ethnic groups and peoples have lived in perfect communal,
religious and ethnic harmony for centuries in Bhutan. Never
before, any instance of ethnic conflict, communal or religious
clash at the peoples level has occurred in Bhutan, which has
become the hallmark of many South Asian nations and destroyed
the very basic fabric of democracy in these countries. Tolerance,
co-operation and compromise, had been the basic values of
Bhutanese society. But since the 1980s the present Government
has started sowing the racial seeds among its people. It has
formulated and implemented a number of racist policies and
programmes to depopulate and evict the Lhotshampa citizens
of southern Bhutan. It is the present medieval, autocratic
and despotic Government that has nurtured racist and discriminatory
practices and attitudes to perpetuate in power. This has destroyed
the very basis of existence of Bhutan as a peaceful nation.
than 125,000 Nepali-speaking Lhotshampas of Southern Bhutan,
nearly a sixth of the kingdom's total population of approximately
782,548 have been forced to leave or forcibly evicted from
the country by the Government. This has made Bhutan as one
of the highest per capita refugee generators in the world.
As on March 2001, 98,886 Bhutanese refugees are living in
seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal managed by the UNHCR.
Rest live scattered in other parts of Nepal. About 25,000
Bhutanese refugees are living in Indian territories with out
roots of the current political crisis in Bhutan and the refugees
lie in Bhutan's geopolitics and population politics. A study
of various policies of the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB)
in the last two decades reflects the Ngalung/Drukpa dominated
government's motive to uproot Nepali speaking Lhotshampa population
from Bhutan and reduce their number by all means. Be it Drukpanization
or Bhutanization programmes, Citizenship and Marriage Acts
or NOCs/PCCs, all are directed against Lhotshampas of the
south. It was a long standing and intrinsic ruling elites'
security perception that the domestic demand for political
change (democracy) would come from the Lhotshampas in the
south. The south is bordered by the democratic India. Moreover,
the Lhotshampas are economically well-off and more educated
than their brethren in the north and east. The northern borders
with China is closed. In order to pre-empt the demand for
democracy, the government devised a clever strategy to depopulate
the Lhotshampas from southern Bhutan. Hence, the Lhotshampas
suddenly became the geopolitical scapegoats and security threat
to the absolute monarchy.
the government devised various strategies to bring about a
favourable demographic balance favouring a Drukpa/Ngalung
nation by reducing the number of Lhotshampas to around 25%
and to prevent the demand for democracy from southern Bhutan.
The failed implementation of the forced assimilation policies
reinforced this insecurity. This resulted in denationalization,
deprivation and virtual confiscation. of Lhotshampa citizenship
rights through manipulation of the Citizenship Act and through
changing the definition of citizenship. The current political
crisis and the refugee problems owe their origin to the enactment
of two racist and discriminatory laws, viz., Citizenship Act
of 1985 and Marriage Act of 1977 and implementation of a number
of racist and discriminatory policies. These laws and policies
were designed to reduce the number of Lhotshampa population
and their mass eviction.
Question of nationality and methods employed to determine citizenship
form a backdrop of all other issues and events in southern Bhutan.
Bhutan's first attempt to define its citizenship came with National
Law of Bhutan, 1958. The regime enacted a new Citizenship Act,
1985. This Act was given a retrospective implementation of thirty
years, that is, from 1958. It declared 31 December, 1958 as
the cut-off year for granting citizenship. The Act was forcefully
implemented in 1988. The wives of Bhutanese citizens married
from outside the country and children born of such parents were
not granted citizenship and were deprived of their legitimate
citizenship status. This Act defined three criteria for granting
of citizenship: by birth, by registration, and through naturalisation.
Act is the origin of the refugee problems and the looming
danger of statelessness for Lhotshampas. The National Law,
1958 prescribed 'fatherhood' as the criteria for granting
citizenship-which is normal. But the new Act repealed the
previous citizenship law and prescribed 'parenthood' as the
sole criteria for grant of citizenship by birth, thus denying
citizenship to anyone whose mother was married from outside
the country, even if the mother was granted citizenship according
to previous law. Since the Act was given a retrospective implementation
of 1958, all children born of a marriage between a Bhutanese
father and a non-Bhutanese mother, between 1958 to 1988 were
declared non-citizens and so-called 'illegal' and 'economic
migrants'. The National Assembly in1988 confirmed 14,442 marriages
between a Bhutanese citizen and a non-citizen during last
twenty years. The number was too insignificant for the government
to grant citizenship rights.
