Bhutan, officially known as the Kingdom of Bhutan, is a small landlocked kingdom located between China and India in South Asia. The country, as we all know, measures the Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead of relying on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the only way to measure the country’s progress. The country’s pursuit of “happiness”, which incorporates economic development in terms of the environment and people’s psychological wellbeing, was first proposed by Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the country’s former king in 1972.
An extensive analysis of GNH index published by Centre for Bhutan Studies in 2012 describes extensively the pillars and dimensions that are used to measure GNH. The four strategic areas of GNH are:
- Sustainable & equitable socio-economic development;
Preservation and promotion of culture;
Additionally, the nine dimensions which specify the four pillars are: psychological wellbeing, health, education, cultural diversity and resilience, time use, good governance, community vitality, living standard, and ecological diversity and resilience. GNH looks at the quality of life, how much leisure time citizens have, what’s happening in their community and how integrated people feel within their culture. Bhutan is the one and only country that measure its wealth officially in terms of Happiness and claims to be the happiest place on earth.
There are four main ethnic groups: the Ngalong in the west, the Sharchop in the east, the central Bhutanese and the Lhotshampa in the south. The government of Bhutan, also known as Drukpa government, used the term Lhotshampa to refer to the Bhutanese of Nepalese origin and to distinguish them from others.
Lhotshampa are the descendants of Nepalese who immigrated as peasants to Bhutan at the beginning of the 20th century when the government of Bhutan encouraged them to settle in a thick forest of Southern Bhutan to establish farmlands that could supply food for the whole country. Later they were granted land tax receipt and citizenship.
However, despite its focus on national wellbeing, it is the country that arbitrarily revoked the citizenship, imposed compulsory Drukpa dress code nationwide, terminated Nepali language instruction in schools, shut down schools, suspended health services in southern Bhutan and expelled or forced to leave its ethnic Lhotshampa population. The country accused its Nepali-speaking citizen to be illegal immigrants when the southern population began to organize politically to lobby against encroachment on their civil-political, socio-economic and cultural rights. The Royal Bhutan army and police were mobilised to enforce the policies of government officials and also the state forces imprisoned, raped and tortured member of Nepali-speaking community who were directly, indirectly or incorrectly presumed to be associated with the demonstrations. Human Right Watch (HRW) in 2003 reported that women head of households and women and girls with disabilities were more prone to sexual violence because of their social status quo. Kira Maya, a single mother with three children and a Lhotshampa refugee woman, shared her experiences with HRW on how her body was used as a battlefield during the ethnic conflict in Bhutan.
“… At night-time they [army] knocked on the door. I didn’t open it and then they forcibly entered. They told me, “We have heard your brother comes to your house. Is this so?” I said, “I don’t know where he is.” Then they hit me with the gun. They kicked me and I fell down. I stood up and then they kicked me again, and I fell down again. They said we have to torture you, then only will you tell us where your brother is. Then the army tore my clothes. It was torture; they raped me. It was the army, two of them raped me while the others held me down. The next morning I went to my relative’s house, but they told me not to stay with them because maybe the army would come and do the same thing to them. One week later I fled [to Nepal].”
In the case of Kira Maya, she was gang raped by the state forces not just to get more information about her brother but also to humiliate and dishonour her and her family members. Raping women during the ethnic conflict is not just about forcing them into pregnancy but a way to dishonour the family and the whole community, to instil fear in the community and oppress the protestors. During war and conflicts, rape, sexual abuse, abduction and slavery are a deliberate strategy and a ‘weapon of war’ for various purposes, for instance ethnic cleansing, humiliation, instilling fear, acquiring information, looting and peer pressure. Some examples of rapes are the 1992-95 systematic rape of women in Bosnia, the 1971 Bangladeshi independence rape cases, and the 1937 Japanese rapes during occupation of Nanking.
As a result of fear and political persecution, more than 100,000 Lhotshampa were forced to flee Bhutan in the early nineties and sought refuge in the concentrated camps in eastern Nepal.