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Two local leaders convicted for official misconduct

The Gakidling gup has appealed to the district court against the dungkhag court’s verdict

Corruption: Two local government leaders were sentenced to prison terms, ranging from seven months and 15 days to 15 months, for misappropriation of a lhakhang construction’s budget in Gakidling gewog in Sangbeykha dungkhag, Haa.

Gakidling gup Tshering Wangdi, however, appealed to the district court this week against the Sangbeykha dungkhag court’s verdict, which sentenced him for 15 months in prison on January 30.

Explaining his ground for appeal, the gup, over the phone, said he was dissatisfied with the court judgment as he had not misused the lhakhang’s fund. “I was falsely implicated,” he said.

He said that he was also charged for using rotten timber for the construction. “Which is why I’m appealing to the appellate court to investigate the condition of timber used for Ngatsena lhakhang.”

Gup Tshering Wangdi said that, if the government really wanted to root out corruption, a proper investigation must begin from dzongkhag level where corruption was rampant. “Instead of doing that, they’d falsely implicated me for doing good service to the community and the nation. It’s totally unacceptable,” he said.

The dungkhag court sentenced the gewog’s tshogpa, Tobgay Dukpa, to seven months and 15 days for aiding and abetting the crime.  However, both defendants were given the option to pay thrimthue in lieu of their sentences.  Gup Tshering Wangdi was asked to pay thrimthue of Nu 56,250 in lieu of the 15-month prison term, while tshogpa Tobgay Dukpa was charged Nu 28,125 for his lesser term.

Representing the Office of the Attorney General, the Haa dzongkhag administration charged the duo with official misconduct.

According to the court verdict, the dzongkhag administration charged gup Tshering Wangdi for being involved directly in the construction work, without discussing at the gewog tshogdu, and for breaching the community contract rules, local government act and penal code of Bhutan.

The verdict stated that the gup had taken Nu 716,471 from lhakhang construction budget, but utilised only Nu 329,007.  The court ordered him to refund Nu 387,471.

Gup Tshering Wangdi submitted a receipt of Nu 40,000 spent on a power chainsaw, but couldn’t produce it for physical verification and to serve as evidence.

The alleged misappropriation of the fund was discovered after the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) audited the Gakidling gewog administration in 2013, and issued a memo of Nu 0.796M under the observation category of fraud, corruption and embezzlement.

Auditors observed that the gewog administration had booked an expenditure of Nu 0.796M without completing the construction of Ngatsena lhakhang. “Physical verification revealed that the construction work was still under progress and the overall completion of the work was only about 40 percent,” the annual audit report of 2013 stated.

The construction work was awarded to Ngatsena village committee.  The RAA fixed both direct and supervisory accountability on gup Tshering Wangdi.

The gup clarified that there was a fear among people that, at the end of the 10th Plan, the remaining budget for lhakhang construction might go back to government, which might not release the budget in the 11th Plan. “Therefore, I released Nu 0.4M to tshogpa and Ngatsena villagers to carry out the construction work,” he said.

Based on audit memo, the dzongkhag administration carried out the investigation and registered the case with dungkhag court on July 14, 2014.

By Rinzing Wangchuk

Chief accused in embezzlement case out on bail

Nganglam police continue their investigations to uncover the exact extent of the crime

DCCL: Although he is on bail, Nganglam police are still investigating the embezzlement case against Dungsam Cement Corporation Limited’s (DCCL) head of finance and accounts department.

The suspect, according to sources, was arrested after the management on January 5 registered a complaint with Nganglam police on the embezzlement of Nu 8.1M since 2012.

Police detained him on January 15, and he was in custody for 18 days.

On February 2, police sources said they received a order from the court to send him out on bail.

According to police, the case was first reported against the suspect and his four accomplices in the same department.

One of the accomplices is the late accountant, who died in a car accident last year.  But although one of the accomplices is no more, police said they would continue investigating the bank transactions that were made using office money.