3 of the Act codified a new basis for granting citizenship
- a proof of residence in Bhutan since before December 31,
1958 was required. It says that " A person permanently
domiciled in Bhutan on or before 31st December, 1958, and,
whose name is registered in the census register maintained
by the Ministry of Home Affairs shall be deemed to be a citizen
of Bhutan by registration". The government subsequently
brought all Lhotshampas under the purview of citizenship by
registration only. They were considered citizens by registration
and not by birth, even though they were born and reared in
Bhutan since the 17th century much before the establishment
of the current ruling Wangchuchk dynasty in 1907 and granted
citizenship by previous laws.
The Act arbitrarily imposes an impossible
burden upon the Lhotshampas of providing the documentary evidence
of their presence in Bhutan on 31 December, 1958, while the
other ethnic groups did not have to prove anything to retain
their citizenship. The government insisted on production of
documents such as land tax receipts only of 1958. Documents
of earlier years including the citizenship certificates issued
on the basis of previous laws were arbitrarily rejected. The
proper census record maintained by Chief District Officer were
arbitrarily rejected. The government was fully aware that the
requirements of the new Act just did not exist then in Bhutan
and that most of the Lhotshampas would not be able to fulfil
them. The Act demands that the person concerned must prove that
his name was registered in the census register, though the register
was maintained by the government. The government demand is not
only ridiculous but totally unjustified since, the Council of
Ministers including the Ministry of Home responsible for maintaining
the census register was itself created in 1968. The enumeration
in the census record was started only in 1972.
the first census of 1981, all citizens were issued with citizenship
identity cards. The Foreigners were issued with alien cards
and the non-national labours were issued with contract permits.
By 1982 all people in Bhutan were registered. Bhutanese government
initially claimed that any documentary evidence whatsoever,
land ownership deeds or documents showing sale, gift, and
inheritance of land, tax receipts of any kind etc., showing
that the person concerned was resident in Bhutan in 1958 is
taken as conclusive proof of citizenship. But later the government
contended that payment of property tax in itself is hardly
a proof of Bhutanese citizenship. This is especially unfair
since some of the documentary proof required by the census
team just did not exist in the year 1958, i.e., enumeration
in the census records.
who could not produce the documentary evidence of their presence
on 31 December, 1958 were declared illegal immigrants. How
is it possible for illiterate villagers to keep documents
that will be demanded by the government after 30 years. Moreover,
government had already issued citizenship certificates to
all Lhotshampas making the safe keeping of the documents unimportant.
The Act was also discriminatorily enforced against the Lhotshampas
and not at all against other ethnic groups. Many Ngalungs
have Italian, English, Chinese and Singaporean wives, but
they do not have to prove anything. However, the law prescribes
a number of discriminatory criteria against the wives of Lhotshampas
from Nepal or India and their children. They are treated at
par with aliens seeking for naturalisation.. Under the naturalisation
process, these wives must prove their prior residence of 15-20
years in Bhutan. A child born of such mothers needs to reach
the age of fifteen when he/she may apply for naturalisation.
Naturalization again, is not a matter of law but subject to
Act was applied in an arbitrary manner to create mass statelessness.
The dissidents accused of speaking or criticising the king's
government was stripped of citizenship. Many Lhotshampas were
deprived of their nationality for having fled Bhutan to escape
suppression, because their fleeing amounts to disloyalty to
the state according to the regime. The Act enabled the government
to claim that the refugees are not Bhutanese citizens. The
authorities confiscated the documentary evidences, particularly
the citizenship identification card and land documents issued
to them by the government. It was a well planned strategy
and conspiracy of the government to depopulate and reduce
the number of Lhotshampas. No appeal on the subject was allowed.
