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Lhotshampas' Appeal to King

The southern Bhutanese people alarmed at the methods employed by the census teams with threat of eviction and deportation apprised Mr. Tek Nath Rizal, the then member of the Royal Advisory Council to take up the matter with the government. Mr. Rizal then enquired with the Secretary, Department of Census and Immigration, who in turn said that it was a routine exercise. Notwithstanding this explanation, Mr. Rizal was convinced that the census teams deliberately overstepped their mandate. The census team armed with the totally discriminatory and biased mandate randomly categorized the people, which affected status of many Lhotshampa citizens.


Alarmed at the grave political consequences of the discriminatory census exercise, which could disturb the peace and tranquillity of the country and jeopardise its integrity, Mr. Rizal as a true patriot and nationalist verbally apprised King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of the disastrous political implications of the implementation of the Act. The King then, asked Mr. Rizal for a written representation. 

Accordingly, Rizal submitted a petition to the King and prayed that: (a) The classification of people as Bhutanese, non-Bhutanese and stateless were based on incomplete documentation and hearsay, the cavalier manner in which the census exercise was carried out was inconsistent to the gravity of the issues and was affront to the dignity of people and denial of their inherent rights as citizens of Bhutan. (b) Since the classification of the citizens was based on the narrow and literal interpretation of the Act, a large segment of southern Bhutanese, particularly, the children were deprived of their national status. (c) No distinction was made between the non-Bhutanese spouses and other ordinary alien applicants for citizenship. The census teams and the local government officials threatened to deport the spouses and children of southern Bhutanese.

He prayed that this had been a source of grave distress which tend to shake the very foundation of family and society. Among the southern Bhutanese, inter-caste marriages have been rare due to their customs and traditions, let alone inter-community marriages. These circumstances compelled many southern Bhutanese to seek spouses from outside the country. According to the customs of southern Bhutanese, wife becomes an integral part of the husband's family and her links to her own family are severed after marriage. With the then on-going census exercise many families were expected to be torn between their loyalty to the country and their responsibilities for family.


Under such circumstances, Rizal further prayed that the King may please review the Act and command that (1) The retrospective effect of the Citizenship Act 1985, whereby the 31st December, 1958 was fixed as the cut-off date is re-fixed at 10th June, 1985, the date of enactment of the Act. (2) The provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1985 be amended so that the children born of any Bhutanese citizen automatically acquire Bhutanese citizenship. (3) The provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1985 be amended to provide procedures for non-Bhutanese spouses of Bhutanese citizens to acquire citizenship within shortest possible time.


This was a patriotic appeal. But the government, instead of addressing the problems in its political context, branded Mr. Rizal as an instigator and anti-national and charged him with sedition and treason and subjected him to inhuman humiliation. He was terminated from the government service and was arrested. He was not allowed to speak to more than two people at a time. Under humiliation, he entered Nepal and settled at Birtamod, Jhapa district and founded the Peoples Forum for Human Rights, Bhutan. Unfortunately, he along with his colleagues Mr. Jogen Gazmere and Mr. Sushil Pokhrel were abducted from Jhapa by Bhutanese government agents on 16 November 1989. They were taken to Thimphu. He was accused of sedition and treason under the National Security Act which was enacted only in 1992, three years after his abduction. Rizal, an Amnesty International declared Prisoner of Conscience was imprisoned for life. He was released on December 17, 1999 under international pressure.



Patriotic Appeal of Southern Bhutanese to the King of Bhutan


His Majesty, King of Bhutan,                                                           

Tashichhodzong, Thimphu


May it please Your Majesty,


As Your loyal subjects and having had the proud privilege of serving Your Majesty in the Royal Advisory Council as the representatives of the people of Southern Bhutan, we beg to submit this petition on an issue of paramount significance for the peace and progress of our nation. Most humbly, we submit that the issue needs the most careful and urgent consideration of the Royal Government. We would be failing, we believe both Your Majesty and the people of Bhutan if we did not bring this matter before Your Majesty.


2. Some alarming reports have reached us regarding the census exercise currently underway in the southern dzongkhags. According to these reports, we understand that :


2.1 The Census Teams are questioning the people with undue threats and classifying them  into various categories.


2.2 The Teams are demanding that people produce evidence of their having settled in the country before 1958, even going to such an extent of asking old people with children and grand-children born in Bhutan to provide evidence of their arrival in Bhutan, or else be declared non-nationals.


2.3 In many instances, Citizenship Identity Cards already issued have been confiscated or withdrawn.


2.4 Gups and Chimis formerly considered knowledgeable and authoritative sources in census matters are not being taken into confidence and are not permitted to testify the credentials of their village people. Some of them even been reprimanded for suggesting at DYT meetings more rational ways for conducting the census.


2.5 Illiterate and simple village people are being coerced into signing documents, the contents of which are not known to them. This has intimidated and instilled fear in the people.


3. On receipts of these reports, we took the liberty of enquiring about this matter with the Department of Immigration and Census. We were informed by the Secretary of the Department that this was a routine population exercise. Notwithstanding this explanation which was conveyed to the people, there are still misgivings because the methods employed by the census Teams belie this statement. We, therefore, beg to submit that perhaps the Census Teams have overstepped their mandate. This has resulted in panic and confusion among the people. This is disturbing the peace and tranquility that has reigned in the hearts of Your Majesty’s loyal subjects fostered by the enlightened policy of the government. This policy was clearly reflected in Your Majesty’s statement at Gaylegphu during the National Day Celebrations in 1978 that people settled in Southern Bhutan are true citizens and cannot be considered or treated otherwise. The renewed confidence and national pride generated by Your Majesty’s benign policy is, however, being undermined by the current exercise.


