Drukpa Ethnocentrism and Cultural Hegemony in Bhutan

youtube.com. 800 nuns of the Drukpa Lineage gathers in Druk Amitabha Mountain to perform a Great Compassion Accomplishment Ceremony


by Mr. Rajeesh CS and Ms. Ashwati CK     3/4/2018

The word culture is commonly used for a number of different things. Most commonly, of course, it is used to refer to the customs and habits of an identifiable group of people. It has played an enormous role in the development of peoples, nations, and societies throughout history. It has provided the primary impetus for war and for peace, for good deeds and bad, from the unified efforts of Christian countries during the Crusades to the wholesale slaughter of the Red Indians in North America. It provides a powerful bond for personal loyalties and loyalties between peoples, being of a given culture can make one welcome among strangers or a stranger in one’s own home. It is a powerful influence on all people in all times and all places. Culture has been of more service than even formal education, because of both its effectiveness and its universal availability, in imparting a given set of ideas effectively through the generations. Culture is a vital influence on individuals and societies and ought to be properly understood to understand their actions.

Bhutanese culture is one of the distinctive cultures in the world. As a tiny country with a tiny population, the need to preserve culture and tradition is amplified. This unique culture is a means of protecting the sovereignty of the nation. The distinctiveness of the culture and tradition is visible in everyday life of the Bhutanese. Culture as a broader term, includes religion, tradition, and practices, dress styles, food habits, marriage, practices related to the birth and death, festivals, chewing DOMA, mask dance, architecture and the influence of monasteries, national games, etc… So here an attempt is made to draw out the mysterious culture of Bhutan and analyze how the political system has an institutionalized culture to face the threats coming from immigration of people from neighboring countries. The questions I raise in this paper are what the extent of influence of culture on Bhutanese society is by looking at the Bhutanese different practices and traditions, languages, eating habits, dress codes? What are the ultimate implications of constitutional and political decisions and laws which would be aimed to strengthen their own culture? The following section intends to explain the culture of Bhutanese microscopically.

An Overview of the Culture of Bhutan: Myth to Tradition

Till the visit of Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th century, the people by and large worshipped all forms of nature. The religion that they practiced was animism that they referred to as Bon. People believed that the invisible forces were the rightful owners of the different elements of nature: mountain peaks as abodes of Guardian deities (Yul lha), the lakes inhabited by lake deities (Tsho mem), cliffs resided by cliff deities (Tsen), land belonged to the subterranean deities (Lue) and land deities (Sabdag), water sources inhabited by water deities (Chu gi Lhamu), and dark places haunted by the demons (due), etc. It was in the 8th century during the three visits of Guru Rinpoche that Buddhism began to take firm roots in Bhutan. Phajo Drugom Zhigpo’s arrival to Bhutan in 1222 is another landmark in the history of Bhutan. He introduced the Drukpa Kagyu school of Buddhism. One of the greatest historical figures of Bhutan is Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who came to Bhutan in 1616 after a conflict with the King of Tsang in Tibet. Besides unifying Bhutan, he also strengthened the Drukpa Kagyu school of Buddhism. Today, Drukpa Kagyu is the state religion of Bhutan. However, people also follow Nyingmapa school of Buddhism and Hinduism.

The birth of the child is always welcomed without gender discrimination. The outsiders, normally, do not visit the child for first three days as the house is considered polluted by kaydrip (defilement by birth). Thus, a purification ritual (Lhabsang) is conducted in the house, after which the outsiders come to the house to see the newborn baby. The gifts range from rice and dairy products in the rural places to clothes and money in the urban. The child is not immediately named. The names are given by a religious person. The child is also taken to the temple of the local deity (natal deity), and the name associated with the deity is given. The horoscope of the baby known as kye tsi is written based on Bhutanese calendar. It details out the time and date of the birth, predicts the future of the child, rituals to be executed at different stages in the life of the child as a remedy to possible illness, problems, and misfortune.

Death is the most expensive affair as it does not mean the end. On the contrary, it is merely passing on to another life. Thus many rituals are performed to help the departed soul get a better rebirth. Rituals are performed after the 7th day, 14th day, 21st day and the 49th days of the death. Cremations are done only on a favorable day prescribed by the astrologer but in habitually before the 7th-day ritual. Elaborate rituals are also conducted on the death anniversary for three consecutive years with the erection of prayer flags in the name of the deceased.

