Category Archives: Commentary

Royal Pardon vs Social Media

Just a month after amendment of Tobacco Control Act 2010 by the Parliament, King Jigme Khesar has exercised a prerogative to release 16 persons convicted of tobacco smuggling.

However, many have already started commenting that both government and the King must have understood the role of media and social network groups against tobacco law. Thanks to “Amend the Tobacco Control Act” group in the Facebook for leading the social protest.

Definitely, Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley and King Khesar got an opportunity to accept that no people can respect an act that has been termed as “draconian” by parliamentarians including the Opposition Leader (OL).

The so-called democratic constitution that has placed the King above it allows him to grant amnesty to prisoners under Article 2, Section 16 (C). This provision states, “The Druk Gyalpo, in exercise of His Royal prerogatives, may grant amnesty, pardon and reduction of sentences”.

The royal amnesty has also set the first convicted monk student Sonam Tshering free.

He was arrested and detained on January 24 last year after he was caught with 48 packets of chewing tobacco that he purchased from India. Later in May, a kangaroo court convicted him and passed a verdict slapping him a jail term of 3 years.

The Prime Minister’s government was compelled to table amendment proposal of the world’s strictest tobacco law in January this year following widespread criticism from all sectors.

Accordingly, the amendment was passed and implemented as an urgent bill by the joint sitting of both the Houses.

PM Thinley become more serious fearing street protests when a petition signed by some 700 individuals asking for amendment was submitted to his government, Speaker of the National Assembly, Chairman of the National Council, and the OL.

From the time the act came into operation, altogether 59 persons including three non-Bhutanese have been charged of possession, sale or smuggling of tobacco products. Of them, over 20 have been convicted of smuggling and jailed.

The new amendment provides all tobacco convicts to deposit a fixed amount sufficient enough to suit the jail term defined by the verdict.

The royal pardon has hinted that no power can suppress innocent people in the name of creating a land free of tobacco. If this happens somehow, people will protest boldly against it.

Let my people go : with video

Ghatastapana is a national holiday in Nepal. Cherishing fond memories of each of the seven camps for Bhutanese refugees in eastern Nepal, I drive to Goldhap camp. A place once familiar looks strange. People used to throng to greet me, Namaste, the little ones calling “Father, Father!” The food distribution centres were crowded; opposite, old men sat in the “kiosk”, sharing their woes. The youth coordinators would be after me to see their activities.

Now I am alone. The area has been levelled and fenced. The JRS school boards stand as monuments of history. Our disability centre stands in the middle of the razed ground. As I enter, memories of every face that once welcomed me choke me, and I cry. The emotions frozen within all these years melt and flow down in tears.

I pass by the Kirati temple and the temple of Shiva – the symbols of my people’s faith in God during their 20-year exile. They never stopped hoping that God would lead them either back home or to a country where they would prosper. I go to our Blooming Lotus English School and climb onto the stage. Where are the hundreds of children at assembly?

As my hands cover my face, the students march in my memory chanting their favourite slogan, “We are born for greater things.” And I hear a voice saying, “I have observed the misery of my people in exile. I have heard their cry and have come to deliver them from this land to a prosperous country. Let my people go to celebrate joyfully the festival of life.” An echo of the words God spoke to Moses in Exodus. Should my people’s moving make me sad? No. The founder of JRS, Pedro Arrupe SJ, once said that as long as there is one refugee in this world, it will remain an unjust world.

The Bhutanese longed to return home but 16 rounds of ministerial talks between Bhutan and Nepal failed to make either repatriation or local integration possible. The only way ahead was resettlement to third countries. The process continues smoothly. Out of 107,000 refugees, more than 53,600 had gone by the end of September 2011. As the number of refugees shrinks, camps are being merged. By mid- 2012, there will be only two camps left.

The coming years will be challenging. We need to maintain the quality of our services despite budget cuts. The words of Robert Frost, “…I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep,” flash across my mind as I go to the office. The student statistics are still on the blackboard where, in a corner, someone wrote: “I love this school and this camp, all my teachers and friends, because I have passed class X from this school.” What a testimony! If our education has instilled such confidence, then we have achieved our goal and in humility should thank the Lord for this wonderful service.

Courtesy: http://www.jrs.net/

Bhutanese Refugees Past and Present: A look at where they are today

If you do a quick Google search about Bhutan, you may quickly discover that it has been rated as one of the world’s happiest countries. In 2006 they were chosen as the happiest Asian country and the 8th happiest country worldwide. Business Week notes, “The small Asian nation of Bhutan ranks eighth in the world, despite relatively low life expectancy, a literacy rate of just 47%, and a very low GDP per capita. Why? Researchers credit an unusually strong sense of national identity.”

However, this happiness and strong sense of national identity does not include the thousands of Bhutanese who were imprisoned, tortured, or forced to flee and who have been living in refugee camps in Nepal. Forced to leave Bhutan in the 1980s-1990s, groups of Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees have been living in limbo with uncertain futures.

History
Bhutan has many different ethnic groups, including the Lhotshampa, people of Nepali origin whose ancestors came to Bhutan in the 1890s as government contracts to cultivate Southern Bhutan farmland. The Lhotshampa stayed in Southern Bhutan and were given citizenship in 1958, which was later revoked in the 1980s under the guise that they were participating in anti-national movements. Tens of thousands of Southern Bhutanese were imprisoned, tortured, or fled the country. Some of them were arbitrarily expelled, while others fled in order to escape imprisonment. (See HRW “Last Hope, The Need for Durable Solutions for Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal and India” May 2007)

Although many fled to India, they were not allowed to set up permanent camps and therefore either stayed without documentation in India or moved to East Nepal, where the United Nations Higher Council for Refugees (UNHCR) established seven refugee camps. It is estimated that nearly 105,000 Bhutanese refugees were living in these camps in Nepal, which is approximately 1/6 of Bhutan’s actual population. (See “Bhutanese Refugees – A Story of Forgotten People”)

Bhutanese Refugee Journey: From a Refugee Camp in Nepal to Freedom in Seattle

Resettlement
As of 2008, nearly half of these hundreds of thousands of Bhutanese refugees have been resettled to third countries, including the United States, Australia, Britain, and other European countries. Resettlement to a third country is considered to be one of three viable solutions for refugees, the other two being returning to their country of origin or settling in their second country (i.e. Nepal and India). In the beginning of 2011, the United States had resettled nearly 35,000 Bhutanese refugees and promised to resettle up to 60,000. However, nearly 71,000 Bhutanese are still awaiting resettlement in the camps in Nepal.

Although there has been inter-camp strife about whether refugees should resettle in a third country or wait for repatriation, many Bhutanese easily chose to resettle in hopes of a better future for their children and families. However, as Human Rights Watch points out, it is not everyone’s goal. “But it’s not everyone’s dream. For many still in the camps – for older refugees, in particular, who remember their lives in Bhutan and still mourn their losses – watching their compatriots leave has been a bitter experience. About 17,000 of the remaining refugees have not sought third country resettlement, many still holding out for repatriation.”

The fact that the United States and other countries have so generously welcomed the Bhutanese into their countries is indeed admirable. However, that should not overshadow the fact that the Bhutanese, wherever they are, have the right to return to their homeland.

Sources
Amnesty International: Bhutan Human Rights
Bhutanese Refugees: The Story of a Forgotten People
Business Week: The Happiest Countries
Human Rights Watch: Last Hope
Human Rights Watch: For Bhutan’s Refugee, There is No Place Like Home

(Elizabeth Hebert, M.A. Conflict and Dispute Resolution, University of Oregon)

Gross National Happiness: A holistic paradigm for sustainable development

Hon. Vice President of India; Hon. Prime Minister of India; Hon. Speaker of the Lok Sabha; Hon’ble Ministers; Hon. Members of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha; Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen;

It is with immense humility that I have accepted the kind invitation of the Honourable Speaker of the Parliament of this great nation to deliver the 4th Professor Hiren Mukerjee Memorial Lecture here before this august assembly.

That the invitation should come from the Hon. Shrimati Meera Kumar, who has achieved the rare feat of becoming the first lady speaker of the world’s largest democracy is an exceptional honour. We in Bhutan, who closely observe the Indian democracy at work, admire the wisdom and beatific serenity with which the Hon. Speaker has been steering the often stormy deliberations in the Lok Sabah. I am also mindful of the presence of yet another great lady, Shrimati Sushama Swaraj, who has the singular distinction of leading democracy’s indispensable alternate voice in the Lok Sabha. Then again, it was from this House that a daughter of India arose to become one of the most illustrious Prime ministers in the world. That India should produce such women who elevate democracy is exemplary and inspirational in a world where women make up 40 percent of the global workforce but own only one percent of the world’s wealth with not enough role in shaping even their own lives.

