Monday, February 23, 2015
गुमाने ठुले उमेरले त्यस्तै डेढ कोरी पुगेका होलान् । थोरै भए निः परिवारकै एकमात्र पढे-लेखेका हुनाले सबै गुमानेकै भरमा छ । बजार भर्नेदेखि साहुलाई घरभाडा तिर्ने हुँदै अरू घरायसी सबै कामको डङ्गुर यिनकै काँधमा आउने गर्छ । उनको काँध पनि कति बलियो भन्या ! मेरो त्यो हबिगत हुने भए अस्ति नै काँध खुइली सक्नेथियो, असार पन्ध्रमा तारे गोरुको झैँ । उनी भने गलेजस्तो पटक्कै देखिँदैनन् । सायद पिर लुकाउन खप्पिस छन्, गुमाने । सानै छँदा यिनले बा’ गुमाउनु पर्दाको पीडा सायदै बिर्सेका होलान् । सन् १९९१ को अन्त्यतिर गुमानेकी एकमात्र दिदीलाई भुटानी सेनाका एकहुल पिपासुले आलो-पालो इज्जत लुटे । उनकी दिदीको अहिले पनि होस् ठेगानमा छैन । होस् पनि पो कसरी बिचरीको, त्यत्रो पीडाले बास पाएपछि । दिदी कमै मात्र सुरका कुरा गर्छिन् ।
‘मलाई भूटान पुऱ्याई दे भाइ, मलाई भूटान पुऱ्याई दे तुरुन्त’, भन्दै मध्यरातमा एक्कासि फत्फताउँछिन् रे ।
मलाई सानो भाइ भनेर बोलाउँछिन् । उनीसँग हरेक पटक कुरा गर्दा मेरो नाम सोध्छिन् । बिचरी, दिमागमा एउटा नामसम्म अँटाउन सक्ने ‘ठाम’ छैन, उनको । ‘अम्रिका’ आएपछि दिदीलाई ओखती-मुलो गर्न अस्पताल वसार-पसारमा गुमानेले निकै समय खर्चिसकेका छन् । दिदीलाई सञ्चो पारेर एउटा भिनाजु जुराइदिने उनको पुरानै इच्छा हो ।
“अझ एउटी भाञ्जी दिदीका काखमा देख्नपाए कस्तो हुन्थ्यो होला?”, गुमानेले आशा पह्लाउँदै-मार्दै गरेका छन्, त्यो मलाई राम्ररी थाहा छ ।
उनका सोझा बा’ भुटानी आर्मीलाई गुरुङ मण्डलको घर नदेखाएको निहुँमा त्यहाँ जेल परे । ‘उ बेला’ बिना कसुर अरू मान्छेहरू पनि जेल पर्थे । गुमानेका बा’ जेलमा खाएको पिटाइकै कारण ओखतीको कमीले झापा नेपालमा स्वोर्गे भए । यसरी नै अरू दर्जनौं निर्दोष मानिसको भुटानी शासकले जेलमै सबै रगत चुसे’थ्यो । गुमानेका बा’लाई एक महिनासम्म निरन्तर उँधै-उँभैले च्यापेको थियो । यहाँसम्म कि उँधो र उँभो दुवैतिरबाट यिनले निरन्तर रगत फ्याँकी रहे । हामी छिमेकीहरु टुलुटुलु हेरेर बस्न विवश थियौँ, अर्को उपाय थिएन ।
त्यसो त कुटाइ खाएका, नखाएका, बिरामी परेका हुन् वा सारसौंदै- सबैलाई सुरु-सुरुमा निकै हम्मे परको थियो, पूर्वी नेपालको माईधार शरणार्थी शिविरको स्थापना ताका । हैंजा, भोकमरी र अन्य थुप्रै कारण माईनदी कयौँको ज्यान स्वीकार्न बाध्य थिइन। बिचरी, माईनदी कति रोइन् होला । नरोउन् पनि कसरी, उनी नेपालकी गंगानदी हुन्, सबैकी प्यारी । जून जस्ती दूधे नाबालक, मेरी भतिजी अनि चन्द्रमा जस्ती घरकी आमै गुमाउँदा म पनि खूब भक्कानिएको थिएँ ।