4. There are widespread feelings among the people that actions of the Census Teams in randomly categorizing people and affecting the status of many citizens, are unjust and contravene the assurance of Your Majesty. It is the humble submission of the people that:


4.1 The classification of people as nationals, non-nationals and people without status are based on incomplete documentation and hearsay. The cavalier manner in which the exercise is being carried out does not conform to the seriousness of the issue at hand and is an affront to the dignity of the people and denial of their inherent rights as citizens of this Kingdom.


4.2 The classifications are based on narrow and literal interpretations of the Citizenship Act. This has resulted in the deprivation of national status of a large segment of the population of Southern Bhutan, particularly children born to the Bhutanese fathers before 1985, the retrospective application of a provision of this Act makes stateless even those loyal subjects who have been serving the Royal Government.


4.3 The people are concerned that no distinction is made between non-national spouses and other applicants for citizenship. In some cases, the Teams and local Government officials have even informed individuals concerned that the children and spouse would be deported. This has been a source of great distress and is shaking the very foundation of the family and society. Due to social barriers, inter-community marriages were seldom practiced. Even among the Southern Bhutanese inter-caste marriages have been rare owing to customs and traditions. These circumstances coupled with communication difficulties, compelled many Southern Bhutanese to seek spouses outside the country. Your Majesty may be aware that according to the customs of southern Bhutan the wife becomes a part of the husband’s family and for all purposes her links with her own family are severed after marriage. With the ongoing exercise, many families are now being torn between their loyalty to the country and their love and responsibility for the family.


4.4 The people are concerned that, even as the census is underway, an order has been issued forbidding Bhutanese citizens married to non-nationals to stand for election to the National Assembly. This order penalizes and deprives them of their participation in the national forum. It is also the feeling that this order undermines the confidence of the people in this august body.


4.5 The manner in which the Census Teams were fielded and the disregard of the authority of gups and chimis have led the people that this is not a routine exercise as it is made out to be. Unfortunately, this has been reinforced by the fact in a matter of such great significance even the representatives of the people from Southern Bhutan in the Royal Advisory Council were not consulted.


4.6 The historical factors which has resulted in the settlement of the Southern Bhutanese community in the Kingdom, and the evolutionary process through which indissoluble links have been created between the people and the land, only emphasizes the importance of the issue of nationality and status. The rights of property and other privileges vested in the people over the years, and the corresponding duty to the country through the payment of taxes, contribution of labour and other services to the nation, underscores the nexus between this country and the people of Southern Bhutan. The manner in which the current census is being implemented appears to be questioning these very bonds.


5. In connection with the whole gamut of concern, which are now pressing for attention, we cannot help but recall that it was at the very initiative of the people of Southern Bhutan, urged by their desire for the security and stability of the country, that the process of the review of the citizenship Act of 1977 was started. This is ample proof that the people fully share the concern of the Government to stem the possible settlement of illegal immigrants in southern Bhutan. The primary responsibility for the control of unauthorized immigration has, however, always vested with the government. At this juncture, to view the people with suspicion and to blame them for allegedly colluding with the immigrants to secret them into the country is unfair and unjust. We cannot also fail to recollect the various occasions when Your Majesty so graciously assured the people of Southern Bhutan that their interests and welfare would be fully protected in implementing laws and policies in the Kingdom. It was in this context the representatives of Southern Bhutan in the National Assembly raised the matter of revision of some of the provisions of the Citizenship Act 1977 to accommodate the concerns of the people of Southern Bhutan. However, owing to perhaps the dimunitive voice of the southern members in the National Assembly, the 1985 Citizenship act was passed. Much to the dismay of the people in Southern Bhutan, this Citizenship Act echoed their worst fears by surpassing even the provisions of the former Act in its stringency, particularly for the people of Southern Bhutan. This is not to suggest that the law is discriminatory or based on racial or ethnic grounds. However, the fact that the thrust of the legislation is felt mainly by people of southern Bhutan has given rise to speculation that a bias is implicit in the law, though unintentional. This is causing much consternation among the people.


6. In these difficult circumstances, the people of Southern Bhutan most humbly beg Your Majesty for protection and relief. We have always served Your Majesty’s Royal Dynasty and this Kingdom with unswerving faith, unfaltering loyalty and total dedication, and it is our fervent desire to continue to do so in the future. We pray in our deep distress that Your Majesty may be pleased to Command that :


6.1 The retrospective effect of the 1985 citizenship Act, whereby 31st December 1985 is fixed as the cut-off date, be amended so that the cut-off date is 10th June 1985, the date of the Act coming into force.


6.2 the provisions of the 1985 Citizenship act be amended so that children born of any Bhutanese citizen automatically acquire Bhutanese citizenship.


6.3 The provisions of the Citizenship Act 1985 be amended to provide privileged procedures for non-national spouses of Bhutanese citizens to acquire citizenship within the shortest possible time.


7. We have taken the liberty of bringing these issues before Your Majesty for most compassionate consideration. We have done so in the conviction that Your Majesty is the  sole dispenser of our destiny and it is in Your Royal wish that the fate and future of the people of Southern Bhutan depends. May we express our deepest gratitude to Your Majesty that we have never had an occasion to even feel the slightest disappointment in our lives from the wisdom of Your Majesty’s decisions. At this critical time, when our very foundations in this Kingdom are jeopardized by the magnitude of the problem confronting the people of Southern Bhutan, we have turned to Your Majesty with full faith that our prayers will receive the most gracious favour.


We humbly remain,

Your Majesty’s most obedient servants,






Thimphu 09, April 1988


Continued : Please click on One nation One People   for continuity of the events

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