Speaking as I do after three extraordinary minds since the inception of this memorial lecture, it is not without trepidation that I stand before you. But it is my realization of the honour you bestow on my country and the value you attach to the unique friendship between our countries that give me the courage to present my humble thoughts on a subject that is gaining world acceptance and merits your wise counsel and consideration. In so doing, I am fully aware that it would be too presumptuous on my part to even imagine that I have new knowledge or information to present to such a learned audience. My attempt shall be to present a set of humble views based on our national experiences in pursuing Gross National Happiness.

1. Tribute to Professor Hiren Mukerjee
Professor Hiren Mukerjee was a passionate politician of the kind who ennobled politics in a world, where we as politicians suffer from an unshakeable irony. We come to positions of leadership through an expression of trust at the time of elections. Yet, we are often the object of suspicion and scorn by the very same voters from the moment we assume our role. Too few among us carry the trust of the people we represent and, as a consequence, lack the conviction to do more.

Even upon having begun with the highest of ideals, we are disillusioned and discouraged by obstacles to our well-reasoned endeavours and ideas for change. Sadder yet is to find ourselves yielding to the common dye that moulds too many others. But Hiren Mukerjee was a man of conviction in his noble mission for the poor and voiceless. He refused to be cast by any mould or to be disillusioned and defeated. In both his oratory and prolific writing, the brilliant parliamentarian was unrelenting in his dogged pursuit of the highest ideals for his country and people. He spoke of politics as a suffering (passion) from which he sought no escape. Too many of our kind in the world mistake elected office as escape from suffering, seeing it instead, as positions of power and privilege and bear the guilt of denigrating the sacred words – politics and politicians. Professor Hiren was a giant in his lifetime and his spirit lives on to guide us in the furtherance of good politics and happiness among those that we serve.

2. Bhutan-India Friendship
Hon Vice President, allow me to present the greetings of my King who only recently chose India to be the first country to visit after the royal wedding just as he did after His coronation in 2008. I bring to you also the good wishes of my fellow citizens whose gratitude and appreciation for the people of India will always be immeasurable. This is palpable in our affection for and pride in the people of India for the amazing achievements you continue to make ever since my esteemed friend, HE Prime Minister Manmohan Singh introduced transformational policy and strategic changes while serving as the Finance Minister of India. From an economically poor country that was in danger of defaulting on its debts, the economy of India is today the ninth largest by nominal GDP and the fourth largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). I share with you the joy of the Bhutanese people as India and Indians take giant strides in science and technology, trade and industry, socio economic development and international relations. Further buttressed by its unrivalled cultural wealth, India is now in her rightful place as a world leader.

With generous and unfailing assistance from India, Bhutan too has been making notable advancement in all fields of development. Today, we have reached a stage when we can reasonably declare poverty eradication not just as a long term aspiration but as a realizable immediate objective. Putting every Rupee of Indian tax payers’ money to its intended purpose, I believe we have given successive governments of India reasons for satisfaction in the outcome of their well intended development assistance to their neighbour. In return, you have in my country a trusted ally and friend, with a growing capacity to contribute to mutually enriching and beneficial cooperation. In the process, we are together setting an enviable example of peaceful coexistence and cooperation between neighbours against the odds of various asymmetries and incongruities.

True friendship among nations is never conditioned by time and changing interests. Contrary to conventional thinking, it is selfless, enduring and transcends motives. It is founded on trust. Friendship raises national confidence and self esteem and it is uplifting. These are what Bhutanese see in our very special relations and that is why the Bhutanese will always have faith in our fraternity. Bhutan, I know, will always remain guided by her belief in a shared future of prosperity with India, to be realized through a common path paved with understanding, good will and mutual respect.

3. Leadership Role of India in the SAARC and the world
As I take joy in extolling the virtues of our exemplary relations, I am convinced that these bear testimony to India’s sincere quest for greater understanding and partnership with other neighbours as well. Surely, as our mutual gains become visible, the historical, psychological and emotional barriers behind the trust deficit in our sub-region will be overcome. I am confident, that the countries in our region will become more empathetic towards each other and more understanding of the inhibiting circumstances that have prevented greater regional cooperation. We must overcome the prejudices that influence us to read the worst of intentions in unfortunate incidents and find the wisdom for peaceful solutions to the wrongs that we may have suffered.

To this end, I pray that the honourable parliamentarians of our region will strengthen the resolve of our governments to find wise and durable solutions even to the most violent provocations and injuries. I appeal to our able, loyal and highly capable bureaucrats who are in the frontline of diplomacy to breach the walls of doubt and suspicion that prevent them from doing what is not traditional- from defying the logics of sacred precedents. And to the media, I urge restraint and search for truths beyond what may excite the mind and stimulate the flow of adrenaline in our sentimental and admirably, patriotic citizens.

We must, together, contribute positively to the making of a harmonious and cooperative SAARC. We will together, with our people, find the muse, the poetry and the melody to inspire ourselves. All of our nations stand to benefit not only economically from growing trade in goods and services and investment flows but from the peace and stability each of us needs to attend to the challenges of delivering what our voters and constituencies need. To this end, India must show the way. She must lead not only the region but the world.

As the largest democracy and as a powerful and rapidly expanding economy representing 17% of humanity, it is the destiny and, I dare say, obligation of India to be among those who, in a real sense, set the global agenda and have a profound role in shaping the destiny of mankind. That agenda is already becoming increasingly complex and challenging as never before. Issues of human security and survival will become an everyday subject, testing society’s conscience, capacity and resolve in ways that demand immediate and acceptable solutions. With no representation for more than one-seventh of the world’s population, I cannot see how such an awesome responsibility can be discharged by any group or body with legitimacy and competence.

In our globalized world, every national aspiration and its realization is conditioned more and more by what happens globally. Local initiatives and accomplishments will mean and matter less if not supported and facilitated by the global environment. It is for these reasons that Bhutan, like so many other countries, believes in the indisputable right of India to be permanently seated in an enlarged UN Security Council. It is, likewise, for the same reasons that we welcome India’s active participation in G-20, BRICS and ASEAN consultations. These are the reasons why India must assume the burden of taking the centre stage in global decision making processes and fora with clarity of vision.

4. Flaws in the World economic system
And the world is in dire need of visionary and purposeful leadership. It is a deeply troubled world that we live in today. Without clarity of vision and strength of purpose to alter the course of our perilous journey on which we are embarked, not only the sustainability of what human society has achieved but the very survival of life on earth is at risk. How did this come about?

The 20th century was a remarkable era that tested man and society’s endurance and genius. And the human spirit has endured and prevailed. Since the latter half of the century in particular, it brought about amazing transformation through unprecedented advancements in science, technology, the arts, and every other sphere of life. We have fathomed the depths of the dark ocean, unlocked the secrets of the vast universe and we even dare to rival the gods in the creation of life itself. We have conquered time and space. Medical wonders never cease and the market is stocked with boundless means to material comfort. Art and architecture, music and literature are flourishing within new dimensions to ascend new peaks. Access to information is instantaneous and knowledge abounds.

But are we any wiser? Have we acted responsibly? Have we employed the miracles of science and technology to make our future safe and predictably better? Have our great strides in arts, literature and architecture refined our mind, furthered true civilization and are we more secure as individuals and as a race? Have we found just and equitable ways to share earth’s scarce resources and is the wealth we are creating of real value? Does it last and give contentment? Are we creating a future of hope and confidence? Are we healthier of body and mind? Are we happier?

From the pains of the devastation of Europe and East Asia in the First World War, the Great Depression and the dust bowl of the United States in the 1930s and the ashes of the Second WW arose the aspiration for peace, stability and economic progress. This led to the agreement among the industrialized countries in the final stages of the WWII to establish the Bretton Woods institutions as the core of the new economic system to promote recovery and growth through investment, free trade and convertibility of currencies for payments.

The yard stick adopted by these institutions to monitor progress was GDP, an indicator developed by Nobel laureate Simon Kuznets for the US Department of Commerce. Intended to measure the market value of all goods and services produced within a country in a given period, it was never meant for anything more. However, fearing its misuse, Kuznets warned the US Congress that “the welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income.”

