Bhutan is both "Buddhist and sane"

by Visakha Kawasaki, Sri Lanka, The Buddhist Channel, Nov 10, 2006

I refer to the letter by Suzanne Townsend titled "The other side of Bhutan". Ms. Townsend’s letter is remarkable for its strident tone and for jumping to some rather unfair conclusions. A little inquiry will show that the situation in Bhutan is more complex than she supposes.

The tiny country has an indigenous population of Drukpas, Buddhists who came from Tibet hundreds of years ago to what they called Druk-Yul -- "Land of the Thunder Dragon."

The refugees are ethnic Nepalese Hindus, whose families more recently immigrated to Bhutan for work and land. With a different religion, different language, different clothing, and different traditions, they resisted the 1988 campaign to require all citizens to learn the Bhutanese language, Dzongkha, to wear traditional clothing, and to observe Buddhist customs.

Because the ethnic Nepalese felt their culture threatened, they began an anti-government agitation, rebelling against the state, and attempting to overthrow the Bhutanese king, with attacks against schools and government offices.

The refugees who are now in UN run camps are not welcome to be integrated back into Nepalese society or to be accepted once more in Bhutan. Incidently, their leaders have repeatedly stated that they would resume their anti-government campaign if they were allowed to return to Bhutan.

Interestingly, the United States has offered, this year, to resettle up to sixty-thousand ethnic Nepalese refugees from Bhutan. That must be a very welcome development since years of negotiations between Bhutan and Nepal have made little if any progress in solving this issue.

Perhaps if she investigates a little further, Ms. Townsend will understand how Bhutan can call itself both "Buddhist" and sane as well.