Nepali Times
From The Nepali Press
The long road home

Kiran Pokhrel: What is your reaction to the results of the classification of Bhutani refugees?

Teknath Rizal: After suffering so much in Bhutan and living as refugees in Nepal for the last 12 years, Bhutan has put us back to square one. The results of the classification are not satisfactory. It's not just us here in Nepal, even within Bhutan people are against this.

But now it is clear that Bhutan acknowledges the problem. Shouldn't this be taken positively?

I thank the Nepali government for this. Its efforts made Bhutan accept that they drove us out. No matter what reason they give, whether they say we migrated from Bhutan or came here of our own free will, they have at least accepted that we are Bhutani. But that is not enough. We have lost our relatives, our property. The sacrifices we made for the Bhutani monarchy have not been recognised. Although I am satisfied with what the Nepali government has done for us they cannot leave us hanging in the middle. What I do not like is the government of Nepal offering us citizenship if Bhutan will not take us back.

Will the 293 out of 12,000 refugees from Khudunabari certified as Bhutani return to Bhutan?

No, they will not go. How can just these 293 people return? We will have to leave some members of our families behind because they did not qualify. When we were driven out we were separated from our families, now if we go back we will be further divided.

What is the next step?

This is what I wanted to ask you in the media. What can we do now?

We have never gone against the king of Bhutan. I am only talking of our basic human rights. They shot us, beat us, put us in jail and finally drove us out. The world remained a silent witness. The king has absolute power. He can appoint a peon or a minister and dismiss them if he so pleases. Those who drove us out are the ones who are in power. They are the same people who come here to say who is Bhutani and who is not. Will they take responsibility for us when we return to Bhutan?

There is not a single representative from southern Bhutan in the courts or the administration, no one to speak for us. If the UNHCR, the Indian government or UN stands guarantee for our safety and sees to the return of our ancestral land and property, then we will certainly return to Bhutan.

So you will agree to go back if the UNHCR is involved? Won't there be an international agency to monitor things anyway?

No, Bhutan will not involve any international observers because the king is orchestrating all of this. His ministers are involved in the verification and classification process, which is acceptable, but he must give us in writing that we were his subjects before, we still are, that we had to suffer because of the mistakes his ministers made. He must personally guarantee our dignity and safety. There have been many cases of people returning to Bhutan for nothing.

How crucial is India's role?

Until and unless India is involved the problem will never be solved. India made Bhutan what it is. The Indians implemented the fourth development plan for southern Bhutan, not just in the technical aspects but also in the administrative side. They know everything, but they chose to keep their eyes closed. Yesterday Bhutan drove us out by creating a green belt. Today they are using the terrorist belt to drive people out again. Indian terrorists are entering Bhutan and creating havoc. Indian involvement in resolving this issue is vital.

Activists in Kathmandu say their efforts might be more effective if they take the issue to Bhutan and start a rebellion there.

The question here is not of taking the rebellion to Bhutan. When the country refuses to acknowledge its own citizens what can outsiders do? I don't believe taking the protest to Bhutan will be of any help.

Do you think visit of Queen Ashi Tshering Pema Wangchuk to Nepal will help matters?

I certainly hope so. I can confidently say 52 percent of Bhutanis are Hindu but the king has never spoken in Nepali when he visits the south. His ministers translate his speeches for the people. Likewise, the people's grievances are translated from Nepali to Dzongka for the king. The queens speak Nepali and know the problems of the people in southern Bhutan. They could help the king understand the situation and talk with the government of Nepal. This official visit is an important opportunity for a possible breakthrough.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)