But somewhere, along the way, we lost our nobler sense and let our greed take over to engender an obsession for creation of wealth at any cost. Economists or powers behind market forces and their flawed theories fuelled this obsession. This obsession was given a shade of ethical rationale with the misuse of the GDP indicator. Professor Kuznets watched helplessly as his limited metric was assigned far broader role with GDP per capita being employed as a measure of a country’s standard of living and, by extension, the well being of its people. The Bretton Woods Institutions convinced a blindly willing world that aggregate wealth creation, making the rich richer, will benefit everyone.

The use of this indicator as the singular driver of development resulted in our pursuit of limitless growth in a finite world being measured, especially among so called developed and emerging economies, on a quarterly basis. It failed to take into account those aspects of development or changes that matter equally or more to human wellbeing. We ignored those mounting costs arising from activities to raise GDP. In the process, we have destroyed much of real and natural wealth that belong not only to our generations but to those unborn as well and all other life forms with whom we share this planet. We have done so for the sake of what we now begin to see are destructive illusions of prosperity, bringing upon ourselves an escalating number and magnitude of crises. These betrayed the very purposes for which the Bretton Woods Institutions were established. Here I am reminded of economics Nobel Laureate, Joe Stigliz, who remarked “what you measure is what you get.” And what do we get?

Our present GDP-based measures, literally report more fossil fuel combustion (and therefore more greenhouse gas emissions) as economic gain.

The faster we cut down our forests and haul in our fish stocks to extinction, and the more excessively we consume and deplete scarce resources, the more GDP grows.

Even pollution, crime, war, sickness, and natural disasters make GDP grow, simply because these ills cause money to be spent.

And GDP grows even as inequality and poverty increase.

5. A world in multiple crises:
Consumed by endless desire at any cost, ours is a story of an intelligent life form that stopped thinking rationally about its own wellbeing. Under the dictum of GDP, the primary function in life is to be economically productive to earn more income to consume more. Having reduced ourselves to mindless, insatiable and voracious beasts, we are consumers above all else and our value lies in the power to spend.

Our world is the market place and its forces rule our lives. We have created institutions and instruments beyond those of the Bretton Woods for subservience to these forces. Even the quality of democracy is gauged by the extent to which the market is allowed to function freely. Any intervention is frowned upon as undemocratic and sacrilegious. But we are discovering that the market goddess is neither infallible nor omnipotent. In her domain there reside no principles or values of democracy. She is whimsical, unpredictable at best and she can be cruel and unrepentant. She favours the rich against the poor and her unseen hand neglects those trapped in poverty. FAO reports that one in seven of the world’s population are hungry people while 850 million people are malnourished and 1.1 billion do not even have access to drinking water. 20% of the world’s rich people consume 86% of goods produced from our common heritage of natural resources, with the poorest 20% consuming just 1.3%.

With misplaced faith in GDP as the beacon for societal wellbeing, we have ceased to ponder the purpose of life. We speak of continuous and endless growth but never about its end purpose in relation to the ultimate purpose of life and desire of the human being. Our society is imperilled by the rising consequences of this irrational, irresponsible and reckless way of life. We are helpless hands aboard a rudderless ship in the middle of a tumultuous storm.

Ours is a world is troubled by economic and financial chaos; food and energy crises; health predicaments; environmental calamities; political instability and conflicts; and unconscionable social injustices and poverty amid affluence and wanton profit making.

6. Unravelling of the global economic system:
On 7th March, 2009,Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times: “What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall—when Mother Nature and the market both said: No more.”

With dramatic abruptness, major banks failed, iconic symbols of prosperity like General Motors went bankrupt, the stock market collapsed, life savings disappeared, the ranks of the unemployed swelled. These reminded us of how much of the wealth we create and accumulate is of no real value, for true wealth is what should provide security in difficult times of need. Europe is foundering in a gigantic debt crisis, the U.S. is deeply indebted, and years of sustained economic growth suddenly morphed—seemingly overnight—into the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression.

But what proved bankrupt in 2008 was not only a failed economic paradigm but its most eminent theorists and practitioners, and the accounting system that sent them the wrong messages. The real moment of truth came when Alan Greenspan, former head of the U.S. Federal Reserve and chief of all bankers, confessed before Congress that he’d been fatally wrong in his prescriptions for the economy, and that he, economic guru of gurus, had no inkling of the impending financial catastrophe.

And bereft of ideas, the remedial measures taken were a recipe for disaster. The collapse spurred by debt-fuelled growth was expected to be cured with yet more debt-fuelled growth.

Not only did the massive fiscal stimulus packages of 2008–2009 predictably fail to stimulate the economy in the longer term, but they hastened the systemic collapse. The impending double-dip recession in the west is now being ushered in with high unemployment rates and unprecedented national deficits. No more stimulus or bailouts now. The clarion call has changed from “stimulus” to “deficit reduction.”

Not surprisingly, social unrest is brewing from Greece to London to “occupy Wall Street movement by the 99%”. Even during the prior two decades of apparent prosperity, young people lost ground, saw their median incomes drop and their debt loads increase, and they voted less—a sure warning sign of growing alienation from the established order.

And this is what Christine Legarde, the IMF boss had to say just last week, “There is no economy in the world, whether low-income countries, emerging markets, middle-income countries or super-advanced economies that will be immune to the crisis that we see not only unfolding but escalating,” she warned that the global economy faces the prospect of “economic retraction, rising protectionism, isolation and . . . what happened in the 30s… It is not a crisis that will be resolved by one group of countries taking action. It is going to be hopefully resolved by all countries, all regions, all categories of countries actually taking action”.

But even if all countries do come together, what would we do? What measures would we agree upon that would bring about a permanent cure?

On September 26, 2008, French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said, “we must rethink the financial system from scratch, as at Bretton Woods.”[23]

In March 2010, Prime Minister Papandreou of Greece wrote: “Democratic governments worldwide must establish a new global financial architecture, as bold in its own way as Bretton Woods, as bold as the creation of the European Community and European Monetary Union. And we need it fast.” Joseph Stiglitz, likewise, argued in his article ‘towards a new global economic compact’ that, we are at another Bretton Woods moment…. We must not lose sight of our collective responsibility to do our best to prevent the recurrence of such devastating crises and to ensure an international system to support sustained and equitable development.

7. Dislocation of social systems
Amid such mindless economic growth and collapse of the economic system, if there ever was one, the nobler values of a civilized society are being eroded. Family, community and relationships that form the very core and basis of society are disintegrating.

We labour like mindless robots to earn more, unaware that there can never be enough to feed the insatiable greed within us. Those of us who supposedly succeed in the rat race, and are ‘ahead’, soon become aware of its hollowness and suffer the terrible physical, emotional and psychological costs. Without the support of stable and caring family or relationships, these are all the more difficult to bear. The stresses and strains are deepened by the loss of trust, unbearable loneliness, hostile perceptions, and the culture of competition. These are what have brought about a world suicide rate of 10.07 per 100,000 people or 1 million suicides each year – an increase of 60% in the last 45 years according to the WHO. Every 40 seconds, somebody takes his own life out of despair. And this does not include the 20 failed suicide attempts for each successful one.1 in 4 people in the world is affected by mental or neurological disorder at some point in their life with about 450 million people currently suffering from such conditions.

As more of us use only our digits in this digital age, the calories we consume make us weaker and vulnerable to a host of life style diseases. We live in bigger homes but have no room for relatives, friends and even parents; drive big, fast cars but cannot reach our loved and dear ones in times of need; adorn our wrists with precision watches to manage time, but find no moment for rest and leisure.

And how many of us look forward to the much deserved retirement at the end of our stressful and strenuous life? Who among us has the comforting knowledge that, as in the past before the advent of consumerism and nuclear families, we will age in grace and dignity – that we will be venerated and cared for by our younger generations? As modern medicine gives us longer life, are we not fearful of a prolonged winter of indignities and loneliness on the fringes of society? And as the younger and rich among us contemplate the modern-day convenience of consigning our aged parents to old-age homes, we need to accept the truth that the professional care they receive can never replace the love, respect and dignity they deserve. Dying amid family and loved ones, knowing there will be those who will grieve and mourn are part of ending life well. We need to ask whether India’s growing prosperity will come at all these unthinkable costs. What might India be doing to preserve, among others, the integrity of her extended family network that is the most natural and therefore, sustainable social safety net unlike the artificial social security systems that are failing even among the wealthiest of nations.

