1 Interview with a gay Bhutanese critic 2004
2 General Commentary on Homosexuality and Theravada Buddhism 2003
3 Thousands of southern Bhutanese of Nepalese ethnicity forcibly ‘evicted’ 2003
4 Over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees 2003
5 Comments regarding Bhutanese/Nepali refugees 2004
6 Interview with Dori, a gay man from Bhutan 2006
7 Bhutan Lets the World In (but Leaves Fashion TV Out) 5/07
8 Bhutan Refugees Find a Toehold in the Bronx 9/09 (non-gay background story)
9 Laws against homosexuality ‘spreading HIV infections’ 7/10
Interview with a gay Bhutanese man critical of his government
Chong (not his real name) is a fifty year-old gay native Bhutanese medical professional who works for a non-governmental organization (NGO). He originates from a very rural mountain village where virtually nothing is known about homosexuality. (His mother is of Nepali descent) He has been married for thirty years and has two children. His own self-discovery occurred during his boarding school years in India where he later studied pre-med courses. Since returning to Bhutan, about 25 years ago, he has remained in the closet to his family and professional associates. He works for an NGO based in Europe that provides health care to rural residents. He agreed to share his thoughts and experiences here providing he identity was kept disguised.
GlobalGayz: Please give me an overview of the LGB ‘scene’ in Bhutan?
Chong: Yes I can give you all the details about homosexuality in this country, since the literacy rate is just 25% out of 600,000 population, many have never heard of gay sex and homosexuality at all.
As for gay tolerance, this is not known. Many don’t know anything. But men can hold hands, sleep in the bed with same sex even in presence of parents or relatives and friends yet many don’t know that gay sex exist at all. Married men can sleep together in same bed with other married or single men!
GlobalGayz: What would they say if they found out you are gay? Would they throw you out of the family?
Chong: If some modern and new generation people know that we are gay, then that is the worst part; we will be cast out from the society. My parents are farmers and never heard of homosexuality at all, at least its existence in the open society. I think here most of the gay men are married to cover it up. It is unfortunate but it is the only way to survive.
If you are caught as homosexual, perhaps the government will put you in jail for life and society will outcast you. But as I said, a man can hold man’s hand and a man can sleep with other man in the same bed but they don’t look for sex.
GlobalGayz: Is this ‘homophobia’ or something else? What is the reason for this? Religion? Legal laws? Social tradition?
Chong: It is not so actually ‘homophobia’ but mostly ignorance and not knowing what this strange sex is. In the small villages they don’t think about it and so do not know how to accept something so strange. But if they find it out they do not like it because it is not normal for them. In the bigger cities like the capitol more people know about gay sex but the government has said it is a crime. A person can go to the jail for a long time, maybe all of his life. So people are afraid of jail too.
GlobalGayz: Can you describe a situation that really happened when a homosexual was discovered?
Chong: Regarding the jailing of gays, I have heard in the past that one man was killed in jail while he was caught and he was married and had kids but divorced. We have no attorneys or lawyers in this country for any citizens. There are hundreds of freedom fighters in this country who are behind the bars for decades now and many of the them are killed and tortured, but no relative or Red Cross Society workers can access to the most secretive place in this world called Bhutan jail–even more than North Korea. The world does not know where is Bhutan so North Korea is on limelight.
GlobalGayz: Is there is an underground gay community who know each other?
Chong: No, there are no gay men who have sex in any underground; 98% of gay men are married. I am married too since over 30 years. If you are not married society will question you and ask you if you are abnormal man. Lots of pressure really, so all men marry and it’s mandatory due to social pressure.
GlobalGayz: Do you know other gays in Bhutan?
Chong: I don’t know any single gay man in Bhutan personally nor anyone do I dare to ask and get to know one for so many reasons like being caught or known or outcast from office work, family and society. I am sure there are gays. They are married and have kids. I guess they might be finding sex across in India which is on our immediate border.
About Bhutan, as I told, you, only the new generation who study outside Bhutan are exposed and have heard of homosexuality. So they are very few overall. You can see the gay Bhutan web site where there are not any gay men who have put ads, except me, since many even don’t know that gay sites exist. I am sure that there are few gay men who are influenced by western tourists and must have had sex but 90% of men are married due to social pressure.
GlobalGayz: Where did you go to college for your professional education as a pharmacist?
Chong: I did study in India for many years and India has many gay meeting places in all cities. I also learned that one has to be very careful to have sex in India in metro cities. At times gay men act as middle men with cops to make money; you see the danger and irony of Indian gays!! I have been to all cities in India though. The cops often raid the secluded run gay bars also.
GlobalGayz: How did you discover your homosexuality?
Chong: I discovered my homosexuality when I was in boarding school in India and one senior assistant slept and kissed me and looked after me like his very own brother. We kissed and slept many times together. I was 14 yrs when he was 24 years. I knew then I don’t like women or girls.
GlobalGayz: Did you go to university in India? Were you nervous when you discovered you were gay? Can you say more about coming out to yourself and where you were and what your early experience was?
Chong: Yes I did study in India in mission school and degree in pharmacology in Bombay (Mumbai). The first gay experience was with a British guy who was my English teacher who was probably bisexual since he had his wife and kids. We met in Darjeeling St. Paul’s School, the best mission school in India, where I got converted into Christian. Please understand that converting to another religion is punishable by the law of the land in Bhutan!
My teacher was 50 years when I was a teen and in fact I never knew that I had this man-to-man instinct until this teacher allured me with his affection and private tuition class in his home when his wife was away to London. Once at night he asked me sleep in his bedroom when suddenly he undressed me and starting kissing and cuddling. I was shocked and reluctant in the beginning but after a while I got aroused. I was just 19 years and full of virility. Then he was oral with me and kissed me. Finally I also started kissing and cuddling him. We were lovers for 10 years during my stay in school and college until he went back to England in Birmingham. He died some years ago now.
GlobalGayz: Regarding private life in Bhutan, there is a difference between the ‘western’ image of Bhutan and the reality of life there. I went to this web site: http://www.bhutanadventure.com/aboutbhutan.htm It is a tourist site and it provides information about the history and culture of Bhutan. But the information there is very different from the information you give. The site tells about the ‘Gross National Happiness’ philosophy of the king and how all people share their work and effort together so everyone can be happy.