The traditional dress of Bhutan is one of the unique in the world. Men wear gho, a long robe that is raised till knee folded backward and then tied around the waist by kera, a belt. Traditionally, the pouch formed above the waist is used for carrying bowl, money, and DOMA. But the dress for the tribal and semi-nomadic people like the Bramis and Brokpas of eastern Bhutan and the Layaps of western Bhutan has a unique dress of their own and do not wear the gho and Kera. The Brokpas and the Bramis wear a dress made of yak hair and sheep wool with an animal skin over it and a hat with five fringes hanging from the sides. While the Layap men dress Gho the women dress differently in a loose outfit that reaches their calves. On the head, they put on a conical bamboo hat. On formal visits to a Dzong or an office, Bhutanese men wear a scarf called kabney. Wearing of kabney is an important part of the Bhutanese decorum and should be put on in a right manner. The kabney also identifies the rank of a person.

Marriages are conducted in simple ways. A small ritual is performed by a religious person. However, in some cases, dinner parties are organized. The parents, relatives and the friends present scarves (kha-dar) to the couple along with gifts in the form of cash and goods in most cases during the ritual. In the western part of Bhutan, the husband goes out to the wife’s house after marriage while in eastern Bhutan it’s the reverse. This practice is however not mandatory. The new couple may set up their household on their plot of land. Divorce is accepted in the Bhutanese society and carries no stigma. The divorced couple in most situations remarries with new partners. However, compensation is paid by the party seeking separation.

Bhutanese eat with hands. Eating with spoons is an imported culture. The family members sit on the floor in a circle, and the mother serves the food. Most of the Bhutanese still use traditional plates made of wood (dapa/dam/dolom) and bamboo (bangchungs). Before eating they toss some morsels of rice in the air as offering to the deities and spirits. The favorite Bhutanese dishes are Ema Datsi (chili with cheese), Paa (sliced pork and beef) and red rice. No dish goes without chili. People also drink salted butter tea (suja) and alcohol. Doma (betel leaf and areca nut eaten with a dash of lime) is also carried by many in their pouch. The offering of Doma to someone is an act of friendship, politeness and a mark of generosity.

One of the most colorful festivals in the Bhutanese calendar is the Tshechu performed in all the Dzongs and many monasteries and temples spread throughout Bhutan. Tshechu is a mask dance festival to commemorate the events in the life of Guru Rinpochoe who is revered as the second Buddha in Bhutan. There is also a display of Thongdrol, large scroll paintings of deities and saints which have the power to liberate people from sin that they had committed just by seeing it. People gather from all walks of life to witness this significant event.

It is prevalent among the inhabitants of Bhutan, traditionally known as Monyul, the land of Monpas where Buddhism did not reach, to eat and lived on raw flesh, drank blood and chewed bones. After the arrival of Guru Rinpoche in the 8th century, he stopped the people from eating flesh and drinking blood and created a substitute which is betel leaf, lime, and areca nut. Today, chewing doma has become a custom. Doma is served after meals, during rituals and ceremonies. It is offered to friends and is chewed at workplaces by all sections of the society and has become an essential part of Bhutanese life and culture. Traditionally betel leaves, areca nuts, and lime were carried in silver containers. It is fascinating to see people of all categories wiping betel leaf, putting a dash of lime on it and then wrapping it around a piece of areca nut before eating it. Now it has become a tradition.

Classical dances in Bhutan are reflected in the religious mask pageants and ritual dances. With the introduction of Buddhism in the 8th century AD by Guru Padmasambhava from Tibet, ritual and mask dances gained roots in the Bhutanese system as part of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. With the birth of the great Terton (treasure revealer) Pema Lingpa in the 15th century, the mask dances in Bhutan took firm roots and gained an impetus as part of the Bhutanese cultural life. The Ter Cham (treasure dances) and Pe Ling Ging Sum were the most famous of the dances that continue to this day. In the 17th century with the arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal from Tibet, the mask dances further gained importance. Many new dances like the Puna Domchoe, Zhana cham or the Black Hat dance, the Degyed cham or the Spirit dance, the Shinje cham or the Yamaraja dance, the Durdag cham or the Dance of Shamashan Lord and the Guru Tshengyed or the Dance of the Eight Manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava are performing there. The religious dances are symbolic and have a common theme to destroy or trample the evil spirits.