8. Collapse of Ecosystem:
Monbiot, an analyst and free thinker, wrote in the Guardian, “When the world’s ecological debt comes due, no World Bank or IMF bailout package will save the day.” For the first time, since the Industrial Revolution, it is clear that the next generation will not be better off than previous ones—economically, socially, or ecologically.

In our obsession with growth, we are over producing through over extraction of our planet’s scarce resources. Ecological footprint analysis points out that, by 2006, humanity as a whole was using 40 percent more than what the earth can regenerate. That means the living generations are already using up resources that belong to generations who are not here to fend for themselves. Yet, in recent years, the extractive industry has become even more exploitative to feed the soaring demands of the major emerging economies. Our excessive production of every conceivable item, from food to luxury goods, is beyond our actual needs. We know that starvation, malnutrition and preventable deaths are more the result of distributional failure than the absolute shortage of food and medicine.

The mountains of hazardous waste, environmental pollution, rapid depletion of natural resources and loss of bio diversity are the direct costs. These in turn are raising global temperatures, exposing life forms to harmful rays of the sun, with devastating and irreparable consequences of both the known and unknown kinds. Our climate is changing in ways that are confusing farmers and crops alike. Traditional wisdom is becoming irrelevant in farming, and crop failures and famines are becoming more frequent. Water sources, if not poisoned, are drying even in the high reservoirs of the Himalayas. Conflicts within and among nations for control of scarce resources are in the making with possible resolutions hindered by poor and often deteriorating neighbourly relations. Species are disappearing for ever and bring closer the reality of the end of human life.

In my own country, there are alarming signs of climate change. Not the least of these is the 22% withdrawal of the Himalayan glaciers in the last 30yrs. These feed the 2,674 glacial lakes in Bhutan which, in turn, are the sources of our river systems. At the current rate of global warming, glaciologists predict that all of the glaciers in the Himalayas could disappear in a few decades causing immeasurable destruction of life and property by glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs). But the costs for the Himalayan kingdoms of Bhutan and Nepal would pale to insignificance in comparison to the consequences on the Indian subcontinent, China and the Mekong Delta region.

What if the glacier-fed rivers of the Brahmaputra and the Ganges were to stop flowing just as many other rivers around the world will and there is no more ground water left to pump? How do we deal with the increasingly unpredictable weather conditions and the changing climate, not to speak of the rising frequency with which we are struck by natural calamities? How can mankind survive in a world without natural resources and an environment that is poisonous and inhospitable?

Allow me Hon. Vice President, at this point, to cite a heartening remark made by the Hon. Speaker last year at the 15th Radha Krishan Memorial Lecture wherein you had said, “History bears testimony to the fact that nature and environment have been central to our civilizational ethos. … Respect for our rich biodiversity is deeply ingrained in our psyche.” Likewise, the hon’ble Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said elsewhere that, “The concern for ecological sustainability is not a new phenomenon. In fact, India has a long cultural tradition of frugality and simple living in harmony with nature. All great religions which have traversed in our country have preached the unity of humankind with nature.”

India has the wisdom and the capacity to make a difference. I believe this great nation can do more not only on the domestic front but in the international fora to bring about a more responsible international response to the threats of an ecological catastrophe from which mankind may never recover. I am confident that India will play a positive and decisive role at the RIO+20 where the fate of humanity may, very well, be determined.

9. Search for a new economic paradigm
We are at a crossroads. While accepting the many good that the GDP based development model has done, it is time, if not too late, to accept that we need to relegate it to its limited use and establish a new architecture for genuine and progressive development of human society. Taking time away from the delusions of the material world and its suicidal tendency, we need to engage in serious reflection and contemplation.

Honourable Prime Minister, you have said: “In the final analysis, we have to recognize that the world must move away from production and consumption patterns which are carbon-intensive and energy-intensive. ….. We have to make changes in our lifestyles…that, charting these new pathways is not beyond our collective imagination. Life as we know it on our own beautiful planet is at stake.”

We need to be clear about what truly matters to us as human beings and live our life in ways that will give us contentment and happiness within a safe and supportive environment. We need to ensure that the good we have accomplished can be sustained and that meaningful societal progress can continue in ways that will ensure intergenerational equity. All we really need to do is let common sense and reason prevail. And measure what matters.

Recognizing such need, various attempts are being made to develop indices that are more comprehensive and promote sustainable human wellbeing. Some already in use are the:

Human Development Index (HDI) of the UNDP which measures development by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income;

Genuine Progress Index (GPI) or sustainable economic welfare, which adjusts GDP for income distribution, adds value of household and volunteer work, and subtracts costs of crime and pollution;

Happy Planet Index (HPI) by New Economics Foundation, which ranks countries along life expectancy, life satisfaction, and per capita ecological footprint.; Now most recently, the

OECD Better Lives Dashboard – which is a compendium of indicators produced in 2011 to develop multi-dimensional approaches to welfare or wellbeing measurement.

But except for the UNDP’s HDI, these conceptual frameworks to promote and measure genuine progress are still on the margins of public policy. In the meanwhile, societies are increasingly dissatisfied with failure of governments to provide long term solutions.

Then, of course, there has always been the philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) that has guided Bhutan’s development since the early 70s.

10. Gross National Happiness
Premised on the belief that Happiness is the purpose and ultimate desire of every human being, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the 4th King of Bhutan established Gross National Happiness as the country’s purpose of development. As human beings, we have needs not only for the body but of the mind and it is when the two needs are equally attended that one is able to enjoy a sustained state of being that is called happiness. Happiness is not ephemeral and is only partly conditioned by external stimuli. It is the ultimate desire of every human being and it is only natural that the primary role of the state must be to create enabling conditions for any citizen who chooses to pursue happiness. It is mainly for this role that the government must be held accountable.

Ever since GNH was introduced to the world as an alternate development paradigm at the UNDP Asia-Pacific Millennium Summit in 1998, more than 25 years after its application in Bhutan, it has become a popular subject of global discourse. In its wake, it has spawned a plethora of researches, books as well as various initiatives to translate its principles into action at the national, sub national, corporate and individual family levels. This led Bhutan, to collaborate with many thinkers and like-minded scholars across the world to develop robust measures, beyond the earlier initial four pillars of GNH, to assess the variations in happiness levels as a result of public policies, programmes and resource allocations by government. This included five international conferences on GNH across three continents of North America, South America and Asia with numerous national and institutional level meetings being held in many countries across the world. Consequently, there is now in place a comprehensive set of indices comprising nine causes or domains of happiness. These provide for a holistic, sustainable and inclusive development model which can be measured through 72 variables.

The nine domains are:

1. Living Standard, which covers basic economic status of citizens, incidence of poverty, level of employment, income distribution and inequalities and so on;

2. Health Status, which measures all health related conditions including life expectancy and morbidity rates;

3. Educational standard and relevance, which determines educational and skill access or attainment; integrity of family; civic, and cultural knowledge etc;

4. Ecological Diversity and Resilience, that will evaluate the status of land, water, forest, air, and biodiversity including such determinants as production, waste, transportation, energy use, and ecological footprint;

5. Cultural Diversity and Resilience, as a measure of people’s core values, local customs and traditions, and related changes etc ;

6. Community Vitality, which will asses the strengths and weaknesses in relationships, trust, voluntarism, community life and general social capital including the vitality of extended family network;

7. Time Use, will look into proportion of time accorded to work, travel, household chores, social, leisure and family vitalizing activities;

8. Psychological Well being, the decline of which is among the biggest challenges of modern, urban life will look at various levels of mental illness, suicide and such other incidence; and lastly,

9. Governance Quality, that will measure participation; delivery of justice; freedom and quality of media; transparency, accountability, corruption; trust in media and government and so on.

The seriousness with which these indices are applied on the ground in Bhutan is to be found in the way all proposed government policies are subject to a screening process by the Gross National Happiness Commission. The process ensures that unless a policy contributes positively to each of the domains or is negative at the very least, it is rejected and can be reconsidered only if the negative aspects are removed or replaced with positive ones. Likewise, it is rare for any public discourse on development to take place without invoking GNH. It is in keeping with this pervasive and conscious pursuit of happiness that even the annual State of the Nation Report of the Prime minister to the Parliament is structured and presented on the basis of the four pillars of Gross National Happiness.

