By Devendra Gautam
Let me start with a definition. Refugees are persons forced to leave their country because of a war or because they are being persecuted for their beliefs.
Now, have you heard about gross national happiness (GNH)? Do you know that several world leaders find this concept awesome? It was a smashing hit at a United Nations forum not so long ago.
The concept is great indeed, for it puts happiness of a people of a country above all else. It is a departure from more famous gross national product, which hinges on productive activities of the people of a nation. You may then ask: Why did you start your article that is probably about GNH with refugees’ definition, not with collective sufferings of people that do not belong to the so-called mainstream?
It’s not for no reason that I have mentioned refugees first and GNH later. It’s because a tyrannical regime in Bhutan, which has evicted more than 100,000 Nepali-speaking people by misusing the state apparatuses, is the proponent of this concept.
Driven away from their homes in the 1990’s after facing torture, illegal detention and rape under the abhorring concept of one nation, one people, one dress, most of these people first landed in Jhapa, eastern Nepal.
This systematic evacuation and ethnic cleansing of a people would not have been possible without India’s cooperation because Nepal and Bhutan do not share a border. The Bhutanese regime left these people on the bordering Indian Territory. After that, Indian security personnel did the ‘needful’, flooding Jhapa with refugees.
It’s not that these people did not try to return home. At one instance, while trying to cross into Bhutan through the Mechi Bridge, they received bullets from Indian security personnel. Two died and many got injured, while global champions of human rights and democracy as well as the Nepali state kept mum. The silence was deafening.
Of the lakh-odd people, 76,000 reportedly have resettled in the United States alone, under the third-country resettlement program. The resettlement has been traumatic, with many Lhotsampas (Nepali-speaking Bhutanese) finding it difficult to adjust to a new life in an alien territory and killing themselves. According to a 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Bhutanese are committing suicide at a rate higher than any other refugee group in the US.
For every 100,000 Bhutanese refugees, 24.4 commit suicide, almost double the rate of 12.4 for the general population. Twenty-one percent of Bhutanese in the US are also depressed; nearly three times the national rate. According to the Wall Street Journal, since November 2013, there have been seven known cases of Bhutanese refugees taking their own lives.
No, it’s not the Bhutanese regime alone that becomes happy evicting its people. In the holy name of development, modernization, national expansion and introduction of civilization to tribal lands, states, including Nepal, evict peoples from their ancestral land by using force. These internally displaced people have been living in conditions worse than that of refugees. History shows that Native Americans died in attacks from columns of people from another continent migrating to tribal lands of what is now the United States, in search of new fortunes. Pathogens that these migrants carried also decimated the tribal groups.
Some 15 days ago, I was at a Tibetan refugee camp in Pokhara. There, my guide explained how friendly and industrious these people were. Responding to a question, he said Chinese people often visit the camp and buy stuffs refugees have produced. He said there’s no animosity between the camp dwellers and the Chinese visitors. But one of my friends narrated instances in which his Chinese guests got angry when he took them to the camp without informing them beforehand. Many Chinese, he said, avoid this camp, probably because they have to face the inconvenient truth.
So, the next time you raise a toast for the grand concept of GNH at a forum, notice if the hand holding the glass is shaking. If it’s not, I fear, you have sold your soul to the devil.
(The author is a freelance journalist)