“We’ve just begun interrogation and it’s difficult to give concrete information whether the suspect was the only one who’d embezzled the money,” police said.

Police sources also said that the corporation’s internal report showed that the management had learned about the embezzlement after they had to adjust a bill for one of the vendors.

“The vendor’s bill was delayed and the vendor had complained to the management,” police said. “That’s when the management learnt that the money was misused.”

Police said that the management has been asked to prepare an embezzlement report again to find the exact amount of money that was embezzled.

“We’re not sure if the amount would increase, but if it does, then the management will have to forward the case to the Anti-Corruption Commission,” police official said.

DCCL officials refused to comment, saying the case was with the police and that they were waiting for the investigation to complete.  “We’ve informed DHI and we’ve been informed that a team of audit will be sent soon,” officials said.

By Yangchen C Rinzin, Nganglam 

BOiC loans not reaching people: NC members

During constituency visits, councillors also got a earful on the new mobile and green taxes

Feedback: The benefits of the Business Opportunity and Information Centre’s (BOiC) loan scheme has not reached people in rural Bhutan, who constitute a majority of the population, according to observations the National Council (NC) members made from their recent constituency visits.

Although people raised several other issues to the 17 NC members during their constituency visits, the issue of green tax and BOiC loan scheme emerged prominently in 15 dzongkhags.

The council members found that technical issues in the implementation were holding the loan scheme from benefiting those who needed it the most.

Thimphu’s representative, Nima Gyeltshen, said people in his constituency have been grilling him on the BOiC and the tax issues.  People informed him that the government had imposed taxes, especially the telecommunication tax, without realising how it might impact the poor. “In villages, it’s difficult for people to recharge Nu 100 voucher also,” he said.

During a public meeting in Kawang gewog, the community shared that they have been unable to avail loans from the centre, despite applying several times.

“When BOiC people visited gewogs, it appeared as if it was easy to avail the loans, but it was like cheating the people,” he said. “All they tell me is that the centre hasn’t benefited the people.”

He said that, while BOiC doesn’t ask people for  collateral while availing loans, they still have to produce a rich guarantor. “Some of my constituents came to me, asking me to be their guarantor,” he said. “I said we (NC) have always rejected the centre’s establishment, and that I can’t be their guarantor.”

Tsirang’s council member, Kamal Bdr Gurung, said some people in his constituency told him that the “BOiC loan scheme was only for the rich and People’s Democratic Party supporters”. He said his constituents also questioned him on the imposition of five percent tax on mobile voucher and fuel tax, and that they are not happy with these taxes.

Dagana’s member, Sonam Dorji, said the voucher and fuel taxes are affecting people. “I was told that the taxes have imposed extra financial burden on them, and that the imposition of green tax was unacceptable,” he said.

He said a carbon neutral Bhutan had enough forest cover and imposing a green tax was irrational.

On the BOiC loan scheme, Sonam Dorji said farmers and small-scale enterprises were disgruntled with their inability to avail loans because of the centre’s requirement of a guarantor, and the need to prepare a project proposal.

“We need an experienced accountant or a qualified person to prepare such a proposal, which is difficult for our farmers,” Sonam Dorji said. “Although many have applied from my constituency, I haven’t met anyone, who has actually been issued a loan.”

Following his observation from his constituency visit, Trongsa’s councilor, Tharchen, has proposed to the good governance committee of NC to ask BOiC for a report on whether the centre’s benefits are spreading to all parts of the country. “Otherwise we may need a political intervention to correct the situation,” he said.

He said the BOiC loan scheme looked promising in the beginning, but technical issues have prevented people from availing its benefits. “There’s also a lack of trust between the people and BOiC; they don’t give cash directly to the people,” he said.

Councillor from Samtse, Sangay Khandu, said people in his constituency were also unable to avail the BOiC loan, and that he met people, who had spent about Nu 80,000 for travelling to Thimphu and preparing their business proposals, but to no avail.