It may be of some interest to the distinguished gathering that the last national population housing and census reported the following levels of happiness among the Bhutanese people:

Not very happy = 3%
Happy =52%
Very happy = 45%

Various comparative indices have similarly, shown Bhutan as being among the happiest country in the world. And therefore, it is no wonder that many visitors to Bhutan are people in quest of happiness believing that we are a happy people, a happy country. I am at pains to explain that Bhutan is far from happiness as a poor country that is still at a stage of development when providing basic services to the people is a major challenge and when a significant section of our people still live in squalor. What is however, different between Bhutan and most other countries is that we are serious about the pursuit of happiness and long term survival. Happiness in Bhutan is the basis of all public policies and resultant decisions on resources allocation.

The truth is that no country and no people anywhere can be complacent and rightly claim to be happy. How can anyone be happy when all things are falling apart and when our future as a race is doomed, unless we start acting responsibly and sensibly – unless we are able to break out of the mould of consumerism to pursue not so much the unknown but the less trodden saner path.

I do not despair. I am encouraged by the dedication of President Sarkozy to the search for an alternate development paradigm that will promote happiness. I am heartened by Prime Minister David Cameron’s policy and measures being taken to make wellbeing the central purpose of British governance. I am enthused by Australian government’s announcement that its ranking on the GNH index had risen by 0.3 points during 2010. Likewise, the Japanese government’s announcement earlier this month, that it will soon launch a GNH survey was refreshing. And in Brazil, sub-national governments and communities have already started implementing GNH metrics and programmes. Upon universities having started courses on GNH and Institutes of GNH having popped up in various parts of the world, there is cause for hope. I certainly considered it very significant that the magazine, OUTLOOK should bring out a cover story last month on “India’s Happiest Cities” with Jaipur being the happiest, Ahmedabad the least happy and Mumbai being happier than Delhi.

And there in the United Nations, the General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution in July this year, on the pursuit of Happiness as a timeless goal that provides the basis for a holistic, sustainable and inclusive development paradigm. In April 2012, Bhutan will be the coordinator for a high level meeting at the UN in New York at which, leaders, governments, thinkers, economists and scientists and civil society will come together to direct and establish an arrangement for the development of a holistic and inclusive paradigm for sustainable human wellbeing.

India’s direct and substantive role at the meeting to launch the endeavour toward a new paradigm is critical not only because of its demographic responsibility but because India and the people of India have the wisdom and capacity to make a big difference to the outcome. It is also because we can no longer delay our departure from what is just not sustainable and will end life on earth.

Just as the dark future will be of our own making, it is within the genius of mankind to make it bright and hopeful. What it needs is the will to do so.

I believe this is the kind of endeavour for the success of which Professor Hiren Mukherjee would have lent his brilliant mind and winning oratory.

I thank you for your kind indulgence.

Tashi Delek

(Lecture delivered at the Fourth Prof Hiren Mukherjee Lecture in Indian parliament)

Tick tock KABOOM

Youth crime is a growing problem in our kingdom. And according to the prime minister, “the answer lies in GNH.”

I’m happy that the prime minister has acknowledged the problem: that youth crime is real and that it is growing.

And I’m happy that he has an answer to that problem: GNH.

A good segment of our youth, especially those living in Thimphu, are in trouble. They are scared. They are anxious. And they are desperate.

So if GNH is the answer, let’s use it.

But if GNH isn’t the answer, let’s admit it, let’s look for solutions that could work, and let’s get cracking.

Reports of youth violence, vandalism, theft, drug abuse, rape, gang fights, prostitution, murder and suicides are on the increase. But what we know from the media may only be the tip of the iceberg. The reality, as Xochitl Rodriguez found out, could actually be worse.

Xochitl spent some time in Changjiji last year. And she blogged about what she saw – the suffering and desperation of our children. I’m reproducing her entire article here for our collective reference, and as a reminder of the magnitude and urgency of the work at hand.

“there are no children here”

I’ve spent these last few days in Changjiji. The Tarayana Foundation has kindly sponsored the “Tarayana Summer Camp for Leadership, Art and Hope” in Changjiji. It is Changjiji’s first out of school camp and it couldn’t come at a better time. Changjiji is suffering.

During our daily one hour sessions, each group of camp participants shares their stories with me. They are all between the ages of 12 and 19.

“Madame, I don’t like my father. He is drunk always…he beats and sleeps. I cannot stay there.”

“Madame, I have to fight. We all do. We get to show our fighting styles and show who is boss.”

“Madame, kids go to the bridge to date but they have more than one boyfriend. They are having affairs.”

“We make gang to protect ourselves. if someone comes we slice them”…when asked if they feel bad because other people are frightened, they respond, “no Madame, they can join and also be protected”…when I ask what they are protecting themselves from, the response is “it’s just like that.”

“My friend’s grab my arm and twist. It’s just like that, Madame”…this said with penetrating and somehow gentle intensity in her eyes.

“Yes madame! I went roaming up up up and thats where I had first N10 [a drug]. My head was like this after [moving his small fingers in circles with an innocent smile].”

“Drugs make everything fine. When parents beat or friends beat or parents divorce…its just like that.”

“If older boy says, I have to do, madame.”

“Too scared to walk at night alone, Madame. They will rag [steal] on me. If I don’t give they’ll beat and maybe stab.”

“Madame, you cannot call the police. They will not come and when they come it’s late. They are afraid of the bosses.”

“Madame! Last year I left home for six months tour of Bhutan, didn’t inform my parents. Went for tour of all Bhutan!” When asked if he saw everything he needed to see, his response was…”no Madame, I like to see other places. Much nicer than here and parents will only scold and beat for one day. I was gone six months.”

A 13 year old boy looks at me and says “Madame, I’ll tell you one story. A man didn’t give me 5 rupees for the bus to go to the emergency room. I got my friends and took 500 from him. I just reached like this into his box and took. This is for revenge. I have to show I’m boss.” When I explained that a simple act of unkindness or perhaps greed, or maybe flat out poverty led him to respond in a way that was at least 100 times worse than what this man did, the boy explains, “If I need he should give.”

This is compassion gone wrong. This is defense systems smashing crashing themselves into offense systems. This is unrest in the peaceful kingdom. This is suffering in the land of happiness. This is a generational gap taking its casualties. This is fear unbridled. This is confusion exploding and imploding. This is misguidance and misunderstanding. All of this is very sad.

I often ask myself, how did this happen? Is all this in us as humans? Is there no way to stop it because it is in fact our nature? Is it a fact of nature or is it the absence of proper nurturing? (Oh that age old debate between nature and nurture!)

These young humans are in no way weak. They are, indeed, very strong. Stronger than I can ever remember being when I was a girl. I could probably safely say they are also stronger than I can imagine being now as an older lady. 12 year old boys who know the names of every drug in Bhutan and just how to use it, those same boys filled with fear to walk alone at night because they may wind up in the violent arms of an older boy. 13 year old girls whose friends have multiple sex partners. It is normal for them to see fights. It is normal for them to feel afraid. And still, they smile.

I know a few neighborhoods back home that have hints and pieces of such problems. and of course, there are certain large cities in the U.S. a lady like myself would not even dare driving through, much less walk. However, in Bhutan?

How did this happen in Bhutan?

Parents are not debilitated with fear, parents are not being stabbed by gang members, parents do not even like to admit their children are going through these things, much less taking part in such things. So this only makes me ask again, in a country where its youth are the priority how did this happen in Bhutan?

Amidst an infinite and very complex web of causes and effects I manage to pull something from the sticky strings. That is, the idea of little humans growing up to be products of their environment.

Now, when I observe and question whether these little humans are a product of their environment I cannot ignore the voice in my head telling me this is one of the reasons for the problem. It is never completely a child’s fault when they wind up behaving badly. There are so many factors that contribute to the LOSS OF VALUES that has led them to behave badly. This only leads me to ask how BHUTAN is home to such an environment. It’s important to keep in mind that when I use the word ‘environment’ I am referring to an untouchable thing. I am referring to the workings of a machine that is, obviously, beyond control. I am referring to images and ideas about a world that is only seen on a screen. I am referring to mothers and fathers who are products of their own environments and are perpetuating this new environment. I am referring to the real and honest concern and attention that is missing in the broader realm of what these children are exposed to.

