Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Voting for the first time

Posted by TMishra | Tuesday, November 4, 2014 | Category: , , | 0 comments

What a day!

Mid-term elections in the United States: Finally I voted for the first time today. I had my say in the democratic process. It’s such a pride. It does not mean that I did not show up in the previous elections to make this one the FIRST. What it means though is that I never had this opportunity in life.

Eager to experience what it feels like, I was among countable voters in the line this early morning here in Charlotte (Mecklenburg County), NC. It did not take long to finish casting the vote. I was too excited, yet little confused as I had never seen a voting machine. Nonetheless, I was equally confused as to how the State politics functions in the United States.

Whatever the case be, at least I knew that the mid-term elections have a direct impact in the DC. At some point, I thought I might be too young to understand all these politics—both by age and education—may be, may be not! And since I became a naturalized US citizen only in Aug this year, two months timeframe was certainly not enough for me to educate myself to cast an informed vote. Yet, I tried my best. I am sure to cast a much-informed one the next time I vote.


To my surprise, a talkative gentleman probably in his early 40s, a voter in the line behind me asked, "You Muslim?"

Sir, I am an American like you except that I am voting for the first time in my life. But who knows—may be you're voting for the first time too. And, sir, why does it matter whether or not I am a Muslim?, I replied him.

Thankfully, he then remained silent. I could not understand why someone would ask such a question while in the line to cast a vote.

It was surprising and I asked myself as to why someone would feel so comfortable and go judgmental by color of the skin or the accent and that in the elections day. But this trivial incident did not deter me from celebrating this remarkable day in my life. I thought that this was probably an isolated unpleasant experience, yet not a strong one to weaken my wish to exercise my right to vote.

I had hard time controlling my emotions when I stood in front of the voting machine. My hands were literarily shaking, probably my eyes were a bit wet, for I recalled how my father including thousand others were imprisoned and tortured in Bhutan simply coz they had raised voices for democracy peacefully. I could feel why they demanded democracy in Bhutan.

Had the regime turned flexible towards establishing democracy as demanded by its citizens, Bhutan could have been similar to America or any other democratic countries—in terms of democratization—in 1990s, I recalled. I could feel the power of ballot as I cast my vote today. I could feel first hand why democracy is so vital. I could feel the power of people. Above all, I could feel why tyrants around the world remain so cruel to establish democracy in their countries. This is because democracy, as I could feel it first hand here in my new country, is all about freedom. And tyrants are against any sorts of freedom for citizens. Bhutan was not an exception to this in 1990s.

I was stateless for nearly two decades. I now have a place I could call a home. As someone who recently became a naturalized American citizen, my emphasis this time was to experience what it feels like to vote and participate in the democratic process. I did that proudly.

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Click here to read how my family, including tens of thousands of Bhutanese citizens were expelled from the country in late 1980s and early 1990s.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

American Dream Becomes Nightmare for Bhutanese Refugees

Posted by TMishra | Tuesday, August 12, 2014 | Category: | 0 comments

Before Menuka Poudel left the refugee camp in Nepal where she and her family sheltered for almost two decades after being displaced from Bhutan, the 18-year-old spoke to me about her hopes of pursing her college education and living the American dream.

Just over a year later, on Nov. 30, 2010, she was found by her mother hanging in an apartment in Phoenix Arizona, where her family had moved a month before. They had hoped to begin a new life under a resettlement program for Bhutanese refugees who had fled cultural and religious persecution.

Ms. Poudel, who was still breathing when her mother found her, was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix where she was pronounced dead the following day, according to her family.

The young woman was one of over 30 Bhutanese refugees who have taken their lives in the U.S. since the summer of 2008 when the resettlement program began.

The problem of suicide in the community seems to be worsening: Since the start of Nov. 2013, seven Bhutanese refugees have killed themselves after resettling in the U.S.

In the most recent case, Bal Khulal, who relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, left behind a wife and two children after taking his own life, according to local police.

A report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal U.S. government agency, published in Oct. 2012, stated that in the three years to Feb. 2012, the rate of suicides among Bhutanese refugees resettled in America was 20.3 per 100,000 people.

This rate was almost double that among the U.S. general population and exceeded the global suicide rate of 16.0 per 100,000, according to figures from the World Health Organization.

However, it was similar to rates of suicide experienced by Bhutanese refugees in camps before they relocated, the study found.

“Different psychological stressors occur at each stage of the resettlement process,” the study said. Once refugees are relocated, factors such as inability to find work, increased family conflict and symptoms of anxiety, depression and psychological distress are associated with suicidal thoughts, it added.

After resettlement, many young Bhutanese adults seem to find a mismatch between their idea of the American dream and the availability of work and quality of pay in the U.S.

Those working with the Bhutanese community in America say there is a lack of support and provision to deal with the problem.

“Although suicide among the Bhutanese seems like an issue that needs attention, the community does not have the expertise to address it,” said Aaron Acharya, executive director of the Association of Bhutanese in America, Inc., a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit.

Tens of thousands of Bhutanese were displaced as a result of ethnic cleansing policy adopted by Bhutan’s government under ‘one nation-one people’ policy in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Nepali language was banned from schools, and repression of the people of southern Bhutan by the Buddhist elite intensified.

Around 26,000 still live in refugee camps in Nepal, located near the Indian border and less than 300 miles from their home country. Over 13,000 are waiting to migrate from the camps to Western countries through the ongoing resettlement program.

As of Oct. 2013, there were around 71,000 Bhutanese refugees living in the U.S., according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Parangkush Subedi, a community volunteer in Philadelphia, in early 2013 started an awareness campaign within the Bhutanese community there and elsewhere focusing on issues of mental health and suicide.

Mr. Subedi says that to tackle the problem properly and highlight the issue among Bhutanese refugees, a U.S.-wide campaign by the organizations responsible for the resettlement program is required because the community in general is a self-contained and introverted culture.

Denise Beehag is director of refugee and employment services at the International Institute of Buffalo, one of the local resettlement agencies in Buffalo, New York where three females and one young man, all of them Bhutanese refugees, took their own lives between Aug. 2010 and Oct. 2013.

There is little discussion about the topic and the rate of suicides among this population at a national level seems staggering, Ms. Beehag said. “Immediate action is what it seems the need of the hour,” she added.

T.P. Mishra is a contributing editor at the Bhutanese refugee-run Bhutan News Service, and a refugee currently living in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A long walk of life

Posted by TMishra | Tuesday, December 3, 2013 | Category: , | 0 comments

One of my kaakaa (uncles) and my father had been to Nepal to meet my phupu (aunt). While returning home, both of them had been exposed to a bizarre illness.


Fast-spreading daabar (rashes), small dot-like red and black lesions, covered their faces. I often saw them scratching their faces until they would get swollen. Neighbors called it maai khatiraa (sort-of chicken pox).

Our house was located in a thinly populated Beetaar village, better known to Bhutanese as Neuli (Neoli) Bhutan. Beetaar was a minuscule village only reachable by several hours walk, as it was on the hilltop of Bakuli block under the Samdrup Jongkhar district, far from the immediate reach of capital Thimphu, in southern Bhutan.

Both kaakaa and father could not fight the sickness back. It rather got exposed to my mother and two younger siblings. Not only in our village, may be there were no hospitals in the country. At least I had not heard about it. If there was one, it may have been in Thimmu (capital, Thimphu).

Local jhankri (shaman) did whatever he could to treat the sickness. Jhankri, however, was only able to provide us with some perceived healing. That’s it.

Click here to read the entire essay.