By Bishal Budathoki in Phuentsholing, Sangey Oendrey in Thimphu, Dhruva Pradhan in Samdrup Jongkhar
As the third country settlement of the exiled Bhutanese in Nepal nears, the Bhutan government finalised its plan to evict another 80,000 southern Bhutanese of Nepali origin in the next few years.
In the recently held mock polls, at least 70,000 southern Bhutanese have been denied their adult franchise, thus restricting them from being citizens of their own country. The process of eviction is planned to begin in early 2008 when the settlement process begins in Nepal.
The US, Canada, Australia, Denmark among other western countries have agreed to resettle some of the exiled Bhutanese in their effort to find a permanent solution to the prolonged crisis. For Bhutan, this was an opportunity for another round of evictions.
Bhutan News Service talked to many southern Bhutanese who arrived in neighbouring India and Nepal. They are frustrated, intimidated and psychologically tortured. Their way of talking, daily behaviour and thinking vividly reflects the immense planned tortured to these people.
In many cases, the government has used the northern Bhutanese settled in the south as agents to torture the southerners.
People of Nepali origin are not allowed to undertake higher education, with very few exceptions who have close links with the ministers or royal family. Their children have to go through rigorous verification before being enrolled into the schools.
While the United Nations Development Program had expressed satisfaction with progress made by Bhutan on millennium goals, over 20,000 children have been strategically restricted from attending schools in southern Bhutan. A UNICEF report claimed all children in Bhutan are receiving education.
Ironically, the UN agencies in Bhutan, mostly stationed in Thimphu, have never visited southern Bhutan from where more than 100,000 citizens were evicted in the early 1990s. The national reports by the government, which are backed by the UN agencies, have never mentioned anything about the situation of southern Bhutan.
According to sources in Gelephu, Phuentsholing and Thimphu, the government has heightened the necessity of No Objection Certificate (NOC) for all the southern Bhutanese who wish to enrol their children in schools. Further, those willing to carry on with their higher education, join the government service or start a personal business have to get NOC from the local security officials. On various pretexts, mostly for family relations with those already evicted southern Bhutanese, the local authority denies issuing NOC to southern Bhutanese.
At least a dozen school and college level teachers have been terminated from their jobs in the last three months. Lhotshamps retiring from government services have been refused pension facilities.
Chief election commissioner Kunzang Wangdi, in his recent interview with BBC also hinted at the eviction of southern Bhutanese. He said those having no citizenship would not be registered in the election commission and are not allowed to vote. BNS has received a number of mails saying the government has been delaying southern Bhutanese from receiving citizenship certificates. The process of delaying citizenship began as early as 1999.
After the government decided to change the format of citizenship a few years back, most southern Bhutanese are asked to submit their old citizenship cards. And then the local authority asks them to go Thimphu for a new one, where they are told that local authority would be issuing the certificates.
Many who were not allowed to vote in the recent mock election include these persons whose citizenship certificates have been taken by the government but not issued a new one.
In another report, the government has begun the process of demolishing Hindu temples and holy places in southern Bhutan. Buddhist temples and shrines have been constructed. Details are yet to arrive.
Bhutan News Service
Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA) Bhutan is an independent and apolitical association fighting for press freedom and freedom of speech and expression in Bhutan. It was established in 2004. The young journalists associated with us publishes a monthly newspaper named The Bhutan Reporter.