Most distinct and magnificent, the Dzong (fortress) is an architectural masterpiece with as much interest in its origin as to its functions and beauty. Thrilling myths and legends circle the Dzongs, just as people, tourists included circle the Dzongs in religious practice. Dzongs are not just places of religious duty and interest. Probably, the most defining factor which distinguishes the Dzongs from other forms of architecture around the world is the fact that they were in the past and are still today multi-functional. The military will use the Dzong as a garrison if need be and as an armory. The previous governments would claim the Dzongs as the seat of their rule. The administrative bodies of a district would be housed within the Dzongs, as would monks. And the Dzongs were also places of trade and an area where people would congregate to share in the celebration with their fellow man, especially during the annual tshechu (mask dance festival). The Dzongs were built purely from the direction and dictation of a high Lama or Rinpoche spurred on by spiritual forces. These structures remind us of the Bhutanese victory over Tibetan invasions from North and standing united against the British Indian attacks from the south. Today, in the era of globalization, these enthralling structures position itself as an expression of Bhutanese culture and a symbol of unity and identity for Bhutan.

Of a variety of games, archery (dha) is the most popular and the most played game. Thus, it is the national game of Bhutan. It is played between two teams wearing traditional dresses and shooting at a small wooden target. Each time a member of the team hits the target the other team members sing and dance to celebrate. Other traditional sports also include dart (khuru), a javelin thrown towards a target (suksom), etc. Today, most of the international sports which include football, basket ball, tennis, volley ball, golf, crickets, etc. are also played.

So as a broader term, culture covers everything, But the question here rise is that what extend it is possible to develop a unified culture since more than six lakhs of people have different affinity and belief system according to their interests. Take the case of India; we can say that demographically its a Hindhu majoritarian state, but politically and legally not since its being a multilingual, multi-religious and multi-ethnic society. But in the case of Bhutan, even though being a multilingual and multi-ethnic society, the Royal Government has been following a policy which aimed at complete Bhutanization or Drukpaization. Simply, it means that the ruling community or the Royal community assumed that they are the real Bhutanese and they considered others as non-Bhutanese. The next section examines the states political and constitutional attempts to weaken and exclude all non-Drukpa communities from all its developmental and welfare programmes. Here a simple attempt is to made to know that how the state using culture as a tool to dominate other sections of the society.

Cultural Hegemony and National Integration in Bhutan

In the name of preserving the Bhutanese identity, the state policy of Bhutanisation or Drukpaisation has triggered off a series of politically erratic, racist and discriminatory policies against the Lhotsampas. The Lhotsampas, Sarchops and other ethnic groups are under pressure to assimilate their social and cultural identity with that of the politically and socially dominant Drukpa ethnic group. The Bhutanese government’s policies of assimilation and integration met with stubborn resistance, first from the Lhotsampas and then from the Sarchops, the second largest ethnic group after the Lhotsampas. Bhutan has three major ethnic groups, Drukpas, Sarchops, and Lhotsampas, living in culturally separate regions, in the north, east and southern foothills. All three groups are immigrants. The Drukpas, the ruling group, migrated from Tibet around the ninth century. They speak Dzongkha and inhabit the north-western parts of Bhutan. Drukpa refers to the followers of the Drukpa Kargyupa school of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism.

The Sarchops of Tibeto-Burman stock who supposedly migrated from North-East India speak Changla language and live in eastern and central Bhutan. The Lhotsampas speak Nepali language and inhabit the southern foothills from east to west. In Bhutan, politics is practiced along ethnic lines and has become the monopoly of a single ethnic group, the Drukpas. Tshogdu, the National Assembly of Bhutan has 150 members, of which a 100 members represent the people and 40 members are nominated by the king from among the bureaucracy, and ten members are nominated by the clergy, called Monk Body which has a strength of 5,000 monks and is dependent on government subsidy. It often interferes with the administration and legislative process. The over-representation of the Drukpa community in the government is evident. Out of thirteen ministerial posts twelve are held by them and out of nine Royal Advisory Councillors, five are from the Drupka community. At the officials level, eight of the nine secretaries to the government, are Drukpas. High posts in the army, police and the bureaucracy are all dominated by Drukpas.

