New citizens proudly show off their sense of freedom (Reproduction)

Published on Jan 26 2009 // Main News

Jewel Topsfield
January 27, 2009

PARSURAM Sharma-Luital was once arrested for not wearing the compulsory Bhutanese national dress while wading across a river in the blazing sun.

Yesterday he and his wife wore it with pride at their citizenship ceremony at Station Pier to symbolise the freedom Australians have to wear and say what they will.

The couple, who are from the tiny kingdom of Bhutan in the Himalayas, were granted protection in Australia because of the Bhutanese Government's persecution of the minority Nepalese population.

Traditional Bhutanese costume, the Gho for men, and the Kira for women, is compulsory in public areas to reinforce Bhutan's identity as an independent country. "Even today there are police in the streets of Bhutan to check the dress code and imprison citizens if you come out of your home in any other outfit," Mr Sharma-Luital said.

Mr Sharma-Luital, his wife Tanka Maya, and their three daughters were among 13,000 people who became citizens at 318 Australia Day ceremonies around the nation yesterday.

Beaming in his tartan Gho, a knee-length robe that ties at the waist, Mr Sharma-Luital said he had chosen to wear the Bhutanese national costume to demonstrate "you can be a very true Aussie in any outfit".

"The dress code in this country is not a matter, it is how you uphold Australian culture and values."

Mr Sharma-Luital was in India studying agriculture in 1990 when he learned his father had been expelled from Bhutan and was living in a refugee camp in Nepal. His father had been among thousands of Nepalese who were thrown out by the military after holding protests against the imposition of the compulsory dress code and the Citizenship Act, which decreed only those Nepalese who could produce a land tax receipt from 1958 were Bhutanese citizens.

Mr Sharma-Luital returned to Bhutan and managed to obtain work after bribing the police chief for a clearance certificate, which were usually denied Nepalese people.

But while studying a masters degree at Melbourne University in 2002 he learned his Government had asked students from northern Bhutan to spy on him, after his father's treatment at the hands of the Bhutanese was reported in world media.

"It was very, very obvious when I went back I would be behind bars." He was granted a protection visa and his wife and children joined him in 2003.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said 2009 marked the 60th anniversary of Australian citizenship. "Since 1949, more than 4 million people have chosen to become Australian citizens," he said.

Mr Sharma-Luital said the Government had committed to settling 5000 Bhutanese people of Nepalese ethnicity, including his father. Since May 2008, 400 had settled in Adelaide, Tasmania, Albury-Wodonga, Sydney and Melbourne.

Since arriving in Australia, Mr Sharma-Luital has taught Burmese refugees how to grow exotic mushrooms and now runs driver education programs for refugees. His wife works in a nursing home.
(Source: The Age)