Nepali Times Asian Paints
Interview
"We will struggle for full democracy"



After his 1991 arrest in Bhutan, he fled to Nepal, but was re-arrested in 1997 while travelling in India. He was jailed for a year at Delhi's Tihar Jail and released last year. Nepali Times spoke to Dorji in Kathmandu recently.

Nepali Times: Why did the Bhutan Government exile you?

Rongthong Kuenley Dorji: In 1991, the royal government of Bhutan had me arrested and tortured for 50 days at the Royal Bodyguard headquarters at Dechencholing palace, Thimphu, for extending my support to the Lhotshampa agitation. After my release, I fled Bhutan and took refuge in Nepal for fear of re-arrest, torture, and elimination. The royal government feared the possibility of a joint rebellion by the Sharchop and Lhotshampa communities, and made an example of me to pre-empt this.

Did the Indian Government give any reason for your detention in 1997?
Initially the Foreigner Regional Registration Offices arrested me for travelling in India without valid documents, even though I had documents from the Nepali Government. In any case, Bhutanese nationals don't need documents to travel in India, according to the Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 1949.
Later, the Bhutanese Government produced fabricated charges against me and requested my extradition. I was imprisoned in Tihar Jail for a year. I was released on bail, though my movements were restricted to Delhi, and on 21 April, 2010, the Indian Government dropped extradition proceedings against me on instruction from the Bhutanese Government.

The regime in Bhutan claims the eviction of the Lhotshampas is not ethnic cleansing. What is your view?
I agree that it was not a case of ethnic cleansing. There was an issue of non-Bhutanese ethnic Nepalis in Bhutan. The confusion was greater because one could hardly differentiate between genuine Bhutanese of Nepali origin and non-Bhutanese of Nepali origin. Innocent people preferred to flee Bhutan than stay. During the day, the Bhutanese king would appeal to the Lhotshampas not to leave their ancestral land but at night the army would forcefully evict them. The demand for human rights was totally unacceptable to the king.

What is your assessment of the move towards democracy in Bhutan?
A real sense of democracy is absent in Bhutan. The functioning of the current so-called democratic government is like the earlier monarchy. The king appears to be omnipotent and omnipresent. Fundamental democratic rights enshrined in the constitution are still neglected. A glaring example is the violation of the right to life of political prisoners.
But an irreversible democratic process has begun in Bhutan. We will continue to struggle for the establishment of genuine democracy, and urge the international community, led by India, to counsel Bhutan to move towards genuine democratisation.

Nearly half of the refugees will soon have been resettled in a third country. Do you think they should have been resettled or repatriated?
We have always supported the repatriation of Bhutanese refugees, but my party respects the choice of individual Bhutanese refugees. We will fight for the dignified repatriation of those Bhutanese refugees whose choice is repatriation.

What is the future strategy of your Druk National Congress?
Our main aim is to participate in forthcoming general elections of 2013 and work towards the repatriation of refugees and their participation in a democratic process. As an initial strategy, DNC has formed an alliance with other exiled political parties and human rights organisations. We have agreed to work for the participation of those exiled in the elections, the dignified repatriation of Bhutanese refugees, the immediate unconditional release of all political prisoners, the promotion and strengthening of the existing bonds of friendship between the peoples of Bhutan, India, and Nepal, and the mobilisation of the international community and all well-wishers for our cause.

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1. Dick Chhetri

 

1. Repatriation of willing Bhutanese refugees.

2. Become a part of the Democracy and Gross National Happiness

3. Release of political prisoners

4. Equality for National Reconcialliation/coexistence with protection of vulnerable groups under the law.

5. Freedom of Speech and Press

Rekindle the hope of the hopless (in exile) and listen to the voice of the voiceless (inside Bhutan.) with your struggle of the above causes, most of which  have been well articulated by the President in the interview, perhaps opening a window of opportunity to move forward.

However, he said, "I agree (with the government) that it was not a case of ethnic cleansing". Therefore, we are looking forward to hear from him what was the gravity of the Southern Bhutanese problem? or what is the new defination. When leaders speak, we listen but with due respect we seek the answers too.

I must admit that, I have certainly used the phrases like:

"Ethnic persecution and cultural cleansing to promote a homogeneous society"

"Slow, secret and systematic ethnic cleansing", etc. because I was hesitantat the beginning to use the full blown term of "ethnic cleansing" as there were only isolated cases of public shootings/killings, otherwise it was so subtle that our people became the victim of political manipulation.

But when I recall these realities:

Random arrest, public beatings creating fear in the community, option to sign the so called Voluntary Migration Forms and leave the country or imprisonment.

King's people especially from Arm Forces/militia taking the adresses of the evictees' land, buildings, orchards, farms and lining up in long queues outside the palace to meet the King, who would give them those properties as Royal Gift, thus transferring the wealth from one ethnic group to another in an institutionalized manner.

Then destroying the homes of the evictees, changing the names of the villages, towns, cities, landmarks from ethnic Lhotsampa names to Drukpa names, thus erasing the evidence of our history in Bhutan. For example, in 100 years my great grand children come to free Bhutan looking for their Great grand father's home/hometown as tourist, they will not find the original name "Surey" of my village because it is renamed as Jigmecholing since the 1990s.

All these activities plus much more serious atrocities in the jails by the government against a particular ethnic group in an instutionalized manner certainly suggest that the persecutions amounted to a type of ethnic cleansing (Nazi Germany did similar things to Jews those days). In a more civilized world today, how should this issue be weighed, categorized and accepted as universal truth? I hope New Alliance seek expert advice and strike a right balance of approach and rhetorics, and let us know soon.

"Satyamev Jayete"....May Truth Prevail,   with the jewel in the Lotus of Hearts of our leaders (Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers and all decision makers of the cause as a whole): Om Mane Padme Huun!

Dick Chhetri

 



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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