The day of 13th October 2011 will go down as one of the happiest in Bhutan’s history as not only did the Royal Wedding take place and His Majesty The King find a Royal partner, but Bhutan got a Queen.
The people were happy not only for the moment, but because a Queen means so much for the Royal Family, the Kingdom and the people.
It meant that the Golden Throne is now truly complete with a partner for our King; it meant that we could now look forward to continuity and stability in the continuation of the Wangchuck Dynasty; it was nice to have a Queen in her own right; and at the family level for many Bhutanese it was like seeing a mirror image of their Bhutanese family being reflected in the Royal Household.
Like His Majesty The King represents the ideal Bhutanese that people looked up to for emulation and inspiration, the Royal Wedding now meant that Bhutan also had an ideal Bhutanese family to look up to.
In these last ten years, the greatest achievement of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen is that not only has she lived up to the many hopes and aspirations generated on the Royal Wedding Day but she has also exceeded them.
Before the Royal Wedding, His Majesty announcing the Royal Engagement at the opening of the seventh session of the first Parliament said, “What is most important (in a Queen) is that at all times, as an individual she must be a good human being, and as Queen, she must be unwavering in her commitment to serve the People and Country.”
“As my queen, I have found such a person and her name is Jetsun Pema. While she is young, she is warm and kind in heart and character. These qualities together with the wisdom that will come with age and experience will make her a great servant to the nation.”
On hindsight the last ten years have proven all of the above to be true.
If Bhutan is secure and stable today even in the face of COVID-19 due to the leadership and sacrifice of His Majesty The King, then the important support and behind the scenes role of Her Majesty must also be acknowledged.
Her Majesty’s role started from the wedding day itself when she along with His Majesty walked long stretches of the Punakha-Thimphu highway meeting the people.
Unknown to most, the long walk led to blisters developing on Her Majesty’s feet, but she smiled through the pain and walked all the way to the palace patiently and stoically stopping to greet the large numbers of people who had come to glimpse the Royal Couple and wish them well.
Over the years, His Majesty and Her Majesty have granted audiences to and met many people on their travels together.
It has been observed that even though His Majesty The King is very warm in his interactions with people, they ‘tense up’ given that they are meeting their Sovereign.
It is at these times that when Her Majesty walks in or accompanies His Majesty that people become more relaxed. This effect has been observed time and again and shows the soft human touch of Her Majesty.
This soft and human touch is also visible in the private gifts that Her Majesty is known to regularly send out from the palace from children’s toys to clothes.
As any young parent will know, it is never easy with young children, but the burden is especially more so on the mother as babies or young children need the mother more. People will also know that you can have all the help from other family members or maids, but ultimately it is the parents that the children need.
In that sense, a few years after the Royal Wedding the nation again erupted in joy when His Majesty The King during the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty The Fourth King on 11th November 2015 announced that Her Majesty was carrying a Royal Baby who was born on 5th February 2016 and named His Royal Highness Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck.
The coming of the second Royal child was announced on National Day on 17th December 2019 again leading to much happiness. The gloom of the pandemic was lifted when the second Royal child, His Royal Highness Gyalsey Ugyen Wangchuck, was born on 19 March 2020.
The two Royal Children will play an important role in the times to come for Bhutan and so their good health and nurturing is in some ways equivalent to nurturing the future prospects of Bhutan.
Here the mothering role played by Her Majesty towards the two Royal Children cannot be underestimated.
The pandemic which started in Bhutan from March 2020 has seen His Majesty travelling extensively all over the country and even staying in quarantine a few times.
In the last 18 months, it would be safe to say that His Majesty has been out of Thimphu most of the time and even a significant portion of His Majesty’s time in Thimphu would be in quarantine.
From all accounts, His Majesty is a loving and engaged father to the two Royal Children, and so for His Majesty to spend such long stretches of time away from his two sons at this formative stage, it shows the confidence he has in Her Majesty to not only nurture them but also raise them well.
Her Majesty in that sense has had to fulfill the role of both parents in this long period. One can also imagine the anxiety and concern Her Majesty would have for the safety of His Majesty.
However, despite the above, Her Majesty has taken up important initiatives during the pandemic to both inspire and help people and volunteers.
Under Her Majesty’s patronage, the Bhutan Red Cross (BRC) society of which Her Majesty is the President, did exemplarily work during the lockdown by arranging and taking care of the last rites of people. The BRC was also engaged in other important volunteer work.
A volunteer force of Desuups and others have been guarding our borders, delivering supplies, going with testing and vaccine teams, helping monitor lockdowns and doing a variety of other services.
To encourage them Her Majesty personally prepared snacks that was sent out to them and played an important role in boosting their morale.
During the second national lockdown under the command of Her Majesty emergency shelters and counseling were set up for victims of domestic violence.
The regular helpline 1010 was getting calls of domestic violence, but the officials there did not know what to do especially since the regular CSOs dealing with this were also hampered by the strict lockdown.
This is when Her Majesty stepped in and so calls from 1010 was diverted to HM Gyaltsuen’s Office. The team in Thimphu booked two hotels in town so that in the more serious cases it could put the rescued victims there which were mainly women but also included men.
The hotels were equipped with counselors. The team also deployed emergency vehicles to help people.
The Royal initiative did not end with just the rescue and counseling, but it also meant legal help where needed and after that looking at sustainability and livelihood issues for the victims by helping them get jobs.
Apart from the above, Her Majesty overs the years has been working closely with a number of organizations to lend support in the areas that are of greatest concern to Her Majesty, and complimentary to His Majesty’s Royal Initiatives and Bhutan’s national objectives.
These include social welfare projects for enhancing rural livelihood, entrepreneurship, health, childcare, support to persons with disabilities, and conservation and waste management.
Her Majesty is the President of the Bhutan Red Cross Society and is the United Nations Environment Program Ozone Ambassador.
Her Majesty is Royal Patron of the Environment, and works closely with the National Environment Commission, Royal Society for Protection of Nature, Clean Bhutan, and other government and nongovernment agencies on conservation, waste management, and other important environmental matters. Her Majesty is also an Honorary Member of the WWF-US Board of Directors.
Her Majesty supported the founding of Ability Bhutan Society, and is now the Royal Patron for the agency, which offers help to parents and caregivers of children with disabilities.
Her Majesty works closely with the government, schools, and NGOs that provide services for persons with disabilities, with the goal of enabling persons with disabilities to live better lives and ensure access to better healthcare and education for persons with disabilities, especially children.
Her Majesty is also the Royal Patron of the Bhutan Kidney Foundation.
Her Majesty’s social welfare projects are administered through the Queen’s Project. The One Gewog One Product (OGOP) is a flagship programme which helps farmers by supporting value addition of products, collection, packaging, marketing, and export of rural produce. OGOP has created a niche market of authentic Bhutanese products and enabled the growth of small businesses, farming cooperatives and communities.
In a country’s history, 10 years is a relatively short period, but in this time Her Majesty has not only given the country much happiness by becoming Queen and giving birth to the two Royal Children but she has carved a space for herself in Bhutanese hearts with her quiet but reliable and comforting presence.
The Bhutan of tomorrow will be shaped in part by the soft touch of Her Majesty especially in a time that badly needs it.