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Introduction


The story is of a tiny land-locked kingdom, Bhutan in the foothills of Himalayas. Nestling between Tibet and India, Bhutan is commonly portrayed as Shangri-la, but behind the enchanting image of a land lost in time, lurks a more disturbing reality of victimisation, forced eviction, and depopulation.

Until 1985 there was no animosity recorded in Bhutan despite its ethnic diversity and Bhutan was indeed called the Land of Peaceful Dragon. Crisis began when the government passed a new Citizenship Act, which was discriminatory. The subsequent census exercise in the kingdom in 1988 which was carried out only in the Nepali speaking southern districts revoked their right to nationality in a large number who otherwise had lived in harmony as bona-fide Bhutanese citizens for generations. As a result thousands of southern Bhutanese people (Lhotshampas) lost home, land and livelihood within a short period of time.

Distress among Southern Bhutanese further grew in 1989 when they were forced to adopt culture and etiquette characteristic of Northern Bhutanese under threat of punishment. Nepali, the language of the Southern Bhutanese was dropped from the school curriculum.

The southern Bhutanese petitioned the king through their representative, T.N.Rizal to seek a review of the government policies and the manner in which the census was carried out, but all in vain. Following a series arrest and imprisonment of human rights activists including T.N.Rizal in September and October 1990, the southern Bhutanese organised peaceful public demonstrations in all the southern districts of the country demanding political reforms and respect for human rights.

What was the result ?

The result was awfully tragic. It ended in ruthless government atrocities and forced evictions of the southern Bhutanese.

Now there are well over 100,000 Bhutanese people who have been forced into exile as refugees in Nepal and India. This figure is equal to one-sixth of the total population of Bhutan. Over 90,000 of these refugees are living in UNHCR supervised camps in Jhapa and Morang districts of eastern Nepal since 1991. Approximately 30,000 others are living outside the camps in Nepal and India.