भतिजी बाँचेकी हुँदी हुन् त अहिले म सायद हजुरबा भइसक्थें, धिक्कार छ तँलाई, जसले गुमाने र उनकी दिदीको खुसी लुट्यो, मेरी भतिजी र आमैलाई हैंजाका भुमरीमा घचेडी दियो, थत् म त शासकलाई पो सराप्न पुगेंछु ।
बा’ बितेसँगै गुमाने घरको ‘मूल खाँबो’ बने । उनले सात ‘कलास’ मात्र पढेका छन् । त्यसपछि उनले चाहेर पनि पढ्न पाएनन् । उनको त्यस बेलाको दिमागको मलाई अझै लोभ लाग्छ । उनी बाल्यकालमा केमा पो कम थिए र? नियती पनि कति अनौठो ? नत्र अहिले मेरो र उनको औपचारिक शिक्षाको तह बराबर नै हुनेथ्यो शायद । अझै पनि, म स्वीकार गर्छु, उनी मभन्दा सायदै कम छन् । बरु म चैँ उनीभन्दा निकै पछाडि हुनुपर्छ । उनको जुत्तामा जो कोहीले खुट्टा हालेर आफूलाई उभ्याउन गाह्रो पर्छ, हम्मेसी सक्दैन । अरू के कुरो गर्नु, कम्तीमा मैले चैँ त्यसो गर्न सक्दिनँ । उनी समस्यै-समस्याको जालोमा माकुरो झैँ बेह्रिएर पनि आजसम्म हाँसेकै छन् । गुमानेकी आमा पिण्ड रोगी छिन् । दिदी र आमालाई उतिकै अस्पताल लानुपर्ने बाध्यता छ । दुईजना भाइ आफ्नै पाराका लैफुंगा छन् । दुवै भाइ समाजकै लागि भए निः विद्यालय भने धाउने गरेका छन् । कोइ-कोइ बेला भने दिनभर पलङ्गमै देखिन्छन् रे । फुर्सदमा कम्प्युटर चलाउँदा र जुल्फी मिलाउँदा नै दिन बित्छ उनीहरूको । अनि अरुबेला छातीमा सेतो तेंद्रो झन्डाउँदै कानमा ठेंडी खाँदेर सुके जिउ लर-लर लर्काउँदै, गाना सुन्नमै व्यस्त छन् रे, दुवैजना ! गुमानेका भाइहरु ‘फेसबुकको भित्ता’मा उत्तानो, घोप्टो, चेप्टो, नेप्टो, सुतेको, लडेको, उठेको, हिँडेको, खाएको, हाँसेको, नहाँसेको, निरासिएको अनि अरू त्यस्ता थुप्रै पाराका फोटाहरु हाल्नमै व्यस्त छन् ।
“मेरा भाइहरु भित्र लाउनुपर्ने कुरो समेत पाइन्टबाहिरै लाउँछन्”, गुमाने सम्झन्छन् । “त्यसो त वोल्लो-पल्लो घरका ठिटा निः त्यस्तै छन् । होइन यो कस्तो जुग आको भन्या”, उनी व्यङ्ग गर्छन् । के गर्ने र गुमाने, समय अनुसार चल्नै पऱ्यो, भनी दिउँकी जस्तो लाग्छ । गुमानेले फेरि थपे, “आजकलकाहरु प्रायः सबै अवारा होलान् जस्तो छन् यार ।”
गुमाने दिनको दशघण्टा काम गर्छन्, हप्ताको छ दिन । बेस्सरी थकान नमारेको निकै बर्ख भो । लगनगाँठो कस्ने बारे सोच्न पनि भ्याएका छैनन् जस्तो छ । केही महिना यता उनी निकै निराश भएको जस्तो लाग्छ मलाई, अलि बाक्लै फोन सम्पर्क हुन्थ्यो, त्यो पातलो भएको छ, हुँदा पनि निकै लामो गफ हामी गर्ने गर्थिउँ । जीवनयापनको सङ्घर्षमा उनले दुवै हात उठाएजस्तो लाग्छ । पिउन नहुने विषादी झोलको निकै सेवन गर्नथालेका छन् रे । साहु कहाँ बेला-बेला खेतालो नगएको पनि निकै भइसकेछ ।
