Kidnapped by Nepali police 12 years ago and jailed in Bhutan for 10 years, the pro-democracy crusader Tek Nath Rijal of the Bhutan People's Party continues to fight for the repatriation of Bhutanese refugees from Siliguri after his release. He believes that one day democracy will dawn in Bhutan. Excerpts of an interview:
What do you think about how Nepal and Bhutan have categorised the refugees?
It should never have happened. This categorisation will never solve the refugee problem. I oppose it.
Is there any guarantee for the refugees' safety and their citizenship once in Bhutan after repatriation?
I warned the Bhutanese king of trouble when Thimpu began to evict Nepali-speaking Bhutanese and revoke their citizenships. Nepali-speaking Bhutanese are not less patriotic than any other citizens-all they demanded was their rights. I wrote four letters to the king requesting him not to snatch away the rights of the people, but he remained indifferent. At present the Bhutanese government has been resettling other communities in the areas we were forced to leave. How can we believe Thimpu will play fair? The Nepali government should have seen through the crafty Druk diplomacy. It seems Kathmandu knowingly fell into the trap. In this light, it is understandable that we are wary of the Bhutanese government's honesty with regard to the refugee problem.
Where will this take the refugee problem?
The Bhutanese government and the refugees should have maintained a dialogue. That was something I always stressed, even when communicating with the king. There can be a third party mediator, as long as they are not part of the decision-making process. How can a Nepali court settle Bhutanese cases? Ever since our movement for democracy and human rights began, more than 2,000 Bhutanese have become martyrs, and above 16,000 families have lost their homes. Will the Supreme Court of Nepal agree to look into these cases? That is why I say we, the refugees, and the Bhutanese government should be directly involved in solving the refugee crisis.
Why do you think you were released from jail?
Bhutan came under tremendous pressure to free me after intense lobbying from activists around the world. Letting me go was a face saving move.
What direction will your movement now take?
We need to know the crux of the problem and convince those who support Bhutan's rulers. The different factions of the Bhutanese movement must unite. There has to be an understanding among these parties.
Has India helped you?
India has not helped directly to solve the problem so far. I'm not aware of any behind-the-scene talks, but I hope India will respect the rights of the Bhutanese. Sooner or later, there will be changes. Any government in Thimpu needs to maintain cordial relations