Assimilation or Exclusion

After 1950, the Bhutanese state, concentrated on nation-state building, seeking to evolve a Bhutanese identity, culturally and ethnically, distinct from the Tibetans. Bhutan had watched the annexation of Tibet and cultural cleansing with gloom and foreboding. Unlike most of the South Asian nations, nation-building in Bhutan is not inspired by the nationalistic zeal against foreign rule. The internecine strife among regional chieftains resulted in group loyalties overriding nationalistic aspirations towards a strong national government. The existence of multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic groups with parochial regional attitudes and loyalties was also responsible for shaping the Bhutanese peoples’ allegiance to group loyalties. In the absence of a strong tradition of nation-building, nationalism was by, and large state-sponsored. The state made it mandatory for all citizens to take an oath of allegiance to Tsa- Wa-Sum or the king, the kingdom and the people. This law has exerted a profound influence in shaping and consolidating nationalism in Bhutan. Tsa-Wa-Sum demands complete allegiance of the citizens to the three elements. In fact, any offense to the three elements is punishable by a death sentence.

For the ruling Drukpa elites, Bhutanese national identity has meant “One Nation One People.” Forced assimilation and integration, through eviction, by depriving the Lhotsampas of their nationality and through brutal intimidation and the use of force has been the hallmark of state policy. The state authority believes, pluralism is practical for a large country but not for a small country like Bhutan. Religion, that is, Buddhism, has been used as a political tool by the leadership. Buddhism and the feudal institutions of power are so intertwined that they have almost become synonymous.After the establishment of democracy, the ruling elites viewed the Lhotsampas as a serious threat to the monarchy and the dominance of the Drukpas. The Lhotsampas are politically more conscious, better educated and more exposed to modernizing and democratic influences of India and Nepal. Difficulties in integrating the Lhotsampas into the national mainstream defined in the image of Drukpa identity made the Drukpa elites extremely uneasy. Propaganda about the destabilizing role of the people of Nepali origin in the fall of the Chogyal, the ruler of Sikkim, and its merger with India, in 1975 fanned a phobia of the Lhotsampas destabilizing the monarchy in Bhutan.

Insecure state leadership in Bhutan is facing growing demands for political participation by an emerging middle class. The response of the state has been to create and exploit the religious and ethnic divide between the north and south. Now, it has started to divide the Buddhist population. The Nyingmapas, who historically co-existed with the Drukpa Kargyupas, are being discriminated against. The Nyingmapas are being seen with suspicion, and the practice of their religion is subjected to state scrutiny. The Sarchops belong to the Nyingmapa sect. The heavy security presence in southern Bhutan is being extended to eastern Bhutan, where the Sarchop community is concentrated. Since the inception of hereditary monarchy in 1907, the institutionalization of the dynastic rule has been a problem in Bhutan. Even the traditional legitimacy of the rule of Wangchuk dynasty has been questioned. The four Shabdrungs, the Dharma Rajas or the monk rulers from Tibet who unified Bhutan, were assassinated at the behest of Wangchuck. The present Shabdrung reincarnate lives in exile in India. The north-south or Drukpa Lhotsampas tension developed in the 1980s when the Bhutanese government initiated several policies which actively disadvantaged the Lhotsampa community which eventually led it to its revolt against the domination of Drukpa government.

Buddhist Fundamentalism

The role of Buddhism in Bhutan has direct implication for Lhotsampas and other minorities. In Bhutan, the Buddhist religion and the state are inseparable. As per Buddhist tenets, the ruler is not only the manager of secular affairs of the state but also the guardian of the religion and the patron of the monastic bodies, the lamaseries and the religious-cultural traditions of the land. Buddhism is the most important factor in Bhutanese society. The lamas, the clerics, hold positions of esteem and repute in Bhutan. Religion in Bhutan is not only a body of supernatural beliefs and practices but also a body of knowledge, science, art, medicine, and astronomy. Social and economic life are integrally connected with religion. Drukpa and Sarchop societies revolve around the monastery.