Chong: Let me tell you the difference between that site owned by our dictator regime. This country is ruled by an autocratic king who has 4 wives and 18 kids and most of the high posts are occupied by his sycophants and kith and kin. There is no freedom of expression, no newspaper except a government-controlled paper edited in King’s palace, once a week. No reporters and foreign journalists are given visas. Tourists are guided by government guides and kept in groups.
GlobalGayz: Do people live in fear or love for the king? What happens to someone who speaks about human rights and wants more freedom?
Chong: The web site you mention is managed by our government. It is better for you to see www.bhootan.org that is a human rights organization in London. No one can talk and argue about human rights in Bhutan; anyone going against the authority is killed and shot. No international body can visit Bhutan except a handful of people working here in UN organizations–their visas will never be extended more than a year or couple of years for reasons of fear of spying in this land, controlled by King. Please see the site also at http://bhutannewsonline.com/
Yes all the people live in fear and anyone talking against the king and the present ruling regime will be eradicated. You can imagine how many such people have been killed for the last 90 years of this dictator regime. There are no international human rights forum nor they are allowed to visit this country and no reporters and news papers are here except that ‘Kunesel’ paper that gets printed once a week and is censored in palace here
We have no TV in this country until recently a year ago, the government has allowed us but with government controlled channels. We must wear our national dress all the time, failing which we will be behind the bars for a month for first offence and one year for second offence and life jail for third offence. No western dress is allowed in public, in offices, markets, homes, etc. Cops are after all who violates the rules.
Written 2003 (?)
Homosexuality and Theravada Buddhism
by A. L. De Silva
Buddhism teaches to, and expects from, its followers a certain level of ethical behaviour. The minimum that is required of the lay Buddhist is embodied in what is called the Five Precepts (panca sila), the third of which relates to sexual behaviour. Whether or not homosexuality, sexual behaviour between people of the same sex, would be breaking the third Precept is what I would like to examine here.
Homosexuality was known in ancient India; it is explicitly mentioned in the Vinaya (monastic discipline) and prohibited. It is not singled out for special condemnation, but rather simply mentioned along with a wide range of other sexual behaviour as contravening the rule that requires monks and nuns to be celibate. Sexual behaviour, whether with a member of the same or the opposite sex, where the sexual organ enters any of the bodily orifices (vagina, mouth or anus), is punishable by expulsion from the monastic order. Other sexual behaviour like mutual masturbation or interfemural sex, while considered a serious offense, does not entail expulsion but must be confessed before the monastic community.
A type of person called a pandaka is occasionally mentioned in the Vinaya in contexts that make it clear that such a person is some kind of sexual non-conformist. The Vinaya also stipulates that pandakas are not allowed to be ordained, and if, inadvertently, one has been, he is expelled. According to commentary, this is because pandakas are "full of passions, unquenchable lust and are dominated by the desire for sex." The word pandaka has been translated as either hermaphrodite or eunuch, while Zwilling has recently suggested that it may simply mean a homosexual. It is more probable that ancient Indians, like most modern Asians, considered only the extremely effeminate, exhibitionist homosexual (the screaming queen in popular perception) to be deviant while the less obvious homosexual was simply considered a little more opportunistic or a little less fussy than other ‘normal’ males.
As the Buddha seems to have had a profound understanding of human nature and have been remarkably free from prejudice, and as there is not evidence that homosexuals are any more libidinous or that they have any more difficulties in maintaining celibacy than heterosexuals, it seems unlikely that the Buddha would exclude homosexuals per se from the monastic life. The term pandaka therefore probably does not refer to homosexuals in general but rather to the effeminate, self-advertising and promiscuous homosexual.
The lay Buddhist is not required to be celibate, but she or he is advised to avoid certain types of sexual behaviour. The third Precept actually says: ‘Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.’ The word kama refers to any form of sensual pleasure but with an emphasis on sexual pleasure and a literal translation of the precept would be "I take the rule of training (veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami) not to go the wrong way (micchacara) for sexual pleasure (kamesu)". What constitutes "wrong" will not be clear until we examine the criteria that Buddhism uses to make ethical judgments.
No one of the Buddha’s discourses is devoted to systematic philosophical inquiry into ethics such as one finds in the works of the Greek philosophers. But it is possible to construct a criterion of right and wrong out of material scattered in different places throughout the Pali Tipitaka, the scriptural basis of Theravada Buddhism. The Buddha questioned many of the assumptions existing in his society, including moral ones, and tried to develop an ethics based upon reason and compassion rather than tradition, superstitions and taboo. Indeed, in the famous Kalama Sutta he says that revelation (anussana), tradition (parampara), the authority of the scriptures (pitakasampada) and one’s own point of view (ditthinijjhanakkhanti) are inadequate means of determining right and wrong.
Having questioned the conventional basis of morality, the Buddha suggests three criteria for making moral judgments. The first is what might be called the universalisability principle – to act towards others the way we would like them to act towards us. In the Samyutta Nikaya he uses this principle to advise against adultery. He says: "What sort of Dhamma practice leads to great good for oneself?… A noble disciple should reflect like this: ‘If someone were to have sexual intercourse with my spouse I would not like it. Likewise, if I were to have sexual intercourse with another’s spouse they would not like that. For what is unpleasant to me must be unpleasant to another, and how could I burden someone with that?’ As a result of such reflection one abstains from wrong sexual desire, encourages others to abstain from it, and speaks in praise of such abstinence."
In the Bahitika Sutta, Ananda is asked how to distinguish between praiseworthy and blameworthy behaviour. He answers that any behaviour which causes harm to oneself and others could be called blameworthy while any behaviour that causes no harm (and presumably which helps) oneself and others could be called praiseworthy. The suggestion is, therefore, that in determining right and wrong one has to look into the actual and possible consequences of the action in relation to the agent and those affected by the action. The Buddha makes this same point in the Dhammapada: "The deed which causes remorse afterwards and results in weeping and tears is ill-done. The deed which causes no remorse afterwards and results in joy and happiness is well-done." This is what might be called the consequential principle, that behaviour can be considered good or bad according to the consequences or effects it has.
