Bhutanese nation did not inherit a homogenous history. It has a diverse past of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious identity. Its diversity represents a mosaic and not the American 'melting pot'. A Lhotshampa therefore, is a Bhutanese with an ethnic Nepali and a Hindu cultural identity. Drukpa tradition has its roots in feudal Buddhism. which with its central theocratic doctrine of Drukpa revivalism, is imbued with exclusive preference for Drukpa culture and mores and prejudiced against the Hindu culture.
The present political crisis in Bhutan owes its origin to the fundamental weaknesses arising form the socio-political institutions and feudal attitudes that cannot conceive of a national identity based on anything other than narrow Drukpa ethnic considerations and imposes Drukpa culture and values on a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society. The government is pursuing a programme to make Bhutan culturally homogenous through a policy it calls, 'One Nation One People'. The implementation of the concept of 'One Nation and One People' to bring a heterogeneous people who are living in perfect harmony for centuries under' One People' was uncalled for. 'One Nation One People' policy aims at institutionalisation of Drukpa values and culture.
The 'One Nation One People' policy of the government stresses the need for a distinct 'national identity', but does not envision forging this identity to encompass the diversity of nations' cultures. In the name of national integration and promoting Bhutanese nationalism, the government used the rhetoric of 'One Nation One People' to justify its racial policies of annihilating culture, religion and language of Lhotshampas, Sharchhops and other minority ethnic, religious and linguistic groups. The 'One nation and One People' policy in fact forcefully imposes Drukpa values, customs and traditions in the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society.
This policy is not only likely to endanger the existence of Bhutan's heterogeneous groups and multi-ethnic society but also to create ethnocentrism and divided nationalities and Balkanization of the country itself. Its consequences are likely to be felt in the whole of South Asia, which is the homeland of hundreds of diverse ethnic, religious and cultural groups.
This cultural purification policy consists of a series of laws passes in recent years, culminating in a national dress code, national code of conduct and uniform language requirements.
On January 6, 1989, the king issued a royal decree called 'Driglam namzha' as part of the promotion of distinct national identity and the 'One Nation, One People' theme in the Sixth Five-Year Plan (1986-1991). The edict of King Jigme states that 'all persons not following this directive will be answerable to the concerned Dzongdas (Chief District Officers) who have been vested with full authority to implement this policy'. The Driglam namzha decree of 1988 that purports to provide for all the people of Bhutan a code of ethics, in fact, imposes such code of the Drukpas of the north upon the entire populace. It deals with matters such as how to eat, how to sit, how to speak, how to dress and how to bow down before authorities in true medieval feudalist style. The dress code which banned the wearing by men and women alike of all other dresses than that of northern Drukpas, Gho for men and Kira for women (robe like dresses) is being strictly enforced with penalties imposed on offenders. Gho and Kira are the traditional costumes of the northern Drukpas and not at all suited to the warm climate of the southern foothills. Moreover, the Lhotshampas have their own traditional dresses. Failure to abide by the Driglam Namzha is subjected to one week in prison or fine.
Under Driglam Namza programme, the teaching of Nepali language spoken by the Lhotshampas was lifted from the school curriculum and Dzonkha language developed in eighties, was made compulsory. Failure in Dzonkha resulted in the denial of promotion to next higher grade in schools and even entry to Civil Service.
Driglam Namzha is regarded as state's efforts of enslaving other ethnic groups and making them subservient to Drukpa ethnocentrism. Denial of cultural diversity and imposition of forced national integration policies through forced assimilation and racial discrimination have created for the Lhotshampas and other ethnic groups, a virtual apartheid of a Drukpa style.
The state presented a Soviet style Drukpanization policy apparently designed both to undermine any unity of political opposition to the regime and to prepare the way for eventual assimilation of non-Drukpa groups of south and eastern Bhutan. Contrary to the official beliefs, the nature of the regime's policies has, however, fostered religious, cultural and linguistic solidarity among the Lhotshampas. History is a witness that identity has not withered away, rather the conditions under which diverse ethnicities share a common social space have withered away.
Revivalist Drukpas and Fundamentalism
Aggressive forms of Buddhism exists in Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, today. In Bhutanese context, the role of feudal Buddhism must be understood in a far more complex scenario. The shaky monarchy has meticulously intertwined the feudal institutions with Buddhism so that the existing feudal and autocratic institutions are imbued with a sacred and exalted place in the Bhutanese psyche.
Contrived perception: The Bhutanese are forced to accept the state and Buddhism as synonymous. The notion that a traditional Bhutanese Buddhist society will not revolt against the sacred religio-feudal autocracy was developed. Buddhist philosophy has been misinterpreted by the political machinery to perpetuate its autocratic rule and to glorify the king, as not only the manager of political affairs of the state but also the guardian of the Buddhist religion in the multi-cultural kingdom as well as in the immediate region. of Sikkim and even in Nepal.
This has led to the fallacious perception that the Nepali speaking Lhotshampas' reaction to feudal elements, abuses of their human rights and opposition to the autocratic government is akin to Hindu rejection of the Buddhist culture. The Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB) is justifying the eviction of Lhotshampas and their assimilation in Nepal by capitalising on this contrived perception through its propaganda machinery. Political leadership failed to create distinction between feudal elements and Buddhist principles. As long as Bhutan remained isolated it remained possible to save this 'culture', but once it began to be exposed to modernizing influences, the feudal aspects of Buddhist culture became rallying point of weaknesses and criticism.