“भाइले फ्यालेको सुर्तीका ठुटाले एउटा गतिलो रातो भालेका पुरै भुत्ला जरैबाट उखेल्न मिल्ने पानी तताउन सकिन्छ”, मैले फोन घुमा’को बखत गुमानेकी दिदीले सुटुक्क कानेखुसी गरेको । फोनमा यो कुरा सुनेर मलाई दिदी निकै सञ्चो, होसका कुरा गर्ने भइछन् जस्तो लाग्यो । धन्न ‘अम्रिका’ आईछन बिचरी, पहिलेकै अवस्थामा नपुगे पनि मलाई यतिको सन्देश दिनसक्ने भइन्, धेरै धेरै खुसी लाग्यो।
गुमाने मेरो सम्पर्क बाहिर छन् आजकल । एउटा हितैषी भएकोले मैले गुमानेलाई फोनमा बात गर्ने प्रयास गरेको आज पुरापुरी दुई साता’ भैसक्यो। फोनमै गडेको एउटा युवतीको आवाज– जसले सन्देश छोड्न मात्र लाउँछिन्– हो, त्यही आवाज मात्र सुनिन्छ । मेरा दर्जनौं सन्देशलाई उनले फर्काएका छैनन् । या भनौं मलाई उनले फोन गरेका छैनन् । उनलाई सम्पर्क गर्ने प्रयास भने गरिनै रहेको छु । मेरा मनमा थरी-थरीका कुराहरू खेलिरहेका छन् ।
म उकुस-मुकुस भएको छु । मेरी सानी एक प्रकारकी छिन् । उनी मलाई पढी रहन्छिन् अनि केही विशेष बखत मलाई सावधान गराउँछिन् । म साँच्चिकै चिन्तित छु रे हिजो-आज , सानीले भनेको ।
बिचरा, गुमाने आज जीवनदेखि हारेको जस्तो छ, मेरो मनले भन्छ । जीवन त सुख र दुखको संगम भन्थे, तर के आज दुखमा भएकाहरुलाई भोलि सुख मिल्दैन त? मिल्छ निः किन नमिल्नु, समय आफैँमा एउटा मह्लम हो, धैर्यता मात्र हुनुपर्छ, मेरो मनले मलाई भन्छ ।
एक महिना पछि बल्ल गुमानेको फोन आयो । हत्तपत्त उठाएँ । “फेस्बुकाँ’ म्यासेज हेर न ल”, यति भनेर उनले फोन फ्याट्ट राखे ।
यो सुन्ना साथ् मेरो मनमा खुल्दुलीले बास पायो, लामो सास फेरें । त्यसका बाजे- यतिनै बेला फेरि मेरो ठाँडो (फोन) निभेछ । म एउटा बैठकमा छु । अबको दुई घण्टामा मात्र घर पुग्छु । मलाई त्यो दुई घण्टा दुई दिनसरह भो । बैठकमा त्यसपछि के के कुरा भए साँच्चै भन्नुपर्दा मलाई थाहै भएन ।
घरमा पुगेर हतार हतार कम्पुटर खोलेँ, हातले लेखेको एउटा सानो कागजको च्यातेको टुक्राको फोटो पठाएका रहेछन्, म्यासेजमा ।
“म आज जीवनदेखि हारेको छु । मेरी दिदी र आमाको खोइ कसले हेर-विचार गरदिन्छ मलाई नै थाहा छैन । मलाई …… गर्नु…”
त्यो च्यातिएको कागजमा लेखिएका शब्दहरूले मलाई निकै भावुक बनाए । मेरा मनमा खाल-खाले कुराले बास पाए । मेरो हंशले ठाउँ छोड्यो । तुरुन्तै गुमानेलाई फोन गरेँ । उनले फोन उठाएनन् । म झन् आतिएँ । फेरि फोन गरेँ, अहँ उठाएनन् । नजिकैको प्रशासनलाई खबर गर्नु आफ्नो दायित्व सम्झें । कम्तीमा मैले उनको ज्यान जोगाउन त सक्थें । यतिकैमा उनको फोन आयो । मैले फोन उठाउन साथ् उनले नालीबेली कहे । हिजोमात्र उनले धर्ती छोड्ने प्रयास गरेका रहेछन् । यो सुन्ना साथ् उदेक लाग्यो मलाई ।
लामो सास् फेर्दै सोधेँ, अनि के भएर मन फर्कियो त फेरि?