The third way of determining right and wrong is what might be called the instrumental principle, that is, that behaviour can be considered right or wrong according to whether or not it helps us to attain our goal. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is Nirvana, a state of mental peace and purity and anything that leads one in that direction is good. Someone once asked the Buddha how after his death it would be possible to know what was and was not his authentic teaching and he replied: "The doctrines of which you can say: ‘These doctrines lead to letting go, giving up, stilling, calming, higher knowledge, awakening and to Nirvana’ – you can be certain that they are Dhamma, they are discipline, they are the words of the Teacher."
This utilitarian attitude to ethics is highlighted by the fact that the Buddha uses the term kusala to mean ‘skillful’ or ‘appropriate’ or its opposite, akusala, when evaluating behaviour far more frequently than he uses the terms punna, ‘good’, or papa, ‘bad’. The other thing that is important in evaluating behaviour is intention (cetacean). If a deed is motivated by good (based upon generosity, love and understanding) intentions it can be considered skillful. Evaluating ethical behaviour in Buddhism requires more than obediently following commandments, it requires that we develop a sympathy with others, that we be aware of our thoughts, speech and actions, and that we be clear about our goals and aspirations.
Having briefly examined the rational foundations of Buddhist ethics we are now in a better position to understand what sort of sexual behaviour Buddhism would consider to be wrong or unskillful and why. The Buddha specifically mentions several types of unskillful sexual behaviour, the most common of which is adultery. This is unskillful because it requires subterfuge and deceit, it means that solemn promises made at the time of marriage are broken, and it amounts to a betrayal of trust. In another passage, the Buddha says that someone practicing the third Precept "avoids intercourse with girls still under the ward of their parents, brothers, sisters or relatives, with married women, with female prisoners or with those already engaged to another." Girls still under the protection of others are presumably too young to make a responsible decision about sex, prisoners are not in a position to make a free choice, while an engaged woman has already made a commitment to another. Although only females are mentioned here no doubt the same would apply to males in the same position.
As homosexuality is not explicitly mentioned in any of the Buddha’s discourses (more than 20 volumes in the Pali Text Society’s English translation), we can only assume that it is meant to be evaluated in the same way that heterosexuality is. And indeed it seems that this is why it is not specifically mentioned. In the case of the lay man and woman where there is mutual consent, where adultery is not involved and where the sexual act is an expression of love, respect, loyalty and warmth, it would not be breaking the third Precept. And it is the same when the two people are of the same gender. Likewise promiscuity, license and the disregard for the feelings of others would make a sexual act unskillful whether it be heterosexual or homosexual. All the principles we would use to evaluate a heterosexual relationship we would also use to evaluate a homosexual one.
In Buddhism we could say that it is not the object of one’s sexual desire that determines whether a sexual act is unskillful or not, but rather the quality of the emotions and intentions involved.
However, the Buddha sometimes advised against certain behaviour not because it is wrong from the point of view of ethics but because it would put one at odds with social norms or because its is subject to legal sanctions. In these cases, the Buddha says that refraining from such behaviour will free one from the anxiety and embarrassment caused by social disapproval or the fear of punitive action. Homosexuality would certainly come under this type of behaviour. In this case, the homosexual has to decide whether she or he is going to acquiesce to what society expects or to try to change public attitudes. In Western societies where attitudes towards sex in general have been strongly influenced by the tribal taboos of the Old Testament and, in the New Testament, by the ideas of highly neurotic people like St. Paul, there is a strong case for changing public attitudes.
We will now briefly examine the various objections to homosexuality and give Buddhist rebuttals to them. The most common Christian and Muslim objection to homosexuality is that it is unnatural and "goes against the order of nature". There seems to be little evidence for this. Miriam Rothschild, the eminent biologist who played a crucial role in the fight to decriminalize homosexuality in Britain, pointed out at the time that homosexual behaviour has been observed in almost every known species of animal. Secondly, it could be argued that while the biological function of sex is reproduction, most sexual activity today is not for reproduction, but for recreation and emotional fulfillment, and that this too is a legitimate function of sex.
This being so, while homosexuality is unnatural in that it cannot leads to reproduction, it is quite natural for the homosexual in that for her or him it provides physical and emotional fulfillment. Indeed, for him or her, heterosexual behaviour is unnatural. Thirdly, even if we concede that homosexuality "goes against the order of nature", we would have to admit that so do many other types of human behaviour, including some religious behaviour. The Roman Catholic Church has always condemned homosexuality because of its supposed unnaturalness – but it has long idealized celibacy, which, some might argue, is equally unnatural. Another Christian objection to homosexuality is that it is condemned in the Bible, an argument that is meaningful to those who accept that the Bible is the infallible word of God, but which is meaningless to the majority who do not accept this.
But while there is no doubt that the Bible condemns homosexuality, it also stipulates that women should be socially isolated while menstruating, that parents should kill their children if they worship any god other than the Christian God and that those who work on the Sabbath should be executed. Few Christians today would agree with these ideas even though they are a part of God’s words, and yet they continue to condemn homosexuality simply because it is condemned in the Bible.
One sometimes hears people say: "If homosexuality were not illegal, many people, including the young, will become gay." ‘This type of statement reflects either a serious misunderstanding about the nature of homosexuality or perhaps a latent homosexuality in the person who would make such a statement. It is as silly as saying that if attempted suicide is not a criminal offense then everyone will go out and commit suicide. Whatever the cause of homosexuality (and there is great debate on the subject), one certainly does not ‘choose’ to have homoerotic feelings in the same way one would, for example, choose to have tea instead of coffee. It is either inborn or develops in early childhood. And it is the same with heterosexuality. Changing laws does not change people’s sexual inclinations.
Some have argued that there must be something wrong with homosexuality because so many homosexuals are emotionally disturbed. At first there seems to be some truth in this. In the West, at least, many homosexuals suffer from psychological problems, abuse alcohol, and indulge in obsessive sexual behaviour. As a group, homosexuals have a high rate of suicide. But observers have pointed out that such problems seem to be no more pronounced amongst African and Asian homosexuals than they are in the societies in which they live. It is very likely that homosexuals in the West are wounded more by society’s attitude to them than by their sexual proclivity, and, if they are treated the same as everybody else, they will be the same as everybody else. Indeed, this is the strongest argument for acceptance and understanding towards homosexuals.
