Former PM I.K. Gujral Pres. Pratibha Patil and PM Manmohan Singh

Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral who is the chairperson of South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) will write to President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to try to help in solving the issue of Bhutanese refugees.

These refugees have been left out of the democratic process in the recent elections held in Bhutan, Mr Gujral said, “We need to understand the issue and also see how we can help.”

Mr Gujral was speaking at the deliberation organised by Sahr on the “Concerns of the Bhutanese Refugees in South Asia” on Monday, in the light of the Bhutan election results, to look at the possible solutions and a way forward.

Speaking at the deliberations, the president of Druk National Congress (Democratic) Thinley Penjore, who is living-in-exile in Nepal explained that though the world was all praises for the first elections in Bhutan held recently, their party does not recognise it as such since only two parties, both headed by the King’s relatives were allowed to contest the elections and large numbers of people were left out of the democratic process.

He said, “Unless the refugees issue is addressed justly, we fear that the so called ongoing process will emerge a mockery of the democracy.” He appealed to India’s prominent leaders, civil society and the media to play a greater role as citizens of the largest democracy to mount pressure on the government of India to press upon the King of Bhutan to restore political freedom and resolve the issue.

As many as 150,000 refugees live mainly in Nepal and a few thousands in the northeast part of India after they were forced to live Bhutan in the early 1990 and late 1980s. Explaining the crux of the problem, the general secretary of Peoples Forum for Human Rights, Bhutan, D.P. Kafley said, “For 18 years the Bhutanese refugee community in Nepal has been languishing in terrible conditions in seven separate camps.” Most of the refugees are the Lhotshampas who lived mainly in the south of Bhutan and are ethnic Nepali speaking people who have been living there since before 1958 when a census showed that they were indeed legitimate people of the country, explained Mr Penjore.