In a land where prayer flags flap in the wind everywhere, where mountains foster peace on their peaks…in a land where spiritual connections are living, breathing, walking beings…where the King plays soccer barefoot with boys from rural villages…how did this happen in a land like this? Has this happened because this new environment (the outside one) came too fast? Has this happened because the two environments that merged together didn’t actually merge…they CRASHED. Though this country’s development model in its great wisdom is designed to avoid the mistakes other developing and developed countries have made, something isn’t working. Perhaps, it’s better to say something malfunctioned. Perhaps I am too close to the matter. Perhaps, the tremendous love I have for this country has made me worry too much. Be it as it may, these problems that might seem normal in other places, are especially heartbreaking to find here. Of course, I’ve always been a bit too sensitive and perhaps I’m speaking too soon.
Perhaps. But then again, Bhutan is small. There are stabbings nearly every week. Children are ‘roaming’ and hiding in friends’ houses instead of going home. 12 year old girls speak of their promiscuous friends. At least half a city is abusing or has abused substances by the age of 15 (please do forgive me if this is inaccurate, but the children and I made an educated guess). Alcoholism is present in adults and youth.

Something has malfunctioned.

I could not say what it is that has malfunctioned. I even hesitate to write these things about Bhutan because I am not from this beautiful place and no given number of hours spent with youth could ever allow me to fully understand the scope of this situation. However, I have to share what I have seen and what the youth I have worked with have shared with me. I’ve always been one for honesty. The children deserve honesty. They deserve honesty because if that’s absent, things will never be better for them.

Now, it must be made clear that Bhutan’s most precarious youth situation lives in Changjiji. It is for that reason that this summer camp was organized there. Sonam Pelden is a counselor at Loselling Middle Secondary School and was instrumental in designing this camp. In her mighty wisdom and because of her admirable concern and dedication, she decided that something had to be done for these youngsters during their summer break. The situation is such that it is, in fact, possible that occupying their idle time like this, could avoid one more fight in Changjiji…could avoid one more stabbing in Changjiji…could avoid one more youngster starting a drug habit. Originally, the participants in the summer camp included 40 students who were nominated by the two school counselors from Loselling Middle Secondary School. These forty children were selected because they were more ‘at risk’ than the rest of the students. They are believed to be the MOST ‘at risk’ in-school youngsters in Changjiji. Unfortunately, most of these youngsters didn’t turn up. 67 other youngsters, however, did turn up!! Of course, this has made the camp a bit more challenging for the volunteers who are guiding the workshops, but we probably all agree, we couldn’t be more excited!

A young girl asked me today, “Madame, why do you like Bhutan?” I thought for a moment and replied “Bhutan gives me hope.”

She smiled and continued questioning me curiously, “But why Madame? You are from America. That’s the best place!” I answered, “Oh my dear, America has many many problems…we’ve just practiced hiding them for a long time. In Bhutan, there are no secrets. If I keep my eyes open I see so many things here. My country will never fix things because we are not always honest. People would rather close their eyes. In Bhutan, everything is very honest [whether purposely or accidently]…so there’s hope to fix it because it cannot be hidden.”

She smiled and I only hope she understood. At the very least, I know she was proud to be part of hope.

Thinking back to the things these youngsters have said to me in the last few days, I can only imagine what the selected students might have to say. My heart tightens when I think of what they might have said. My heart tightens when I wonder what they might be doing instead of attending the summer camp.

It’s unfortunate that they aren’t part of the beautiful things that have been happened in the last four days. To effectively and thoroughly understand the stories we’re trying to tell in our ‘forum-theater’ based performances the little humans and I have been systematically breaking down issues of substance abuse, violence, “affairs”, crime, and sanitation. All of these issues are boiling over in Changjiji.

Our analysis method is simple. We start with one sentence that identifies the problem. 1) “Substance abuse is an increasing problem among youth in Changjiji.” 2) “Changjiji is no longer safe due to an increase in violent incidents.” 3) “Youth in Changjiji are increasingly having intimate affairs with multiple partners.” 4) “Crime and fear are growing together making Changjiji a dangerous place to live.” 5) “Poor sanitation is leading to low health standards and living standards in Changjiji.”

After identifying the problem in one sentence, we identify the causes and effects of the problem together. I ask the youngsters questions and they also ask me questions. At this point, the chalkboard goes white with scribbled thoughts. Arrows shoot from one side of the board to the other showing us how EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED and problems NEVER simply exist. They are always a product of many tiny details compounded together.

After breaking down the drug problem, one youngster pointed at the right side of the board and moved his hand to the left. He said “Madame, if the government stopped drugs in Phuentsholing [Bhutan's biggest border city and the port through which nearly all goods enter Bhutan] they would never reach Thimphu. There would be no drugs?”

I smile. This camp is indeed a “Camp for Leadership, Art and Hope.”

The youngsters are full of wisdom and insight. They know what is happening they just don’t always understand it. They FEEL the effects of what could (most) simply be described as “tick tock KABOOM” they just don’t always understand how to make those effects postivie…because they’re only children.

The last two days of the workshop ended with 72 children singing “Blowing in the Wind” (a song by the American musician Bob Dylan) in unison. The group, made up of gang members, drug users, victims of domestic violence and more fortunate and innocent youth, sang louder as the chorus came. “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind…the answer is blowing in the wind.”

I explained before we started learning “Blowin’ in the Wind” that Bob Dylan changed the world of music. He sang songs of beauty to respond to an ugly war-one of the most violent and unnecessary war’s the U.S. has ever been a part of. Rather than responding with anger and violence he sang beauty and the world heard him. I explained that when Dylan was interviewed about his music, reporters would ask, “Are you writing protest songs? Are you writing songs about the war?” and Dylan’s response was always, “Na man…I just write about what I see.”

I explained that Dylan simply told the truth. As his eyes saw it he sang it. He simply sang reality. The youngsters looked at me and nodded that hard and certain nod they rarely use.

As I looked at their faces it rang in my ears…the title of a book by Alex Kotlowitz I read long ago: “There Are No Children Here.”

But there are children here.

They are children.

THEY ARE ALL CHILDREN

Tobgay is leader of opposition and blogs at www.tsheringtobgay.com

Modernising Kurdistan : A Bhutanese Approach

Imagine a country where happiness is the guiding principal of government. Imagine a people who see all life as sacred and the source of their happiness, a place with an abundance of clean and renewable energy, a nation committed to preserving its culture. Imagine a Kingdom where the King lives in a simple wooden cottage and judges his progress by the country’s “Gross National Happiness.”

The idea for today’s blog came after a Friday get together with a group of friends who keen so much love for Kurdistan.  We had a wonderful lunch and then we decided to watch a documentary on the little Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.  As I was watching the documentary and learning about their philosophy of happiness, ideas started flourishing; we could possibly consider parts of the Bhutanese approach in modernizing Kurdistan to meet our people’s needs.

In the United States and in many other industrialized countries, happiness is often equated with money. Around the world, a growing number of economists, social scientists, corporate leaders and bureaucrats are trying to develop measurements that take into account not just the flow of money but also access to health care, free time with family, conservation of natural resources and other non-economic factors.

But to the Bhutanese, happiness lies in the middle path.  Neither overindulging in the world’s pleasures nor rejecting the world’s goodness can lead to enlightenment.  Happiness can only be found by taking the middle path – the path that balances the needs of mankind with the powerful spirits of nature.

Economists in the industrialized societies rely heavily on gross domestic product, or G.D.P as a predictor of the well-being of a nation.  But the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has been trying out a different idea. In 1972, concerned about the problems afflicting other developing countries that focused only on economic growth, Bhutan’s newly crowned leader, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decided to make his nation’s priority not its G.D.P. but its G.N.H., or gross national happiness.

Their four pillars of GNH focuses on having a good governance responsive to the people’s needs, a balanced economic development, preserving the environment and promoting the Bhutanian culture.

Most Bhutanese regard nature as a living, breathing entity and hold it precious and sacred. Damaging nature, therefore, has its consequences.  Because of their belief system, they have a very high regard and respect for the land and their environment. With loans from the government of India, Bhutan has built several mammoth underground hydroelectric plant.  The Bhutanese pay less for electricity than any other nation in the world and produce so much power that most of  this energy  is exported to India financing the bulk of the government’s budget and providing free health care and education to every Bhutanese.  All this achieved with run of the river hydro plants, sustainable energy without massive dams and displacement of people. The country now demands that at least 60 percent of its lands remain forested. “We have to look after the environment, environment should be conserved. We feel that the natural environment is an integral part of life in Bhutan”, said Bhutan’s home minister. “Material well-being is only one component. That doesn’t ensure that you’re at peace with your environment and in harmony with each other”, he continues.

Bhutan is also known internationally for one thing: high visa fees, which reduce the influx of tourists.  The high visa cost goes hand in hand with the GNH philosophy: more tourists might boost the economy, but they would damage Bhutan’s environment and culture, and so reduce happiness in the long run.

