Remembering the past, venturing for future

Published on Apr 29 2009 // Opinion
By B. M. Dhakal

A significant number of Bhutanese have been resettled in Louisville of Kentucky and a few in Lexington. The number is on the rise. After the process of resettlement gained new momentum, and the camp-dwellers finding no other good options to make a better living, have decided to make a journey to far-off lands where IOM takes them. Often, it is not their personal choice. Along the educated lot of new generation, came those elderly people at their proximal limit of ages. The elderly citizens have gone through many waxes and wanes in their lives. Some of them faintly remember the tides of time that have swept them though woeful and blissful moments of life. The following account is the glimpses of their past life and a tender hope for their future generations.

Bhanu Bhakta Pokhrel is now 67 years, resettled in Louisville two months ago. He with his wife live with their son and daughter in-law in an apartment rented for them by catholic charities. The Pokhrel family lived in Beldangi II extension camp for 17 odd years yearning to be repatriated. Their fourth son Bishnu, started in grade one at Marigold Academy in camp and have gone through bachelor’s second year, before departing to US. Bhanu Bhakta’s four of five sons are resettled in Louisville, expecting the fifth son to arrive in two months’ time.

The Pokhrel couple feels that 17 years in camp yielded nothing except for the education of their children and grand children. Health facilities provided in camp, of course, helped to control high maternal, children and infant death. But they say, it was undergoing gradual degradation.

Bhanu Bhakta was born in Gwang, Daragaon of Surey gewog of Bhutan. At the age of 18 he was forcefully recruited to police, and got training in Gelegphug and Sarbhang lasting for six months. In youthful days of Bhanu Bhakta, he saw some development taking place in his village. He participated in the development process like the construction of schools, roads and bridges, irrigation canals, basic health units as and when required. Bhanu Bakta went for the voluntary labor force in construction of Surey–Shemgang–Tongsa road and in the course of three months he worked in places like Chaple Deorali, Tabagaon, Manas, Dakpai. The government of Bhutan used to pay the laborers with a meager amount of Nu 2.50 equivalent to Indian currency and nothing extra logistic support. It was during such contribution of labor force, he lost one of his dear sons in Bumthang.

His first child was enrolled in public managed school in Gwang which was run by the sole effort of villagers to pay the teacher. Later he studied in Norbuling Primary school, few hours walk from present Gelephu.

Life was supposedly moving to a brighter side for Pokhrel family in Danabari, had there been no repressive acts by government casting spell on them. In 1990 the mass uprising in southern and central Bhutan, by no means, left the family untouched.  It was the horrifying moment for Bhanu Bhakta when he faced nightly errands of police and army searched and raided his house, took his wife to police custody, and arrested the eldest of his son from a relative’s house while bathing.

As for all the people of Gelegphug, Bhanu Bhakta and his wife listened to the king in 1991 at a mass gathering, who appealed to the people not to leave the country in fear of persecution or subversion. But in the following months, it was hard for them to resist not leaving the country for no reason except their peaceful protest of government’s unjustifiable acts. 

For Bhanu Bhakta, the government of Nepal did not play a fair game while engaging itself in unproductive bilateral process with the Bhutanese side. Instead of sending to overseas countries, Nepal could have provided citizenship rights to the Bhutanese and help integrate.

Tara Nidhi and Chandra Ghimirey, the couple in their 70s, live with their two younger sons Leela and Laxmi. Tara Nidhi was a small boy when he was taken to Bhutan by his family, that migrated from eastern hills of Nepal and settled in Pataley of Chirang district. He owned a sufficient area of crop land and orchard to make the family self sufficient. The family also owned a two storied concrete house in Damphu, an administrative center of Chirang district. 

Tara participated in the development process of Bhutan in his early days. He worked as a voluntary laborer during construction of Phuntsholing-Thimphu highway at several places, one of the first highway constructed to connect interior Bhutan with the southern boarder and India. Besides, he participated in all the local development process like the construction of Damphu Junior High school, road from Chirang to Dagana district.

Tara Nidhi agrees that there was no direct form of coercion inflicted by the government to the family, but was denied the access to education, basic health and of course, the civil rights. 

Though Tara Nidhi does not feel so much bad about coming to a new land at this age, he is little disturbed by the fact of improbability to continue the usual rituals of Hinduism to be followed after death. The cosmic life after death is determined by the ‘Karma’ accomplished in the physical life, according to the Hindu doctrines. However, the couple takes the satisfaction in wishing their children’s progress and a better life in the future.

Dikura Dhakal is 77 now. She came to Louisville in March 2009 along with her two grand children to join the rest of the family which settled here back in September 2008. Khudunabari, where she lived for 17 years, seemed like a home for her. She did not like to come to the way of her grand children’s decision to resettle in US, though it was not necessary for her. And it took almost seven months for her to join the family. 

Dikura was born in Goshi block of Dagana district in 1932 and married at the age of seven. By the time she reached the age of 24, her husband was taken away to eternal path leaving behind her with two children below five and the other a growing fetus. Life was all a struggle for her, left alone by the destiny to fight all odds and stumbling blocks ahead. Separated from her in-laws at the tender age and turbulent times of being a widow, she made brave decisions to migrate to lower foothills, buy five acres of land at about three- thousand rupees and start a new life.

Dikura never got chance to learn read and write but has a good memory of many Sanskrit verses she heard from her husband and still reciting them with fluency. Though she was not asked to go for the labor force far away, she indeed participated in the local development of village, like carrying raw materials of construction, maintenance of feeder roads, irrigation channels etc.

Dikura had listened to many district officials who imposed their verbal decrees pretending them to be the order of king, but she understood little of them.

In the post 1990 period, the family was put into different categories of citizenship status by the census team. There was a ‘verbal law’ announced by the district administrators that people falling under F4 and F5 must pay an amount of Nu.4,000 to 5,000 annually if they continued to live in Bhutan. There was no school and basic health in the villages. Many villagers in Samrang decided to leave the country fearing even more repressive measures by the government. Dikura’s family was no exception, though she was categorized as F1 citizen.

Dikura has her elder son and a daughter left behind in Bhutan whom she likes to meet at least once a year. But that has become almost impossible for her age now. She wishes everything goes to correct path of progress for her grandchildren both in US and home country.