Archive for the ‘No- nonsense’ Category

When the poor bite the dust

Posted: November 6, 2010 in No- nonsense

Four generations of women flounder in the depths of poverty

Cuddled in rug in a scanty makeshift tent made of tarpaulin sheet, exposed to the vagaries of the cold weather, 90 -year old Tashi Tshomo spends her twilight days in complete deprivation. She is old, sick, and suffering.

Her 60-year old daughter, Yanglham, who cannot speak and is mentally unsound, fumbles around the tent, smiling to visitors. Next in the line, YangLham’s daughter, Dechen Pelden, 27, is also partly physically impaired.  The youngest of the generation, Dechen Pelden’s daughter, 10 year-old Pempa, is lost and confused.

The four of them live below a farm road running to the village Langru near Khadsarapchu. Two dilapidated tents, stuffed with old household paraphernalia are what they call a home. Leave aside basic amenities like drinking water and electricity, they barely have enough to survive on.

Dechen Pelden’s husband, an old gomchen (lay monk) feeds the family by begging for alms in the capital.

“The gomchen is out to get vegetables and cooking oil,” says Dechen Pelden. “He returns by evening.”

The family lived near the Dolma Lhakang in Hongkong market earlier in a squatter settlement, depending on the dole-outs served by the Lhakang’s tshgogpa. They had to vacate the hut when Thimphu City Corporation dismantled squatters in the municipality.

Ever since then, the four women have been on the run.

For couple of years, a woman from Khadsarapchu gave them shelter in her empty cowshed. However, last month, they had to shift out as the owner had got a herd of cattle that needed a roof.

Although registered voters from Thrim Throm, the family do not have land or any property.

“We could do with a little help from the government,” says Tashi Tshomo, who has been ill for few years now. “Maybe they could give us food and clothes,” she adds.

“If someone could build a small hut for us to live would be a blessing,” cuts in Dechen Pelden.

The youngest daughter in the family, Pempa, wants to go to school.

“But her great grandmother refuses to allow anyone to take her,” says Tshamchoe, a woman who runs a hotel at Khadsarapchu. “Several people wanted to help her but theangay would not listen.”

Tashi Tshomo and Yanglham receive a monthly pay of Nu 100 each from the Dolma Lhakhang’s tshogpa through the City bank in Thimphu.

“We collect the money every six months but for that my mother and grandmother have to go to the bank in person,” says Dechen Pelden. “It is difficult when she cannot walk or move out of the house.”

Leaving the two elderly women back in the tent Dechen Pelden and her daughter, Pempa, scurry downhill to Khadsarapchu. To wait for their bread earner.


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.

Media boom or bust

Posted: August 10, 2010 in No- nonsense

Absolutely contradictory, isn’t it?  One hand offers endless expanse of opportunities and the other takes it all. It’s a wily move, juxtaposing two that will not go together very well. It’s an art (of war) policy makers are perfecting these days.

Media industry is on the roll. And it’s gathering the moss, every which way. Newspapers, magazines, and FM radio channels have sprouted like spring flowers. In abundance within a short span of time. The latest entrant – a sports magazine called Tak. Thanks to the post-democracy liberalized media policies of the government. Thanks to the overwhelming emphasis laid on the fourth estate. Thanks to the advent of democracy itself.

The government’s two advertisement policies may however pose significant problems for the media. Up till now media had a reliable source of ads in government institutions. Each one had a bite of the pie, small and big, nonetheless. What the new policies could possibly do now is make the small bite even smaller.

The private media is at the receiving end. They barely started few years ago. And even as these policies are out, some more media organizations may join the bandwagon. The market will only grow smaller with time. Some media will have to close shop. Hail the fourth estate!

There are enormous possibilities of government interference. Actually, it already did. Advertisements will be given to media houses that promote the values of Gross National Happiness. This is not a choice, it’s an ultimatum. The policy sets conditions. Should all media house start reporting on GNH? Let’s call it the GNH media. All good!

What the media will write or not write is for itself to decide. News has a value and according to its weight, it gets the space. ‘Monitoring the tone and coverage’ of Bhutanese media sounds coming down hard, and the bait is advertisement.  Take it or leave it?

Let the market force decide it all. Circulation and readership will decide who gets what and how much. Each media house will have to beef up its distribution system, reach and readership. They will have to improve their content quality, if ads must come.

The advertisement policy sounds like a political gambit, a subtle way to bring the media to task, while at the same time promoting the façade that media is given due importance. There is no level playing field. The new media houses, most of them, are struggling to barely meet the monthly expenses. Notwithstanding the daily trials and tribulations, the media is trying hard. To minimize errors, to upgrade quality, to avoid sounding menacingly overbearing.

Both in terms of infrastructure and human resource, they are lagging behind. They are small and struggling. The government’s decision of this kind will have far reaching implications on them. In the end, media is not just a business. It is the messenger of truth.

Democracy online

Posted: August 10, 2010 in No- nonsense

There is so much ruckus being created on the online forums. Literally any topical issue under the sun is discussed, dissected, debated and criticized in the various readers’ forums. It is a free, open and bold world out there.

People do not hesitate to write against or accuse people of rank and file or condemn the corridors of power. There are writers who bring up earnest issues that need immediate attention and public review. And of course, there are those who criticize government policies and undertakings – with or without sufficient proofs.

The writers use a sobriquet as a defensive garb to express their opinions (some bordering at extremes), to share and seek ideas and others use the platform to be heard and to hear out. Anonymity and secrecy is the catchword which emboldens the ‘forumites’, as they have started to call themselves, to tongue lash any one. Online discussion forums to ordinary citizens have taken the proverbial proportion of the double edged sword with which they can criticize and question higher authorities without having to face the consequences of rebellion.

There is no denying the fact that online discussion forums play an important role. It offers people with a platform to raise their views and opinions on issues pertaining to national and individual interests. In a vibrant democracy, public opinions make all the difference.

In a democratic set up or an undemocratic set up for that matter, the internet saga has been both a boon and a bane. Responsible citizen journalism has the power to sway governments and initiate public debates eventually changing unfriendly public policies. Often, internet discussions generate massive public opinions and policy makers take note of it.

Blogging for example has been used by writers across the globe to bring out neglected issues, fight for rights of the marginalized communities and campaign for equity and balanced progress, serving as a voice to those who do not have one. It is perceived as a powerful instrument of change.

However, at the other end of the pole, online forums can be misused for a lot of reasons.

A likely precedent that has been already set in Bhutan is that discussion forums have become common places where people try to settle scores through defamatory write ups. Rather than engaging in constructive debates some burst out with vile, venomous comments without any substance of argument. As educated, participatory citizens, this reflects negatively about the most informed section of the Bhutanese electorate. And there are chances that discussions forums can be misused for spreading political propaganda, furthering wrong beliefs and causes that could be harmful to national interest.

What it boils down to is while freedom of expression is a hallmark of any democracy; it is equally about responsibilities too.

We have been given the tools. Now it depends on how we use it