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In response to Government's continued high-handedness, repression and lack of interests in solving the problems faced by the southern Bhutanese, the Lhotshampas organised human rights and pro-democratic rallies in all southern districts. The following main events preceded the protest rallies :

Mr. Tek Nath. Rizal fled the country and took shelter in Guwahati, Assaam in India in July, 1988. After nearly two months and concerned about his safety, he crossed over to Indo-Nepal border and stayed at Birtamode, Jhapa, a border town in eastern Nepal. He founded the People Forum for Human Rights, Bhutan at Birtamode, Nepal on July 7, 1989.

A clandestine and underground students organisation called the Students Union of Bhutan (SUB) was formed for the first time in Bhutan by the students of Kanglung Degree College on 23rd March, 1988. Mr. Bishwanath Chhetri, Mr. R .P. Subba, Mr. I. B. Pathak and Deo Dutta Sharma were prominent among the founding members. This group clandestinely operated and extended their activities in other educational institutions such as National Institute of Education (NIE) Samchi, Deothang Polytechnic, Samchi Central School, Royal Technical Institute, Kharbandi etc. SUB was formed to enlighten the people and students about the racial and discriminatory policies of the government.

Mr. Ratan Gazmere, a London trained Science lecturer of National Institute of Education was arrested from his official quarter at midnight on October 28, 1989 for authoring a booklet entitled 'Bhutan : We Want Justice'. On November 3, 1989, Mr. Man Bahadur Chhetri, Mr. Ranga Sharma and Mr. Dil Bahadur Gurung, all students of NIE were arrested. They were tortured in police custody. Mr. Man Bahadur Chhetri 21 died in police custody due to heavy torture. His dead body was handed over to his parents by police saying that he committed suicide in the police custody.

Bishwanath Chhetri, President of Students Union of Bhutan was arrested from Kanglung College on November 5, 1989. After his arrests, all the members of SUB and Lhotshampa students in Kanglung College, NIE, Deothang Polytechnic, Royal Technical Institute and other educational institutions in southern Bhutan fled the country and took shelter in adjoining Indian border towns. Mr. Tek Nath Rizal along with Jogen Gazmere, and Mr. Sushil Pokhrel were abducted at midnight on November 16, 1989 from Birtamod, Jhapa by the Bhutanese government agents and were taken to Thimphu, Bhutan..

Thereafter, the government started crackdown on prominent Lhotshampas as well as innocent villagers. All the schools in southern districts were closed down and converted into Army barracks. Army was deployed in all southern districts and an undeclared martial law prevailed thereafter. The in-country movement of Lhotshampas were severely checked. In the inner districts such as Chirang and Dagana, police banned the movement of food commodities. Even the common salt was not allowed to be taken to Chirang and Dagana districts.

The expatriate headmasters of schools were replaced by the northern Drukpa teachers despite their low qualifications. The Jesuit Fathers who were teaching in various schools were asked to leave the country. Drukpa headmasters encouraged the Drukpa students to humiliate the Lhotshampa students, which led the students to leave the schools and join the other students at Garganda tea garden in the state of West Bengal, on Bhutan-India borders, the head quarters of exiled dissident organisations.


When all traditional channels of communications with the government of Bhutan were exhausted, the public of southern districts held a series of peaceful rallies in the months of September and October, 1990 to vent their grievances against the excesses of the Royal government with the hope that with this show of public protest, the government would make an objective assessment of the situation and reassess their racial and discriminatory policies.

More than 25,000 people gathered at Garganda to launch peaceful demonstrations and protest rallies in Bhutan on 26th August, 1990. However, the Indian police did not allow the demonstrators to pass through Indian soil. They crated barricades and promulgated prohibitory orders banning the Bhutanese demonstrators to move a distant of around 30 km from Garganda to Phuenstholing Bhutan, the gateway through Indian territory. While inside Bhutan a dawn to dusk curfew was imposed in Phuentsholing and the gun-trotting army personnel were deployed.

On 17 September, 1990, the first ever peaceful protest rally and demonstration in the entire history of Bhutan was organised at Ghumaounay, Samchi district (in southern Bhutan). Peaceful rallies were organised in all six districts of southern Bhutan namely, Samtse, Chhuka, Tsirang, Dagana, Sarpang and Samdrup Jonkhar on September 19, 1990. These were participated by the peasants, students, businessmen, teachers and the government servants. On September 23 and 24, 1990 peaceful rallies were organised at Samrang and Diafam, in south-eastern Bhutan, respectively. A second peaceful rally was organised in Chirang district on October 4, 1990. In all cases, the leaders of the peaceful rallies handed over a memorandum demanding human rights, judicial and legislative reforms to the government through the district authorities.

The government resorted repressive measures and the security forces fired indiscriminately killing many innocent villagers in Sipsoo, Chengmari and at Samtse bridge. On September 22, 1990, the security forces beat the demonstrators with batons at Phuentsholing and most of the demonstrators were arrested and tortured. The security forces resorted to indiscriminate firing at peaceful demonstrators at Pugli.

Continued: Please click on Atrocities for continuity of the events leading to exodus of Lhotshampas

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