The Act also forbids the return of citizens leaving the country.
Since the government alleges that refugees have voluntarily
emigrated to Nepal, their return will not be possible until
this Act is repealed. Even, the European Parliament's resolution
has urged Bhutan to amend this Act for the return of refugees.
After enacting a draconian Citizenship
Act in 1985 to reduce the Lhotshampa population, the government
simultaneously introduced the new Marriage Act which had an
even larger content of discrimination against Lhotshampa women
and their children. The Act declared all foreign wives of the
Bhutanese citizens as non-citizens, even though most of them
were granted citizenship under previous citizenship laws. In
contravention of all international norms and civilised behaviour,
the Royal Government denied several thousand children (born
out of marriages between Lhotshampa husbands and Nepali speaking
wives from Nepal or India) of their right to nationality. They
were evicted along with their parents. This Act was only enforced
against the Lhotshampas.
Marriage Act was enacted in 1980 and was forcefully implemented
in 1988 to especially target the wives of Lhotshampas. This
discriminatory law imposes a number of denial of benefits
to those who married non-Bhutanese wives. The Lhotshampas
who married non-Bhutanese wife did not have the right to vote
in (became ineligible for election to) the National Assembly
(Parliament) elections, they were to be denied promotion in
civil services, denied training and fellowships and medical
treatment abroad, they were also denied business and agricultural
grants and loans given by the government and could not avail
of government supplied fertilisers, seeds and farm machineries
on subsidies. They could not get jobs in the Foreign Service
and Armed Forces. This posed enormous problems for the Lhotshampas.
are many reasons as to why the Lhotshampa chose foreign wives
of their own ethnic groups from Nepal and India. Some reasons
are enumerated as follows: Bhutan stepped out of its isolation
in the mid-sixties. The government did not encourage cultural
socialization of various ethnic groups. Some ethnic groups
were not allowed to own properties in the Ngalung dominated
areas. Even in-country migration and in-country travel were
restricted for some ethnic groups. The transport and communications
were also not developed. This led to the cultural isolation
of various ethnic groups. Thus, each ethnic group developed
their own intra-ethnic group matrimonial alliances.
had a wide ethnic area in Darjeeling, Sikkim and Nepal to
choose their spouse from. As a result many Lhotshampas got
their spouses from their own ethnic groups from these places.
The most important factor that prevented the encouragement
of inter-ethnic group matrimonial alliances is culture. The
Lhotshampas are by and large Hindus. Culturally and traditionally,
they are entirely different from ruling Ngalungs. Their language
is a dialect of or is derived from Sanskrit, the oldest language.
They prefer to live in the hot climate of the southern foot
hills. The Ngalungs are nurtured in Drukpa Kargyupa Buddhist
culture. They speak Tibetan stock Dzonkha language which is
entirely different from Nepali. They wear robe like dresses
and prefer to live in cool climate of the north.
strict cultural values of the Lhotshampas triggered the search
for wives from outside Bhutan, limited domestic society and
geography also facilitated such marriages. The lack of communication
and infrastructure within Bhutan were also factors which made
Lhotshampas get their wives from neighbouring Indian states
and Nepal as it was easier to travel to neighbouring countries
than to visit other districts of Bhutan. Because of the lack
of roads, Bhutanese are still required to travel through India
to reach from east to west in the south and south to north.
Darjeeling district had excelled as a centre of education
during the British rule in India. It is still regarded as
the best place for education in the entire region of Bhutan,
Nepal and Northeast India.
fathers and Christian missionaries established the best schools
in Darjeeling. Due to the absence of good schools and colleges
throughout the sixties, seventies and the eighties in Bhutan,
the government used to send young Bhutanese for studies to
Darjeeling on Indian government scholarships. Most Lhotshampa
students married with their schoolmates of their own ethnic
community from Darjeeling, Sikkim and Nepal.. Bhutan does
not have enough colleges to cater to the need of students.
