Archive for September, 2010

The happiness mantra

Posted: September 26, 2010 in No- nonsense

In global geopolitics, Bhutan’s status is perhaps insignificant. Apart from being strategically located ‘landlocked’ in between two emerging superpowers, India and China, Bhutan’s importance in the international arena does not go any further than this. In a world that is reigned supreme by economic interests and power play, Bhutan’s fledgling economy garners but little attention. Honestly, these are not our USPs.

However, Bhutan has positioned itself in a much better light than many developing countries. Its political stability, the historic transition from Monarchy to democracy, the unique development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) and its history of cultural isolationism and survival among others, are certain hallmarks that have intrigued the world.

It is Bhutan’s approach and selectively cautious means to development ends that have tossed the country into international limelight.  Even as a small nation, today Bhutan boasts of becoming the moral conscience of a world completely immersed in avaricious, self destructive materialism, destroying in the process the very elements of nature that support life.

At the UN Summit, when world leaders promised more money to be pumped in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) that are falling behind the 2015 deadline, Bhutan’s Prime Minister made a request. It did not come as a surprise when he asked the world leaders to adopt a new indicator to be included in the MDGs, an indicator that will ultimately define human wellbeing – happiness.

GNH is Bhutan’s global export and contribution to philosophical, developmental and academic discourse. Besides that, it provides a unique insight into the process of development, with huge considerations to the wellbeing of the individuals and the environment.

In addition, the Prime Minister also lobbied for the first time for a seat in the 2013 UN Security Council. These are opportunities Bhutan must grab. Not for international recognition but because it offers Bhutan a greater platform to voice its concerns and engage in dialogue and discussions pertaining to world issues. It’s a podium where we can put forward Bhutanese wisdom and philosophy, and contribute to humanity, in better ways than now.

Bhutan has so far lived by example. We have maintained vast forest coverage often at the expense of development. The balanced sustainable development policies have shown positive results. If Bhutan could inspire a few countries to tread a development path like or similar to ours, perhaps, that would be Bhutan’s greatest influence at the international and global fora. We y need not flaunt economic or military might or engage in gunboat diplomacy to be a global leader. Sometimes it is a mere idea that rules!


Safety First!

Posted: September 25, 2010 in No- nonsense, Opinions

The neighboring hills of Kalimpong and Darjeeling are favorite destinations for tertiary education to children of many average middle class Bhutanese families. Particularly for two reasons that is – because of proximity of the colleges and affordability of tuition fees.

The tradition goes a long way back to the 50’s and 60’s when the Bhutanese nobility started sending their children to these places for their education. A majority of government officials of rank and file are products of colleges from the hills.

Even today, hundreds of Bhutanese students graduate from numerous colleges in the region every year. Until recently, the hills have been ideal educational hub but for the ongoing political turmoil and unrest there.

More than 500 Bhutanese students are at present pursing various undergraduate courses there, exposed to vulnerabilities of all sorts. In a recent incident a few Bhutanese students were dragged into a political procession under coercion.

Although there have not been any reports of assault or unlikely mishap, this incident only reaffirms the fact that Bhutanese students are not free from possible danger. There are reasons to be concerned (but not to be alarmed or frantic), after all it is a matter of safety of Bhutanese students studying there.

Parents must be aware of the ongoing political tensions and the impending risks to their children, both in terms of their education and security. This is not to discourage parents from sending their children to the hills but a cautionary note. Often colleges have been disrupted during political strikes stranding students amid political confusion and upheaval in the hills and worrying parents back home.

The logical solution is to stop students from going to the hills, at least until political calm is restored. But that is easier said than done. Many parents cannot afford to send children to other parts of India or for that matter abroad for studies given the expensive college fees.

Therefore, the onus falls on the government ultimately, to create avenues for tertiary education within the country. The government must encourage private colleges that offer affordable education to Bhutanese students. This will not only solve ongoing difficulties faced by students studying abroad but will also boost tertiary education facilities in the long run.

Bhutan is planning to become an education hub in the region with plans to attract foreign students to the country. We might as well start by providing facilities to attract our students to study in our own private colleges first.

Identity Crisis?

