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“We are not terrorist but fighting for our rights”

Balram Poudyel,
President, Bhutan people’s Party

20160907_143044The Bhutan Peoples’ Party is a democratic socialist party, currently working in exile in Nepal. Founded on June 2, 1990 in West Bengal, it was the first political party in Bhutan. The Bhutan People’s Party was founded to represent the Bhutanese citizens of Nepalese origin (Lhotshampas) who felt discriminated against by the Bhutanese monarchy and under-represented in the institutions of the country.This party was led by Balram Poudyal after the murder of the then president of the party R.K. Budhathoki. President Poudyal talked to People’s Review on issues related to the Bhutanese refugees. Excerpts as given below:

Q. Who had murdered Budathoki?
A. He was murdered by a group of people within the party who came to meet him aster a party conference.
Q. When did you leave Bhutan?
A. I along with some of my friends including Mr Budhathoki left Bhutan in 1989 when the discrimination started in Bhutan and Bhutanese of Nepalese origin were targeted by the local government. We could not do anything inside the country but wanted to fight and stand against the injustice that was going on in the Country. Bhutanese people were not allowed to form any sort of union then and cannot do so even now although Bhutan is a democratic country, the people are still bereft of this right.

Q. Why didn’t you stay in Nepal at that time?
A. We couldn’t stay in Nepal because at that time because Nepal was still ruled by the King. So that’s why most of the time we stayed in India and specially in Silgudi area where we formed our party on 2 June 1990.Slowly and steadily the party began to take shape and we were able to hold a peaceful demonstration in the Southern belt in September.After this demonstration all of us were persecuted according to the Bhutanese law called “Chabasum” which states that no one can say anything against the King,country and the State and those that do are branded as anti-nationalists/traitors. Therefore since we had demanded for democracy we were branded as anti- nationalists and persecuted by the state. Those that took part in the demonstration and even those that were not involved were persecuted by the state and finally the army was called and began to look for us and so we had to run away from the country to India. We were able to come to Nepal only after Democracy was established in Nepal and we approached the UNHCR office here and they set up camps where we settled down.

Q. What charges have been labelled against you and the party by the Bhutanese government?
A.As I mentioned earlier we were charged by the Bhutanese law that states that we cannot go against the country, king and the state and we were branded as anti-nationals by this law which is acceptable to us. But later on we were charged as terrorists which is absurd as it was the government that was terrorising us as they sent the army and the police after us and they performed all types of atrocities like catching innocent people, rape in front of the family, coming in the evenings and beating innocent people, burning houses etc. We approached Amnesty International and they did come to check but due to a law in Bhutan which states that any Bhutanese national can talk with INGOs only in the presence of government officials and so army and police personnel dressed up as locals and  gave testimonies even to Amnesty International   that members of the Bhutanese Peoples’ party were terrorists  but the real truth is that the government terrorised the people and we were labelled as terrorists. We tried to redress this issue as far as possible but in those days there was no social media like e-mails / internets and we did not even have telephonic facility and now we have come to know that we have been labelled as terrorist.

Q Are you still labelled as terrorists?
A.Yes we came to know that despite all our efforts we are still labelled as terrorist although we have not committed any act of terror. Members of Bhutan Peoples’ Party adhere to the principle of Social democrats and we want peaceful resolutions of all typed of conflicts whether Darjeeling, Punjab, Assam.

Q. Are you still underground?
A. We do not have any problem as such in Nepal as we are not living in underground conditions in Nepal but we do have problem in India due to the 1949 treaty which was rectified in 2007 butstill   Bhutan’s foreign and security policies lies in the hands of India. Although legally  we cannot be persecuted in India there has been incidents where members of our party have bee caught, handed over to Bhutan by India illegally. Many of our friends have been lost from India and we still do not know about their whereabouts.

Q. This means that you still have problems to go abroad?
A. Yes, we also have come to know through various media that the false accusation of the Bhutanese government and their false labelling us as terrorists still has not been redressed. We have tried our level best to refute all those accusations wherever and whenever possible but looks like we still have not been successful.

