Identity matters

Published on Oct 24 2008 // Interview

Bhutan Gorkha National Liberation Front (BGNLF) is one of those political parties especially advocating for rights to Nepali speakers southern Bhutan. The party projects itself an ethnic organization and tries to base the agenda that are important to Nepali speakers. While other parties call ethnic Nepalis for southern Bhutanese, BGNLF argues they are Gurkhas. For many this sounds acceptable since Nepali refers to be the nationality of Nepal, and for others it is not. Since its formation in 1994, BGNLF has been advocating for the ethnic-identity of Gurkhas in Bhutan.

Yadhap Neopane and Ichha Poudel of Bhutan News Service caught acting president of a faction of BNGLF D. R. Katel (another faction in led by D. B. Sampang and is part of the National Front for Democracy coalition) to talks on various issues of the exiled Bhutanese. He worked in survey department before being evicted and hails from Sarpang district. Excerpts:

BNS: Why Bhutan needs your party?
BGNLF is formed to address our identity which no party did. To be more accurate, it is not a party. We do not agree to be called Nepalis, Bhutanese of Nepali origin or Lhotsampas as these terminologies do not identify us. Nepali is the citizen of Nepal and Lhotshampa is the brand name given by the Druk regime with which it wants to nullify our existence. We are Gurkhas and it ensures our identity.
BNS: What form of system you envision in Bhutan?
We are for full fledged democracy with equal rights, justice and identity of every ethnical group.
BNS: How have you evaluated the latest political development in Bhutan?
You may be referring to so-called election in Bhutan. It's a play to fool the international community and institutionalize autocracy. It is nothing more than lip service of the king of Bhutan. People have not felt any change.
BNS: Which model you admire: peaceful or armed rebellion?
Well, we take the side of peaceful struggle with people's participation. However, if our justifiable demands are not met, or we are suppressed with iron hands time would determine what we would choose the next.
BNS: Bhutan police have often accused your party of planting bombs at Indo-Bhutan border?
I think it's the result of their weak mentality. It's a baseless allegation and they want to defame us by labeling as terrorist but we will continue our struggle in peaceful manner.
BNS: Which comes first, ethnic identity or nationality?
For us to exist, identity has to be there. If you do not have identity what you fight for? Bhutan wants to deliberately nullify our existence by calling us Nepali or Lhotsampa. Nepali is the citizen of Nepal so they cannot be Bhutanese.
BNS: Comment on the third country resettlement offer.
Resettlement is an unfortunate option for exiled Bhutanese in Nepal. It does not provide any durable solution. Bhutan always wants to reduce the number of citizens it has evicted and TCR process is facilitating it.
BNS: Do you admit that you failed to garner support for repatriation?
Well, I sincerely admit our weakness to work effectively for repatriation. There was and still exists faction within leaders in regard to movement for repatriation. To be honest most of the Bhutanese leaders worked for themselves rather than for nation, community or common people.
BNS: The reason behind such weakness is break up like you did. Is it?
Sampang has been terminated from the party since he misused a large sum of donation collected for party's programs. All central committee members are with us.
BNS: What you did after the split?
I led a delegation that held talks with king's representative in Phuentsholing. We handed over memorandum to the king urging dignified repatriation.
BNS: How do you evaluate India's role?
India as neighbor wants peace and democracy in Bhutan. It would allow us safe passage if we call ourselves Bhutanese Gurkhas. We are a bit different from Gurkhas of India because we are demanding our identity but not the separate state.