Its only college is affiliated with Delhi University. Bhutanese
students had to go to Darjeeling as it is less expensive to
study in neighbouring Darjeeling than in Delhi or Calcutta.
a consequence of increasing developmental activities after
1960 more opportunities were being created for educated people
in the government services and in the private sector. Bhutan
had a very low female literacy rate. The available manpower
was not sufficient to meet the demand. As a result, educated
Lhotshampa took educated and conscious wives of their own
ethnicity from neighbouring countries, who could work in the
offices or do businesses and earn money.
1988, the government reported of 11,442 marriages between
Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese during the preceding 20 years.
There was neither a Marriage Act or Citizenship Laws forbidding
a Bhutanese marrying a foreign wife then. The laws were enacted
later with retroactive effect. Had there been such laws, probably
no Bhutanese would have married a foreign spouse. The Royal
Government's senseless action of implementing these laws shows
its irresponsibility and indifference towards its citizens'
difficulties. It is a well-planned conspiracy to depopulate
southern Bhutan. In any case, marriage is too personal a matter
for the state to intervene.
the Citizenship Act and the Marriage Act are racist, biased
and discriminatory against Lhotshampa of southern Bhutan.
Moreover, the law is also implemented in a discriminatory
manner; very rigidly against the Lhotshampas and not at all
against Drukpas, who for example have a Chinese, English,
Italian or American wives. For example, Mr. Ugen Tshering,
a Drukpa married to an Italian wife in the early eighties
has today been promoted as Foreign Secretary. Similarly, the
then Chief Justice of the High Court was promoted even though
he had an English wife. Today, of course, aside from bringing
about a denial of benefits, marriage to non-Bhutanese wife
has resulted in the very denial of citizenship rights to the
the Citizenship Law, 1985 and the Marriage Acts have stripped
several thousand Lhotshampas of their nationality. As a consequences
of not granting citizenship to the foreign wives of Lhotshampa
husbands, more than 60,000 children were deprived of their
rightful claim to Bhutanese citizenship. This is more than
20 percent of the total children population of Bhutan. Refugee
children constitute about 10 percent of the country's total
population of around 700,000 of Bhutan.
than 10,000 Lhotshampa wives are deprived of their right to
nationality. The government must repeal the discriminatory
Citizenship Act, 1985 and the Marriage Act. It must enact
new citizenship and marriage laws conforming to the international
standards, and protect the right to nationality of all its
citizens. "The 1985 Citizenship Act of Bhutan contains
a number of vague provisions, and appears to have been applied
in an arbitrary manner. It also contains provisions which
could be used to exclude from citizenship many people who
are not members of the dominant ethnic group, as well as those
who oppose Government policy by peaceful means" according
to Amnesty International's report, "Bhutan : Forcible
Exile", August, 1994.
OR EVICTION ?
Citizenship Act 1985 came into force in 1988, when the government
initiated a population census in southern Bhutan in that year.
Both the Citizenship Act and Marriage Act, while being racist
and discriminatory against Lhotshampa women, were made all
the more unpalatable due to the high handed manner of its
implementation and explicit expression of the Government desire
to eliminate as many Lhotshampa citizens as possible, during
the census of 1988. In conformity with the Acts, a totally
biased and manipulative population census was carried out
in all the districts of southern Bhutan to deliberately evict
the Lhotshampas. To further compound the problem, however,
despite the provision in the Act for regularising marriages
with non-Bhutanese wives prior to 1977, upon Government instruction
the official of census teams declared all non-Bhutanese wives
of the Lhotshampas married after 1958 as illegal immigrants.
census teams started questioning the people with undue threat
and classifying them into various categories. The teams were
ordering even the old people with grandchildren born in Bhutan
to produce evidence of their arrival in Bhutan before 1958.
They insisted on the production of evidence particularly of
1958 even though many had the evidence 1954 or even the preceding
years, but they were rejected outright.
Census team armed with the totally discriminatory and biased
mandate set out to determine the citizenship status of all
Lhotshampas by randomly categorising them into seven category,
i.e., F1 to F7, which affected status of many citizens. Though
the law itself is silent on categorisation.
F2.Returned migrants, i. E., people who had left Bhutan and
F3.Drop-out cases, i. e , people who were not around at the
time of the census.