In most cases, he said, the papers didn’t get through and the projects were “not good.” “They were also told that people from BOiC would make a field visit, but their wait has been in vain,” Sangay Khandu said.  He said some of them have been waiting for eight months for a response from the centre.

Gasa’s councilor, Sangay Khandu, said that there was a mismatch in the objective and the actual implementation of the scheme. “The farmers want to use the loan scheme for the development of agriculture. But that’s not happening,” he said.

While questions on tax on voucher have settled in his constituency, NC member from Mongar, Sonam Wangchuk, said people continued questioning him about taxes on fuel, and described BOiC as a difficult issue. “Some people called me from my constituency, saying they needed a rich person as guarantor to process for a loan,” he said. “The system is such that only the rich get the advantage over the poor.”

The other issues the people raised were on sokshing, land replacement, census, human-wildlife conflict and delay of implementation of works by local governments.

Meanwhile, BOiC’s chief executive officer, Karma Tshering, during the inauguration of the centre’s branch in Trashigang recently, said that the branch was opened in Trashigang to cater to the six eastern dzongkhags. “The applicants are facing difficulties trying to access our services. Therefore, to ease such constrains, we’ve decided to take our services to Trashigang to cater to the six eastern dzongkhags,” he had said.

According to BOiC, it received over 2,000 project proposals from people across the nation, half of which were related to agriculture.  Some 30.5 percent of the applicants proposed for livestock projects and 17 percent for manufacturing.

Karma Tshering said it was difficult for BOiC to work with 22 employees on over 2,000 applications, with one appraisal officer working on 115 applications.

By MB Subba

Looking forward to the fest

Thimphu residents will not run short of entertainment for about a week, as a plethora of artists, both local and international, congregate in the capital city for the biggest Bhutan international festival.

It is the first time the country is hosting an international festival, that too of film, music, art, food and sports.  It is indeed a big thing to look forward to.  It will be an enthralling experience, as the entertainment-starved city is consumed by a culture that is fast advancing everywhere.

For the average Bhutanese, when we discuss culture, we cannot get pass the image of wearing kabney and rachu, visiting dzongs and lhakhangs, playing archery on traditional equipment, and our handicrafts.  This imagery is strong, because culture forms the basis of our identity, and most Bhutanese have a strong sense of culture.

Culture, however, is fast evolving and now encompasses more and new elements.  We are now talking about a fast changing tradition in film and music, fine and performing arts, television and radio, live entertainment and even multi-media.  It is in this context that such an international festival is welcome.

Interestingly, those, who are coming to perform here, think highly of our culture and tradition.  This is reassuring that we are on the right track in our efforts to preserve our tradition and culture.  But when everything is evolving, so will our culture.  We are already experiencing massive shifts in the film industry, fashion and multi-media.

The festival will be a good platform for Bhutanese artists, as it will expose them to cultures from different parts of the world.  Exposure to the culture of music and dance, films and other media can enhance and enrich us.  The weeklong festival will bring arts to the forefront.  This is important, because our artists are left to fend for themselves, as this industry is not as recognised as others.

Where is the support to those taking arts as a profession?  A classic example is our performing arts.  The artistes of the Royal Academy of Performing Arts are one of the least paid lot.  They are artistes, but bound by civil service rules. Commercial films are thriving primarily because of the popular demand for something homemade.  How do we recognise people, who are in the creative industry?  Documentaries that highlight social issues do not sell.  There is no audience here.

The event is expected to help boost the tourism industry, and to promote Bhutan as an exciting travel destination.  The festival will certainly be a good marketing tool.  Bhutan is still cool in the eyes of the rest of the world.  Such a festival will draw the attention of the world to this unique country.

However, the end result should not just be profit making and benefitting a few promoters.  We would like to see the benefits trickle down to the artistes, who are the soul of the festival, and to the promotion of the arts in the country.

Take a leaf out of the Arctic Circle book

The Himalayan Third Pole Circle is advised to play a more proactive role to mitigate climate change

Meeting: There is a need for the Himalayan Third Pole Circle to do something different and larger than what has already been done by various national and international organisations to mitigate climate change.