Christianity grew out of and owes much to Judaism with its tradition of fiery prophets fiercely and publicly denouncing what they considered to be moral laxity or injustice. Jesus was very much influenced by this tradition, as have been the Christian responses to public and private morality generally. At its best, this tradition in Christianity to loudly denounce immorality and injustice has given the West its high degree of social conscience. At its worst, it has meant that those who did not or could not conform to Christian standards have been cruelly exposed and persecuted. The Buddhist monk’s role has always been very different from his Christian counterpart. His job has been to teach the Dhamma and to act as a quiet example of how it should be lived.
This, together with Buddhism’s rational approach to ethics and the high regard it has always given to tolerance, has meant that homosexuals in Buddhist societies have been treated very differently form how they have been in the West. In countries like China, Korea and Japan where Buddhism was profoundly influenced by Confucianism, there have been periods when homosexuality has been looked upon with disapproval and even been punishable under the law. But generally the attitude has been one of tolerance.
Matteo Ricci, the Jesuit missioChongy who lived in China for twenty-seven years from 1583, expressed horror at the open and tolerant attitude that the Chinese took to homosexuality and naturally enough saw this as proof of the degeneracy of Chinese society. "That which most shows the misery of these people is that no less than the natural lusts, they practise unnatural ones that reverse the order of things, and this is neither forbidden by law nor thought to be illicit nor even a cause for shame. It is spoken of in public and practiced everywhere without there being anyone to prevent it." In Korea the ideal of the hwarang (flower boy) was often associated with homosexuality especially during the Yi dynasty. In Japan, a whole genre of literature (novelettes, poems and stories) on the love between samurais and even between Buddhist monks and temple boys developed during the late mediaeval period.
Theravada Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka and Burma had no legal statutes against homosexuality between consenting adults until the colonial era when they were introduced by the British. Thailand, which had no colonial experience, still has no such laws. This had led some Western homosexuals to believe that homosexuality is quite accepted in Buddhist countries of South and South-east Asia. This is certainly not true. In such countries, when homosexuals are thought of at all, it is more likely to be in a good-humored way or with a degree of pity. Certainly the loathing, fear and hatred that the Western homosexual has so often had to endure is absent and this is due, to a very large degree, to Buddhism’s humane and tolerant influence.
Thousands of southern Bhutanese of Nepalese ethnicity made refugees after forcible eviction by Bhutan
The report is quoted from www.bhootan.org .
With one sixth of the population in exile, the tiny kingdom of Bhutan has the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s highest per capita generator of refugees. The roots of the problem lie in the government’s attempts to alter the kingdom’s demography in favour of the ruling ethnic group. Since 1990, over 100,000 thousand southern Bhutanese of Nepalese ethnicity have been made refugees after being forcibly evicted, forced to flee persecution and repression, or expelled after being coerced into signing "voluntary" emigration forms. Ten years later, the refugees remain in camps in Nepal administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Since 1990 some 110,000 southern Bhutanese have been forced to abandon their homes and flee to India and Nepal. The roots of the political crisis in southern Bhutan obviously lie in the leadership’s concern over the growing southern Bhutanese population, both as a percentage and in terms of real numbers. The perceived threat of being swamped by ethnic Nepalese was heightened during the 1980s by the wave of democratic movements across the globe and nearer home in Nepal and the Nepali-led Gorkhaland movement for a separate state in India. Recognising this threat, a policy with an eventual goal of balancing the demographic pattern was initiated in the mid-1980s; the idea was to set right a historical error of judgment – the grant of nationality in 1958 to ethnic Nepalese settled in the south. One might sympathise with the Bhutanese, but the methods employed were foul and in total disregard of international nationality laws.
The grant of citizenship in 1958 was by royal decree. The new citizens were not granted papers nor was there any major changes in the lives of the people then. Bhutan was still a medieval kingdom in 1958 – there were no motorable roads, no electricity, no hospitals or other government public facilities. There were just 5 primary schools in the entire kingdom. There was no individual certification of grant of nationality because neither the government nor people considered it necessary at the time.
In 1985, the government enacted a new Citizenship Act. In 1988 the government began taking a census in southern Bhutan based on the 1985 Act. The census was one of inclusion and not exclusion – each person was expected to prove he/she was domiciled in Bhutan in 1958 to qualify as a Bhutanese by registration according to the 1985 Citizenship Act. The government started with a fresh slate; the onus was on the individual to prove his or her credentials. It was not made easy by officials who demanded tax receipts for exactly the year 1958, not even ones issued earlier would do ostensibly because that might imply the person may have left the country before 1958 and returned only after the cut-off year.
The ridiculously stringent conditions above were to impact on the legal status of many more people because of two amendments to nationality laws. The Marriage Act of 1977 had prescribed that only children born of Bhutanese fathers, not either spouse as before, would be considered Bhutanese citizens. The 1985 Citizenship Act tightened this requirement further and required both parents to be Bhutanese for citizenship by birth. Applied retrospectively and in tandem with the 1958 tax receipt stipulation, the government could declare tens of thousands of legal southern Bhutanese as non-nationals. A person born in Bhutan in 1959 suddenly became an illegal resident during the 1988 census when either parent could not prove his/her presence in the country in 1958, the cut-off year. Thus began the woes of southern Bhutanese.
Attempts by southern Bhutanese to persuade the government to review the census implementation exercise were unsuccessful. The government deemed one such attempt, the submission of a petition by Royal Advisor Councillors Tek Nath Rizal and B.P.Bhandari in April 1988, an act of sedition. Youth in schools, colleges and villages became agitated and began to express dissent. This gave the government an excuse to become more aggressive and overtly discriminatory. The ‘One Nation, One People’ policy was adopted stringently with a uniform compulsory dress code and dropping of the Nepali language from the school curriculum. A green-belt plan was unveiled that threatened to make a third of all southern Bhutanese homeless. When the people reacted by rising up in mass protests all over southern Bhutan, the government began a massive crackdown. Thousands were arrested and among them hundreds detained for years without trial.
