You have been raising pro Bhutanese refugee issues for a long time. What is the condition of the refugees at present?
The condition of Bhutanese refugees is extremely difficult. The world thinks our problem has been solved after Canada and United States gave shelter to 112,000 as Nepal continues to be home for remaining 12,000. They may be happier in the third countries but they won’t be able to exercise the rights that were snatched from them in Bhutan. The false allegations they face are yet to be addressed. Their relatives in Bhutan still forced to live in brutal conditions.
However, from our eyes, the problem is even more complicated. The refugee crisis is linked to Bhutan’s protests which forced many to flee the country towards Nepal. Bhutan forced us into exile because we were Nepali speaking population.
Even now, 80,000 Nepali speaking Bhutanese (relatives of the refugees) living in Bhutan continue to be imprisoned under false allegations by the government. They neither have their citizenships nor properties. They cannot exercise their rights, educate their children or take them to hospitals. They are treated like foreigners but enslaved by the regime.
So, the issue is not just about 124,000 Bhutanese refugees but of larger Nepali speaking Bhutanese at large?
Yes. The problem is not limited to refugees only. What we want is that the rights of Nepali speaking Bhutanese and all Bhutanese must be established. After the then King abdicated his throne and his son took over, there’s been huge conspiracy.
The Bhutanese prime minister fears to release prisoners imprisoned by the King; while the King says that he has already granted permission for release. This must end and we must be allowed to live without fear. Where are the relatives of people who have been jailed for 30 years? A conclusive decision must be reached for those in prison before our problem is solved. Why doesn’t Nepal raise the issue when it visits India? This is what we wish to share to the Indian and Bhutanese governments through Nepal.
Hasn’t the government of Nepal held discussions with Bhutan as per its capacity?
It is well known that Bhutan forced Nepali speaking Bhutanese to flee towards Nepal due to ethnic bias. The government of Nepal did promise to hold dialogues and solve the problem. It did as well. However, before talks, it failed to understand refugee concerns.
The government of Nepal couldn’t take a stand demanding safe return of all Bhutanese refugees to Bhutan, and this is where our concerns lie. From our eyes, the problem is yet to be solved.
How can Nepal speak on Bhutan’s internal political bias?
After being appointed as an advisor of the King, through a letter, I had urged the latter stating that Nepali speaking Bhutanese were not foreigners and that they needed to be treated equally. However, after the letter, I was imprisoned for 10 years.
The only complaint I have with Nepal is it shouldn’t have given refuge in the first place. After it did, Nepal must have decisively taken the issue into conclusion. Despite knowing that Bhutan was forcing its citizens to Nepal, why did it hesitate to speak to the government of Bhutan and India? The government of Nepal must make attempts to do so.
The world has spoken about atrocities of Bhutanese King and urged the government to return seized lands, ensure no citizen lives in fear and end tyranny. But none of the neighboring countries spoke when we were forced to flee.
Do mean to say that India too had its role in Bhutanese refugees?
I won’t blame all Indian leaders because some of them helped me be free. Few have also spoken against atrocities of Bhutan and called for reexamination of relationship. It is important to consider rumors that were spread by India-Bhutan border residents when Gorkhaland protest in India was at its height.
This problem was caused by the Bhutanese King. However, India declined to talk where it had to. The central government of India knew exactly for how long Nepali speaking Bhutanese had lived in the country. India knows whether western region of Nepali speaking Bhutanese live is autonomous or not.
However, the issue is yet to be solved because India hasn’t questioned why Bhutan calls its own residents as foreigners. We neither conspired against the King nor established political party. The King was our only leader but we were attacked like a prey.
Nepal has been providing safe settlements to Bhutanese refugees. What more should Nepal do?
When we fled Bhutan, we didn’t expect Nepal to look after us. We believed India would take care of us in times of crisis. However, the central government of India didn’t. Indira Gandhi supported Bhutan government. As a result, we couldn’t live in India. Overnight, we were hoarded in trucks like cattle and left at Kakarbhitta.
In time of need, Nepal gave us safe refuge. However, after that, it hasn’t taken necessary steps, including dialogue, to resolve the crisis. Diplomacy of Nepal government has been weak to resolve our crisis.
Do you wish Nepal raises the refugee issue when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes to Nepal?
Yes. While handful of scholars and journalists raised the issue, the central government staffers of India have turned a deaf ear to their demands. I wish the government of Nepal raises the issue to Indian government during PM Modi’s visit. As long as India doesn’t decide to solve our problem, it won’t be solved. India has always claimed of good relationship with Bhutan. In this context, the government of India must raise our issues to Bhutan’s government and publicize its views on Bhutan’s constitution.