Census exercise boomerangs

Published on Jul 01 2010 // Commentary
By S. B. Subba

BY S.B. SUBBA: The most pernicious and contentious census has now started pricking the mind of the other northern Bhutanese too. In 1990s it was only to the Nepali-speaking southern Bhutanese, the exercise was laden and rest of the northern fellowmen felt well ensconced and any errors deliberately or inadvertently committed by the census and immigration department was never questioned as it was affecting only a particular race.

They even did not empathize the pain and mental trauma that a Nepali-speaking neighbor was undergoing and unjustly uprooted by omission and commission of the census from the ancestral land. Instead, they remained busy themselves grabbing the jersey cows, other cattle, grains, pots, pans etc. So much so that the then Chukha Chief District Officer (CDO) Major Penjore collected some 13 gas cylinders besides other valuable articles. Many became richer overnight. However, they still do not face the wrath of the census officials like what was being faced by Nepali-speaking Bhutanese. At least, they should realise now that even if they, who are supposed to be indigenous are harassed, how much the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese would have faced the wrath of census officials’ harassment and humiliation when government machineries were against them. If it were Nepali-speaking Bhutanese, the census officials would have ordered either to go to Jhapa or now to America. The incessant census implement that was grossly applied in the case of Nepali-speaking Bhutanese was the principle genesis of the Bhutanese refugees. After 20 years, it is interesting to know that the frank-en-stein monster has at least started scathing others although it will not gore like the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese.

The recent Kuensel report entitled “New Register strewn with Errors” reveals that how the Bhutan civil registration system is full of errors. The registers were issued in 2002-03 which people call ‘dangerous’. Even the director of the department Dorji Norbu accepted the mistakes: There is a long list of mistakes like wrong name, incorrect date of birth, dropped from the family member, wrong name spelling, age, gender, house number etc. The block heads (gup) do not rely or refer to the government census records for any authentication. They use their own hand written record registers which are more accurate and moreover they know the people personally.
The director is making a lame excuse that the formats were made in hurry to carry out the census for election. One can surmise, how many mistakes were intentionally made in a hurry to evict Nepali-speaking Bhutanese in 1990, which were premeditatedly designed with ill intention to deprive the nationality and citizenship although they have been living there for generations.  Does he know that such callousness is ruining the individuals and ruined thousands of Nepali-speaking Bhutanese? If so what was the nationwide census in 2005 for? Supposedly the main purpose was to determine the voter numbers for election in 2008 and to establish scientific system of maintaining information data. How could he pre-empted the election that was held in 2008 and even the announcement was made only in 2007.

Now the cat is out of the trap that how some 80,000 Nepali-speaking Bhutanese were deprived from their voting rights during the first elections and still their census hangs in the air. During the census exercise in southern Bhutan in 1988/89, no consideration was made even for a difference of name spellings or difference of alphabetic character though they were the one and responsible to enumerate and maintain records in the office. As they are/were not familiar with pronunciation of names of the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese and many other terminologies, there were many mistakes which they denied accepting and stroked the names from the census registers and declared non-nationals and out-right ordered to leave the country.  They did not take into confidence the mandals’ (Gup) records or village elders’ testimony. They rigidly followed their own way of categorizing people at random whereby a single family was divided into seven categories like father in F1, mother in F4, one son in F1 and another son of same parent in F7 (non-Bhutanese) etc. The census was conducted not less than six times in a year in the southern six districts in the 90s harassing the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese and declaring non-Bhutanese even on silly grounds. And the king Jigme Singye Wangchuk exalted them with ranks and favors for success in evicting maximum Nepali-speaking Bhutanese.

The Samtse CDO Lhakpa Dorji, who snatched a SLR (self loading rifle) from an army officer and indiscriminately fired at the crowd gathered for peaceful meeting injuring many and killing Dil Bahadur Ghaley on the spot, was awarded red scarf (honorable rank) and promoted to secretary level and who later also went free after killing a monk in Mongar district when demonstrating for democracy and human rights. The then chief justice of high court and now the chief justice of Supreme Court Sonam Tobgye could not punish him. Even the King father Jigme Singye Wangchuk could not order punishment when Lhakpa Dorji defended himself and resisted saying that the king accolade him when killing the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese anti-nationals and how could he be punished for killing similar Sarchop anti-national. When he threatened to bring out in public the king’s policy and order to evict Nepali-speaking Bhutanese in the secret meeting of all CDOs, Royal Bhutan army chief, Police Chief, ministers and census department head held in Punakha, he was placated and just stripped of his post to eyewash the public and international community but perennially enjoying government salary and emoluments.

Of late we started seeing the feeling of the impact of the spark of the census on some northern Bhutanese especially married with the southern Bhutanese girls and lapses in the census records. Such feelings are though not dared to express in public for fear of being target of the census department and persecution but one can find abundant in the forum column of the Kuensel, the mouth piece of the government and bhutantimes.com. The victims have even accused the census officials of their attitude and arrogance in dealing with the public and warning that would one day create terrorism in provocation to their over jingoistic behavior. We have been, for last 20 years, crying foul of census and victimization with no patient listeners as Bhutan government has been aptly eluding simply alleging us with catch word of non-Bhutanese or economic migrants. Now let us see what the whole Bhutanese and the international community has to say on the same census used as instrument to victimize and evicted us when the lapses and mistakes are being spelt from the horse mouth.

Subba is the chairman of Human Rights Organization of Bhutan (HUROB)