Tag Archives: bhutan news service

“A hopeless situation:” writer Prajwal Parajuly visits the other side of Bhutan

Author Prawal Parajuly's new book is The Gurkha's Daughter

Author Prawal Parajuly’s new book is The Gurkha’s Daughter

This is a reprint from a story originally published on the Bhutan News Service.

Prajwal Parajuly’s father is Indian, his mother is Nepalese and he himself is entirely a citizen of the world.  Educated in the US state of Missouri, this not-quite-30-year old attended Oxford, and lives in both England and New York.  He is already considered to be one of the best writers of his generation.

His new book of short stories, The Gurkha’s Daughter, is about the modern Nepali condition from a variety of perspectives, from Bhutanese refugee about to be resettled from the Nepali camps to wealthy widow and her wicked relationship with her young servant girl.

This is an interview I conducted with him via email for the Bhutan News Service, after reviewing his book for the publication, The Aerogram.
Q: You were born several years before the banishment of people of Nepalese descent from Bhutan.  Do you remember how (and when) you became aware of the situation?

PARAJULY: I had some sense of the goings-on, but it was only much later that I realized the enormity of what had happened. I had no clue that there were more than 106,000 people being herded out of Bhutan’s borders like they were cattle; I was under the impression the number was a lot lower.

71Nq8eh5b0LI visited some of my mother’s relatives who lived close to the International Organization for Migration building in Damak, Nepal, and that’s when my curiosity was first piqued. I started reading up on the issue, and it was a revelation. After that, I decided to visit the refugee camps in Nepal. Still unsatisfied, I visited Bhutan.

Q: Where did you go when visiting Bhutan and what were your general impressions?  How did people react to your ethnic heritage there?

PARAJULY: I went to Bhutan in the summer of 2010. It was interesting– on the surface, everything seemed lovely. Get people to drink a little, and the stories come tumbling out. The Nepali-speaking people have been scarred. They live in fear. It’s tragic.

Q: What was your experience in the camps?

PARAJULY: Oh, yes, you don’t want to visit the camps. You just don’t. Besides the poverty, the terrible living conditions (I say this despite being someone familiar with poverty in South Asia), the constant fear of their lives and dignity being threatened, what’s heartbreaking about the camps is the issue of the people there being non-contributing members of society for close to two decades. Imagine that—no job, nothing to look forward to, living the same life for days, months and years. It’s horrible.

Q: What made you want to treat the situation in your story, No Land is Her Land?  Have you met people like Anamika, the main character in your story?

PARAJULY: Anamika came about because I wanted to write a strong woman into the story. But strength has its limits. Anamika has been through a lot—just like many women who lived in the camps for years. I did come across women similar to Anamika. They are everywhere—in Denver, in Vermont, hiding in Assam, and in Aberdeen.

Q: Your story deftly covers the complexities and deep emotion of the situation. While Anamika feels “if her country didn’t want her, she didn’t want it back.” she still allows her children to learn Dzonghka in the hopes they might be repatriated.  And then there is the issue of her estranged, opportunistic Nepalese husband who reappears so he, too, can be resettled in the US.  Do you feel that this is an issue that will ever be resolved?  Sometimes I think that the new generations will bring fresh perspective on it, and other times I feel a bit hopeless.  You?

PARAJULY: I feel it’s a hopeless situation. I don’t think it’s an issue that can be resolved. The best Bhutan can do is – I hope it’s okay for me to invoke the death of a person who’s responsible for so many deaths – to hope for the fourth king, under whose watch the ethnic cleansing happened, to die and for the current king to apologize about what happened. He could also allow those who want to return to go back. I doubt there will be very many people wanting to go back. Hasn’t all their land been reallocated, though? That’s the best the country can do–that’s how sad the situation is. But it doesn’t need to worry about that. It invented Gross National Happiness. Hurray.

Q: Do you think India could have or should have played a role in the Nepalese situation, given how important an ally they are to Bhutan?

PARAJULY: Yes, I think India could have played a role. I think India could have put a stop to it all. Why it decided not to intervene is beyond me. Perhaps because it didn’t want to alienate the one true ally it had in the region?

Q: Why is it important for non-southeast Asians to learn about the region, do you think? It’s hard to explain the situation to people who aren’t familiar with, or don’t care about, that part of the world.