On the second day of the meeting in Thimphu, yesterday, experts from 13 countries discussed how the Himalayan Third Pole Circle as a body could facilitate combating climate change in the Himalayan region.

Discussions were also made on what the circle could learn from the Arctic Circle.

The Arctic Circle is a non-profit and nonpartisan body of think tanks, corporations and public associations from around the world.  It is designed to increase participation in Arctic dialogue, and strengthen international focus on the future of the Arctic.

Speaking at the forum, National Environment Commission secretary, (Dr) Ugyen Tshewang, said that the Third Pole Circle should look for a sustained dialogue that the Arctic Circle has been doing for over two decades.

He said, Bhutan, thinking in the global perspective, has contributed to the climate change fight, by declaring it to remain carbon neutral, and reserve 60 percent forest cover for all times to come.

“These contributions are nothing (nil), but we showed some example,” he said. “Climate change is a serious challenge for Bhutan and we need international support in this area.”

The forum also discussed involving policy makers and public in combating climate change.  There is need for people and countries to take ownership of the environment and eco-system.

The president of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who initiated the Third Pole Circle meeting, said the role of the circle was to bring together all regions on board.

Meanwhile, the director general of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Dr David Molden, said that there was a misconception among the public about glaciers and ice, and its impact on water bodies.  He said, in the next Third Pole Circle meeting, this could be discussed further.

Some of the key roles identified for Himalayan Third Pole Circle are to ensure the best available scientific data, promote three-dimensional information sharing across borders and sectors, build regional trust, and engage policymakers as allies rather than simply audience.

It also identified the need to help policymakers understand the economic and social risks of climate change and water stress, promote policies that build societal resilience under uncertainty, encourage concrete demonstration projects, increase application of available local knowledge.

By Nirmala Pokhrel

 

Two-day forest fire awareness campaign ends in Thimphu

dessupsVolunteers educate a resident on forest fire prevention

The programme, conducted by forest officials and desuups, will be held next in Paro from Feb. 26 to 27

 

Disaster: Briefing had just started at the forest fire awareness campaign at the fire station in Thimphu on February 5, when forest officials and volunteers had to rush to contain the fire that started from above Chuzom.

About 50 forest officials and dessups attended the campaign that began from Chuzom up to Kabisa, walking door-to door, educating residents on ways to prevent forest fires.  They distributed messages, posters and dos and don’ts books to households, shops and people on the streets.

Tandin Dorji, head of forest fire management programme, said that the campaign was held every October, but this year it was done in February, because forest fire outbreak occurred mostly between March and April.

“We’ll compare the outbreak incidences and try to see how effective it is to conduct the campaign in different months,” he said. “If we find that the number of incidents is reduced when campaigning in February, then we’ll have campaign twice every year during the forest fire season – once in October and another in February”.

Australian volunteer with the forest fire department, Helen Wositzky, said that more than 90 percent of forest fires are caused through burning agriculture debris or through people burning rubbish.  She said that parents should make sure that their children know about forest fires and their consequences.

“The damage caused by the forest fire will be forever and, if there continues to be so many fires, you could lose all the forests in the country.  So it’s important that communities are careful,” said Wositzky. “If we’re more careful we can make a big difference.”

Forest officials said that every individual must take responsibility to stop forest fire, and should not just leave it to foresters and the armed forces.

Tshering Lhamo, a dessup, said that awareness campaigns during forest fire season were very important. “People know about the effects of forest fire, but they become more alert when campaigns are held, “she said.

The awareness campaign will be held in Paro from February 26 to 27.

The two-day campaign in Thimphu ended yesterday.

By Dechen Tshomo

A definitive tome about Milarepa, the patron saint of Tibet

YoginMadmanFront-682x1024The Yogin and the Madman 2014 Andrew Quintman Columbia University Press

In the summer of 1986, a few months after my father passed away, I went on a pilgrimage of sorts to my neighbourhood monastery, the 12th century Changangkha lhakang in Thimphu, for a month.

