him pro­tec­tion from the Dra­co­nian rules,

Some 100,000 Lhotshampa — one sixth of Bhutan’s pop­u­la­tion — fled the king­dom, end­ing up in refugee camps in eastern Nepal.

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