The monarchy used Buddhism to legitimize the rule of Druk Gyalpo and the political programme of ethnic cleansing. The state-sponsored revival of Buddhist fundamentalism led to the communication of politics. The revival of political Drukpaisation and Buddhism shaped several Drukpa myths. The Drukpas came to be viewed as the defenders of the faith and the country against heathen encroachments from not only the Hindu Lhotsampas but also the Sarchops. The Lhotsampas were declared illegal immigrants and the Sarchops of Nyingmapa sect a threat to Drukpa Kargyupa Buddhism and the Drukpa value system. Drukpa Buddhism as the preserve of Druk Gyalpo has been used actively by the state both to consolidate control and to discredit the opposition. The Drukpaisation programme aims at preserving the feudal order in Bhutan against emerging democratic consciousness.

Drukpa Ethnocentrism

The government is pursuing a programme to make Bhutan culturally homogenous through the policy of One Nation One People. This policy stresses the need for a distinct national identity but does not envisage forging this identity to encompass the diversity of national cultures. The present political crisis in Bhutan owes its origin to Drukpa ethnocentrism which is determined to build a nation-state on Drukpa culture and values out of a multi-ethnic society. The policy of cultural purification consists of a series of laws passed in recent years, culminating in a national dress code, a national code of conduct and uniform language requirements.

The Druk Gyalpo issued a royal decree (kasho) on January 6, 1989, implementing driglam namza to promote a distinct national identity in pursuit of One Nation, One People theme. The driglam namza decree imposes the code of the Drukpas of the north upon the entire populace. It deals with how to eat, how to sit, how to speak, how to dress and how to bow down before authorities in true feudal style. The dress code which enjoins all to wear the dress of the northern Drukpas, that is, gho for men and Kira for women, is being strictly enforced with penalties. Gho and Kira are the traditional costumes of the northern Drukpas and not at all suited to the warm climate of the southern Terai. Failure to abide by the driglam namza is subjected to a week in prison or a fine. The royal decree states that “all persons not following this directive will be answerable to the concerned dzongdas (chief district administrators) who have been vested with full authority to implement this policy.”

Under the driglam namza, the government made the Dzongkha language, the mother tongue of Drukpas, the sole national language. In February 1989, the teaching of Nepali language as part of the school curriculum in southern Bhutan was banned. Schools had been teaching the Nepali language since the 1960s. Dzongkha was introduced in the school curriculum in the 1990s in southern Bhutan. Earlier, laws and even five-year plan documents are written in Nepali. Kuensel, the official newspaper, was published in Nepali, Dzongkha and English. The government- controlled radio, Bhutan Broadcasting Service, broadcasts in four languages, including Nepali. The deliberations of Tshogdu were simultaneously translated into Nepali.

In 1990, the government introduced a draconian rule requiring a no objection certificate (NOC) from the police and local administration in southern Bhutan. The government contends that to ensure that all bona fide Bhutanese children received the first preference for admission in schools, a no objection certificate was made essential. However, NOC would not be issued to those students who have been involved in anti-national activities or to the children of illegal immigrants. NOCs were also required for the release of cheques to farmers for the sale of their cash crops. The certificate is denied to anyone whose relative is suspected of having participated in the peaceful demonstrations of September and October 1990. NOCs were virtually impossible for Lhotsampas to obtain. The NOC is used to prevent Lhotsampas from taking jobs or educational seats in many districts of Bhutan.

The Marriage Act was forcefully implemented in 1988 targeting the Lhotsampas. The law denies promotion in government service, training, and fellowships abroad, to all those who marry non-Bhutanese citizens. Lhotsampas who marry non-Bhutanese become ineligible for election to Tshogdu, for jobs in the Foreign Service or Armed Forces and medical treatment abroad and business and agricultural loans, state subsidized fertilizers and seeds. The Lhotsampas are particularly hard-hit by this law as there is a tradition of choosing spouses of their ethnic groups from Nepal and India. Until the late 70s, the government did not allow Lhotsampas, Sarchops and other ethnic groups to buy land or property north of Chhimakothi, in Thimpu or in the northwestern districts where Drukpas lived. Even for travel within the country, all ethnic groups except Drukpas needed prior approval of the Home Ministry. As a result, there was little interaction among the various ethnic or religious groups. The absence of lateral and feeder roads linking different districts reinforced the isolation of the different communities.

Inter-community marriages in Bhutan are rare. Recently, the government reported 11,442 marriages between Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese in the last 20 years. Today, marriage to a non-Bhutanese can result in the denial of citizenship rights. Refugees have denounced the Marriage Act 1988 as a grand design on the part of the state to harass the Lhotsampas and force them to leave the country. Moreover, the law is implemented in a discriminatory manner, very rigidly against the Lhotsampas and not at all against the Drukpas who may have Chinese, English, Italian or American wives.