“सुसाइड नोट मेरो पाइन्टको खल्तीमा हालेको थिएँ । दिदीले खोइ के खोज्नु परेकोले मेरो खल्तीमा भेटिछन्”, उनी एकछिन् बोलेनन् ।
अनि के भो त त्यस पछि? मैले फेरि सोधेँ ।
उनी निकैबेर अक्मकिए । धेरैबेर बोलेनन्। मैले फेरि झस्काएँ उनलाई र मसँग बोल्नको लागि भनेँ ।
“भाइ, तैँले बुझ्नुपर्छ, यो जीवन अमूल्य छ, मैले जति पीडा अरू कसले पाएको होला र? तै पनि म आज हाँसेकी छु, जीवनसँगको लडाइँमा मैले हार्ने छैन । तँलाई धेरै दुःख परेको छ, मलाई थाहा छ । तर तैँले अरूसँग सहयोग माग्नुपर्छ । समस्याबाट भागेर जितिँदैन , समस्यालाई सहज मानेर स्थितिको सदुपयोग गर्न जान्नुपर्छ, तेरा समस्याबारे तैँले अरूसँग कुरा गर्नुपर्छ । त्यो ‘संस्थामा’ काम गर्ने पौडेल गोरे भाइ निकै सहयोग गर्ने खालको छ भनेको सुनेकी छु । पिता बितेको बखत हामीलाई निकै सहयोग गर्ने अहिले माछाचुसे (म्यासाचुसेट्स) मा भएको मगर बिरेसँग पनि बात गर्नु । सायद उसले सहयोग गर्नसक्छ तँलाई । झन्डेर मर्नु राम्रो होइन । यसले त झन् अरू बाँच्नेलाई जीवनभर पीडा दिनेछ । मरेर जानेलाई बर्सौंसम्म सराप्छन्, त्यो तलाई राम्रो थाहा छ । एकचोटि आमालाई राम्ररी हेर त, तँलाई हेरेर अझै बर्सौं बाँच्ने पुकारा गरिरहेकी छन् ।”
“दिदीले मेरो कागज च्यातेर यी कुरा लेखेर राखिछन् मेरो गोजीमा”, उनले अक्मकाउँदै भने ।
अनि के भो? मैले फेरि सोधेँ ।
“मैले आफ्नै जीवन अन्त्य गर्नुअघि मैले लेखेको नोट हेर्ने विचार गरेर पाइन्टको खल्ती हेरेँ । मैले मेरो नोट भेटिनँ, दिदीको पो भेटें । त्यो पढेर मेरो मन फर्कियो । दिदीले अघि मात्र मलाई फोनमा घर आउन साथ आफ्नों कालो पैन्टको गोजी भित्रको संदेश पढेर मात्र अरू निर्णय लिन सुझाएको कुरो बल्ल बुजें। सायद दिदी ढुक्क थिन उनको सन्देशले मेरो मन फर्किन्छ भन्नेमा। नत्र मेरो नोट हेर्ना साथ उनले गुहार माग्नु पर्ने हो। भोलि म पौडेल गोरेलाई लिएर डाक्टरकहाँ जाँदैछु । मैले मगर बिरेलाई त् फोन गरी सकें। उसले धेरै हौसला दियो मलाई। अर्को महिना उ मलाई भेट्न आउछ रे, यसो दु:ख-सुखका कुरा गर्न “, गुमानेले थपे ।
समयको पनि पखेटा हुँदो रहेछ, छिटो-छिटो उड्ने । आज म बसेको गाउँमा परेको हिउँले एक वर्ष पहिलेको यो कुरो याद दिलायो । गुमाने अहिले दिउँसो नजिकैको एउटा तालिम केन्द्रमा गाडी मर्मतबारे सीप सिक्दैछन् । अनि रातीको केही समय पहिलेको भन्दा अलिक राम्रो नोकरी पनि गर्दैछन । केही दिन पहिले मलाई उनले फोन गरे । आङ्ग पनि जिरिङ्ग भो, एक्कासि बजेको फोनको घन्टीले । बा त उनलाई केही भयो कि भनेर फेरि सम्झिएँ ।
“मेरो बिहा’को निम्तो दिन फोन गरेको तिम्लाई “, भन्नलाई पो रहेछ।
“खुसी लाग्यो, ल बधाई छ,” मैले भने।
दिदी छिमेकी उमाकान्तेसँग बन्धनमा बाँधिइछिन्। अहिले दिदीलाई निकै सञ्चो भएको पनि बताए, उनले । त्यसो त संग्लो पानी, सुर्ती केही पिउँदैनन रे अहिले, गुमाने । अहिले त् आमा पनि ओछ्यानबाट पुरै उठेकी छिन। आजकल चिने-जानेकालाई आफूले भोगेका सबै कुराहरू खुलेर भन्दा रहेछन् । आत्महत्या अरूले भन्दा बढी आफैँले रोक्न सकिन्छ रे, गुमानेले भन्या । खुबै गदगद भएँ म ।
“दिदीले म भन्दा तीन किलास कम पढेको हो । तर मभन्दा नि महान् रहिछन् यार, मेरो दिदी । आज मैले नयाँ जीवन पाएँ । मेरी दिदीले मेरा आँखा खोलिदिइन् । मैले जीवनको महत्व बल्ल बुझें”, गुमाने भन्दै थिए ।