PARAJULY: I think it’s time we realized there’s more to this beautiful kingdom than Gross National Happiness-the last Shangrila-this is a peaceful Buddhist state claptrap, there’s a country that has gotten away with far too much. The Western world is too focused on Syria and Gaza and Sudan to worry about what went on in Bhutan.

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American dream becomes nightmare for Bhutanese refugees

My friend TP Mishra wrote this article for the Wall Street Journal about the issue of suicide among resettled refugees.  It’s an important issue.  (Meanwhile, the suicide rate inside Bhutan is up at an alarming rate, as well.)  

http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2014/01/07/american-dream-becomes-nightmare-for-bhutanese-refugees/

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The power of media: All-volunteer Bhutan News Service, run virtually, keeps refugees up on the diaspora

The all-volunteer Bhutan News Service is hosting a training session in Pittsburgh this weekend.  Exiles from Bhutan make up the largest population of refugee newcomers to that city, so it’s a logical location.

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About 83-thousand refugees, resettled from camps along the Nepali border in a dispute that dates back over 20 years, are scattered around the world, but the majority (70-thousand) have been brought to the US in the last several years.

BNS is an online-only concern, with contributors sending in reports from around the world.  (Its current editor, Buddha Mani Dhakal, resides in Kentucky.)  The idea is to keep the refugees connected as they’ve been resettled, both with news of what’s happening inside Bhutan, as democracy takes root there–and with information about what the refugees are facing as they build new lives.  Suicide, for one thing, is high among the relocated refugees.

Of course, the information exiled Bhutanese are most interested in is whether officials in Bhutan will engage in discussions to resettle them in-country, or to even acknowledge their existence.  (Most Bhutanese dispute that the people in question were ever actually citizens.)  That kind of news is rare.

ImageImageSince I first went to Bhutan to volunteer with the first non-governmental radio station Kuzoo FM in January 2007, I’ve slowly unearthed the previously little-told story of the southern Bhutanese.   Just as I felt privileged to volunteer with young journalists at the dawn of democratic rule in Bhutan, (as the media landscape was just beginning and a newly drafted Constitution guaranteed freedom of the press,) I feel lucky to be in touch with the refugee population, too.

Today, in a session we held via Skype, I had the curious responsibility of explaining to the group (from my home in Los Angeles) what media are like today in modern Bhutan.  See, many of the younger contributors to BNS have never set foot in the country–they were born in refugee camps.  None of the constituency has been there since long before 1999, when TV was first introduced into Bhutan. I felt an awesome weight on my shoulders, for having witnessed and experienced what I have as a third party.

After 30 years in journalism, I’m often cynical about the state of the profession.  But knowing this group of people, who take the incredible responsibility of informing the world about their situation and using media as a glue to hold them together, makes me feel the incredible power of communication.  I believe that power will yield some sort of resolution to this long-standing dispute, hopefully sooner rather than later–as Bhutan changes, as the world changes, as we all change.

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Bhutan News Service

ImageTo those disturbed by the Bhutanese situation as raised by this weekend’s piece in the New York Times, I offer up one way to keep informed, and also, to help.  Please check out the Bhutan News Service. 

It’s run predominantly by 5 volunteers around the world in service of the community that’s been displaced. They run on a shoestring (less than 5k a year), and need support. 

Even if you can’t give financial assistance, they are seeking other help, such as filing for a nonprofit status so they can apply for journalism grants, training, server support, etcetera.  Their goal, too, is to have a gathering this fall.

If you are at all interested in media-in-exile from anywhere, but from Bhutan in particular, and if you can help in any way, you can find a link here.

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NY Times: “Bhutan is no Shangri-La”

A strong piece today in the NY Times op-ed section today about Bhutan’s refugee situation will bring widespread attention to an issue I write about in Radio Shangri-la that’s been ongoing for over 20 years. 

I’ve tried hard to get mainstream media to write about or talk about the refugees, particularly as they’ve resettled in the US, and particularly as debates have swirled in this country over immigration*, but to no avail.

To be sure, it’s a complex issue and my hope has long been that as the refugees integrate into US culture (as they have by the tens of thousands in the last few years) and their stories get heard that Bhutan will at the least open up a dialogue.

 *The issue stems back to a time when there were more porous borders around Bhutan and people of Nepali origin were brought in to help built modern Bhutan.  As their numbers grew, fears grew that Bhutan’s cultural heritage (not to mention control of Bhutan by “pure” Bhutanese) would dissolve.  Please refer to the final chapter of the paperback edition of Radio Shangri-La, Jamie Zeppa’s Beyond the Sky and the Earth and Hutt’s Unbecoming Citizens for more thoughtful distillations of the situation.

