Our demography and strategic planning

Published on Aug 01 2011 // Opinion
By Thinley Penjore

This is in reference to “Bhutan’s On-line Kuensel” reporting on“Population Control 16 July, 2011-Should Bhutanese couples be encouraged to have only two children?”

Under the heading “Will two do?” is a question of serious concern for the people of Bhutan in order to find a greater aspect of “Happiness”, which Bhutan claims to have helped gain the pride of being able to garner support from 68 member countries, making it a historic achievement for Bhutan. The Prime Minister rightly gave the credit to the fourth King as initiator of promoting “Gross National Happiness”, which at present is, minus two wings – “Gross” and “National”.

Worries about the possible and obvious explosion of population sends a message to the country to seriously contemplate, whether we would be able to provide all the infrastructure like, water supply, sanitation facilities, sewerage systems, and so on including employment to the growing number of people in the cities that are the potential targets of migration from villages as well as accommodating foreign workers in different trades at the same time.

When we discuss about the worries of population explosion, should we not also try to ponder upon, how the processes of increase of population reached to the present extent, which is illusive, uncertain and of no transparency. We need to understand the following aspects of the history of demography for the purpose of educating the future generations, creating adequate awareness on the topic and possibilities of any degree of misinterpretations.

www.mongabay.com mentions “When Bhutan’s first national census was conducted in 1969, the population officially stood at 930,614 persons. Before 1969 population estimates had ranged between 300,000 and 800,000 people. The 1969 census has been criticized as inaccurate. By the time the 1980 census was held, the population reportedly had increased to approximately 1,165,000 persons. The results of the 1988 census had not been released as of 1991, but preliminary government projections in 1988 set the total population at 1,375,400 persons, whereas UN estimates stood at 1,451,000 people in 1988. Other foreign projections put the population at 1,598,216 persons in July 1991. It is likely, however, that Bhutan’s real population was less than 1 million and probably as little as 600,000 in 1990. Moreover, the government itself began to use the figure of “about 600,000 citizens” in late 1990”.

In the present context, Bhutan officially maintains at 700,000.  It is ridiculous to see several vast variations without having given any satisfactory justifications about the aspects of phenomenal differences. As rightly mentioned in italics, an in depth studies, “have to be conducted before coming to any conclusions”.

When the government worries and talks about the overall population explosion, it becomes a must to review the comparative population growth from racial and ethnic point of view as well.

Population control policy was adopted during the reign of the fourth monarch. Family planning campaign was implemented in the rural districts through scientific methods that covered several ethnic and racial groups including those minorities in the common society. On the other hand, at the esteemed level, our fourth king solemnized to four queens and surprised the nation with eight siblings (now 10 – 5 daughters and 5 sons) on the day of official nuptial in 1988. Had the four queens been from different parents of common families, the nation would have witnessed different impact politically, socially and economically. Perhaps, loss of confidence in Sangye Ngedup Dorji’s leadership during the 2008 first ever election at the beginning of the so-called democracy apparently could be credited to lusty characteristics of the queen families that had deprived many common families’ right to peaceful life.

It very so often worries to fathom how Bhutanese aborigines were taken into servitude using various means of preaching of different doctrines beginning from the era of the advent of bon masters like Lhase Tsangma dating back to ninth century AD; conflict of Kagyupa and Nyingmapa masters from the north in the twelfth century AD and so on and so forth.

The locals were either enslaved into respective ideologies of doctrine preachers while landed properties were taken into their ownership as chhos zhing – land-offering to those institutes.  That was how the categorical classes of races like Chhos-rje (Lord of Dharma) and Dung Gyud (Descendants) emerged with feudal powers that emerged as noble clans and initially assumed as valley chieftains.

They slowly expanded their family weaving through inter marriages with the families of equivalent classes. It is perceived that their family expansion outreached all directions of the country thereby bringing about a strong network of alliances gradually becoming the families that ruled the minor weak communities in the respective valleys. The commons, who were mostly locals and aborigines, were left with no other options than to remain subservient to those noble families. Those so-called noble families either belonged to spiritual families having their root to Lord of Dharma or to the Descendants of the rulers, who had achieved their valorous victories for their feudal power. The common people thus became workers, who ultimately sustained by paying coerced taxes levied on land, cattle, horses and handicrafts.

As much as the government talks about the worries of population increase in three to four decades from now in terms of “enormous strain on the country’s socio-economic development, natural resources and environment”, that “could lead to a lowering of living standards”.

In the present situation, the growing population is facing the serious crunch of living standard competitiveness particularly in the urban centers. Commoners and rural youths look at the living standards set forth by the upper societies, who belong to closer relationships to palace families and those economically stronger families.

I will further try to draw the attention of the readers to the aspects of history that seem to have brought about marginalization of various communities thereby weakening status of the socio economic standard of the population against the limited income for sustenance given discriminatory ownerships in land holdings and other potentially viable income generating enterprises besides prevalence of inequality in the educational and employment opportunities.

When the government talks about the strategies to deal with population control or keep on worrying about the population explosion, it seems that the policy would be applied to middle and lower class society, thereby giving impacts only to the common people.  It is cognizant that implementation of the population policy could have serious impact of bringing about natural drive towards extinction of the aborigines, who are mostly in the common society broadly and commonly called the down looked name; Mi-Nap (Black People).

Racial extinction through family planning could bring about increase in the land occupation in the lower society thereby creating tsa-tong. Past experiences show demonstration of modern method of family planning rampantly applied in the far flung villages through incentives that sometimes attract economically weaker families.

