Petition Submitted to the King of Bhutan
By Tek Nath Rizal and B.P. Bhandari
His Majesty, King of Bhutan, Tashichhodzong, Thimphu.
May it please Your Majesty,
As Your loyal subjects, and having had the proud privilege of serving Your Majesty in the Royal Advisory Council as the representatives of the people of Southern Bhutan, we beg to submit this petition on an issue of paramount significance for the peace and progress of our nation. Most humbly, we submit that the issue needs the most careful and urgent consideration of the Royal Government. We would be failing, we believe, both Your Majesty and the people of Bhutan if we did not bring this matter before Your Majesty.
Some alarming reports reached us regarding the census exercise currently underway in the southern dzongkhags. According to these reports, we understand that: The Census Teams are questioning the people with undue threats and classifying them into various categories. The Teams are demanding that people produce evidence of their having settled in the country before 1958, even going to such an extent of asking old people with children and grand-children born in Bhutan to provide evidence of their arrival in Bhutan, or else be declared non-nationals. In many instances, Citizenship Identity Cards already issued have been confiscated or withdrawn.
Gups and chimis formerly considered knowledgeable and authoritative sources in census matters are not being taken into confidence and are not permitted to testify the credentials of their village people. Some of them have even been reprimanded for suggesting at DYT meetings more rational ways for conducting the Illiterate and simple village people are being coerced into signing documents, the contents of which are not known to them. This has intimidated and instilled fear in the people.
On receipt of these reports, we took the liberty of enquiring about this matter with the Department of Immigration and Census. We were informed by the Secretary of the Department that this was a routine population census exercise. Notwithstanding this explanation, which was conveyed to the people, there are still misgivings because the method employed by the Census Teams believe this statement. We, therefore, beg to submit that perhaps the Census Teams have overstepped their mandate. This has resulted in panic and confusion among the people. This is disturbing the peace and tranquillity that has reigned in the hearts of Your Majesty's loyal subjects fostered by the enlightened policy of the Government. This policy was clearly reflected in Your Majesty's statement at Gaylegphug during the National Day Celebrations in 1978 that people settled in Southern Bhutan are true citizens and cannot be considered or treated otherwise. The renewed confidence and national pride generated by Your Majesty's benign policy is, however, being undermined by the current exercise.
There are wide-spread feelings among the people that the actions of the Census Teams in randomly categorizing people, and affecting the status of many citizens, are unjust and contravene the assurance of Your Majesty. It is the humble submission of the people that:
The classification of people as nationals, non-nationals and people without status are based on incomplete documentation and hearsay. The cavalier manner in which the exercise is being carried out does not conform to the seriousness of the issue at hand and is an affront to the dignity of the people and denial of their inherent rights as citizens of this Kingdom.
The classifications are based on narrow and literal interpretations of the Citizenship Act. This has resulted in the deprivation of national status of a large segment of the population of Southern Bhutan, particularly children. Despite the law providing for citizenship to children born to Bhutanese fathers before 1985, the retrospective application of a provision of this Act makes stateless even those loyal subjects who have been serving the Royal Government.
The people are concerned that no distinction is made between non-national spouses and other applicants for citizenship. In some cases, the Teams and local Government officials have even informed individuals concerned that the children and spouse would be deported. This has been a source of great distress and is shaking the very foundation of the family and society. Due to social barriers, inter-community marriages were seldom practised. Even among the Southern Bhutanese, inter-caste marriages have been rare owing to customs and traditions. These circumstances, coupled with communication difficulties, compelled many Southern Bhutanese to seek spouses outside the country. Your Majesty may be aware that according to the customs of Southern Bhutan the wife becomes a part of the husband's family and for all purposes her links with her own family are severed after marriage. With the ongoing exercise, many families are now being torn between their loyalty to the country and their love and responsibility for the family.