आउने साता म उनको बिहे’ मा जाँदैछु । त्यसो त यिनकी दुलही पनि मेरी अन्तरी फुपू पर्नेकी छोरी पो रहिछन् ।
“ठिक छ ल बिहेमा भेटुँ”, मैले फोन राखें ।
टि पी मिश्र
Originally published on Feb 19, 2015
Khem Khadka was only seven when his entire family was evicted from Bhutan in 1991. His family’s eviction, along with that of tens of thousands of others, was a result of the government’s enforcement of the ‘one nation, one people’ policy, and its active opposition to ethnic pluralism. Khadka, like so many others, spent most of his young adult life in refugee camps in Nepal. His hope for a better future was, however, realised in 2007, when the United States and seven other Western countries offered the prospect of third-country resettlement. Even as his parents remained firm in their decision to await repatriation, Khadka immediately declared his interest in third-country resettlement. For him, the possibility of gaining US citizenship was preferable to remaining stateless in a refugee camp in Nepal. Khadka finally made it to North Carolina in the summer of 2009, some two years after the policy of resettlement was first announced.
According to Khadka, his ‘well-defined future’ was made real in September 2014, when he took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America and became a citizen for the first time in his life. He believes that it was the beginning of a new chapter for his four-member family. Khadka’s family is now middle class, and he and his wife balance their lives between full-time jobs and raising two kids who are already attending pre-kindergarten school. Khadka works as an assistant department manager at a grocery store and plans on resuming his college education in spring 2015. His wife works both as a waitress and supervisor at a senior’s home.
Unsurprisingly, Khadka was emotional on the day he took his Oath of Allegiance, and says it was one of the happiest moments of his life. He no longer sees himself permanently repatriating to Bhutan, whatever the Bhutanese government’s policy: “Now I have a nation that considers me and my two wonderful kids as citizens. Comparatively, my kids, who by the way were born here, will have a much better future in the United States than in Bhutan.” He added with pride, “History has proven that the second generation – like my kids – will be more competent and will have better skills than first-generation Americans.” Many Bhutanese refugees already resettled share Khadka’s optimism: most are on the threshold of financial security, and some have even started to buy homes. Above all, Bhutanese refugees resettled in the West enjoy freedom.