Starting from a small group of dissidents who escaped the crackdown launched by the authorities, the refugee community grew as security forces plundered and terrorised villagers in the south following the protest demonstrations of September-October 1990. But the exodus peaked during in the first half of 1992 when the government initiated a campaign of systematic expulsion by forcing people to sign "voluntary" emigration forms before deporting them. The flood of refugees eventually stopped, but not before a hundred thousand had been forced to leave Bhutan. Just as people had suddenly mysteriously "volunteered" to leave in droves, there were no more "emigrants " – the government had met its target of reducing its southern population by a third.
From: Human Rights Watch
Over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees
An estimated one sixth of the population of Bhutan – have been living in camps in southeast Nepal since the early 1990s when they were arbitrarily stripped of their nationality and forcibly expelled from Bhutan in one of the largest ethnic expulsions in the world.
The U.N. refugee agency, with the help of NGOs, has been providing assistance to the refugees since 1992. But UNHCR has been systematically excluded from efforts by Bhutan and Nepal to bilaterally resolve the refugee crisis over the past ten years, and the government of Bhutan has flatly denied UNHCR access to the country, which is normally granted in most refugee situations.
In June 2003, the governments of Bhutan and Nepal announced the results of a joint screening process to identify the status of the refugees in one of the camps and determine who could return to Bhutan. According to the screening, less than three percent of the refugees would be able to return to Bhutan with full citizenship rights and tens of thousands could be rendered stateless. NGOs rejected the process as flawed and the results invalid. It has also been called into question by UNHCR and other governments.
" UNHCR and the international community are right to reject the deeply flawed screening process agreed between Bhutan and Nepal," said Peter Prove, Assistant to the General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation. "It is time for donor governments to take decisive action to help resolve the refugee crisis and bring to an end the refugees’ forced exile." The 15th round of joint ministerial talks between Bhutan and Nepal is due to take place in Thimpu, Bhutan from October 20 to 23, 2003.
Comments regarding Bhutanese/Nepali refugees
The following comments on the refugee issue come from a native of Bhutan:
“ Armed forces were used to close down many schools in southern Bhutan and even now today all schools in the south are army barracks; there is no education for anyone of Nepali origin in Bhutan, no jobs. no education. So hundreds or thousands study in India who can afford it, but mass illiteracy is there for all of Nepali ethnic race in this country. 85% of the population of Nepali origin cannot afford to pay for schools in India. Also once you are back home, forget about jobs, they even don’t recognize that these people are Bhutanese.
“ Many fertile land owned farmers of Nepali origin in southern Bhutan were rice paddy fields, orange trees, cardamom and other fertile land where Nepalis have cultivated for ages. It was thick forest during British rule in India, history tells us. Now the lands are given to people of northern Bhutan as settlers and all these thousands of southern refugees are without land and property if they try go back!
“ The simple reason why they don’t want these people go back is the government fears that these group of people will ask for schools and rights to education, right to get back properties looted by army and settlers of northern origin and most importantly, the autocracy/repressive regime is threatened. These people are fighting for human rights, freedom of expression, freedom of press, right to citizenship for all Bhutanese. The ruling people now, the king and his kin, were from Tibet origin driven by China during Chinese invasion. They were also refugees once then.
“You can see all this at www.bhootan.org about how are these Nepalis were evicted and driven out. They were becoming richer and educated by their own initiative, so the king feared it. The other fact is there are hundreds of northern-origin Bhutanese also in these refugee camps, even some related to the king fled after they asked for reforms in the judicial system and social welfare, and more democratic system than is now ruled by handful of dictators and ministers directly handpicked by King. Many people are in jails in Bhutan and many children and women were shot dead during these freedom fights in southern part by army of Bhutan. The world does not know at all, since they have no access in this secretive world of Bhutan.”
This story about gay life in Bhutan is a ‘diamond in the rough’, that is, it’s a personal barely-edited journal from a young man of 24 who wrote to GlobalGayz wanting to tell his story. There are few good listeners in Bhutan and he felt the need to tell it to someone who could appreciate it or, even more, validate him for being different in a country where social conformity (read, family honor) is highly regarded. Here, in his unique uncorrected words is a story of self-discovery in a land of mystery.
Interview with Dori, a gay young man from Bhutan
This story about gay life in Bhutan is a ‘diamond in the rough’, that is, it’s a personal, barely-edited journal from a young man, Dori, of 24 who wrote to GlobalGayz wanting to tell his story. There are few good listeners in Bhutan and he felt the need to tell it to someone who could appreciate it or, even more, validate him for being different in a country where social conformity (read, family honor) is highly regarded. Here, in his unique uncorrected words is a story of self-discovery in a land of mystery.
i am from Bhutan and i came across an interview done sometime in 2004 on your site with a guy name chong-though his name changed. i am a guy of 24 yo and currently working for NGO based in USA. i am a gay for last 13 years yet it has been very difficult to talk about my sexuality with my friends; forget ’bout family. though i am not married and i don’t want to but i don’t know how the society would look at it. and now i am planning to get out of my country but do not know how. i am willing to share my story provided if you could promise to keep it very confidential. do not hesitate to write me. Regards, Dori
Please feel free to tell your story any way you want. Tell me what you have been wanting to share for a long time.
I will happily read your words and help you make a good story.
Well i don’t know where to begin. I must say the whole story dates back when i was in my 1st grade. a guy who was our neighbor living next door lured me to bed and the thing got started. i was then ignorant and with the time i developed liking men more than women. so when i went for my boarding school i had couple of relations with the senior guys and it began more like a passion. in 2 years i had 10 relations and there were times some of them whom i had the relations told the others that i was gay, but i ignored. maybe some of them must have wanted to tell me but no one did ask me if that was true and i didn’t bother to tell them because in bhutan this thing is uncommon. maybe they brushed up.
When i was in college i had few relations because then i was aware the social stigma that would loom around. I still have the liking for men but i can’t tell to anyone. i don’t know how my parents would react. though marriage is open we can take time and parents do not push you into it but for how long? so i bet i should live with this dark secret all my life
I have no idea how many Bhutanese men are gay but yeah there is no such thing as underground life like in west. even if we had such thing i don’t think any bhutanese men would come openly because we live in small community that you can easily tell who the person is. so you see things can’t be done openly.
