BHUTAN AT A GLANCE
Did you know?
Why Bhutan was called Ri-Drag?
Map of Bhutan showing its border with China and India as of 2012 In the 5th century BC, the disciples of Buddha made attempts to explore Bhutan in order to preach Buddhism. However, the geo-physical environment of the land being enveloped by thick forests dwelled by ferocious animals and venomous reptiles in the southern borders poised obstacles making it impossible to scale the gorgeous mountainous rocky valleys. The land was called “Ri-BrAG” meaning Mountain Rocks and the people were called “Ri-BrAG-PA” (RIDRAGPA).
When Bhutan came into existence?
The history of Bhutan remained obscured until the 7th century AD. In the advancement of Mahayana Buddhism in the Eastern Himalayas, comprising of Nepal, Tibet, China, Sikkim, Lhadak and Bhutan, two Buddhist monasteries, named Jampel Lhakhang in Bumthang, Central Bhutan and Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro, Western Bhutan were constructed in the 7th century AD. To introduce these monasteries among the followers and scholars of Buddhism, Bhutan was named Lho-Mon-Yul, meaning “The Dark Land in the South”.
These ancient monasteries were among the 108 temples built by Songtsen Gampo, 33rd king of Tibet on Princess Vrikuti Devi’s condition made for the marriage proposal with him. The monasteries were built within and in the vicinity of Tibet to subdue the sleeping demon that stretched along the mountain ranges of the Himalayas, so that no obstacle will emerge to promote and preserve the teaching of Buddha Dharma for the welfare and benefits of all the sentient beings. Princess Vrikuti Devi was the daughter of Nepalese king Amshu Verma, an ardent follower of Buddhism.
It is believed that to build these monasteries, the Newari craftsmen and masons were hired from Nepal, who, after the completion of the construction decided to settle in Tibet and western parts of Bhutan, especially in the district of Paro. The people of Paro district even today use several words in their language which are akin to Newari language.
Who is responsible for the consolidation of Bhutan into a single administrative nation?
The arrival of a Buddhist monk, Ngawang Namgyel from Tibet in 1616 AD was a new milestone in the consolidation of Bhutan into a single statehood. He introduced the dual system of governance called Chho-Sid meaning Spiritual and Gyel-Sid meaning Temporal, which played vital role in shaping the new history of Bhutan. The flourishing of Buddhism under his leadership made Ngawang Namgyel so popular in and outside the country that his followers started calling him “Zhabdrung” which means ‘submission in one’s feet’. The system of governance that he introduced was highly democratic, guided by the principle of accountability and transparency, which continued until 1907, when the Wangchuck hereditary monarchy emerged following a long period of chaotic rivalry among regional and district chieftains.
Perhaps the country’s name ‘Bhutan” came into being in the 18th century only-(How Europe heard about Bhutan -Druk Air inflight magazine Tashi Delek Vol.VIII No.4 October –November-December 2003, p. 30-31) – though the country came out of the aged old isolation from the rest of the world after the commencement of modern infrastructural and socio-economic development program in 1960s.
Where the geographical location of Bhutan and what is its source of economy?
Bhutan is located in the eastern Himalayan range, sandwiched between India in the east, south and west whereas the Chinese autonomous region of Tibet lies in the north. Bhutan, which is comprised of 20 districts, had the total land of 46,500 square kilometers until recently and reduced to 38,000 sq miles lately. Only about 7.7% of the land is inhabited, while rest of the land is occupied by tropical mountains covered by thick snow and dense forest. Agriculture based products, especially cardamom, orange, apple, ginger and several kinds of herb found in the forest, is the main source of income for the country.
The currency of Bhutan is called Ngultrum equivalent to India rupee. In current international exchange rate one Dollar is equal to Ngultrum 51.00, which is not a fix exchange rate.
When and how the ethnic Nepali speaking community arrived in Bhutan?
When the Indian sub-continent was under British rule, southern parts of Bhutan faced land encroachment from the British India tea planters, which rapidly stretched all over North-East Indian States. The Bhutanese ruler, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel felt it necessary to take appropriate steps for the long term national security of the country. He deeply contemplated towards finding climatically suitable inhabitants to settle in the borders of southern Bhutan so as to ensure protection from land encroachment by alien infiltrators.
Considering ethnic Nepali community’s contribution in the 7th century in the building of Buddhist monasteries in Bhutan, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel decided to make a proposal with the government of Nepal for allowing ethnic Nepali people to come to settle in Bhutan. Zhabdrung’s counterpart in Nepal accepted the proposal, which opened the doors for ethnic Nepali people to settle in southern Bhutan legally. Accordingly, in 1624 AD the first group of ethnic Nepali people arrived in southern belts and settled there since then. Gradually, they became most patriotic citizens of the country and continued protecting the borders and served the nation by contributing abundantly in its socio-economic development.