The question of nationality and the method employed to determine citizenship is at the core of the refugee crisis in Bhutan. Bhutan’s first attempt to define citizenship came with National Law of Bhutan, 1958. This Act was changed in 1977 and again in 1985. The government attaches great importance to these laws as forming a bulwark. It is all that stands between the survival of the distinct political and cultural identity of the people of Bhutan and overwhelming demographic pressures from outside. The National Law of 1958 granted citizenship to anyone whose father was a Bhutanese citizen, who was born in Bhutan or who had lived there for ten years and owned agricultural land within the kingdom. The 1985 Citizenship Act codified a new basis for citizenship in Bhutan: a proof of residence in Bhutan before December 31, 1958. The new citizenship law required that both parents be Bhutanese citizens to transfer citizenship rights to their children.

Children born of a marriage between a Bhutanese and a non-Bhutanese are not entitled to Bhutanese citizenship by birth. The child can at the age of fifteen apply for naturalization. Rigorous conditions have to be met to be eligible for naturalization, including fluency in speaking, reading and writing the Drukpa mother tongue, Dzongkha. Naturalised citizens must also prove prior residence in Bhutan of 15 to 20 years and be recorded with the Department of immigration and Census and the Ministry of Home Affairs. Even if all these requirements are fulfilled, the government reserves the right to reject any application for naturalization without assigning any reason. Northerners do not have to prove anything at all to retain their nationality and citizenship. Residents in the south, who could not prove that both parents were Bhutanese citizens were declared illegal immigrants, retroactively, even if they had been citizens under the National Law of 1958. The Citizenship Act, 1985 has great scope for creating statelessness. Under this law dissidents accused of speaking or criticising the king and government can be stripped of citizenship.

The Citizenship Act, 1985 came into force in 1988, when the government undertook a population census in southern Bhutan. The census set out to determine the citizenship status of Lhotsampas by categorising residents into seven groups: i) genuine Bhutanese, ii) returned migrants, iii) dropout cases of people who were not around at the time of the census, iv) a non-national woman married to a Bhutanese man v) a non-national man married to a Bhutanese woman, vi) adoption cases and vii) non-nationals, i.e. illegal immigrants. Officially, the 1988 census implemented the Citizenship Act, 1985, with its three methods of attaining citizenship: by having two Bhutanese parents, by registration of residence since 1958 and by naturalization. In practice, however, the census exercise justified expelling people who were no longer wanted,

Following the census of 1981, all citizens have issued citizenship identity cards. The government claims that these cards are forged. Initially, the Bhutanese government claimed that any documentary evidence whatsoever, land ownership deeds, sale receipts, inheritance of land and tax receipts would prove residence in Bhutan in 1958 and thus conclusive proof of citizenship. But now the government contends that payment of property tax in itself is no proof as many illegal immigrants in Bhutan had acquired property. The situation in southern Bhutan has been exacerbated by the government’s failure to make known in advance what would happen to people in southern Bhutan once they were categorized as non-nationals. Since 1990, many of these people, some of whom were born in Bhutan and had lived there for years, were forced to quit Bhutan. Moreover, thousands of citizens have been forced to flee or asked to fill up voluntary migration forms under duress. Citizens who “voluntarily” migrated are not allowed to return to the country.

In March 1990 the government introduced a Green Belt Policy creating a kilometer wide belt of forests along the border in southern Bhutan. The area involved was not a wasteland but some of the only available plains in the country, providing the most fertile paddy fields being cultivated by the Lhotsampas. Even where compensation was forthcoming, the Lhotsampas resisted being resettled in northern lands, unsuitable for agriculture and disruptive of their community, The programme has been quietly abandoned as ill-conceived.

In a bid to crush the democratic movement, the government has deftly crafted three strategies; The first is to discredit the democratic movement by projecting the Lhotsampas as illegal immigrants through paper war or propaganda. The propaganda machinery of the government is spreading the canard that the Nepali people who outnumber the indigenous Drukpas are determined to take over political power in Bhutan as they did in Sikkim. The second strategy is to break the leadership of the democracy movement by getting Rongtong Kuenley Dorji of the UDF extradited to Bhutan. In April 1997, Dorji was arrested in Delhi at the behest of the Bhutanese government for fraud and non-payment of loans to the Bank of Bhutan, and for political offenses against the Bhutanese state, The Indo-Bhutan extradition treaty imposes restrictions on the extradition of political dissidents.