There I would sit with an old lady, who came for her daily circumambulations, a 13-year-old novice monk at the monastery, and an old man, who lived further up the hill.  Sometimes there were others who would join us.  We would sit in the courtyard and listen to the koenyer (caretaker), read out the Mila Kabhum (life story of Milarepa) to anyone who cared to listen.

The namthar of Milarepa is familiar to most Buddhists.  It is, perhaps, the only story of a Tibetan-Buddhist master that parallels that of the historical Buddha.  Milarepa is much loved and admired for his ability to transform in one lifetime (1052-1135) a life of hate and sin to one of full-realisation.  He is also known for his poetic prowess.

As Milarepa came to me through the age-old tradition of oral transmission, he was, meanwhile, also travelling to global audiences through the pens of many authors in the west.  His travels through the pages of people’s writings had started from as early as the 17th century, when a Jesuit missionary, Ippolito Desideri, wrote of a “certain hermit of Tibet,” who studied magic, repented his sins, wore no clothes, and ate nettles.  The Jesuit noted how every hermit kept a book on Milarepa and tried to emulate his life.  It is no surprise then that Milarepa was the first Tibetan book to be translated into English.

The latest such work on Milarepa in the west is a study undertaken by Andrew Quintman, assistant professor of religious studies at Yale University.  His book, The Yogin and the Madman, which was published in 2014 (Columbia University Press), is perhaps the most detailed and only study of the biographical corpus of Tibet’s great saint.  In amazing detail, Quintman analyses and traces the literary transformations on the writings and studies of this poetic mendicant over the centuries.  The book clearly explains how to approach the writings and hagiographical studies on Milarepa to understand Tibetan literary traditions.  Often Buddhist texts on religious figures/sacred biographies have been criticised for distortion of the truth, and being fantastical.

“Scholars have long understood the importance of such works as repositories of historical data,” writes Quintman. “Religious biography thus could serve not only as a window into medieval religious life, but also, he quotes Patrick Geary here, as ‘a privileged source for the study of social values’.” According to Quintman, The Life of Milarepa may be one of the most influential stories in the history of Buddhism in Tibet and the Himalayas. “This means the figure of Milarepa and his narrative traditions are deeply interconnected with other forms of religious expressions, such as development of sacred geography and pilgrimage, artistic traditions, ritual practice, doctrine, liturgy and so forth.”

Having surveyed a wide range of previously unstudied sources and rare manuscripts, The Yogin and the Madman enlightens us with how the yogin’s life story emerged from a few “skeletal writings” by disciples to a full-bodied, fleshy biography over time.  These writings provide great insight into the religious and historical conditions including the forms of writing/literature that proliferated in Tibet over the centuries.

The book also has a great analysis on the life and writings of Tsangnyon Heruka, whose work on Milarepa “has formed the yogin’s enduring image in both Tibet and the West.”

This is not Quintman’s first book on Milarepa.  In 2010, Quintman translated “The Life of Milarepa,” published by Penguin Classics.  His fascination with Milarepa started from as early as 1988, when he spent time in Nepal and in Dharamsala with many eminent Buddhist teachers.  His introduction to Lobsang Lhalungpas “The Life of Milarepa” was the start of a study of a character that would last more than 25 years. “The life of Milarepa is compelling for many reasons,” he said. “It tells the story of an ordinary and deeply flawed individual, who was able to attain great spiritual mastery by virtue of his own dedication and fortitude. In that sense, the narrative holds the promise that everyone is capable of profound inner transformation.” Quintman also remarks on how the text is a great piece of literature that can stand together with other great works of Asia and the West.

The Yogin and the Madman is a treasure trove for anyone, who wishes to learn more about literary traditions in the Himalayas, Buddhist history, and about the life of Milarepa.

“All worldly pursuits have but one unavoidable and inevitable end, which is sorrow; acquisitions end in dispersion; buildings in destruction; meetings in separation; births in death.”  Milarepa.

