Let me be mentally fit first

Published on Nov 16 2008 // Interview

The founding general secretary of Bhutan People's Party (BPP), Dhan Kumar Rai generally referred to as D. K. Rai, was released by the Bhutanese authority on November 1. Rai, who was arrested from Todey in Darjeeling (India) on November 17, 1991, was later handed over to Bhutan police. 

45-year old unmarried Rai, who spent almost 17-year jail life in the unhealthy environment of Bhutanese prisons, is currently in Nepal's capital city, Kathmandu for his medical treatment. He talked to T. P. Mishra of Bhutan News Service (BNS) on various contemporary issues. Excerpts:  

BNS: How did you feel about your release? 
Rai: I had never thought of getting released. To be frank, I was astonished but my happiness reached no bound when I knew of my release from the jail. Actually, I was least optimistic towards my release since I was spending life imprisonment.

BNS: Why you think Bhutan released you? 
Rai: At the time of my release, I learnt Royal Government of Bhutan had admitted pressures from International Red Cross Society (ICRC) for my release on medical grounds. The ICRC had recommended to the government for my release since my health condition deteriorated. Thus, ICRC's continued pressure to the government was one amongst the major reasons for my release. Thanks to them. 

BNS: What are you trying to refer to by saying 'medical grounds'?
Rai: I mean am both physically and mentally ill. I was hospitalized in 1997 due to my heart problem. Additionally, I also have a psychiatric problem due to excessive mental tortures during my stay in jails. 

BNS: What are your plans for medical treatment? 
Rai: I am approaching Center for Victims of Torture (CVICT) in Kathmandu for my medical treatment. I would also make an appeal to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Kathmandu and the CVICT, through this media, to extend support for my medical treatment. 

BNS: We already reported that you were brutally tortured inside jails. Can you tell us what were the different forms of tortures you faced?
Rai: Initially, I was kept in solitary confinement for one year – the same room was to be used both for food and urination. I think there is nothing darker than that room, without single ray of light in. Imagine how difficult was it?

But, I never faced any physical tortures besides a single 'punch on my face during those days and that was when the police personnel interrogated me. The authorities, to their best, used various techniques to harass me mentally rather than physical punishments. I was frequently asked to work as a laborer for construction of prison buildings. Cleaning jail compound, carrying pebbles, cement among other materials were routine-like tasks (punishments) assigned by the police authority.  

BNS: Did you have accesses to any means of information?
Rai: It was only after 1994, when I was shifted to Chemgang central jail from Thimphu, that the authorities allowed reading newspapers and listening radio. However, the interesting point to note is that we used to get the newspapers–both Indian and Bhutanese, only after a month of thier publication. India Times, The Telegraph, Kuensel, Bhutan Times and Bhutan Observer were some of the newspapers I used to read inside the jail.  

BNS: Why did you decide to come to Nepal after your release? 
Rai: I do not have any property in Bhutan since it is seized by the government. All my relatives are inside exiled Bhutanese camps here in Nepal. I was left with no alternatives than to re-join with my family and relatives in Nepal but I am confident I could have stayed inside the country had my relatives and family be there (in Bhutan). 

BNS: Is BPP, your party, supporting you at the moment?
Rai: Since my release, BPP is extending me with financial, logistic and moral support for my medical treatment. It is BPP that assisted me with financial support to reach here (Kathmandu) from Jhapa for medical check-ups. I am really thankful to BPP for its sincere support to me. 

BNS: How do you plan your political engagement in the near future?
Rai: Well, I already said I am mentally unfit to decide such a concern. Hereafter my entire effort would be to undergo sound medical check-ups for better treatment of my deteriorating health status. I will definitely make such things public once my state of mind remains in fresh condition after having medical treatment. 

BNS: You might be aware of political change in Bhutan. How do you remark on the recently concluded general election in the country?
Rai: Of course, I am bit informed of the conclusion of general election in Bhutan. The regime's claim that democracy has already fostered in the kingdom may/may not be true since I am yet to study it in detail. It takes time to comment on this since it has to be studied if people's democracy had really fostered in the country. 

BNS: Resettlement program is underway. A significant number of exiled Bhutanese have shown their interest. How do you consider this option? 
Rai: Exiled Bhutanese have almost spent 18 years of their unfruitful stay inside camps. Some of them might have thought that the immediate return-home process is unfeasible. Thus, it may not be a wrong decision on their part to get resettled. But, it has to be well considered that the single option of third country resettlement may not be an amicable outlet to the problem.