To enhance happiness is to look after their culture. Bhutan is located between two humongous nation rich in culture; India and china. To survive, the Bhutanian felt a must in having a distinctive identity.  To feel and smell identity, you look at the art, the cloths, the way the architecture is set up, the language and the music.  When you look around, you automatically get the sense of the distinctive Bhutanese culture.  Looking at the new architecture set ups in Kurdistan makes one wonder if the set up is in harmony with the Kurdish culture. Where do all the ideas for the construction that is currently taking place in Kurdistan come from?  All from the west.  How about our art skills, our video clips and music programs. We take them all, as they are, from the West. This is how I feel we live; we live off of other people’s thought process.  Other’s invite and we simply consume

It only bothers me to see American and English names on shops and restaurants as I walk or drive in Hawler.  Where is the pride in the Kurdish language?  Modernization does not translate into westernization.  Westernization both creates and destroys values.  The values destroyed are typically traditional and indigenous while the new values are more materialistic that fuels consumerism and civilization.

Now here is the question, can we modernize Kurdistan while preserving the Kurdish culture and its beautiful nature? Can we make happiness and the well being of our citizens the number one priority in implementing any system toward a good governance?

The beauty of nature in Bhutan is impossible to miss. Its therefore of no surprise that Bhutan is one of the countries that I am targeting to explore next.

Source : Kurdishaspect.com

GNH vs GPH

Really growing happiness

Yeshey Dorji, a prolific blogger (and an excellent photographer), weighed in on minister Khaw Boon Wan’s controversial comments by concurring with the view that since we want to emulate Singapore, for us Singapore could well be the Shangri-la.

But regardless of where Shangri-la may lie, Yeshey admits to finding GNH confusing, and raises the alarming prospect that GNH may actually undermine personal happiness. This is what he writes:

“GNH, GNH. GNH – Oh God, it is so confusing. This GNH has me totally baffled. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the principles of GNH are the antithesis to GPH – Gross Personal Happiness.

“At one point soon, we must all calmly sit down and debate on the issue: Can GNH contribute to GPH; if not, what is the point? Can GNH be achieved without usurping GPH? Is GNH more important than GPH?”

Yeshey Dorji is not alone. GNH has indeed become complicated. This simple, straightforward idea, which has quietly guided our country’s development till now, seems to have suddenly become an animated metaphysical commentary on how to make the whole world a happier place.

So let’s go back to the basics, and relearn GNH.

This is how His Majesty the King explains GNH:

“Today, GNH has come to mean so many things to so many people but to me it signifies simply – Development with Values.”

This is how Simpleshow describes it.

And this is how Mieko Nishimizu sees it:

“A philosophy that sets the mandate of government as removing obstacles of public nature to enable individual citizen’s pursuit of happiness.”

But what about Yeshey Dorji’s important question: “Can GNH contribute to GPH?”

Dr Nishimizu would answer “Yes!” In fact, just last week, she delivered a lecture at RIM telling us how Ina Foods, a business company in rural Japan, has embraced GNH principles to make their employees happier, and how, in the process, the company itself has become more sustainable and very profitable.

Happy people, making money, in a sustainable way – perhaps Shangri-la is in Ina!

Tobgay blog at http://www.tsheringtobgay.com/

Promoting What is Ours

“What are three aspects that you think distinguish Bhutan from other countries in the region,” a visitor once asked me. And just as any Bhutanese would answer, I took no time in listing the three things that I thought attribute to Bhutan’s uniqueness – our unique architecture, our artistic weaving culture and our pristine natural environment. I explained the visitor he whole thing with so much pride. That I meant it from my heart he understood it.

Bhutan is dotted with these majestically erected fortresses that sit high atop hills overlooking the valleys down below. They are the true representation of our architectural uniqueness. These dzongs are the living testimony to our artistic skills and architectural magnificence. These monumental structures, which come as gifts from our forefathers, embody our identity. And therein contains our way of life; therein contains our history. These dzongs do us proud and treat charming grandeur to foreign eyes.

Our unique architectural splendor does not end with the dzongs. Our traditional houses in the villages are still built in a style that our forefathers passed down to us. The way our doors and windows open outside, the way they are carved with unique patterns and designs, the way our houses are roofed, the way they are partitioned, the way they are painted, are something that capture the essence of being Bhutanese.

But with modernization, we build less and less houses in a way our forefathers had built them. Even in the villages our unique designs have started to yield to a mighty and tempting force of modernization. Some changes maybe for the better and some may not. And with not many people wanting to learn the art of building traditional houses, it is a cause for concern. These old village houses would only keep standing until our old villagers stay in their traditional setting. As more and more people exit our villages, there would be far less people to preserve our age-old structures and build them.

And welcome to the towns and cities. Here we would find more houses that are almost alien to our traditional architecture. I say almost because our government has this rule. On one hand we take so much pride in the style we build our houses and on the other we depend entirely on the hired Indian laborers to construct almost all the buildings from start to finish. Over the years these laborers seem to have mastered the art of building Bhutanese homes. They do it for cheaper prices. At that rate, Bhutanese carpenters would only grin and walk away.

And if this trend continues then a day would come when we would have only Indian carpenters and laborers building houses for Bhutanese. By then we would have permanently lost the art that’s truly our own. And it would be one embarrassing moment having to learn our art from some foreigners. Unless we do something drastic, we fear the seed is already been sown. Of course we have our Zorichusum (thirteen arts) institutes teaching our young children our traditional arts and crafts. And it is important to render all possible support to these institutions so that our youths take interest in joining them. There lies our hope.

Our weaving culture narrates the same story. In the past our people automatically learnt the art from their parents in the villages. Parents made sure that their children acquire the art from young age. This was how our beautiful textiles with lovely patterns got woven. These fabrics represent our creativity and artistic expression.

Today most of us live in towns and cities and our children go to schools. We go to offices in the morning and come home only in the evening. And even if we may have accidentally learnt the art of weaving from our parents, we are too busy to teach our children. As a result there are not many people who are into weaving habit. Even if some women dare weave, what they earn in a longer duration is far lesser than what people across the border get in a shorter duration. As market competition increases, for these women, it is very difficult to make a decent living by weaving garments.

No doubt our way of weaving is time consuming and the result is expensive clothes, which many of us can afford only for special occasions. And that’s why what we wear today are mostly woven across the border, all types of clothes, including our mentsi martha, lungserm, aai kapur, pangtse, montha, etc. What our people take months, these people weave in weeks and in more quantity. For example, Bhutanese women have to weave three “bjangthas” for a set of kira or gho (now half kiras have reduced that burden to only two) whereas their Indian counterparts weave materials for three or four sets at a time and time taken is less. This would kill our people’s weaving zeal.

While for the people – the end users, it is good for they can buy cheap for now, but it also signals the gradual death of our weaving skills. And then our national dresses would have to be imported from across the border.

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Bhutanese Refugee issue – ‘A Rigmarole’

Bhutanese Refugee making and the Struggle
Ensuing mass exodus of the Bhutanese citizens from south Bhutan in 1990, a large group of Sharchhokps and people from other communities entered Nepal and started working for the establishment of a real and inclusive democracy in Bhutan.

Although refugee making has nothing to do with Nepal, the imbroglio emerged as a bi-lateral issue between Nepal and Bhutan. The entire crisis passed through bi-lateral process of fifteen rounds in fifteen years. India, the giant neighbor, champion of democracy in the region remained a mere observer bound by the greatly cherished traditional friendship of the Bhutanese palace with the ruling party in India.

While Bhutan is on the verge of completing its first round of parliamentary system of the so-called democracy by the end of 2012, time is ripening to make optimum use of the advantages to garner adequate international support for sustaining our struggle for democracy.

In this context, every stakeholder will agree to the disadvantages we have experienced living in Nepal and using Indian soil for the purpose of our campaign works. Our movement in the Indian soil had bitter experiences following arrest of prominent refugee activists, who ultimately landed up in Bhutan jails under fabricated charges. Further, in the host country of asylum, Nepal failed to look at the Bhutanese problems as the political by-product.

Unlike Bhutanese people from Lhotshampa community, who speak Nepali language and practice Hinduism, Nepal government took almost eight years to register Sharchhokp communities, who entered Nepal to get the official registration into the refugee camps. Absence of such a registration thus made the Sharchhokps difficult to reach beyond Nepal to make international campaigns. Statements and reporting that appeared in Nepal’s media and limited international arena described the nature of refugee making as humanitarian and the genesis of the victims to belong to Nepalese origin – thus supporting regime’s version of describing the exodus as the illegal migrants thereby presenting the crisis as “ethnic cleansing” to the outside world.