Q. What is your strategy regarding this issue?
A. Our party has always held peaceful demonstration and always been an advocate of peaceful resolution of all types of issues and have time and again instructed all our party members regarding this issue be it doing rallies party meetings etc.

Q. All of you have been labelled as terrorists by Amnesty International?
A. Yes, we have not been labelled directly by Amnesty International but they have indirectly implicated us by stating that our party has been labelled as a terrorist party by the Bhutanese government.

Q. I think you should refute this labelling and give proper explanation with evidence.
A. Yes we did do that through media at that time but apparently the medium was not right and we did not take this matter that seriously as well.

Q. May be you should go to the Amnesty International office here in Kathmandu and do the needful?
A. Yes, it is high time that we do that as we depended too much on media when we wanted to refute these issues. All these organizations be it Amnesty International, BBC have not directly implicated us but have reported that according to the Bhutanese government BPP has been labelled as terrorist party and Amnesty has even gone on to say that they do not have concrete evidence as such.But many different countries have come to believe that BPP is a terrorist organization and members of our party have now come to realize the impact of these reports when they tried to do party activities in these countries. We have also realized that we should take up this issue seriously.

Q. Most of your party members have been settled abroad in various countries like Canada, USA so what happens to your Party?
A. No, it does not matter where our party members are as they have not been able to forget our country and our society as such. Even Nepal is a third country to us and so the country is not the issue as long as we have the same aim to have social change and love of our country. The only difference may be the travel distance as Nepal is very close to Bhutan while the other countries are not. If there is positive change in the country all of them will come back Bhutan and I believe that all of them are not very happy in foreign countries.

Q. Looks like the probability of returning is very slim?
A. No I mean that people who wish to return will return. Just as an example even those who have gotten the citizenship of USA have written their origin as Bhutan.

Q. Is that really possible as they have a better social security and higher standard of living in those countries?
A. No if there is an agreement that one can return to ones country of origin then those interested can return and those want to stay behind can do so as there is no hard and fast rule. I am just basing myself on the human right law that one can return to ones country of origin.

Q. Bhutanese government has gone hand in hand with India and the chances of the resolution of this looks very unlikely.
A. No, I agree this could take time and even decades but any agitation in any country has rarely disappeared on its own. and if the people of the country wants any change then this cannot be put down all the time by brute force. One can see that more than one lakh Bhutanes have been displaced and living a refugee life but even in the absence of the country the situation in the country is not better and there is still persecution of the people and lack of democracy. The common people have no democracy it is democracy for the rich and powerful. All the democratic forces should join hands and fight for democracy in Bhutan but the trouble is it is quite different in the case of Bhutan as even the assistant secretary of USA while visiting Nepal recently stated that the remaining Bhutanese refugees should be managed by Nepal itself and this will be a huge injustice to the existing refugees in Nepal.

Q. What about your party leaders, have they also gone to USA and Canada?
A. Most of our party members are abroad but they are doing their job as members of the party. There is a discrepancy in the total population of Nepali origin in Bhutan. The Bhutanese government states that 25% of population is of Nepali origin where as we claim that 49% of the population is of Nepali origin. These people having Nepali origin in Bhutan do not have their cultural rights as they cannot wear their dress, learn their language and the younger generation can speak but cannot write in Nepali. Some of them have risen to the post of minister but they are just for show.

Q. How is the present government helping your cause?
A. We have been asking for a special status in Nepal since a long time and talked with various governments but there has not been much progress due to the political instability here. We do not have any restriction in carrying out our political activities here but we ourselves have to be cautious as to cause no harm to the local set up and community in Nepal.

Q. How many refugees are left in Nepal.
A. There are still around 18,000 refugees registered in the camps and around 5-6 thousand unregistered refugees.

Q. what would you like to say in the end?
A. I would like to focus the attention of all the democratic forces of the world to join hand with this democratic movement in Bhutan as the interest in the issue of democracy in Bhutan has been waning since the declaration of democracy in Bhutan and the democratic forces in the world seem to be sympathizing with the King of Bhutan.

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