The people are concerned that, even as the census is underway, an order has been issued forbidding Bhutanese citizens married to non-nationals to stand for election to the National Assembly. This order penalizes and deprives them of their participation in the national forum. It is also feeling that this order undermines the confidence of the people in this august body.
The manner in which the Census Teams were fielded and the disregard of the authority of gups and chimis have led the people to believe that this is not a routine exercise as it is made out to be. Unfortunately, this has been reinforced by the fact that in a matter of such great significance even the representatives of the people from Southern Bhutan in the Royal Advisory Council were not consulted.
The historical factors which have resulted in the settlement of the Southern Bhutanese community in the Kingdom, and the evolutionary process through which indissoluble links have been created between the people and the land, only emphasises the importance of the issue of nationality and status. The rights of property and other privileges vested in the people over the years, and the corresponding duty to the country through the payment of taxes, contribution of labour and other services to the nation, underscores the nexus between this country and the people of Southern Bhutan. The manner in which the current census is being implemented appears to be questioning these very bonds.
In connection with the whole gamut of concerns which are now pressing for attention, we cannot help but recall that it was at the very initiative of the people of Southern Bhutan, urged by their desire for the security and stability of this country, that the process of review of the Citizenship Act of 1977 was started. This is ample proof that the people fully shared the concern of the Government to stem the possible settlement of illegal immigrants in Southern Bhutan. The primary responsibility for the control of unauthorized immigration has, however, always vested with the Government. At this juncture, to view the people with suspicion and to blame them for allegedly colluding with the immigrants to secret them into the country is unfair and unjust. We cannot fail to recollect the various occasions when Your Majesty so graciously assured the people of Southern Bhutan that their interests and welfare would be fully protected in implementing laws and policies in the Kingdom. It was in this context the representatives of Southern Bhutan in the National Assembly raised the matter of revision of some of the provisions of the Citizenship Act of 1977 to accommodate the concerns of the people of Southern Bhutan. However, owing perhaps to the diminutive voice of the southern members in the National Assembly, the 1985 Citizenship Act was passed. Much to the dismay of the people in Southern Bhutan, this Citizenship Act echoed their worst fears by surpassing even the provisions of the former Act in its stringency, particularly for the people of Southern Bhutan. This is not to suggest that the law is discriminatory or based on racial or ethnic grounds. However, the fact that the thrust of the legislation is felt mainly by the people of Southern Bhutan has given rise to speculation that a bias is implicit in the law, though unintentional. This is causing much consternation among the people.
In these difficult circumstances, the people of Southern Bhutan most humbly beg Your Majesty for protection and relief. We have always served Your Majesty, the Royal Dynasty and this Kingdom with unswerving faith, unfaltering loyalty and total dedication, and it is our fervent desire to continue to do so in the future. We pray in our deep distress that Your Majesty may be pleased to Command that:
The retrospective effect of the 1985 Citizenship Act, whereby 31 December 1958 is fixed as the cut-off date is 10 June 1985, the date of the Act coming into force.
The provisions of the 1985 Citizenship Act be amended so that children born of any Bhutanese citizen automatically acquire Bhutanese citizenship.
The provisions of the Citizenship Act 1985 be amended to provide privileged procedures for non-national spouses of Bhutanese citizens to acquire citizenship within the shortest possible time.
We have taken the liberty of bringing these issues before Your Majesty for most compassionate consideration. We have done so in the conviction that Your Majesty is the sole dispenser of our destiny and it is in Your Royal wish that the fate and future of the people of Southern Bhutan depends. May we express our deepest gratitude to Your Majesty that we have never had an occasion to even feel the slightest disappointment in our lives from the wisdom of Your Majesty's decisions. At this critical time, when our very foundations in this Kingdom are jeopardized by the magnitude of the problem confronting the people of Southern Bhutan, we have turned to Your Majesty with full faith that our prayers will receive the most gracious favour.
We humbly remain,
Most obedient servants,
Thimphu (TEK NATH RIZAL) (B.P. BHANDARI)
09, April 1988