As of December 2014, according to the Embassy of the United States in Nepal, at least 93,000 former Bhutanese refugees have journeyed from Nepal’s refugee camps to eight different countries in the West. Among them at least 80,000 were resettled in the United States alone. Thousands of Bhutanese refugees have since become naturalised citizens in their countries of resettlement. Like Khadka, many of them consider naturalisation the beginning of a new chapter in their lives. For some, it is their first experience of citizenship, while others whose citizenship was revoked in Bhutan are becoming citizens again after nearly 24 years of statelessness.
Jogen Gazmere, a former prisoner of conscience, is a recently naturalised Australian citizen. He says that after being arbitrarily deprived of citizenship and rendered stateless for almost two decades, being granted Australian citizenship provides a strong sense of security, belonging and peace. Still, Gazmere retains a strong emotional connection to Bhutan: “Despite being forcibly exiled, the love for my country of origin never ever dies. And even as an Australian citizen, I feel proud to be supporting my country of origin through various aid programs funded by my contribution as a taxpayer.” Gazmere does not appear to mind the fact that this money is funding the programmes of the state responsible for his exile, though he did point out the need to make Bhutan more inclusive. “For this, the resettled Bhutanese should continue playing their roles through their respective governments in respective countries of resettlement,” he says.
While the younger generation – born and raised inside refugee camps in Nepal – might eventually become estranged from their country of birth, many first-generation refugees like Gazmere and Khadka continue to identify with Bhutan. A large chunk of Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees continue to be ambivalent about their identity. Those born in Nepal’s refugee camps often refer to themselves as Nepalese, while others actively assert their Bhutanese identity. For many, naturalisation in the West offers a solution to identity issues.
Thinley Penjore, former president of the exile-based Druk National Congress-Democratic, now lives in the United States, though is yet to be naturalised. According to Penjore, “People resettled in most part of the world prefer to claim themselves as Nepalese rather than as Bhutanese.” Anecdotal evidence often supports this observation. Ironically, a nineteen-year-old Bhutanese refugee residing in the United States told a sports blog in 2013 that he dreams to play soccer for Real Madrid and make Nepal known worldwide.
Recalibrating a relationship
As a corollary to naturalisation in the West, there has been a shift in the dynamics of political activism on Bhutanese refugee issues. Some resettled refugees have argued that naturalisation ended their right to support Bhutan’s freedom movement – a cause these refugees peacefully voiced for more than two decades. Many refugees formerly engaged in political activities aimed at repatriation have been quiet after resettlement, and have even ceased lending their solidarity to such campaigns. Within this context, the younger generation may choose to move forward by ignoring their past, while others may begin to see Thimphu in a more sympathetic light, owing to Bhutan’s limited democratic reforms.
There is significant disagreement among the diaspora on the merits of Bhutanese democracy. While Gazmere believes democracy has been established in Bhutan, even if it requires further consolidation, Penjore argues that the country still has a long way to go. According to Penjore though, the role of the diaspora in hastening democratisation is necessarily limited: “There is a need for the movement to continue, but a political movement for democracy or rights to liberty cannot be fought from outside the country. It should come from inside the country, where the citizens belong.”
Former refugees who still have a strong sense of belonging to Bhutan are likely to continue to engage with the country in various ways. A small group of former refugees, for instance, have already started lobbying for the recognition of what they call Non-Resident Bhutanese (NRB) status. While the Bhutanese government is yet to address this officially, it is clear that seeing this demand materialise may be difficult given Bhutan’s consistent denial that these people have any claim to Bhutanese citizenship. In many instances, Bhutanese leaders have termed these refugees ‘terrorists’.
Bhuwan Gautam, one of the advocates of NRB and a recently naturalised American citizen, says that his group is working hard to consolidate its lobbying efforts, which currently focus on the governments of Bhutan, Nepal and India. Gautam says, “To me, being a naturalised citizen is the refund of my arrears of forfeited rights, along with compound interest that brings jubilation to rejuvenate, forgetting the moment our parents were obliterated permanently from where they originally belonged.” Countries that have given new homes to these refugees may, however, be reluctant to back the idea of NRB until Bhutan provides credible assurances concerning the rights of returnees. It is unlikely that these countries will trust that the rights of those who fled Bhutan might be guaranteed upon repatriation or national reconciliation.