Drukpa revivalism: Bhutan is experiencing a Drukpa revivalist movement since eighties. It is aimed to restore and revive Drukpa social virtues at the cost of all other social and ethnic groups. Recent trends in the Drukpa revivalist movement also demonstrates that it aims to purge the multi-ethnic, muti-cultural and multi-religious Bhutanese society, which it thinks as unwanted cultural element of foreign origin. 'Ethnic cleansing' of Lhotshampas is a part of this movement. The Drukpa revivalism movement seeks to reawaken Drukpa faith and revive former Drukpa customs and traditions such as Driglam Namzha through the slogan of 'One Nation, One People' by 'cleansing' other cultures. The imposition of compulsory wearing of Drukpa dress and lifting of Nepali language from school curriculum is an inalienable part of this revivalism. The extreme expression of Drukpa revivalism and Buddhist fundamentalism has been manifest in the change of the name of the places to wipe out the cultural traces of Lhotshampas from the state memory. Thus, the Nepali names of places like Chirang, Sarbhang, Samchi and Pinjuli in southern Bhutan were replaced with Drukpa sounding names like 'Tsirang', 'Sarpang' 'Samtse' and 'Penjoreling". The royal family, Drasthang ( Drukpa monastic bureaucracy), Dzonkha language teachers, ministers, businessmen expecting rewards from the government and traditionalist elements in the bureaucracy, army and police form the inner core of Drukpa revivalists.
Buddhist fundamentalism: The feudal Drukpa Buddhist fundamentalism has imposed and prescribed strict adherence to the set of Buddhist dogmas and beliefs among the Bhutanese population. As an aggressive Drukpa conservative movement, it excludes and expels those who do not share its conservative faith or dogmas. Drukpa fundamentalist attitude and traditions reflect the distrusts of reason. Drukpa traditions such as Driglam Namzha is a part of fundamentalism that seeks to restore a Drukpa mythical status quo of Bhutanese society dominated by the Buddhist clerics and old customs. Theocratic ideology of clerics and traditional elements are profound in the administration and pose a challenge to Bhutan as a modern secular nation-state. The role of Buddhism in Bhutan has direct implication for Lhotshampas and other non-Buddhist minorities in the multi-religious Bhutan
Three refuge of Buddhism, Buddha (omniscient), Dharma (the spiritual law ) and Sangha (the order) have been politically misinterpreted to mean Tsa-Wa- Sum or three elements of King, Country and People in Bhutan to suit ruler's interest. The king now is elevated at par with the Buddha. New publicity materials depict the king in heaven shrouded with clouds. Any criticism of these three elements is considered treason and is subjected to death sentence. Tek Nath Rizal was sentenced for his opposition to government. The most important thing about Buddhism in Bhutan is not what Buddha preached, but how it is being interpreted by the state leadership through the clergy to perpetuate the despotic rule. It bears crucial implication for the collective psyche of the Bhutanese nation.
Monarchy and Buddhism: The monarchy's compulsion to maintain its religious legitimacy was designed to maintain internal political control. Advantage for the monarchy through an alliance with Buddhism did exist particularly since the monarchy was never held in awe by the Bhutanese people as in the case of Nepalese monarchy or even the Dalai Lama. The monarchy used Buddhism to legitimise the main theme of its political programmes of perpetuating its rule, immobilising political opposition, suppressing the democratic movement and carrying out the ethnic cleansing of Lhotshampas. Monarchy had to achieve a position of supreme dominance in its religious discourse and political hegemony. Hence, the monarchy relies heavily on Buddhist divine laws and traditional agencies not prone to change, to perpetuate its autocratic rule.
It was against this background that the need to revitalise the Buddhist fundamentalism arose. High ranking lamas deliver sermons exhorting people to the Drukpa belief and value system. This did not only influence the religious thoughts of a majority of Drukpas but also led to an increasing tendency towards the communalisation of politics. Since eighties, Drukpa elite view themselves as the only defenders of the country against heathen encroachments implying Hindu Lhotshampas and Sharchops. Thus, the Lhotshampas were suddenly found to be illegal immigrants and the Sharchops of Nyingmapa sect as threat to Drukpa Kargyupa Buddhism and Drukpa values. The defence of Drukpa values and Buddhism became powerful form of chauvinist nationalist expression for the regime to immobilise the political dissidence. Super patriotism is just a Drukpa eccentricity.
Reaction to modernisation: The dream of a new Drukpa Buddhist state responds to a reaction against modernisation - a threat to the monarchy. Drukpa Buddhism as the preserve of the monarch has been used actively by the state to immobilise the political opposition, marginalization of young educated people and as a means of consolidating its political control. Political modernisation has been under severe check since late seventies. The Drukpa elite are awakening to a new political awareness to build political programmes emphasising the traditional, cultural and religious pattern associated with Buddhism. The whole of Bhutanese society is planned to be transformed into a feudal Drukpa Buddhist society with complete individual loyalty to the throne.
Bhutanese society could modernize itself without destroying traditional family values and without being westernized. Japanese society successfully adopted the modern institutions, transformed their ancient feudal hierarchical society without giving up their traditional family values. Bhutan must build a secular society, as one cannot construct public policy on religious grounds. The King must initiate preservation of traditional values in modern setting rather than plunge the whole country into medieval revivalism. The regime's bogey of preservation of traditions and culture are nothing but a shield for protecting the feudal and despotic rule.
The government must understand that one cannot live one's own spirituality while rejecting other people who do not share the same convictions. In a civilised society, the state does not infringe on the individual's rights to culture and religion. Religion is a medium of communication between an individual and God, a basic spiritual necessity inherited from the birth of an individual until his death. Bhutanese administration has no business to interfere in the religious affairs of its individual citizen. Bhutanese citizens must not be subjected to the parochial mindset of the regime depriving them from enjoying their human rights, freedoms and democratic aspirations, while the whole world enjoys them. It is surely disappointing revelation for Buddhist followers world over that the Buddhist principles are being misinterpreted to serve the political ends of the Bhutanese ruler and that this their great religion is being defamed.