Posted: September 25, 2010 in No- nonsense

In essence, we are a peace loving people. Bhutanese by nature are honest, simple, and a well behaved tribe. Generally, that is. Much of this has to do with our Buddhist values which espouse non violence and compassion. And as Bhutan’s brainchild gross national happiness sells like hotcakes abroad, we have become exemplary of a happy people despite living in among the 50 poorest countries in the world.

We bask in this glory. Yet the changing reality is an eyesore to the otherwise gleaning image we have built over several years. We have always sought balance, the middle path, in our approach to modernization and development, and in the way we opened ourselves to the onslaught of new culture and values.

A country in transition, Bhutan is faced with obstacles as much as it has opportunities in store. Now more than ever, there is a need to revisit our calculated approach. At the one hand, we profusely celebrate the idiom of happiness. Yet, we have a minority population that barely meets the day’s end, scrambling for a decent life in abject poverty. They are left to the jargons of statistics – some 23% of them living under poverty line.

We have placed utmost importance to preservation of culture, a national identity in itself. And we sell exotica to an increasing number of tourists flying into the country, opening up places that were earlier closed to tourism. We know the devastatingly effect it could possibly have on native traditions.

Our police are fighting the scourge of gang culture, drug problem and catapulting youth crimes. The youth ape a lifestyle and value system that are in total contrast to our own. Come to think of this, the streets of Thimphu are filled with denizens wearing imported wears – trousers, jackets, skirts, you name it. We have made our ghos and kiras a formality to fulfill, a nine to five uniform.

Culture is dynamic and vulnerable to change. We cannot resist change but there should be some nagging necessity to protect what belongs to us. More than that, what we belong to.

Look at our capital – it is a symbol of modernity. Our narrow roads are crammed with imported cars. We are waking up to a new reality of waste problems and pollution. Our buildings are mere representations of true Bhutanese architecture. The real beauty is lost, so we must preserve the few traditional structures as heritage sites.

We have emphasized always on balance. We must practice what we preach, or show some semblance of what we say. The worst is not here but may not take too long.

Mission Abortion

Posted: September 25, 2010 in Opinions

The issue of abortion has been swept under the rug either or we have turned a deliberate blind eye and nurtured a sense of stoic indifference over time. We are shocked quite often though, when a dead and disowned foetus emerges from the heaps of garbage dump or is extracted from sewerage pipelines.

Our Buddhist compassion is deeply aroused momentarily, which is again mixed with a sense of disgust for the woman ‘who could commit such extreme an act’. That is it? We do not look beyond the obvious. We just play to the popular tunes of stereotypes and stigmas and miss out the larger picture.

The issues of right to abortion or the contrary, the right to life of the unborn, need sincere and honest discourse, at all levels of Bhutanese society. Two things are crystal clear – abortion is a taboo from the highly dogmatic Buddhist perspective and it is unlawful from the legal point of view. These are rigid systems that would not move easily.

Sandwiched, as women might find themselves, between these two overbearing structures of power, yet, we cannot deny that Bhutanese women are not aborting unwanted child. Every year hundreds of women cross the border to the strange and dirty back alleys of Jaigaon and Siliguri further down. In these clandestine locales and unsafe hands, away from the glare of social stigmatization and legal consequences back at home, Bhutanese women risk their lives to undergo abortion. Just recently, a young woman died of post abortion complications.

Is the issue of legality of abortion posing danger to young lives of woman, or is it lack of access to safe abortion? Should abortion be legalized will the situation improve in any way? Do women have the right to abortion or shouldn’t there be considerations for the rights of the unborn child?

The debate over the ‘rightness’ or the ‘wrongness’ of abortion is as complex as it seems simple. It is simple because the decision to abort a child is entirely an individual’s (under varying circumstances) right to freedom of choice. It is complex because abortion includes an unthinking and immature, unborn child who also has a right to life. The complexity becomes murkier when women resort to unsafe abortion, sometimes resulting in death.

There is a need to protect individual’s right and at the same, the right of an unborn. How do we address these dual issues?

Perhaps, the first step toward it would be by shedding certain sociocultural biases, followed by candid expressions of what must prevail – in legal terms.

Legal, religious and social barriers have far reaching consequences, but it should not come at the cost of a life.