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Dr. DNS Dhakal's book (REVIEWS)

Started by BNS Forum, Jun 12, 2022, 08:23 AM

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BNS Forum

An Encyclopedia on Bhutan

By Govinda Rizal


Dr. DNS Dhakal's new book "BHUTAN: A Memoir of Refugee Struggle and Suggestions for an Amicable Resolution" has reached the readers and critics before launching it formally.

The author's memoir, embedded in the recent political history of Bhutan and Bhutanese refugee saga, an illustrated coffee-table book targeted for the newbies to Bhutan and Bhutanese refugee issue is un-controversially the largest and the heaviest book on Bhutanese refugees.

It has over 425 pages of 29 cm by 32 cm glossy papers filled with photographs supporting his memoirs, his personal struggle, his struggle during the refugee movement, and a rich compilation of historical and movement-related documents. One book weighs about 4.5 kg. 

The book starts with an acknowledgment in which the author gives top credits to Dr. Dinesh Bhattarai from Nepal and Dr. S. Chandrasekaran from India, among others, for making the take-off of third-country resettlement of the refugees possible.

The book continues with the scenario of an identity crisis. The author clarifies his understanding of identities with terms like "Nepalese" as the citizens of Nepal, "Lhotsampa" as the Bhutanese citizens of Nepali ethnicity, and "Nepali" as Nepali diaspora living elsewhere. The book cracks the core of the context.
The entire content revolves around the life of the author. As a child, he joined his grandfather to carry salt from Sarbang to Chirang. There was no road and the 60 km two-way journey- on foot explains the hard days of rural life in Bhutan during the decade 1960.

From this autobiography, the author has successfully established himself as a credible source of Bhutan's information, many of which were not available in writing.

The book- is an album of rare photographs. Plus, there are extensive lists of people killed, imprisoned, or others who had taken part in marches and rallies and even the changed names of the places.

The author started his education at Lamidanda School and went to Kharbandi Technical School and then to Shillong, in India. Then he reached the USA for his master's and doctoral degrees. One of his professors has written the foreword on the book giving credit to Dr. Dhakal as the first person to familiarize the term gross national happiness in the USA, back in 1984-85. He further writes that the author's mother forbade him from entering her hut in the refugee camp. It explains Dhakal's family beliefs. He returned to Bhutan and accepted a government job. 

He left Bhutan with an overcoat, US dollar 150, and Ngultrum 10,000. He had a deposit of USD 3000 in the State Bank of India. An introvert in nature, the author penned his struggle from that of a salaried government servant in a prestigious position in Bhutan to a refugee in Nepal, a moneyless activist in India to an academic in America.

The book chronicles his struggles, supported by photographs and testimonies. His life has been a struggle from the day he left Bhutan. He reached Nepal and took shelter with his friends and relatives. The refugees formed a new political party- the Bhutan National Democratic Party and choose Dr. Dhakal as its General Secretary. He had ideas and no money.

He ran out of his savings. He depended on one of his brothers-in-law for everyday expenses. He reached the point of begging. He was in New Delhi, where he ran out of his last rupee. He and his friends begged for rice for a meal.

Then he developed the confidence to tell his situation to his links with American academicians. He had to go to America for the job but had to struggle for a travel document- that was a one-page paper [page 290].

His struggle makes the readers' eyes drench in tears when an immigration officer at Frankfurt Airport, trying to help him, was helpless for he had a one-page paper as a travel document. They allowed him to board the plane on the condition that his entry into the USA depended on the discretion of US immigration officials. He had to disembark from the plane last, accompanied by an attendant. On landing in the US, a senior immigration officer accepted the paper and offered him sanctuary. The author writes "tears of happiness rolled down my checks." It transmits the same emotion to the readers.

He explains his journey to the world of academia for money to sustain himself, support his family, and run a political party. With an annual income of USD 8000, he could meet his needs, support his family, fund party activities, and perform religious functions.

He writes short and to the point. He writes the history and highlights of each district in less than one hundred words and inserts over two pages of photographs. The book is an illustrated encyclopedia in terms of size and content. It is an encyclopedia of Dr. Dhakal's struggle alongside the Bhutanese movement- where the hundreds of thousands of Bhutanese nationals were made refugees in Nepal and airlifted by advanced countries as their adopted citizens.

There are spotlight mentions of success stories from resettled countries. He has picked a few motivational stories and inspirational developments. Dr. Dhakal has included strategies for the present and future generations of the Bhutanese Community to engage in.

The book is a compilation of names of personalities who have helped the author and the Bhutanese democratic movement openly or secretly. The appendix of the book is a compilation of historical treaties and political documents, photographs of kings, leaders, and community forerunners, historical lists of martyrs and activists, etc.