Pro-democracy activities claim that it is the government of Bhutan, which has forged a covert alliance with the North-East insurgents providing them sanctuary in return for their muscle power in terrorizing the Lhotsampas. The policy has come home to roost with the Indian government pressing the Bhutanese authorities to allow hot pursuit to flush out the ULFA and Bodo insurgents, Bhutan has so far refused. The third strategy is an insidious move to resettle and integrate the Bhutanese refugees in India. Reports indicate that the Bhutanese government is lobbying with UNHCR to disband the refugee camps in Nepal. A plan to resettle 50,000 refugees in India, 50,000 in Nepal and to repatriate 15,000 to Bhutan is being tossed around.


Bhutan totally depends on its culture, tradition and practices and religion. Bhutanese people are on it forever. Even they are using their culture as an inherent part of the process of foreign policymaking. In the modern times, small states like Bhutan using culture as a diplomatic tool. If they can use their cultural aspects in their external relations, one can also imagine the extent of their obsession with culture inside the state. The modern world is being marked by its democratic ideas and global cooperation, but at the same time, it makes ethnic and other communities more sensitive in its integration with others. Samuel. P. Huntington, in his thesis, “Clash of the Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order,” warned the world about the possibilities of ethnic and civilizational clashes between each other. He suggested an international civilizational and ethnic consensus as a solution to these problems. Ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Zinchiang issue in China, etc… make Huntington’s thesis more relevant in the present scenario. In the case of Bhutan, a small state which is drawing energy from its culture and fearful about the internal interference into it, the situation is different. But here the interesting thing is the manipulation of state and its apparatus for cultural domination.

Bhutan already has a kind of embedment with the monarchical rule which stands for the cultural purity of the state, formerly. The establishment of democracy coexisted with monarchical rule strengthen the state from its bottom to bottom. Once the ruling community realized the threats from other alien or immigrant communities regarding sharing resources and political power, and then they would be started combating it at any cost primarily giving importance to their own culture. In Bhutan, Drukpa sect did the same thing against Scharchops and Lhotsamapas. In Gramsci’s words, this is called cultural hegemony. We can analyze this hegemony at three levels, economic, cultural and political. Through five year plans and developmental policies, the state would only be aimed at the development of ruling community. It gives much relevance and concession to the ruling or elite community by giving constitutional and legal implications to their language, dress code, tradition, and practices. By putting a number of restrictions on the alien communities, for example passing and implementing Citizenship Act, the state tries to weaken the political strength of those communities. In short, collective attempts of the state for these narrow political, economic and cultural purposes put the life of other communities in dilemma, and this cultural imperialism or hegemony make their life even more unsecured.


Dasho Rigzin Dorji, “A Brief Religious, Cultural and Secular History of Bhutan,” The Asia Society Galleries, New York, 1989.

Michael, Aris. “Bhutan: The Early History of the Himalayan Kingdom,” Warminster, New Delhi, 1979.

Rahul, Ram. “Royal Bhutan: A Political History,” Sangam Books Limited, New Delhi, 1997.

Chetri, Rakesh. “Bhutanese Lhotsampas: Victims of Ethnic Cleansing,” in Tapan K. Bose and Rita Manchanda, “State, Citizens and Outsiders: the Uprooted Peoples of South Asia,” (eds.), Kathmandu, South Asian Forum for Human Rights, 1997.

Singh, Nagendra. “Bhutan: A Kingdom in the Himalayas,” Thompson Press Limited, New Delhi, 1973.

John, Darie. “Forbidden Bhutan,” Journal of the Manchester Geographical Society, XLIX, pp. 57-63.

Goodman, P. Donald. “What is Culture?”, Version 1. 2, June 14, 2009, pp. 1-35.

Das, Nirmala. “The Dragon Country: A History of Bhutan,” Orient Longman, Calcutta.

The government of Bhutan, http://www.bhutan.gov.bt/govrnment/aboutbhutan.php (Accessed on 27 January 2018).

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