When did Wangchuck dynasty establish in Bhutan?
In 1907 on December 17th, the Wangchuck dynasty under hereditary monarchy was established in Punakha, the central Bhutan, by ousting the almost three hundred years old Buddhist theocratic rule of His Holiness Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Sir Ugen Wangchuck, the governor of Trongsa district, became the first king of Bhutan with direct support from the British rule of India.
The present king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is the fifth monarch in the lineage of Wangchuck dynasty. The second king was Jigme Wangchuck, the third King was Jigme Dorji Wangchuck and the forth king is Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who abdicated the throne in 2006 in favor of his son.
When and how the political and human rights problem started in Bhutan?
The government of fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck introduced the policy of “One Nation, One People” in the late 80s, which grossly violated the basic rights and fundamental freedom of the diverse community of Bhutan with his hidden objectives of materializing the so-called “Gross National Happiness” policy for a handful of the population of his choice. Anyone voicing against the policy were termed an act of treason.
People with political consciousness at the grass roots particularly from Southern and Eastern Bhutan, the followers of Hinduism and Buddhism respectively, protested against the ONOP policy. However, the royal regime repressed the people’s voice using armed security forces backed by para-military forces, which used their guns and explosives terrorizing the thousands of innocent people thereby resulting in the mass exodus, seeking for safety and security, landed up becoming refugees until the third country resettlement program started in 2008. As many as over one-hundred thousand people from different walks of life lived in the refugee camps in east Nepal with the hope to return to their homestead with safety and dignity but all in vain.
Is Bhutan a multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi- religious country?
Like many other countries of the world, Bhutan too is a country of immigrants. The country is composed of diverse ethnic communities. The major ethnic groups are Sarchokpa – eastern inhabitants, Lhotshampa – Nepali speaking southerners, and Ngalungs – people living mostly in the western parts of the country. Sarchokpa speak Tshangla-lo and follow the Nyingmapa sect of Mahayana Buddhism while Lhotshampa speak Nepali and follow predominantly Hinduism. The majorities of Ngalungs speak Dzongkha and follow the Druk-pa Kargyudpa sect of Mahayana Buddhism.
The other minor ethnic groups are Doya, Brokpa, Khengpa, Mangdipa, Tota, Urao, Kurtip, Gungdip, and Baglap, who are mostly the followers of Bon religion. Except few ethnic groups, who are indigenous, other ethnic groups are immigrated into Bhutan from neighboring Tibet, Burma, India and Nepal.
Did you know when and what kind of democracy is introduced in Bhutan?
Violation of human rights by the regime compelled Bhutanese people to demand for the establishment of an inclusive and vibrant democracy anticipating that the true value of democracy could ensure by defining the role and responsibility of both king and the people for the country to continue progressing in its path of peace and prosperity. Peoples’ right to participate in the nation building by exercising their voting franchise was not forthcoming in the system of absolute monarchy. Following people’s voice for democracy which spread world over echoed with concerns and compelled the absolute monarchy to opt transforming into a constitutional monarchy.
Hence, in a dramatic move, the forth king formed a constitution drafting committee composed of his handpicked people from the rubber stamp Assembly. He proclaimed to abdicate the throne in favor of his son in the guise of introducing constitutional democracy. In 2008, the king proclaimed the written constitution making the king more powerful – supreme commander of the nation. While the pseudo democracy began to eyewash the international community, kingdom’s bonafide citizens continued to remain victims of royal atrocities. Those who demanded democracy and human rights landed up ether in the prison or compelled to flee into exile seeking safety and security.
There is no true democracy in Bhutan. Monarchy is still the key power broker in the country. The article 2, 16 (e) of the Constitution gives extra power for the monarchy to take any decision at any given time to grab power from the so-called democratically elected government. The article reads, “The Druk Gyalpo, in exercise of His Royal Prerogatives, may………….Exercise powers relating to matters which are not provided for under this Constitution or other laws.” So, where is the guarantee of peoples’ sovereign right as the citizens of a democratic country in Bhutan? This and many other issues need to be addressed before Bhutan is accepted as a truly inclusive democratic country.
What are the structure of parliament and the government of Bhutan?
In 2008, Bhutan entered into the parliamentary system of governance ending the over century old monarchy as the constitutional head of the nation. The parliamentary system has a bicameral parliament, where the National Assembly or the House of Representatives as Lower House and National Council or the House of Review as Upper House exists in operation. The NA has 47 members, who are to be elected by the people through the nomination by the political parties whereas the NC has 25 members – 20 elected directly from the twenty districts who cannot be the member of any political party and five nominated/handpicked by the king on his choice.
The government is form by a political party, who secures majority representatives in the parliament elected by the people. The council of ministers headed by the prime minister is considered to be the head of the government though the king holds supreme authority in the country. Nothing works without the blessings from the royal palace. In other word, Bhutan is still not fully a parliamentary democracy.