A Traumatic School Picnic
By Ram Karki
I was then just a teenager student of Samchi High School completing high school in 1989. It was a very nice school with a huge compound consisting of flower gardens, football ground, volleyball ground, dining halls, nice school buildings with library, lab facilities and three large hostels buildings separately each for senior boys, junior boys and girls. I believe there were around 800 students out of which around 100 were day scholars – including students of Indian parents working in Bhutan. Only students with Bhutanese citizenship were given hostel facilities. Schooling was 100% free of cost. However, non-Bhutanese students have to bear their own expenses.
Apart from various extra curriculum activities the school used to organise Annual General School Picnic during the second week of December after completing annual examinations at the end of each academic session. School used to be closed for winter vacation after celebrating National Day on 17 December for 3 months.
It was in the second week of December 1989. It was the school picnic day. It was my last school picnic. I was already graduating, not needing to return to school after winter vacation. Entire school was in relief mood as the examinations were completed and it was time to enjoy and entertain. But it was also a sad moment for me because after few days I will be separating from my close friends, teachers and others with whom I have built an intimate relationship during my 2 years stint.
I got up early that day and helped load food materials, utensils and other necessary materials in the school DCM van. School had just bought a new blue van of DCM brand. It was already announced other day that only staffs and girls will travel by the school Van and rest have to walk to the picnic spot – some 7 kilometres north on the bank of River Dhamdhum.
I along with my close friends decided to wear casual dress as I felt wearing national dress Gho will not be comfortable while walking in the jungle and of course to enjoy in the riverbank picnic. We wore our casual jean pant and tee shirts. We were few from hostel in the group and later we were joined by our close classmates who were day scholars (non-Bhutanese students who lived not in the school hostel).
It was a great walk with so many school friends from several directions singing, making jokes, making noises, etc. By the time we reached the venue we saw our teachers, other staffs and girls already downloading the things from the school truck and some were already making place for cooking.
Our group with around 10 boys sat in one place and helped peeled onions and potatoes and later after drinking tea we left towards the north direction of the river where we sang and danced and makes some light entertainment.
It was around 1PM we helped to serve the lunch. It was too delicious. Our group after enjoying lunch sat together with everybody and participated in the series of programs planned by the school captains. Singing, dancing, games, making jokes etc were the attraction.
When the fun day ended at around 5pm it was very peaceful. I did not experience any unpleasant incident in the large part of the event. Towards this end I heard some unpleasant remarks for our group by the Drukpa friends for not wearing national dress Gho, but we did not argue because we had already seen anger in their faces and we wanted to avoid any further possible chaos.
Sensing trouble me along with some of my friends in the group decided to leave the venue bit early. Our day scholars’ friends who were severely abused and humiliated in front of everyone by some of the senior responsible Drukpa students also decided to follow us. After walking together for some distance we took other way towards our hostel and they took other way towards the town where they have their accommodations.
Soon after reaching my hostel room some of our hostel mates informed me that there occurred a huge fight between hostel resident and those days scholars’ friends with whom we separated sometime before. “After the reinforcement of a truck full of the hostel (those we were already in the hostel) they were heavily beaten and chased in the jungles” said one of my Drukpa hostels mates who witnessed the fight earlier.
Another Drukpa friend said that all Indian students numbered around 10 were beaten badly and were chased by hundreds of students till they crossed over to Indian border. I felt very sad because most of those Indian students were my best friends and we were all day together in the picnic but I did not utter a single word of sympathy to them as the situation was too tense and I was sensing some danger to my life too.
It was around 8:30pm on the same day suddenly one of the captains Mr. Karma Kezang came to my room and said that I was called in the room of hostel warden.
Inside the room were Chaam Lopen (teacher who teaches traditional chaam dance) Mr. Ugyen Dorji, Dzongkha teacher cum junior hostel warden Mr. Hesay Pelzang, Dzongkha teacher Mr. Dung Dorji and some selected school, hostel and house captains – Mr. Karma Kezang, Mr. Tshering Penjore, Mr. Pasang Dorji and few others.
As I entered inside the room, I saw a huge anger and fury on those faces. Suddenly Cham lopen Mr. Ugyen Dorji stood up and started beating me mercilessly without saying anything. I screamed and screamed and gathered the courage to ask reasons, but they took turn to beat me with thick sticks of raw bakaina tree. After facing those severe pains bravely for few minutes, I became unconscious and fell down as beating was too merciless and in all parts of my body. They thought I might have died and thus they stopped beating. One of them checked if I am still breathing and during that time, I gain some consciousness and tried to get up. By that time, they have prepared a handwritten letter in Dzongkha and they asked me to sign. I thought they will release me after getting it signed and thus, I signed it straight without reading the content, but they did not stop beating me. Each one of them kicked and slapped me but Mr. Yeshey Pelzang resumed beating using a new stick. He continued beating till the stick broke into pieces. Each one them abused me by using all sorts of abusive language. It was almost 12 O clock at night, and I was forced to sign a new draft of agreement after tearing down all the previously signed agreements. One of them read the content and explained me cruelly how they will punish me if I don’t follow the agreements. I should take full responsibility and will be punished to death if any Drukpa people are attacked or insulted in the town and also on the way towards Phuentsholing in and around Indian towns which was one of many points in the agreement. Due to severity of pain and injury and the quest to escape further torture I did not care to listen or understand the detail content of the agreement except that one which they repeatedly stressed about the possible attack of Drukpa people by those chased Indian classmates.