 

Contributed by 

Sonam Ongmo

[email protected]

Thromde demolishes five structures on govt. land

DSC_4409In action: The thromde’s demolition team works on a semi-permanet house in Chanzamtog

Thromde: More than two decades ago, Nudungmo’s husband bought a small piece of Land in Changzamtog, Thimphu from his friend Chimi and started constructing a hut.

But before he could finish constructing the hut, he passed away, and the burden then fell on Nudungmo’s shoulders.

Along with four other huts, the Thromde yesterday demolished Nudungmo’s hut where she lived for 26 years and raised three children.

“This was anticipated and we already moved our things to my relatives’ place,” she said. “But we had bought the land.”

Chimi, who sold the land to Nudungmo’s husband, also owns a one-storey mud house adjacent to Nudungmo’s. He says that his wife inherited the land but never got an ownership certificate despite several attempts.

His house is also on the list to be dismantled. The pending court case on the land has saved it yet. “But if I lose the case, I have to vacate and dismantle the house.”

Thromde’s chief urban development control officer, Thinley Norbu, said that the five houses are on the government land.

A notification to dismantle was issued in June last year.  Thinley Norbu, however, said that thromde even extended the deadline to December.  Again, thromde extended the deadline through a notification sent on January 20.

“They had no land ownership certificate,” said Thinley Norbu. This was bound to happen. Thromde had to demolish the houses.

“If we don’t demolish the houses, people will occupy the houses again,” said another thromde official. He said that such structures will grow overnight if not controlled.

In less than a month, thromde has dismantled nine houses. While doing so, officials are faced with many challenges and many shy away from initiating such activities.

For instance, the Thrompon and executive secretary always has an excuse whenever structures have to be demolished, an official said.

While rules mandate that on such occasions, the team should comprise of all division heads led by the executive secretary and Thrompon, there are usually just about two officials, said a Thromde official.

By Tshering Dorji

Ex-addict creates the first Bhutanese dessert

IMG_4539Tashi Penjor with his Himalayan Cardamom Cake

The story of a youth who made a successful turnaround from the skid row of drugs

 Profile: Tashi Penjor, a tall, young and handsome youth, walks into Ambient Café in Thimphu.  It is 3.30pm and the evening sun is pale against the walls of the buildings on the other side of Norzin Lam.  This neat young man in blue jeans with a grey fedora exudes confidence that is rare in young people these days, gazing deep and straight into the eyes of the person he is talking to.  He drops a white paper box gently on the counter and turns to silence and the empty chairs.

From Samay in Dagana, twenty-four-year-old Tashi is the creator of the first Bhutanese dessert.  It is called the Himalayan Cardamom Cake, made of seep (traditional Bhutanese corn flakes), milk, cream, sugar, walnut, cardamom, wheat flour, orange juice and sweetened cottage cheese.  Tashi is not happy this day because he could not patent his sweet creation.

Tashi was five when his parents separated.  It was 1998.  His father, Gyembo Dukpa, was into drugs and the cause of problems for the family.  Ugyen Pem, Tashi’s mother, was a headmistress in a school in Samtse.  She met a new guy not long after, but the problems only increased.  Ugyen Pem’s new husband was a bad abuser and treated the kids badly.

Flashing the senseless tattoos on his left arm, Tashi says that life became difficult for his mother and two brothers. “These are the things I made when I was 19 and high all the time.”  Tattoos look like nothing.  They are some random art that resemble nothing at all. “The silly things I did back then.”

In 2005, Tashi’s mother asked for a transfer to Lungtenzampa Middle Secondary School in Thimphu.  Tashi was in Class 8 and was doing marijuana quite frequently.  One time, at a school concert, Tashi drank to gather some courage to tell Kinley, a girl in his school, that he loved her.  A fight broke out because a friend of Tashi’s liked the girl too.  After that incident in school, Tashi started to skip the classes.

“It was funny that he had to love every girl I loved,” laughs Tashi.  But Tashi and his friend settled at the Traffic Canteen and called a truce over a drink.