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Elections announced in Bhutan

The Bhutan News Service and other sources are reporting that a date has been chosen for Bhutan’s second-ever elections.

“King Jigme Khesar Wangchuck issued a royal decree on March 9, which announced that the National Council (NC) elections would be held on April 23rd.

The current Council, which has both legislative and review functions and is also referred to as the house of review with 25 members including five direct appointees of the king, is expiring on April 28.

The decree said the first National Council completes its term in office on 28th of April 2013.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission (EC) announced that some 850 polling stations will be set up across the country and to be facilitated by some 4,651 election officials.

The EC said that about 387,733 eligible voters are expected to cast their votes on the poll day. Of this, 192,076 are females.

The EC has defined an age limit of 18 years as of January 1 this year for citizens to be eligible voters.

The results of the elections will be announced on April 24.

 From the last election cycle, in 2007

From the last election cycle, in 2007

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Bhutan News Service: Upcoming documentaries on the #refugee situation

Bhutan News Service is reporting the following, which will be of note to those interested in the refugee situation:

At least four movies, including two documentaries, based the Bhutanese refugees are on the pipeline for releasing within this year.

The Organization of Bhutanese Community in America (OBCA) is reportedly releasing Suruwat in a couple of months. Being planned to start screening from the United States of America, this is the first movie produced by the resettled Bhutanese.

Similarly, two documentaries on the pipeline for this year are Forgotten Exiles From Bhutan by a Dutch NGO Empowerment Foundation, and the Bel City by a British Charity, Home Where There Is Heart (HWH), both in collaboration with the Bhutan Media Society.

Promoted under the banner of Headwind Film, the Forgotten Refugee has highlighted resettlement of exiled Bhutanese in the Netherlands with a clear focus on the camp life, according to its Director Alice Verheij. A fiction book ‘Headwind’ will also be released along with the film.

While, the Bel City intends to inform the westerners about crux of the Bhutanese refugee problem and day-to-day life from the refugee camps, informed Justin Ash of the HWH.

Trailers of both the documentary films have already been released, while the production teams are currently engaged in fund raising for accomplishing the projects, which have investments mostly from individuals involved.

Meanwhile, it is learnt that production stage of a Christian movie, Pabitra Bandhan, has almost come to an end.

Directed by exiled artist Kedar Upreti (U.K.), who has already played various roles in over a dozen of movies, the film is based on cultural marriage under practice among the Christian communities in Nepal and refugee camps.

“We are currently working with two songs used in the film,” Director Upreti told Bhutan News Service. “We are done with the rest.”

Produced in the banner of Bhutanese Christian Connection, the film will have an overall investment of Rs 1 million, according to its Producer Balidan Ghimire.

“Though our market is limited, we are hopeful of making some profits as artists from both the refugee and host community have invested in the film,” said Producer Ghimire.

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#Refugee resettlement scam

News today from the Bhutan News Service of a scam artist (below) charging Nepali youth huge sums to qualify for resettlement in the US and other countries as “Bhutanese refugees.”

Woman involved in conning Nepalis for sending for resettlement arrestedPosted: 21 Aug 2011 04:40 AM PDT

Following a tip-off, Damak police arrested a local woman involved in conning Nepali youths with promises of sending them to the western countries by registering them as “Bhutanese refugees”.

Ajita Paudel (Picture courtesy :Purbelitime.com)

Police named the alleged cheater as Atija Paudel, a local woman of Damak-13, who already earned a lot of money by conning some 15 Nepali youths in the name of third country resettlement of the Bhutanese refugees.

“The investigation has revealed she was able to lure at least 15 youths making them pay up to Rs 1.5 million from each individual,” a local reported quoted Police Inspector Nabin Karki as saying to local media, Sunday.

Meanwhile, the accused woman expressed surprise over why she was arrested stating she has clearly told those youths that their money would be refunded incase she failed to resettle them.

According to Paudel, she even lodged those youths in a hotel for a month to teach them the basic “interview techniques” applied by the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees and International Organization for Migration.

“A number of agents are active in the business that I am involved with,” Paudel told reporters, confessing the fraud. However, she refused to elaborate it.

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