Anyone who has access to the encyclopedia would like to have a copy on their reading table. It is being distributed or sold through personal contacts, which makes it rare and freight cost makes it expensive. Limited people will flip over the pages of this historical encyclopedia unless more copies are printed and sold at a lower cost.

Congratulations to the Author Dr DNS Dhakal for this masterpiece.

BNS Forum

Dr.Dhakal minimizes what King Jigme Singye Wangchuck did

By Aditi Pyakurel

Recently I got the chance to read Bhutan, A memoir of the refugee struggle and suggestion for an Amicable resolution by Dr.DNS Dhakal. Like every other Coffee table book, this one was giant. Thankfully it was wonderfully written, so it only took me about a week to read. The book also contained a lot of important information about the history of Bhutan. The book was also very digestible. By that, I mean it is straightforward to read. The photos strewn across the book make it accessible to readers of all levels. The photos also helped me form a more emotional connection to Dr.DNS Dhakal's story and the stories of countless other Southern Bhutanese that were forced to flee from their homes. I also loved that there was a glossary and index in the back to explain the different terms and words used in the book. I loved that Dr.DNS was able to put so many primary sources and documents in the back. Overall I enjoyed reading the book.

I am not going to lie and say it was easy to read, I mean, this book is almost as heavy as I am, but overall it was a fun book to read. Like with all good things in life, there are critics. First of all, many points in this book seem to come from a very privileged point of view. I mean, Dr.Dhakals story is scarce amongst the Bhutanese refugees. This book also felt half-baked. A lot of the topics and arguments seem to end. They seem to be half-baked. Dr.Dhakal also places the King of Bhutan and the Wangchuck dynasty very forgivingly, shifting almost all of the blame from the King to the minister. A lot of the facts in the book seem to be misleading as well. This book technically is a Memoir, but it reads a lot like an educational non-fiction book; because of that, I really would have loved to have seen other Bhutanese refugees' stories reflected in the book. Before I get into the meat of the review, I would like first to explain what happened to the southern Bhutanese refugees.

Bhutan is a small Himalayan country that is nestled between China and India. On December 17, 1907, the country became known most commonly for being 'the happiest country in the world.' It is also known for producing the most refugees per capita of any country globally. In the early 1990s (before I was born), Bhutan forcibly removed almost 100,000 of the southern Bhutanese citizens.1 The Bhutanese government claims that the southern Bhutanese citizens were illegal immigrants and terrorists. However, evidence supports that the Southern Bhutanese citizens had been in Bhutan since at least 1890.2 In the late 1980s, the Bhutanese government introduced the 'One nation; One People' policy. This policy stated that all Bhutanese citizens had to wear the traditional Drukpa; all citizens had to follow the same religion as the King. All Bhutanese citizens had to speak and write in the language of the King, which was Dzongkha. The policy also prohibited teaching Nepali in schools and the practice and teaching of the Hindu dharma.3 If anyone reacted badly and were critical of the policy, the King would get them imprisoned or killed.

In 1988 the Bhutanese government and King surveyed the Bhutanese population. The citizens were given levels of 'purity levels.' The King demanded that the citizens show him their tax receipts from 1958. If they failed to show this tax report, they were classified as an illegal immigrant, and they had to either leave the country or be deported by the government. The Bhutanese government classified more than tens of thousands of Nepali-speaking Bhutanese citizens as non-nationals and started to deport and remove them forcibly. Since the southern Nepali citizens had just had their lives stripped away, they fought back by holding mass demonstrations in 1990. The King had the national Bhutanese army crackdown on these protesters; he had thousands of men arrested, tortured, and held prisoner. The army raped the women and tortured them. They burned down houses, schools, and places of religious importance.

The army went door to door, forcing families to give up their citizenship cards. They forced the southern Bhutanese to sign 'Voluntary Migration Forms.' These forms were used to show the rest of the world that the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese were leaving of their own free will. Most of the Bhutanese signing these forms had no way of understanding what was written on the Voluntary Migration forms because they were written in Dzongkha.4 Then, the army forced the Bhutanese to leave the country within seven days. This caused the forced exodus of almost 100,000 Bhutanese citizens. After forcing out almost ⅙ of the country's population, the government of Bhutan and the King turned a blind eye to the issue. To this day, the Bhutanese government has not allowed the Bhutanese citizens back to their homeland.5 The Bhutanese refugees lived in Nepali refugee camps for almost 16 years until they started to get resettled. Currently, there are approximately 7,000 refugees remaining in the Nepali refugee camps.6 The rest of the refugees have been resettled all across the world.

