The politics of religion

Published on Feb 28 2010 // Commentary
By I. P. Adhikari

Bhutan long cherished the mission of culture preservation, the energy primarily injected by the Kagyupa priesthood, the national cult declared officially in 2008 when constitution was adopted.

The attempts to end the isolation were long shattered by the leaders of Drukpa Buddhism in the past. Though efforts are still on hold, they are gradually becoming fragile, futile and reckless likely to plunge the nation into chaos due to differences in religious beliefs.

The differences within the two sub-sects of Mahayana Buddism followed in the country — Kagyupa and Nyingmapa — have been in place since the murder of Shabdrung incarnate. The easterners feel that their religion Nyingmapa has not only been ignored but also was pushed under crusade. Many Nyingmapa monks still today are serving jail sentences for raising voices against suppression of easterner’s religion.

Taking advantage of the declining pressure from east, the state devised strategies to demoralize the faith in south. The decades of eighties and nineties were precisely focused on eliminating Hinduism which culminated into expulsion of over one-fifth of the total population from six Hindu-dominated districts. Hinduism was regarded, through several former National Assembly resolutions, as one of the national cults along with Buddhism but was pushed aside when the country got its first written constitution.

Bhutan still remains adamant on discouraging Christianity, which in fact was formally banned till 2008, an irony to the fact that Christian guru Father Mackey received the royal honor of Son of Bhutan and lived in Thimphu for several years only to be expelled after death.

With politics becoming liberal, Christians in Bhutan are coming out in public. Thimphu and Gelephu have become their hubs with rapid expansion in other parts of the country. The government has been powerless to act against them like in past but still is discouraging its expansion. The efforts seem fruitless.

To tune with the trend, most Hindus in south have changed their faith for many reasons. For years, they remain suppressed and prosecuted for being Hindus. Christianity has become safer heaven for them after political liberalization. The Hindustan, though it boosts to be the protector of Hinduism, failed to hear the cries from Bhutanese Hindus for decades. The Hindu-India attached its interests only in extracting the gems in Bhutanese hills.

During a recent meet, India’s opposition leader Sushma Swaraj warned Bhutanese king for continued ignorance of Hindus in Bhutan. However it was already very late. Failing to get support from Hindu community and India, the Hindus from southern districts see no alternatives but to put their faith on Christianity for which they can receive a good bunch of support if they are ever misbehaved. A big world in west is ready to speak for Christians in Bhutan and is ready to support financially in their poverty.

Feeling aggrieved by the unprecedented expansion of Christianity network in Bhutan, India’s Hindu party BJP called on Bhutanese rulers for safer position for Hindus in Bhutan. The mission was on to open a chapter of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) in Bhutan to revive Hinduism. Though the King bowed before the Swaraj’s warning, he tactically rejected presence of VHP in the country. Instead a Hindu Dharma Samudaya of Bhutan (HDSB) was announced.

With HDSB as an instrument, Bhutan is on foot to bridge the fragmented relation between Hindus and Buddhists. The objective was to stop Hindus being converted into Christians and put an obstruction on expansion of the Christian network. It seems most southerners and some from north and east have finally realized they can exist in this tiny kingdom only when they adopt Christianity — an indication of failure of their faith on India and other Hindu organizations worldwide. The new device of the government is certain to in vain.

The southerners who were prosecuted while being Hindus are still facing same consequences when they turn to pray Christ but hopes are high for they have larger world at the back, which has already started speaking in their favor.

It would be late for Bhutan if it fails to understand by now that religion and culture are preserved only under liberal and open policies rather not in isolation and restriction. There is hardly any hope for revival of Hindu-Buddhism nexus in Bhutan and heal the scars of prosecution for more than two decades. Christianity is in no mood to get bounced back from this land. Time is tickling for Bhutanese rulers to prove that Hinduism as a threat to survival of the Kagyupa and the Drukpa culture.