The Zhemgang Dzongkhag Tshogdu in a post published on its official Facebook page ‘Discover Zhemgang,’ announced that starting from 17th December 2017 it would be compulsory to wear Gho and Kira from 9 am to 5 pm in all areas, including both the town and remote villages.
It said that those failing to follow the rules would be given a first, second and third warning along with cash fines of Nu 100, 300 and 500 accordingly. It says that after that action will be taken according to the law of kingdom of Bhutan.
The announcement has triggered a debate with some supporting it, but a clear majority, at least in the social media, questioning the decision of the Zhemgang DT.
Why the rule ?
The Zhemgang Dzongda Harkha Singh Tamang clarified that the decision on the issue was taken by the Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) in around August but the resolution only came out in written form recently.
The Dzongda said that as part of a long standing national policy the Dzongkhag administration since 2015 had asked for the national flag to be put in all Gewog offices in Zhemgang and consequently for Driglam Namzha to be followed with the flag.
The Dzongda said, “The recent discussion came up in the DT as the members felt that while the Gewogs were implementing Driglam Namzha, the headquarter, in the form of the Dzongkhag, should also show the example and so the DT came up with a committee to look into the issue. “
The committee headed by the Shingkhar Gup recommended that enforcement of the Gho and Kira throughout the Dzongkhag which the DT agreed to, led by the DT Thrizin Sangay Letho.
The DT Thrizin Sangay Letho said, “Our country is very small and we cannot compete with our much bigger neighbors either in military strength or population so the most important thing we have is our culture which is also our separate identity from these bigger countries.”
The Thrizin said in that way preserving Bhutanese culture was important for both the security and sovereignty of Bhutan.
He also said that if culture is not preserved then over a period of time it will get weaker and will even be lost.
The Thrizin pointed out that the issue of Driglam Namzha had been discussed by the Thrizins during the 11th and 12th October 2017 Thrizin conference in Thimphu. He said that Gups and Mangmis had also completed a three to four days Driglam Namzha training.
The Thrizin said that the rules would be expected to be enforced for the public by the local police in addition to the relevant sector heads like education, agriculture etc for their own officials down the line.
When asked about how convenient it would be for farmers to work in Gho and Kira in the fields, the Thrizin said that for such cases and for farmers heading into the jungle for wood collection etc exceptions can be made.
However, he also pointed out that during the 12th five year plan consultation with villagers they were very supportive about wearing Gho and Kira. He said some villagers in fact said that there was no difficulty in working wearing a Gho as the top can be put down when it is hot while the bottom open part allowed air to circulate which would not be possible with jeans and other western pants.
Also when he was asked about those wanting to go for walks or exercise, the Thrizin said that the 9 to 5 timing allows morning and evening walkers and joggers to wear their pants and shirts.
The Thrizin going on the attack said that villagers in fact complained that it was the civil servants and people coming from Thimphu who gave the wrong examples by wearing pants and western clothes.
The Zhemgang DT decision seems to have been entirely a one made by the local government but the issue had come up for discussion in the recent Thrizin conference and the 2016 December Gups conference.
No specific instructions from Home Ministry
The Director of the Department of Local Government Lungten Dorji said that the during the Gup and Thrizin’s conference it was the Gups and Thrizins who put up the issue of Driglam Namzha for discussion.
The Director said that in both the conferences Gups and Thrizins from across the country attacked urban cities like Thimphu and Phuentsholing for not being able to maintain Driglam Namzha and the dress code which they were practicing in their Gewogs and Dzongkhags. The same issue had even been raised in the annual Dzongdas conference, as well as the cultural officers’ conference on the apparent laxity in Thimphu.
The Home Minister Lyonpo Dawa Gyeltshen asked the Gups and Thrizin to not take any examples from Thimphu.
The Director clarified that the Home Ministry as usual and in general encouraged them to promote Driglam Namzha but the ministry had not issued any specific instructions to the Gups and Thrizins on the issue.
A senior Home Ministry official who did not want to be named said that the ministry had in fact made it clear that while Driglam Namzha should be promoted, preserved and implemented, there should not be any written circulars or rules which could lead to any push back from the public.
The ministry is especially circumspect given the Ada Rachu controversy that the ministry faced recently. The idea of a uniform Ada Rachu proposed by a meeting of cultural officers had to be rescinded by the Home Ministry after a big public controversy.
The senior official also said that there has been no major change in policy with respect to Driglam Namzha and the Gho and Kira issue which is a part of it. He said that this has been going on for decades.
The official said that it is important to keep in mind that during the recent Doklam standoff there were a few stray and ill informed foreign articles claiming Bhutan to be a protectorate etc.
The official said that Bhutan’s main asset on its security and sovereignty was its unique culture and identity. The official said that Bhutan has external and internal policies to safeguard it sovereignty and security and Driglam Namzha in terms of the clothes, façade of buildings etc which show Bhutan to be different from all other countries is one such longstanding domestic policy.
Responding to the criticism of Dzongdas, Gups and Thrizins the senior official said that it will not be possible to enforce Gho and Kira rules in Thimphu and Phuentsholing for public places like but it is already being enforced for government offices, Lhakhangs and gatherings.
The official said the method is to do it in a light touch but effective manner without a public backlash in a democratic environment. There is coordination on this issue between the different Dzongkhags and the Home Ministry.
In that sense the Zhemgang DT’s decision which is already generating public opposition on the social media was the wrong way to go about it.
The official said the Home Ministry instead of just asking the youth to follow Driglam Namzha is coming up with a publication which explains why it is important to follow it and how it affects the country’s security and sovereignty.
In that sense the overall strategy of promoting Driglam Namzha is more accurately being followed in the border Dzongkhag of Samtse.
The Dzongda Sonam Wangyel said that the Dzongkhag administration does not have any fines and penalties but it is encouraging the wearing of the national dress in a subtle way. He said that Dzongkhag administration officials for example are encouraged to be in the national dress. This is part from the mandatory wearing of the national dress in government offices. The context here is also that Samtse is a bordering Dzongkhag.