Dr.Dhakal does a beautiful job laying out the history of Bhutan and explaining it in a very clear and precise way. That is one of the high points of this book. I learned so much information that I had no idea about before. The glossary contained a lot of different documents that helped visualize and humanize the Bhutanese refugees. The photos on almost every page helped me understand the story and understand what these refugees went through. That being said in the memoir, Dr.Dhakal minimizes what King Jigme Singye Wangchuck did. When Dr.Dhakal talks about the 1985 census, he blames poorly chosen census officials instead of addressing the fact that it was the King in the first place that ordered this cense. For a minute, though, let's get the King the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he didn't know about the prejudges the census officials held. According to Dr.DNS, "To register as an F1, or Bhutanese citizen people were required to produce a certificate of origin from the village where they were born and land tax certificates for 1958" (Dhakal 24). This is a requirement created by the King and the government. Despite what Dr.Dhakal wants to believe, the cense officials were just doing what the King ordered and paid them to do. The King created a decision on the requirements. The officials just did their job. Later on, in the text, Dr.Dhakal admits that these requirements would be next to impossible for the southern Bhutanese to have. Mainly because Southern Bhutanese were farmers and didn't understand the importance of paperwork from almost two decades ago. The King created a system that would cause the southern Bhutanese to lose their citizenship. Even when the southern Bhutanese fought back and tried to inform the King that this policy was unfair, he continued with the policy and imprisoned people protesting against it. The King had meetings with the northern Bhutanese about the protests and demonstrations. The King purposefully excluded the southern Bhutanese from the meetings. If the King honestly had no involvement in the forcing out of the southern Bhutanese, he wouldn't have purposefully excluded them from the meetings. If the King had cared about what happened to the Southern Bhutanese, he would've actively worked with them to improve the situation. Soon after this cense, the Southern Bhutanese were forced out of Bhutan. This minimization is a real problem because so much of our history is buried. Minimizing what the kind did buries our history further.

After getting kicked out of Bhutan, the southern Bhutanese were relocated into refugee camps. When Dr.Dhakal talks about the refugee camps, it feels impersonal. He talks about life in a refugee camp like someone looking in from the outside. That is because he never truly lived in the refugee camp. Since he had connections in academia and to other countries, he could escape the horrors of the refugee camp. His writing a chapter about living in the refugee camps in a book that is his memoir felt like a slap to everyone who had to live in a refugee camp. Dr.Dhakal talks about the efforts for repatriation after talking about life in the refugee camps. He talks about all of the protesting and how people desperately wanted to go back to their homeland, which is true. He fails to mention how most people were just wondering if they were going to survive the next day. At the same time, Dr.Dhakal struggled to get money to rent out an office building or get a hotel to stay at. The large majority of the Bhutanese wondered where their next meal was coming. In his book, Dr.Dhakal talks about the resettlement process. He also talks about how he got the opportunity to come to the United States in 1994. Dr.Dhakal was one of the luckier Bhutanese because he had connections. He was able to travel around the world when most of the Bhutanese refugees couldn't even leave the refugee camp.

Dr.Dhakal talks a lot about going back to Bhutan when realistically, that isn't an option anymore. Remembering the past doesn't mean we have to go back to the past. The resettled Bhutanese have changed the fabric of the towns that they have moved into. Take Reynoldsburg, for example; more than 67 businesses owned by former Bhutanese refugees have been opened. Bhuwan Pyakurel was elected as the first Bhutanese refugee elected into public office in the United States in 2019. There have been successful teachers, nurses, doctors, politicians, business owners, and more produced from the resettled Bhutanese community. The children of the Bhutanese refugees are also thriving, we have multiple kids in boy scouts, 4-h, and participating in multiple other activities. We might miss Bhutan, but we have no reason to go back.

1 According to the Seattle times, "In the early 1990s, about 100,000 ethnic Nepalis in Bhutan were expelled or fled from the small Himalayan kingdom"(Schultz 1).
2 According to the Bhutanese community of central Ohio "In 1890, Bhutan invited Nepali citizens to immigrate to Bhutan to clear the dense, malaria-infested jungles in the south, establish fertile terraced soil and farm the lands"(Snyder 13).
3 Hindu Dharma refers to a person's duty to themselves, to society and to god. According to the Oxford dictionary the definition of Dharma is " the eternal and inherent nature of reality, regarded in Hinduism as a cosmic law underlying right behavior and social order"(Dharma 1).
4  "First they must sign a Voluntary Migration Form, a paper printed in the Dzongkha language and unintelligible to most Lhotshampa" (Dhakal 30).
-    Bhutan, A memoir of the refugee struggle and suggestion for an Amicable resolution
5 According to Human Rights Watch "They (refugees) have insisted on their right to return to Bhutan; the Bhutanese government has refused to allow them back. Fifteen rounds of bilateral talks between the governments of Nepal and Bhutan have led nowhere. The impasse has lasted more than 16 years"(Frelick 2).
6 According to the Nepali Times, " Most of them were resettled in eight countries around the world, nearly 96,000 of them in the United States. But there are still 7,000 refugees left in two camps in Nepal, most of them elderly" (Pokhrel 4).


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