I bet there must be quite a number here but just because he is not married does not tell us the person is gay. i wish we had more liberal ideas in coming out as the person we are. i wanted to be accepted as who i am not for what my sexuality is and i am ok with this dark secret of my life. it couldn’t get better i think so.haaaa.any ways i will keep in touch with you and will keep on writing
You have been sexually active since you were very young. When did you understand you were gay? How did you feel?
Also, please tell me about the Bhutanese culture and why it does not accept homosexuality. What happens if someone finds out you are gay?
Well it took some time for me to realize my sexuality because my 1st sex experience was with a man so didn’t seem abnormal to me coz i was too young to know what sex really was. but yeah when i was in high school i began to understand that i was gay. though the girls would hit on me i wouldn’t tell them i as gay. I loved the fact the girls were hitting on me.haaa. so you can say in my high school i discovered my sexuality. it was also the time i had most of the relations.
Well ’bout how i felt on discovering i was gay. the feeling was normal as i said it is uncommon here no one would question you ’bout your sexuality and no one did. it was ok. but now i don’t feel i had done any wrong by keeping this secret. you see most of the bhutanese live outside the urban centres and this would sound weird to most of them but i know they will know it is wrong if they discover the person is gay. i can’t really tell how they would react.
In coming to accepting homosexuality, i think we are not that open with our sexuality like that of west so it might take some time to accept these thing. but i am not saying we totally would agree with it either. i don’t know if it has to do with religion. i don’t think so because there is nothing against homosexuality in our religion.
Yeah the most difficult question–what happens if someone finds i am gay? get ready to live your own. well if a person who finds i am gay is also gay then there can be nothing better in the world. if it is the case with the family members then i shouldn’t be expecting anything. I would be happy to have my relation without any one knowing ’bout it. really this was difficult question to me. anyways it seems you are too nice to be true. keep in touch.
You said "when i was in high school i began to understand that i was gay though the girls would hit on me i wouldn’t tell them i as gay. I loved the fact the girls were hitting on me…haaa. so you can say in my high school i discovered my sexuality."
Were the girls hitting on you for sex? Did you have sex with them? How did you feel?
Is this girl-boy activity accepted usual behavior in the Bhutan culture?
Is casual sex a common activity in Bhutan? Perhaps sex is not such a big issue there?
iIcan’t say if they were on hitting me for sex(i mean the girls).may be there could be some other reasons.god i wish i could read people’s mind but yeah getting into relation would in some way certainly mean having a sex. what do you think?. but i said i was never interested in girls .. i never got involved in relations so u can say i probably didn’t have sex with women.
Yes, the girl and boy thing are common in bhutan. you can expect the teenage pregnancy in the high school. the high school i went had lots of these things going on. so you can say it was casual except you get terminated from the school. though you can’t expect the society accepting two high school kids getting kinky. but yeah everybody falls in love and there is no stopping it. so it is common.
I think casual sex is very common here. no one complains provided they don’t find you doing in public places. but yeah i think the first thing that comes to bhutanese mind could be the sex. no wonder you will see large number of families under one roof and yeah the sex isn’t much big issue here. though we do not talk freely ’bout sex with families but when you are out with friends you can go on talking ’bout it.
For me i am comfortable talking about sexes with my male as well as female friends. when you walk in the town just make a point to listen what the people say. you will find men talking ’bout sex. u will find women gossipin’ ’bout sex. kids using slangs. so yeah bhutanese in general are so much into sex. i hope that didn’t make bhutan look so ugly.
Yeah i am doing fine and my boss has returned from US after attending her spring board meeting. thank you for asking me for how i am doing. looking forward to hearing from you about your trip in thailand.
Did you vote in the election to replace the king?
Do Bhutanese young people are free to love anyone?
What about Nepalese-Bhutan people? Are they discriminated against?
Can a Bhutan boy marry a girl of Nelpalese family?
Do you have a boyfriend? Do you have gay friends?
Where do you find sex?
What is gaylife like? What is the AIDS situation there?
The election will only happen in 2008.but yeah last saturday we had mock election. u know it is first of its kind. so in order to make people more aware when the real thing happen in 2008.we had the mock election.
Yeah there is no barrier in falling in love with anyone. there are bhutanese married to people from different culture, background, race, color, etc. I didn’t get what u mean by saying "what ’bout Nepalese-Bhutan People". do you mean to say the relation that these two country share or politically?
I have no idea how the things are shaping but i think people in general have no grudge to one another. I don’t know if i should say they are discriminated. if u want my unbiased answer i am ok with them but yeah they being put in back to nepal was long time story. god knows what must be the reason behind it.
Yeah we have bhutanese guy married to nepalese girl or vice-versa. there is no problem unless the nepali u are married to does belong to a family who were sent back to nepal. u will then have to reconsider your citizenship. then ultimately the child is affected. his future is not secure. I mean in terms when he gets into job market. he/she has to look for other option. they do not get to work as civil servants.
I do not have boyfriend because it is not common here.
I do not go out often. I am always at my home either reading or most of the time watching movies in weekends. so yeah i am not top or bottom this question popped instantly to my head.
You know yesterday i was chatting with this French guy online. I asked him what do top and bottom refer to. mostly i like to get submissive u can say bottom. but yeah i wont mind being top or fucking . i can’t say if the people with whom i had sex earlier are still gay or they are bisexual now. but right now i didn’t meet any friend who told me that he is a gay. may be they are keeping their mouth shut like me.
finding of sex? well i had sex mostly during my time in college or high school. as of now i am working. I haven’t have sex for 2 years though i want it desparetly but i do not know where and how to find sex.
I would rather have steady sex with people from other country then the bhutanese counterparts. bhutanese men are really bad in bed -haaaaa. if you are gay and you are in bhutan i think that is quite hard. unless u are in france, US, Australia and other countries where gay is legally accepted.
life as gay in bhutan is so hard. I wanted to get out from here. maybe in future i will get settled in Australia. I have always wanted to go there.
The AIDS thing in bhutan? officially it has been confirmed that over 100 are living with AIDS here though some maybe died. but i think it can be more which are not officially recorded because now u can see many bhutanese travelling abroad. so yeah AIDS has come to bhutan. I think we should be careful ’bout it.
Well, I’m looking forward to meeting you in future. Keep up the good job.