Gautam is not alone in dreaming of a renewed and positive relationship with Bhutan. Lisa Napoli, a foreign ‘insider’ on the issue and author of the popular travelogue Radio Shangri-La, hopes that over time dialogue and understanding is fostered between Bhutanese in Bhutan and those who were displaced. “My dream would be to see a summit of young people, some from Bhutan, others now relocated, all born after the events in the late 80s, who come together to learn their shared and disparate histories. Inevitably, two people will fall in love and bridge the divide,” she says. For Napoli, it’s both exciting and moving to see Bhutanese refugees become naturalised citizens in their countries of resettlement.
Many former refugees agree that the process of naturalisation is advantageous for their future. But questions remain as to whether Western countries find it more convenient to offer citizenship rather than advocate the rights of refugees – Bhutanese, in this case. The West offered the option of third-country resettlement because they believed repatriation to be unrealistic. But do they have the responsibility to continue working towards the rights of those still awaiting repatriation and to safeguard the fundamental rights of those Nepali-speaking populations still languishing in Bhutan?
Douglas Hall, a former member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, has been helping Bhutanese refugees since they started resettling in the state. Hall says, “It is easier for some Western countries like the United States to offer a new home and citizenship than it is to effect any change in Bhutan’s internal policies.” Though this may hold merit, US pressure is critical given the region’s diplomatic deadlock on the issue. Over the years, Nepal and Bhutan have engaged in more than a dozen failed bilateral meetings, while India, the only regional actor other than Bhutan that could resolve the issue, has been mute.
Rather than pressure the Bhutanese government, Western countries, including the United States, have been remarkably silent on a number of issues related to repatriation. In a statement issued on 10 December 2014 concerning the resettlement of a family that took the total number of resettled refugees to 80,000, the Embassy of the United States in Nepal failed to highlight the rights of a chunk of refugees still in camps awaiting repatriation. This is an indication that the United States perceives resettlement as the only durable solution, and has possibly given up on persuading Bhutanese leaders to change their policies.
This perception has long been dominant. In the fall of 2007, prior to the formal announcement of the resettlement programme, US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey told the media that Bhutanese leaders, including the fourth king, were most gracious in thanking the United States for taking a major step in trying to solve the stalemate. Although no words concerning the fundamental rights of the remaining Nepali-speaking population in Bhutan were disclosed, one can only hope that the meeting was also aimed at warning Bhutan against further eviction of the tens of thousands of Nepali-speakers living in Bhutan without citizenship. Without international pressure, the possibility of a second round of evictions from Bhutan cannot be discounted.
Hall thinks that the US should exert pressure, but suspects that Bhutan would be unreceptive. He also argues that resettlement provides Bhutanese refugees the opportunity to attract attention to Bhutan’s poor human rights record. This opportunity has not gone unnoticed. In November 2014, community leaders from ten US states flew to Washington, DC for a congressional briefing supported by Hindu American Foundation, an Indian-American advocacy organisation based in the US. The delegates of this congressional briefing called it ‘Bhutan Advocacy Day’ and met with officials of the US State Department tending to Southasian affairs. According to one participant, the delegates also raised the issue of repatriation, and received positive assurances from officials.
As Khadka moves on after finally becoming a naturalised American citizen, the wish of his parents to return to Bhutan from the refugee camps in Nepal will probably go unaddressed. Given the fact that Western countries are motivated only to resettle these refugees, Khadka’s parents will likely be left in limbo. They have only two options – either be resettled or continue to stay in camps. The latter option provides no solution, and although the former is achievable at this time, they seem not to prefer it. While Khadka and others in the diaspora secure their futures, Bhutan must consider the merits of a national reconciliation package that recognises these refugees as the country’s citizens. Such a package would not only allow for the repatriation of those wanting to return, but would also pave the way for Bhutan and those it exiled to work together for the prosperity of the country.
~ T P Mishra is majoring in international studies at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. A recently naturalised American citizen, Mishra is also former chief editor of Bhutan News Service.
5 January 2015
- See more at: http://himalmag.com/finally-becoming-citizens/?currentPage=all#sthash.UBokzRku.dpuf
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
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.
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.