In the meanwhile, Tashi’s academic records began to decline.  He failed in Class 9 and had to repeat.  Fights and drugs were the overpowering factors. “Things got very complicated,” says Tashi. “I had strayed way too far.”

Tashi then went to Chukha Higher Secondary School.  It was 2008.  There, in the boarding school, Tashi improved by a little, because the warden there was his mother’s teacher.  He behaved relatively well.  However, Tashi did not qualify for higher secondary education and went to Kelki Higher Secondary School in Thimphu to study Arts.  There, he beat up a boy in his school and got kicked out.

That night, Tashi got overly drunk and was walking along the Clock Tower when a group of boys came from nowhere and knocked him out of sense.  Badly bruised, he didn’t go home because he had a broken face and didn’t want to worry his mother.

After he got kicked out of Kelki, Tashi went to Pelkhil School in Thimphu and began studying Commerce.

“And I was totally lost. I skipped classes and did a lot of drugs. Problems grew. I couldn’t handle anymore,” says Tashi, looking away.  There is a silence, a long grey silence.

It was a hot day in Olakha in Thimphu just after lunchtime. 2013.  Tashi and his cousin Thinley were making tattoo on Tashi’s left arm, when Tashi’s brother showed up with Lama Shenphen Zangpo, the resident lama of Deer Park in Thimphu.  Tashi did not listen to lama’s advice.  He did not want to go to rehab.  Tashi went to Dagana instead.

But the problem became severe and Tashi’s mother told him to give it a try at a rehab.  Tashi set off for Thimphu again. After a week’s detoxification programme at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital, Tashi decided to go to a rehab in Siliguri, India for five months.

“That’s when I understood about addictions and problems that come with them. Five months seemed like a very long time because I wanted to start living a new life,” says Tashi.  After coming back, Lama Shenphen asked Tashi what he wanted to do now that he is out of rehab.  Tashi wanted to be a chef. To his surprise, Lama took him to Hotel Druk immediately.  That was January 19.  Outside, it was all white.  It was the first snowfall of the year in Thimphu.

Tashi interned at the hotel’s kitchen for 10 months.  After that, with support from Ashi Kesang Wangmo Wangchuck, Tashi went to Aleenta Resort and Spa in Phuket Phangna, Thailand for one year to train as a chef.  Tashi had left addiction completely by then.  He doesn’t go to high-risk places like drayangs and bars.

“I hate these places. I don’t go there anymore,” says Tashi.  There is another silence, longer and greyer than the last.

“I realised that Bhutanese food is actually varied. It’s not just Ema Datshi,” says Tashi. “So I created the first Bhutanese dessert – Himalayan Cardamom Cake. But I could not get it patented.”

Tashi worked at Osel, a hotel in Thimphu, but left after 18 days because he didn’t like the job and the pay there.

“My mother has always been very supportive. Now I want to make up for all the trouble and hurt I gave her,” says Tashi, turning away.  He consults his watch but says nothing, doesn’t move. And then he looks up, breathing into his cupped hands.

“I’ve got to meet my girl. She is going back to college tomorrow,” says Tashi, and gives out his hands.  They are cold and firm.

By Jigme Wangchuk

A malady called rural-urban migration

Students-at-Tongzhang

Part V and VI

As with every other places and societies around the world, in Bhutan too blind faith in the practice of religion have been impediments to growth and progress. I do not imply that religious beliefs hinder advancement but certainly religion can be a very powerful force that can bend minds to espouse the most ridiculous of beliefs and attitudes.

Puritanical/dogmatic religious beliefs:

In Tongzhang village in Trashiyangtse, I met Pento and his wife who live in a patch of land that measures only 16 decimals. They have three small children – the eldest aged 7 years goes to the local Community School. Pento has no idea how he is going to support his son’s further education once he finish Class VI – he cannot even begin to imagine how he is going to support his college education – if the boy ever gets to that stage. For now, he supports his family by working as a day worker with the roads department.