Presence of Sharchhokp community in the camps is the testimonies of political refugees representing various sections of Bhutanese community. It is high time that we look forward to raising a unified single voice in the international arena in parallel to Bhutan in terms of campaign and advocacy for a real and inclusive democracy in Bhutan.

The Durable Solution – Repatriation – A Rigmarole
Upon finding conducive atmosphere in the home country, the third country resettlement of the willing refugees to different countries does not lose our hope for repatriation. On the other hand, our people enters into entrepreneurial opportunities that assures future security in terms of financial matters through education and experience and politically stable through exposure and empowerment besides learning to understand the essence and values of true democracy.

Our suffering in the political struggle that has always been a slack and kept on limping at the foot of the uphill task will also substantially benefit as the third country resettlement would mean gaining stronger temperament to our movement. Although we are physically displaced all over the world, the power of IT will not keep us handicapped, but will help to work towards an inclusive, vibrant and strong democracy that could address to the aspirations of the diversity of both refugees and other Bhutanese citizens alike.

The 21st century IT world of computer age, the mobile phones, i-phones and power driven infrastructure with fast moving amenities will give us ample chances and opportunities to equip and technically fine tune ourselves to building up a befitting citizen for a country like Bhutan.

What Next?
The third country resettlement opportunity promises a ray of hope to take our movement beyond the Indian sub-continent. I am quite optimistic that if all the Bhutanese people work collectively using all the available technical knowhow in the countries of resettlement, we would be able to bring about the desired change in Bhutan, which shall be beneficial to each and every stakeholder and to all the Bhutanese people. Since the gateway to repatriation and participation of the Bhutanese refugees in the process of change in the system of people’s government is bleak, there are no other alternatives to third country resettlement at the present juncture. This is perhaps the destiny shown by our tutelary deities, whose blessings have come in disguise at this crucial period of the lost journey. It is time that we emerge from the state of isolation imposed by circumstances and embrace the option of third country resettlement without much ado.

Going by the phrase, “Better late than Never”, it is time that we seek a new host and start preparing for a better, strategic, consistent and sustained campaign befitting to the need of the hour. On the other hand, it is my conviction that the newly emerged government in the old host country Nepal would continue to nurture the growth of refugee empowerment by also speeding up the registration of those asylum seekers, who are either deregistered or those seeking new registration. I also look forward to the new government of Nepal to continue giving their support consistently to the UNHCR so as to incessantly benefit all the Bhutanese refugees in the camps in Nepal, who are all discriminated citizens of Bhutan.

Last but not the least, I must thank all the media and their channels for their continued advocacy and support to the Bhutanese issue without which our struggle would not have reached the international platforms. It is my sincere wish that the media society will continue to give closer attention to the Bhutanese struggle and give their unbiased justice in the overall interest of bringing about an impartial conclusion to the Bhutanese people’s humanitarian and political struggle.

Thinley Penjore is President of Druk National Congress (Democratic)

Royal nuptial in October

Being one of the loyal citizens of Bhutan, having served my country for the last 26 years, and currently in the quest for a real democracy, I am rejoiced reading the news about the “Royal Wedding” published by “Kuensel” May 20, 2011 and the update published by the Katmandu Post Sept. 9, 2011 under the heading, “Royal wedding fever grips Bhutan”. I can imagine how busy the government machinery, royal elites, district and village heads and other private and autonomous bodies would be busying for the preparation of the royal wedding.

The fifth King, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk’s exciting, yet romantic proclamation at the end of the inaugural ceremony of the parliament session May 20, 2011 has been the historic news to the people for his nuptial ceremony that would take place in the splendid old capital Punakha in October this year. For which “weaver Kelzang Choden and her mother are hurriedly working on an outfit for the future queen”. Entire machinery of the state including royal gold/silver smiths would be keeping busy not only preparing to produce best of the ornaments but also manufacturing best of the wedding gift items, normally required to present in the form of eight auspicious signs of different varieties. And the list would be quite endless keeping in mind the importance the nation would give under the traditionally required demands.

As one of the loyal citizens of my country, it is my privilege to express my whole hearted congratulations and Trashi Delek to my King for having come down to the common family. To the would be queen, Jetsun Pema for being the fortunate daughter in the family of a commoner, who is soon going to shoulder the great responsibility of the nation, hopefully with non-avaricious quality and unbiased wisdom to help build up peace and happiness to the people of Bhutan.

The King with Pema, the future queen/Source: The Hindu

Going by the past experiences of the Buddhist teachings in the era of Guru Padma Sambhava in the 7th century, the legacy left behind by our great teacher, Guru Padma Sambhava, has taught us a lot about women bearing the qualities of dakini signs like – (Khandro) Yeshe Tshogyal, (Lhacham) Mendarawa, (Lhacham) Pema Sel and (Jomo) Tashi Kheudron and so on. In the service to the humanity, they sacrificed their luxurious life. They abandoned their materialistic world and entered into the practice of teachings of their great master. They guided the future generations in the practice of dharma through severe penances spending their lives in the caves, which are renowned by its names of sacred hidden places of visits called, khandro sangphu. Those women of special qualities had left their legacies of spiritual perceptions that the human needs should be limited to sustaining their lives for the brief moment of worldly life. They have showed people to understand that life after death is not empty, but filled with suffering and to pave way into salvation was through practicing dharma and training oneself into the life of satisfaction by giving happiness to others.

However, in this degenerating eon, the beings of this human life, by nature and tradition have progressively been creating such an environment that the space bestowed by the nature and the great creator of this universe are being shrunk into a limited space, thereby making it difficult for the coming generations to live a normal life. In terms of opportunities with regard to socio-economic development, agricultural land distributions, urban settlement and other opportunities that provide wider perspectives of entrepreneurial prospects, prevalence of rampant corruption seem to deprive common people’s right to own landed properties thereby making a mockery of the present so-called change of government – the chant of – ‘the dawn of democracy’.

The ever growing lust for the luxurious life in contrary to Buddha’s teachings, particularly in Bhutan, has made it difficult for the people to adjust even in one’s own birth place owing to ever expanding desire of those in the upper hands driven by their unlimited greed. Their strong desire of human nature seem to be pushing everybody into joining the race of popularity and comfort through acquisition of positions and status in the elites circle both in terms of social, economic and luxuriously balanced life of ease. Practice of dharma seems to be limited to a few in the circle of aged society or those in red robes, who too land up competing in the race to outdo each other both individually and institutionally for the common interest of gaining popularity, name and fame in the name of practicing dharma.

In the context of Bhutan, both kings and dharma gurus are traditionally revered to the esteemed honour and the ignorant commoners anticipate receiving spiritual showers of blessings of love and compassion for peace and tranquility to the cause of those dwelling in all the six realms. However, the trend of modern elites give negative impression to the common people as their lust of materialistic gains show the absence of the essence of selflessness. While shouldering responsibilities of serving the people as a whole and the country in particular, political discomforts emerging from within the elites often pushed the country in to unfortunate jeopardy giving the people long periods of political and humanitarian unrest. The living example is the silent sufferers inside the country and the large chunk of its population living outside the country facing uncertain life for aspiring establishment of people’s aspired democracy in the country.

World community witnessed the royal wedding of the grandson of the British monarchy, who is the example of being the real monarch that has gained world popularity and the queen continues to reign in her late 80s. In the same way, the 21st century royal wedding of Bhutan’s 5th monarch that is scheduled for this October is anticipated to set an example to the world community by solving the following political crisis that has been dragging for the last two decades:
• Give full and real inclusive democracy that could be vibrant, free of discrimination, having right to freedom of speech, expression and justice with independent law functioning under rule of law;
• Consider to recognize political parties in exile and make the democracy more inclusive by bringing all political diversity under one umbrella;
• Resolve refugee crisis, which is one of the means to garner confidence and sympathy of the international community, who supports justice and humanity;

The would-be queen with modern education, much talked about of belonging to a common family, is anticipated to help look into the welfare of the people through the eyes of those in the grassroots. Giving benefits of democracy to every Bhutanese citizen without any discrimination could help to give the real message of Happiness, which is our country’s popular slogan, much talked about in the international arena. People will look forward to benefiting substantially through the process of modern development, however, with the establishment of a vibrant, inclusive and workable democracy only.

May Jetsun Pema’s solemnization to the 5th King bring about a just rule and happiness to the people!

Penjore is President of the Druk National Congress (Democratic)