F4.A non- national woman married to a Bhutanese man.
F5 .A non-national man married to a Bhutanese woman.
F6.Adoption cases. This clause was massively misused by the
government to include
Indian citizen of Ngalung ethnicity. Many Ngalungs having
Indian nationality were enlisted as adoption case by the government.
F7.Non -national, i. e, migrants and illegal immigrants.
F1 was declared genuine Bhutanese. Widespread panic and confusion
among the Lhotshampa women followed as Census officials began
to threaten deportation of anyone not categorised as F1. During
the 1988 census, the census team categorised one Mrs. Sita
Mothey as F4 [an Indian citizen married to a Bhutanese citizen]
and was threatened with deportation from Bhutan. Out of the
agony at the thought of family separation, she committed suicide.
the 1988 census implemented the Citizenship Law, 1985, with
its three methods of attaining citizenship: by having two
Bhutanese parents, by registration of residence since 1958
and by naturalization. In practice, however, naturalization
has not been accepted. The census exercise provided justification
to expel people who no longer met government criteria on citizenship.
many cases, citizenship cards already issued were withdrawn.
The village Headmen and the Member of National Assembly (MPs)
formerly considered knowledgeable and authoritative were never
consulted. Some of them were even reprimanded when they raised
their voices. The illiterate and innocent villagers were coerced
into signing documents, the contents of which were not known
to them. The whole census exercise were planned to harass
and eliminate the actual and true ethnic Lhotshampa citizens
of southern Bhutan to reduce their numbers.
census rules required that the Lhotshampas must provide proof
of residence in the country during 1958 , the cut- off year.
The only valid document acceptable to the census team was
the land tax paid receipts for the particular year 1958. The
receipts issued before 1958 were not accepted. On these grounds
several thousand Lhotshampas were declared as ' illegal immigrants'
and 'stateless'. For in- country migration , people were asked
to produce certificate of origin (C.O) from the district authorities
which created more obstacles. Those who lost their documents
due to natural calamities were simply tested as illegal immigrants.
Those declared illegal immigrants were forcefully evicted,
even though they were born and reared in Bhutan through several
bogey of illegal immigrants
government claimed that there were around 120,000 illegal population
(20% of the total population) in southern Bhutan. This was a
well thought-out strategy of the government to reduce the population
of Nepali-speaking Lhotshampa by 100,000. If the level of illegal
immigrants into southern Bhutan after 1958 had been as high
as 20% of the total population of around 600,000, as claimed
by the government, it was understandable that some actions were
required to be taken, but this was not the case. Normally, illegal
immigrants are those who live in a country without the notice
and knowledge of authorities. The so-called Bhutanese illegal
immigrants have lived in Bhutan for years, owned houses and
properties, paid taxes to the government and contributed to
the nation-building of Bhutan. Some of them had served in high
government offices, armed forces and police and studied abroad
under government scholarship. They were genuine citizens until
1987, but were made illegal immigrants in 1988 because southern
Bhutan had to be depopulated to pre-empt any dissidence and
demand for democratic reforms.
could illegal immigrants acquire landed properties in a small
country like Bhutan and remain undetected for thirty or forty
years? Bhutan is not an oil-rich country like some of the
middle-east nations, it is not industrialised like the western
countries, where employment opportunities are abundant and
it is neither an agriculturally prosperous, then how could
the illegal immigrants enter into Bhutan with the prospect
of better opportunities? The whole motive of the government
was to prevent the demand for democratic rights from the southern
districts, which have open borders with democratic India and
to bring about a favourable demographic pattern by reducing
the population of Lhotshampas. This was criminal in intent
and was designed to deprive the Lhotshampa and their children
of their fundamental right to nationality.
any case, all the Lhotshampa of southern Bhutanese were in
Bhutan much before 1958. The history of the Nepali-speaking
Lhotshampa dates back to around 1625 A.D., much older than
the present ruling Wangchuck Dynasty (1907), which is just
84 years old. In the name of eviction of illegal immigrants
the government started deporting even the genuine southern
: Please click on
Appeal to the King
continuity of the events leading to exodus of Lhotshampas