New York Times
May 6, 2007
Bhutan Lets the World In (but Leaves Fashion TV Out)
by Somini Sengupta
Thimphu, Bhutan — “Explore the World,” promised the signboard outside. Inside Norling Cyberworld, in a second-floor corner of a busy shopping arcade, Dorji Wangchuk rolled up the sleeve of his Puma sweatshirt and offered a glimpse of his worldly explorations. Inscribed in blue-black ink on the pale inside of his left forearm was the image of a dragon, a tattoo that he had drawn himself, with instructions from the Internet.
Tonight he was surfing www.tattoodles.com and plotting to draw a new one on himself — another dragon, the national symbol of Bhutan. Never mind that tattoos are a taboo here.
“According to our culture, it’s not good,” Mr. Wangchuk, 24, conceded, only to add with a grin: “It’s my hobby. I can’t help it.”
Once, Bhutan had guarded itself from the world outside so ardently that it allowed in satellite television only seven years ago. Today, globalization is officially sanctioned, and it is rushing in fast. Mr. Wangchuk is part of the first generation here to come of age with all the trappings of global youth culture: unrestricted Internet, nearly unrestricted satellite television, basketball, brand-name sneakers and, as it turns out, tattoos. Today, at least here in the capital, outside and inside coexist. Tall white prayer flags grace the side of a hill as offerings of good will to what Buddhists call sentient beings, even as the naughty rhymes of Snoop Dogg throb at the disco. The government has on occasion found the dissonance disconcerting. A sports channel, called Ten Sports, was taken off the air shortly after the introduction of satellite television, because its wrestling programs had become so popular that boys across Bhutan were mimicking them and upsetting the authorities.
MTV was quietly taken off the air too, along with Fashion TV, which Karma Ura, a prominent academic here, described as antithetical to Bhutanese Buddhist tradition. Fashion TV, as he put it, had “no suffering alleviation value.” He disconnected his own television set altogether, having discovered that despite the occasional stimulation, it was ruining his eyes and his mind. “You basically give away your consciousness,” said Mr. Ura, director of the Center for Bhutan Studies, a government-financed organization that cogitates on issues of culture and identity. His daughter, age 7, was told she would have to forgo cartoons. Young people dominate Bhutan. Of its roughly 700,000 people, 49 percent are under 21, according to the census, and what they will do to support themselves when they are fully grown is an emerging concern.
The unemployment rate among Bhutanese up to age 24 hovers at 5.5 percent, nearly twice the national average, which has also sharply risen in recent years. How to address unemployment has become a subject of regular hand-wringing in newspapers articles and the Legislature. It is hardly surprising, considering how quickly Bhutanese are gaining education. The literacy rate has soared from 20 percent in 1992 to close to 60 percent today, making it that much more important to offer Bhutan’s youth something other than farming rice on terraced hills. Many Bhutanese, including Mr. Wangchuk, the tattoo artist, have attended college abroad. Bhutan has very few colleges.
More surprising, perhaps, than the sentiments Mr. Ura expressed is the ambivalence of Nyema Zam, an Indian-educated 26-year-old who runs the satellite television unit for state-owned Bhutan Broadcasting Service. She took pains to note the benefits of opening up to foreign media. “Television,” she said, “has been the medium through which our people get to find out about other cultures,” including learning about Valentine’s Day, which she considered good education for her compatriots. “We Bhutanese are very — what do you say — unromantic,” she said. At the same time, foreign television has wrought changes that make her deeply uncomfortable. Even her grandparents were now watching Indian soap operas in Hindi, a language that would have been foreign to their ears a few years ago. “Before we would sit together at home and eat dinner,” she said. “Now everyone is watching television.”
It is a strange sentiment coming from the television executive in charge of distributing satellite link licenses to private providers. “In the long run,” Ms. Zam went on, “it may not be good for the culture that we have worked so hard to protect.” Clearly, the strange riches of the world outside have reached only a small portion of Bhutan’s people. Only 33,000 television sets are in the entire country, and more than half are estimated to have satellite connections that offer up to 30 channels, Ms. Zam said. As for the Internet, the universe is even smaller. Nationwide, the number of Internet users is estimated at 25,000, according to Druknet, the state-owned Internet service provider. Initial efforts to block adult content have been scrapped. They were simply ineffective, said Druknet’s general manager, Ganga R. Sharma.
To Singye Dema, 17, the Internet has proved irresistible. Her page on the chat Web site www.hi5.com, is a sparkling pink creation, with a cheerful photograph of her and a description of her interests, including “playing with kids.” Her page is festooned with family pictures and a string of conversations she has been having with friends from home and strangers abroad. Their lives confound her. In other countries, she observes, teenagers go on field trips abroad; they have computer classes at school; when they are 18, they move to their own homes. Like most urban, educated Bhutanese her age, Ms. Dema is completely at ease chatting in English. Ms. Dema, an 11th grader, finds herself coming back for these online chats almost daily — and on the weekends, she confessed half disgustedly, sometimes twice a day, for up to three hours at a time.
“That I hate about myself,” Ms. Dema said, staring at her pink screen. “I don’t know. I get addicted when I come over here.
September 25, 2009 – The New York Times
Bhutan Refugees Find a Toehold in the Bronx
by Kirk Semple
Nearly every immigrant group in New York City has a neighborhood, or at least a street, to call its own. But for refugees from the tiny South Asian nation of Bhutan, the closest thing to a home base is a single building in the Bronx — a red-brick five-story walk-up, with a weed-choked front courtyard and grimy staircases.
Eight families — more than 40 people — have taken up residence here in the past several months, part of a stream of thousands of Bhutanese refugees who have flowed into the United States in the past year and a half. With the help of resettlement agencies, many have found apartments in the Bronx, and the largest concentration has ended up here in the building on University Avenue.
This is their small toehold in a strange new world. The only life most have known was in the rural plains and Himalayan foothills of Bhutan and the dusty refugee camps of Nepal. Few have ever lived in homes with electricity or indoor plumbing, or between walls made of anything but bamboo. Now they dwell among high-rise canyons, contending with wild traffic, a miasma of cultures and languages, and New York’s frenzied pace. Their challenge now is to bridge those two worlds — finding jobs and enrolling in classes — and move beyond the building.
