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Commentary

Challenging Bhutan's Boast About Itself

The truth is that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Bhutanese regime, in its quest to become the happiest kingdom on the earth, adopted a "One Nation, One People" policy

It sought to rid the country of Hindus, Christians and ethnic Nepalese. Over 100,000 were forcibly expelled during this ethnic cleansing.

I was one of the thousands of ethnic Nepali children affected by this forced migration.

To this day, Bhutan enforces a cruel family separation policy. I, like so many others, am not allowed to return my native land, even to see loved ones still living there.

In the ’80s, when my family still lived in Bhutan, my father spent many nights in a big stone cave, hiding from persecutors. Eventually, he and the rest of my family walked hundreds of miles, barefoot, in order to cross the Indian border. I remember sleeping on the forest floor night after night. I was eight.

I ended up in a refugee camp in Nepal, and lived there for 15 years. I got out. But thousands of Bhutanese are still there, waiting to return to their native country, which refuses to take them back.

Among Bhutanese refugees living in the United States, there is a mental health epidemic. The suicide rate among Bhutanese refugees here is twice the national average. According to research published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, family separation is the primary cause for their misery.

So where is the happiness in that?

All of us, institutions included, need to take a hard look at Bhutan's history before praising a country that claims to have achieved universal happiness.

Whatever it has achieved, it has done so at the extreme expense of so many of its former citizens.

Bhuwan Gautam lives in Springfield, Massachusetts, and is a Bhutanese community leader there. A version of this commentary was first co-published by DigBoston and The Shoestring.

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