Settlement of Southern Bhutanese (Lhotshampas)

Bhutan government claims that the southern Bhutanese (mostly Nepali speaking people now many as refugees) are newly arrived illegal economic immigrants. But, the dissident leaders and the refugees, insist that all the refugees in the camps are genuine Bhutanese citizens, and almost all possess documentary evidence such as citizenship identity cards and land tax receipts to support this claim. Some dissident leaders and scholars opine that ethnic Nepali immigration to Bhutan dates back to the seventh century AD when the 33rd king of Tibet, Tshongtshen Gampo brought a team of Nepali/Newari artisans from the Kathmandu valley for the construction of 108 monasteries in the Himalayan region including the Paro Kichu and Bumthang Jamphel Lhakhang of Bhutan. Others argue that Nepali settlement in Bhutan started in the ninth century at the earliest, when Padmasambhava came to Bhutan with an entourage of Nepalese from Nepal.

However, there are historical records to legitimize 1624 AD, as the beginning era of Nepali migration to Bhutan when the spiritual ruler, Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel of Bhutan signed a formal document with king Ram Shah of Nepal to recruit 50 families of skilled Nepalese artisans to construct Dzongs and monasteries in Bhutan.

Migration of ethnic Nepali in southern Bhutan occurred largely between the end of 1800 up until 1900 i.e. before the dawn of monarchy in Bhutan. British records trace the presence of Nepali people in Ha district back to before 1890. According to British records, by 1930 much of the south was under cultivation by a population of Nepali origin that amounted to some 60,000 people. With an annual growth rate between 2 and 3% and continued immigration though negligible up to 1958, this population reached to its 1988 proportion.

In 1958, Bhutan passed its first citizenship Act and the entire southern Bhutanese population was granted full citizenship.

National Assembly of Bhutan, Resolution No. 3, 11th. Session, 1958

"It is resolved that henceforth Nepalese of Southern Bhutan should abide by the rules and regulations of the Royal Government and, pledging their allegiance to the King, should conscientiously refrain from serving another authority (such as Gorkha).They should submit a signed agreement to this effect to the Government. In addition, southern Bhutanese should themselves shoulder the responsibility of protecting the southern border''.

National Assembly of Bhutan, Resolution No. 8, 11th Session,1958

"There were two ethnic groups in the kingdom under the rule of His Majesty the King. Since Nepalese inhabiting southern Bhutan as bonafide citizens of this country have submitted bond agreements affirming their allegiance to the King and the country, the Assembly resolved that from this date Nepalese will enjoy equal rights in the National Assembly ,and in the country, as other bon-fide citizens."

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