With great pain and injury all around my body I could finally reached my room in the upstairs of the senior boys’ hostel building. Everyone were sleeping thus I sensed no one noticed me crumbling on the way and corridor.
I could not sleep the rest of the night due to heavy pain and injury in my body. Whole body’s skin was turned into blue. Above all I was worried of my fate next day because those friends who were chased into India will not stay quite as they are strong and hailed from well to do influential families from the neighbouring Indian towns through which every Bhutanese must travel to reach their homes in other parts of the country. Indian Highways are the only connection to reach home to almost every student as school closes for winter vacation from next few days. Any untoward incident to any Bhutanese from those friends attracts direct trouble to me as per the agreement signed earlier at night.
At the earliest morning around 5am I along with Puspa Raj Chhetri, who was also suspected and beaten got up and left the hostel in search of those fleeing friends to persuade them not to create any trouble. We reached to every house they used to live but we did not find them anywhere. Every-body said that they left Bhutan and might be in nearby Indian border or check post or in Chamurchi (a town in bordering India). So, we returned back to our hostel after becoming tired and hungry by walking with injured body. It was around 11am and there was emergency visit by district police head and dzongda (administrative head of the district) Mr. Lakpa Dorji in our school. We did not know that one of the points in the agreement was not to leave the hostel without prior permission. Thus, we were informed that we have already violated the signed agreement and are liable to get severe punishment. Dzongda wanted to talk to me thus they searched me everywhere but did not find.
Soon we entered the school compound police escorted us to school principal Mr. Sangay Tenzin where other officials were present. We were ordered to give explanation about our disappearance from the school compound which we did but since a group of Bhutanese travellers were already reported to be beaten in Chamurchi early that morning they suspected our involvement in that incident. Situation has terribly deteriorated for us but fortunately we could convince them that our sole aim was to stop those fleeing friends from attacking any Bhutanese in future and we were not in-volved in the morning incident.
Thus, we were asked to sign another agreement saying that we can’t leave the school compound at any cost and is prohibited to walk with more than 2 persons even in the hostel vicinity.
I don’t have a single word to expose how me and few other friends spent the remaining 2 days in the hostel as we were looked upon as the supporters of their enemies. Every hour we used to hear the unpleasant events happening to Drukpa travellers in the border towns of neighbouring India and that invited more and more trouble for us.
Next day in the evening before dinner I was chased by a Drukpa friend (I forgot his name but he was the son of a high level government official who was heading the distillery in Samchi) with a knife on his hand to kill me but luckily I could quickly escape running into my hostel room and bolt it from inside. Till earlier morning he was my good friend and we used to make fun together but that changed overnight.
It was our luck that we were let off to go home for winter vacation after 2 days. Later I heard from my senior relatives that my name was announced to be a wanted person in national radio and also the entire nation’s police offices were informed through wireless about me and my involvement in the incident of Samchi school’s picnic.
I would take this opportunity to extend my thanks to my brothers Mr. Puspa Raj Chhetri and Mr. Devendra Gautam for remaining with me and supporting me during the entire turbulent period. Because of their close proximity with me they were also victimised and humiliated by the Drukpa students. Fortunately, Mr. Devendra Gautam was not living in the hostel, but he was living with his relative outside the school compound, thus he could not have to undergo horrendous torture like me but Pushpa Raj Chhetri was not spared.
These days I feel happy that I could be connected with some of my then day scholars’ friends namely Binod, Anand, Chaturman and Suraj through Facebook and they seems doing great in their respective careers, but I still missed Rajendra and others who could still be not connected. To my great dismay I have heard a few years ago that Rajesh and Nischal are no more with us in this world. Both of them were very kind and helpful human beings whom I will be missing for all the time.
I would like to take this opportunity to extend my deepest condolences to their family members and I pray for their departed souls to rest in eternal peace.
Because of the above treacherous incident in my tender life even today I feel traumatised. During the course of all these years I tried several times to forget that incident but sadly it continues haunting me in my mind. After being convinced about the impossibility of forgetting this horrendous event and the manner it continues traumatising me even today, I am gathering some courage to write and publish this story today for everyone to read.
One thought on “A Traumatic School Picnic”
Great piece of writing Daju. I felt as if I was involved. So natural and worthy reading to find out what went through many of us back in those days in Bhutan. Every reader finds it heart touching. Keep on writing those lively and touching pieces of information about their cruelty.