“We have started inventing our lifestyle,” said Abhi Siwakoti, 24, who arrived last November and lives with his family in Apartment 5G. That style has none of the standoffishness of the typical New York apartment block. Neighbors drop in on one another for advice and company. A porridge of humidity and street noise oozed through the open windows one sweltering morning as Suk Man Tamang, 30, sat on the edge of a bed in his ground-floor three-bedroom apartment. The place was furnished with a couple of bureaus, several beds that doubled as couches and little else. The walls were bare. His two sisters and a niece dawdled for a while, barely concealing their boredom, then went for a walk. Two Bhutanese neighbors stopped by to say hello.
Mr. Tamang arrived on Aug. 3, joining his parents, who arrived a week earlier. But in this busy building he could already see a glimmer of a future neighborhood. “There’s Chinatown, there’s Koreatown, there’s Indiatown,” he said. “One day there will be a big Bhutanese community.”
All of the newcomers are Bhutanese of Nepalese origin who had migrated to Bhutan or were descended from immigrants. In the early 1990s, Bhutan expelled tens of thousands of Nepali Bhutanese, most of them from poor farming families, accusing them of immigrating illegally. The majority ended up in seven refugee camps in Nepal, where they lived in bamboo-and-thatch huts and were cared for by international aid agencies.
Bhutan refused to take them back and Nepal refused to give them citizenship. In 2007, the United States agreed to resettle at least 60,000 of them. The first arrived in early 2008. Through an elaborate process involving consultation between resettlement agencies, about 170 Bhutanese refugees have been placed in New York. The families in the University Avenue building were brought by the International Rescue Committee, an agency that has a longstanding relationship with the landlord.
There was no significant Bhutanese population in New York to receive and help assimilate them. So except for the guidance of the resettlement agencies, they rely largely on one another to solve the puzzles of American city life and, for the first time since they were exiled from Bhutan, become self-reliant. Inside the 60-unit building, where they are a distinct minority, they share meals and information about job leads and educational opportunities, and simply hang out in one another’s apartments to pass the time. The refugees say the flow resembles the comfortable circulation of neighbors and relatives from hut to hut in the Nepalese camps.
One morning, the Tamang family needed to go shopping but their food stamps had not yet been issued. So the Siwakoti family, from upstairs, lent some of theirs. The seven-member Gurung family, who arrived in four groups during the winter and spring, invited the Tamangs for a traditional Bhutanese meal at their apartment on Bainbridge Avenue in the Bronx. Though the Gurungs had been in the country less than a year — “we’re just-born,” said Gyan Gurung, 33 — they were relative veterans.
The two families sat on the floor of the tidy apartment to eat. The walls were decorated with a New York subway map and a Buddhist bead necklace. “The sweetest matter is that all Bhutanese have a universal brotherhood,” said Mr. Siwakoti, who works with several other Bhutanese refugees at a food-packing plant in Brooklyn. On the sidewalks of the Bronx, the refugees move comfortably and without much trepidation. Slender, short and unassuming, they are easily absorbed into the commotion. Yet with each week, they are learning facts about urban life, and their other neighbors, that should concern them.
Mr. Tamang said that one day his elderly parents, who speak no English, were alone in their apartment when they heard loud knocking. Opening the door, the father was confronted by several young men. Although he understood none of the words the men were using, he gathered from their angry gestures that they were looking for a missing bicycle and were demanding to search the apartment.
Mr. Tamang said his father, small and mild mannered, stepped aside to allow the group to enter, but the men eventually went away, leaving the father shaken. “They were trying to get in,” Mr. Tamang recalled, surprise and pain in his voice. “We are very honest people.” Mr. Tamang said he would no longer leave his parents without one of their English-speaking children.
Most Bhutanese households in the Bronx, in fact, have experienced something of a role reversal: the children, most of whom speak English, have now become the caretakers of their parents, who do not. They chaperone their elders to doctor’s appointments, enroll younger siblings in school and work to support the family. “It’s our turn,” Mr. Tamang said. “It’s very hard.”
The shift was evident in apartment after apartment. As members of the younger generation described their plans to a reporter, their parents sat listlessly, saying nothing, or slipped away for a nap. Several younger refugees said their parents, anticipating an isolated existence in the United States, were yearning for the day they could return to Bhutan. They, on the other hand, are intent on succeeding in their new country.
In Apartment 2H, T. P. Mishra, 25, who edited a monthly newspaper in Nepal, has been using his blog, Journalism in Exile, to share his and other refugees’ experiences — including the challenges of navigating New York, and the killing in July of a young Bhutanese refugee in Florida. Mr. Mishra arrived alone in New York in July, and was later joined by two of his sisters. He had been bracing for “serious cultural shock,” he said, but his fears evaporated when he walked into the building.
“Because the moment I’m about to enter my apartment, there were dozens of Bhutanese around me,” he recalled. “Some looked like my mother, some looked like my father. They said, ‘You will be O.K..’ ”
July 21, 2010 – PinkNews
Laws against homosexuality ‘spreading HIV infections’
by Jessica Geen
Anti-gay laws in the Asia-Pacific region are causing higher rates of HIV infections, the UN has warned. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), such laws mean that gay men and trans people are less likely to seek medical help and be aware of how to prevent HIV transmission. In a statement released at the World AIDS Conference in Vienna, the UNDP said: "Some 19 of 48 countries in the Asia Pacific region continue to criminalise male-to-male sex.
"These laws often taken on the force of vigilantism, frequently leading to abuse and human rights violations. Correspondingly, HIV prevalence has reached alarming levels among men who have sex with men and transgender populations in many countries of the region." Some of the countries in the region which criminalise gay sex are Afghanistan, Bhutan, Kiribati and Malaysia. The report said that while some of these countries identify men who have sex with men of being at particular risk of HIV, police target gay men and trans people leading to assaults, extortion and imprisonment.
It added that health workers, many of whom are gay or trans, are also targeted, which leads to the disruption of safer sex and health care schemes. Events on HIV prevention and publicity materials are often censored, the UNDP said, while banning gay sex discourages support groups being set up.
The report claimed that half of all new HIV infections will be found in gay and bisexual men by 2020 if current trends continue. It recommended repealing anti-gay laws, supporting community-based education and implementing anti-discrimination policies across the region.