Government has since centuries been rampant towards finding tsa-tong (lands previously occupied and fallen vacant over the years) and registration of such vacant lands quickly into the thram (land record) of elites or the palace. The glaring example is the occupation of southern lands without resolving the political crisis that left over one hundred thousand of our population into becoming refugees and ultimately fading into diaspora.  Our people should refer back to old chhagzhag thram (Government Land Record) of those before 60s, which gives enough evidences of how the land ownerships were made available prior to modern technology of land survey that paved ways into new entries in the land record books under the vision of “Land Reforms” initiated by the 3rd monarch.  The new set of laws pertaining to land registration and ownerships, thus, invited to conducting two different types of land surveys (topography and cadastral). However, the outcome of the land survey that brought about much impact and commotion in the general public finally got shelved for the reasons best known to the government.  The policy diverted gradually towards resettling those so-called landless people in the vacant lands earlier occupied under legal ownership of the Bhutanese refugees, who are labeled as “illegal migrants” and currently getting faded into different developed countries under the resettlement scheme.

When we discuss further on the issues concerning population and national demography, it gives me the courage to speak about the digital citizenship I/Cards issued to the Bhutanese citizens.  Given the small manageable size of the Bhutanese population, it is not a difficult task to conduct the census and manage data updates on the growth of country’s population. However, the digital I/Cards having made renewable after every ten years indicates uncertainty to confidently call oneself a Bhutanese citizen as the rein of citizenship is held in the hands of the government irrespective of whether one has landholding or a permanent (which is actually never secured to call it permanent) job.  On the other hand, it is an undeniable reality that the Bhutanese industries, trade and commerce and those in the overall actors contributing to the growth of national economy have since long been facing unlimited problems in terms of mobilizing labor thereby requiring to import from the neighboring states of India or even Bangladesh. While India is an advantageous neighbor for Bhutanese industrial growths, taking into consideration the political impacts given color, structure and behavioral characteristics of much more potential neighboring states, much of the restrictions were imposed by the government as a measure to prevent influx of illegal migrants. Thereby, recruitment of workers from non-identical pockets of India often has made it difficult for the Bhutanese industrialists to overcome their labor constraints making Bhutanese products highly unviable to compete in the cross border markets.    Probably, if the government’s population draft that is expected to be published in October this year could bring about a promising projection of population growth in another few decades, the long awaited problems of unemployment and other increased population crisis could be managed to some extent giving a boost to the industrial growth.

The GNH researchers in Bhutan like Kunzang Lhamu should collaborate with the population experts like Tashi Dorji and work sincerely by ensuring transparency and accountability towards bringing about happiness either through universally acceptable control of population or by working towards developing strategies to bring about adequate facilities to help support the anticipated population that is expected to double in another four or five decades.  Such an unbiased effort could be a great achievement for the future generation of our country.

Quoting Kunzang Lhamu’s words, “We can’t have a big explosion of population,” and “The key objectives of the national population policy is to improve the overall quality of the population, to meet the country’s vision, and holistic economic advancement in a sustainable manner,” but should not aim at developing palace and elite groups only by giving negligible attention to the aspirations of the common people as has been in traditional practice until this day.

In substitute to the implementation of scientifically controlling the population, which at times brings side effects to health; would it not be more practical to invest in educating the mass about the after effects of population explosion. It is possible that the population expert and GNH researcher could take this point into consideration in the long term interest of our country that preaches non-violence and follows the philosophy of reincarnations and rebirths.

Discussing about the imbalanced policy implementation that resulted in an unyielding wound in the national political wellbeing, it is worth suggesting that the population policy should take into consideration the undecided decision of the unresolved humanitarian crisis.  The incident that ultimately uprooted over one hundred thousand southern population in 1990, not counting out, several of them taken into political imprisonment under various terms.  It was followed by another political unrest in the east Bhutan in 1997 that pushed over 131 people into detention and incarcerated as many as 31 of the democracy aspiring people under different terms of imprisonment. Atrocities on Lhotshampa that included killings, rapes, torture, assault and several degrees of inhumane action are recorded down with blood in the annals of their struggle of resentment towards the policy leaving an irreparable nostalgic damage.  The ever harmoniously existing Lhotshampa community without any hesitation points at northern population as Drukpas while they believe themselves as Bhutanese.

In reality both Drukpa and Bhutanese carry the same notion of being a Bhutanese in the local term as the country is called with names like – Bhutan, Druk, Lho-Mon and so on like India is called Hindustan as well as Bharat in their local terms.  The aftermath of the eastern Bhutan up rise resulted in the killing of a monk in cold blood and inhumane torture of a highly learned priest of one of the Nyingmapa institutions although Bhutan chants to preach the dual system of Kagyupa and Nyingmapa of the two main institutions of Mahayana Buddhism. In the overall interest of Bhutan’s peace, prosperity and happiness, inclusion of diversity in terms of ethnicity, race, culture, religion and language is of utmost importance in the healthy existence of the nation that is squeezed in between two giant nuclear nations of leftist and rightist ideologies.

It is for sure that the proposed national population policy draft cannot be successful unless it is introduced within the framework of democratic norms and values thereby bringing about an inclusiveness and equality, free of discrimination and injustice to all section of the society as universally guaranteed by the provisions in the process of the growth of “Demo-Cracy or demo- kratein” as coined by the Greeks – probably the Athenians – from the Greek words demos, “the people” and kratein, “to rule”.  Aptly quoting Abraham Lincoln’s own words, “By the People, For the People and Of the People” to rule in the service of the people. Without ensuring civil supremacy in the policy making, the nation cannot progress, and to build a nation, it demands creative, inventive and vital activity, which is possible only in a true democracy.

Sooner the so-called democracy manifests into a real democracy, the better it will be for both the people and the palace, as the prosperity and happiness akin to the sun and the moon will be shone on the palace and the people of Bhutan alike.

Penjore is the President of the Druk National Congress (Democratic).