By Govinda Rizal
Twelve years ago, eastern Bhutan was closed to trap and kill the rebels who raised voice against the autocratic regime in Thimphu. At least one hundred and fifty eastern Bhutanese were arrested and tortured to coerce them to confess being the supporters of Rongthong Kunley Dorji of Druk National Congress (DNC) and United Front for Democracy (UFD). A hundred families fled to Arunachal Pradesh in India and some even reached Nepal seeking protection. At least 120 people were sentenced to life imprisonment. The Nyingmapa (a sect of Mahayana Buddhism) monks were their first targets. A teacher of Buddhism, Thinley Oezer was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. Amnesty International report says his trial had fallen short of international fair trial standards.
Otherside of happiness: A residential house in eastern Bhutan
Most of the arrested people were farmers and Buddhist monks. Women, including pregnant ones, were arrested and taken into hostage in lieu of their husbands. The arrested were kept in differents prisons and tortured. Those detained in Tashiyangtse were made naked and treated in ice cold water in winter for several days. Detainees in Pemagatsel district were held in shackles and flogged daily several times a day. Buddhist Pastor (Gomchhen) Karma of Gomdar village in Samdrup Jonkhar district was killed in police custody in Korila in Mongar district. The government admitted that he was shot dead by the district administrator. Following the incident and condemnation from the international community, the fourth monarch shied himself from the rank of the head of the government and gave his position to Jigmi Yeshe Thinley, a minister from eastern Bhutan, who had supported him in crushing the movement in south in 1990 and in the east in 1997. The international objection was loud and critical of the government. The government in turn sealed the border from three directions north, east and south to prevent the news leak out. For a decade, no development reached the eastern districts. It was accessible only to the army and the Thimphu’s patriot civil servants.
Thereafter the eastern Bhutan has remained closed to the outsider. Good land and places of the eastern Bhutan are occupied by the Thimphu’s patriots. Besides those close to the regime in Thimphu, there is no permission to others to enter this part of the country.
In the 2008 election, only the regime supporters from the east were made candidates for the parties. Today, 40 percent of the ministers in the 10 member cabinet are from the east. However, none of the ministers and the MPs belongs to the group who spoke for democracy even once. All those people who were against democracy are burdened to carry out the duty as democrats.
After the clamp down in the east since 1997, limited entry of the local journalists began only after the declaration of democracy. Some degree of news from the east came out during the election time when local news reporters could visit there.
Two step mothers
Unfortunately, in line with the government’s attitude even the nature showed its step motherly treatment on the east. Before the wounds from boots could form scars, two major earthquakes shook the east that brought almost all the traditional houses and old structures to the ground. The major earthquakes made hundreds of children orphans; parents became childless and thousands of people lost their homes to the disaster. The support from the government was too less and too late, if at all. Instead of requesting the international support to quickly aid the victims, government in the democratic clothing resorted to news black out. Even the local media reporters are banned from covering the news on earthquake victims. The sole aim of the government is to hide the actual situation in eastern Bhutan from the international eyes. Thimphu regime had been propagating happiness across the country. Should the outside world see the situation in the forbidden east, they will know the reality behind the façade of the happy government. The Thimphu regime had been presenting eight districts around the capital as the happy Bhutan. Unless other twelve districts are opened, Thimphu will keep lying to the outside world.
The eastern Bhutanese began to confront against the atrocities of the government, which constitutes more than forty percent Eastern Bhutanese The government sees no resort but to impose another martial law over the earth quake victims. They want to keep the trouble under blanket. They are not in a position to provide immediate rescue. They are reluctant to invite external support. They have no relief ready and no compensation to hand out. When the people began to defy the law and disobey the district administration, young king paid a visit to convince the people but returned frightened. Then the former king, the fourth monarch visited the earthquake hit eastern districts. His mere presence in the east adds insult to the injury.
Adding insult to the injury
In 1991 the fourth monarch declared in the parliament that should he fail to solve the problem in south that started in 1990 within three years he would abdicate from the throne. Instead, five years later, he resorted to another massacre in the east. After the five southern districts, Trashigang and Trashiyangtse are the worst affected districts, hit by Thimphu regime’s catch and kill or kick strategy.
On December 16, 2005 some elderly yak herders, who were kept under hostage in Tashiyangtse to attend the mass meeting for the king had quizzed him. They asked him what he did for the welfare of the people of Trashiyangtse and other eastern districts in his three decade long rule. They even questioned the need for the people to attend his meetings when the government does not respect their religion and care about the development. The next day, coinciding with the 98th anniversary of the establishment of the monarchy in Bhutan, the quiz-failed king declared his abdication from the throne. Since then, he had never returned to the eastern districts. His son, the king in waiting, was deputed to discuss the constitution with the people in Trashiyangtse. Today, after four years, the royal family is in the east to paint the shame with false courtesy and show deceiving prophesies to the disaster victims.
Should the local and international journalist get an opportunity to cover eastern Bhutan today, they will find the people with anger and criticism against Thimphu. To prevent this from happening, and to show mimicry of happiness, the eastern districts are closed for now.