Resolving regionalism and communalism in Bhutan

The Royal Bhutan Police recently issued a warning in response to a rising trend of regional, communal and racist jokes on certain social media platforms.

The Social Media revolution in Bhutan has empowered many and has done a lot of good, but there is an increasingly worrying tendency of attacks against individuals and groups based on their region, religion and ethnicity.

A societal link to the above can be ascertained when one observes two Bhutanese of any region quarrelling- be it in real life or on the cyber world of social media. Discussions and insults rapidly regress into communal, ethnic and linguistic slurs. Even if the two people are from the same ethnicity, they have something to say about each other’s sub-culture, villages, family, etc.

Going back to the 2013 general elections, the most alarming aspect of the election, more than any accusations and counter accusations, was the attempt by certain political forces to stir up some latent regionalism and communalism to gain votes.

An equally, if not more dangerous division, is along the narrow lines of religion and religious sects.

There is also an attempt by a misguided few to regard themselves as being more ‘pure’ Bhutanese or even more patriotic and loyal to the nation than others, just by the happenstance of their birth.

All of the above are certainly not exceptional to Bhutan, but an unfortunate part of the society and politics of many developing and even developed countries.

However, the lesson to take from these other countries is that the divisive tendencies have taken a toll on the peace, stability, prosperity and harmony of these countries.

Also, unlike many of these bigger countries, Bhutan, as a small Himalayan country with a small population cannot afford the deep divisions that run through the other countries and communities.

Communal tendencies are neither suitable nor sustainable in Bhutan – given that Bhutan has a rich array of various ethnicities, dialects, regions, etc.

Such communal instincts are not overnight developments. A lot of it is down to pure ignorance and lack of exposure. However, even a modern education is not a guarantee of removing communalism as even the most bigoted thoughts can exist among the most educated.

So what is the solution? The first and most important thing is to acknowledge that there is a problem instead of burying things under the carpet. A problem can only start being solved once it is seen as a problem.

A communal problem can be tracked down to a certain societal mindset. In this modern and progressive Bhutan of today, Bhutanese society, across all lines, must collectively work together to shed this communal and divisive mindset.

However, the most important role must be played by the government of the day. The most troubling manifestation of an attempted regional and communal divide was in the high stakes 2013 electoral process. Even apart from that experience, the government, being responsible for good governance and socio-economic development, must take the leadership role in the fight against communalism.

The battle ground is in our own minds, homes, villages, local governments, schools, government agencies, mass media, and yes, even different religious institutions. This endeavor must be joined in by people across all fields and professions.

So far, the only institution that is facing and addressing this issue with seriousness and consistency is the Institution of the Monarchy. The reason that Bhutan is not a divided mess like many countries across the world including some in the region is mainly down to the single minded efforts of the Monarchy.

It is not a coincidence that after the abolishment of Monarchy in Nepal, the comparatively small Himalayan Kingdom started pulling in different directions with every major ethnic and caste group looking out for its own interests. The current problems of Nepal can be traced back to this tendency too.

The 34-year reign of His Majesty the Fourth King, in both words and deeds, has been in bringing together the people of Bhutan and in strengthening the unity, stability and sovereignty of Bhutan.

His Majesty the King, in both words and action, has also shown strong zeal and dedication in ensuring a unified and strong Bhutan.

It is best said in His Majesty the King’s own words at the convocation ceremony of the Royal University of Bhutan on 15th July 2011.

His Majesty said, “Our main priorities are the peace, prosperity, security and sovereignty of Bhutan. Towards these goals, we must all work together in first safeguarding our strong foundation of unity and harmony. In our small society, divisions and cleavages can manifest themselves in very destructive ways. We have seen this in other larger countries and the great price they have had to pay. Ngalop, Sharchop, Lhotshampa, Christians, Hindu, Buddhist, me against you, us against them – some people might resort to such useless and irrelevant classifications in their work and dealings with each other. In today’s world, it is more important that we worry about haves and have-nots  and economic disparity.”

Where there is unity there is always victory.

Publilius Syrus


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