I asked him why he didn’t rear livestock such as chicken and pigs to generate some cash. He wouldn’t hear of it. According to him he will not succumb to “Dhig pa ka lai (enterprise of sin)”. He believes that rearing livestock is sinful.

Much later, I met the animal husbandry officer of the gewog. He corroborates the sentiments of Pento. The officer tells me that religion has been the bane of his existence in Tongzhang. It has interfered with his work – in fact he has been so completely frustrated by the strange religious belief that is prevalent in the village that he thinks his presence there is a waste of time. I asked him to explain.

The village of Tokaphu in Tongzhang gewog is the birthplace of the immensely revered Lam Namkhai Ningpo. Apparently some of the Lam’s zealous followers spread the word that rearing of poultry and pigs is sinful and inappropriate for the people of Tongzhang because it is the birthplace of the high Lama. Thus, officer has not been able to convince the people in the locality to accept the free chicks and piglets that his department has been trying to distribute – to supplement their income and to improve their livelihood.

Baby sitting:

In the traditional Bhutanese society, baby-sitting is a chore performed by the grandparents. That tradition is perpetuated today as well, primarily because Immigration rules do not allow the employment of none-national baby sitters. Thus, old parents from villages now migrate to urban centers, to tend to the children of their children, thereby contributing to Goongtong. Although negligible, I believe that they still amount to a few thousand. Where young couples do not have aged parents to take on the chore, they lure young girls from rural villages to take on the role of baby sitting.

Incidences of displacement and destitution of the old and the aged parents have been reported – in the course of taking up the responsibility of baby-sitting. When old couples move to take up lodgings with their sons and daughters to baby-sit their grandchildren, they lock up their village homes, sell off their disposables and migrate – unmindful of the impermanent nature of life. Sometimes there is sudden and unexpected demise of their son or daughter. That is when they are completely and totally displaced – leaving them only one option – to return to their ancestral home that they have abandoned and forsaken, to attempt and restart life all over again.

In some cases, the old parents get separated because they have two children located at two different places that need help. The old parents go separate ways in an attempt to try and ease the lives of their children. Tragically – at times the separation becomes permanent.

Part VI

Recalling that we have a reputation for dramatically inconsistent population figures, I wondered: do the gewogs and the local government authorities take into account the demographic fluctuations caused by Goongtongs? Do they use the population figures based on the recorded census data or, on the real population on the ground – after accounting for the Goongtongs?

Divergent census vs real population:

It turns out that for the purpose of the imposition of zhabto lemi/goongdung woola, they apply the census figures. Those households who are only partially Goongtongs see this as unfair because they have to take on the burden of those who have already migrated but who still remain to be registered under their Goongs. The gewog and local government officials attempt to impose zhabto lemi/goongdung woola on the absentee registrants of the Goontongs and also on those who are not Goontongs but whose census is still recorded in the gewogs. However, the absentees remain unimpressed and refuse to contribute on the grounds that they do not derive any benefits from any of the developmental initiatives in the villages. Ultimately this anomaly becomes the basis and grounds for further Goongtongs because the few that remain in the ancestral homes tire of the system and move out of the villages.

All things considered, it would be interesting to understand the implications of applying the census data – particularly if it is applied for seeking and obtaining annual budgetary allocations for development projects by local leaders. Because of the large-scale incidence of Goongtongs, the census figures in the Eastern parts of the country cannot accurately reflect the real population figures. Thus, the census data cannot be the basis for allocation of resources simply because the real figures tell a different story.

It will be interesting to find out whether or not the gewog and the local government officials based their projections to the central government, based on the true population figures. If not, they could be implicated on grounds of obtaining funds based on false and inflated figures.

I also get the sneaky feeling that the gewog and the local government officials deliberately conceal the real population figures – because the truth about reduced population figures could mean reduced budgetary allocations.

Contributed by

Yeshey Dorji

Photographer & Blogger

yesheydorji.blogspot.com

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