It is visibly acknowledged that India, our big brotherly neighbor, bars Bhutanese refugees from returning home though it still in a dominant position to pressure Bhutan for the durable solution of refugees languishing currently in Nepal. This is a matter felt even by the entire international community. Nevertheless, had India acted upon this mess in an optimistic phase, the problem would have been solved by now.
India is one of the biggest democratic republican countries in the world, which when it “wishes” may bring a drastic change in the specified areas that it opts. It would be a truism to say that Bhutan exists only because of the double-standard diplomacy of India. India may not be an exception to the fact that it is the largest donor country of Bhutan. The past history has a clear reflection that it was Indian security forces, which escorted the cleansed Lhotshampas to drive them in Kakarvitta, Nepal.
Now when the same refugees try to go back home, it stands as a gigantic blockade. Indian police in West Bengal in the third week of December 2004 intercepted Bhutanese refugees from Jhapa trying to return home. Not only this, some were arrested and an announcement notification against refugees not to attempt entering Bhutan was issued. This was done at the time Bhutan forced another 26 families of Nepalese ethnicity from southern Bhutan for exile into India and Nepal. When about 500 refugees, in January 2005, including the elderly and women, marched through Kakarvitta, Nepal’s eastern border town, and onto the bridge that connects the two countries, a posse of security personnel, comprising of the Sashatra Suraksha Bal (SSB) and the West Bengal police, stopped them halfway by the bridge. Like wise, refugees who sat down on Mechi Bridge coinciding with the international human rights day on December 10, 2005 were also dumped by both the security forces of Nepal and India back into their camps. The sentiments towards nationality went off in vain when hundreds of refugees were deployed at Indo-Nepal border on December 17, 2005 on the eve of their national day. The matter got published stating that some dozens of Bhutanese refugees who were said to have been demonstrating peacefully were hurt in scuffle with security men. Prior to this on July 3, more then 350 refugees were stopped at the Indo-Bhutan border. On the 10 of the same month, Bhutanese security forces arrested 12 Bhutanese refugees who entered Phuentsholing border and handed them over to India. Later on they were left on Mechi Bridge.
From the ban of cycle rally in 1994 till the interference in recent Demonstration on December 17, the national day of Bhutan, India has time and again made a point to prove itself as uninterested towards this concern. Not only this, India turns its ears other side when refugees have appealed countless times through the medium of peaceful memorandum and the like. Refugees’ internal voice that urges support and solidarity of India in solving the issue seems meaningless. This is none other then proving herself to be a blind “diplomacy- follower” of an oppressive indication from Bhutanese autocratic monarch.
Media, it is said, is the fourth limb of every state. It is a key to escort the ruling body to a summit of succession. India, being a large nation, does have esteemed media point. Bhutan never bypasses anything when India takes the hold, but this will not be brought into realistic sense. A concealed subject can be undeniably felt as the result of it. Had India taken a bit burden to the cause then Bhutan would have returned its genuine citizens, and will make the return as and when she puts a hand into it. Now, refugees are left with no hope of returning to their mother country. Most refugees have faith in Indian media to pressure its governing heads to take instantaneous steps towards finding a durable solution to more than a decade-and-half year issue. This is because, even when the international society wished for Indian involvement, it denied and pierces out the possibilities of grasping solution through bilateral consultation between Nepal and Bhutan. Indian media, should immediately bring-up praiseworthy programs to draw attention of the government for garnering solidarity, which refugees are expecting as a conclusive process to go back home with honor and dignity. Nevertheless, media campaign would certainly sound worthy at this critical junction to overcome all possible hindrances. India itself is never in a position to take its responsibility for finding the durable solution but will actively participate to bar refugees who organize frequent peaceful demonstrations to return home. Bhutan being safely leaned to the great back-of-Indian counterpart sometimes howls like a bull in the green grassy ground of India, claiming refugees to be Maoists. How lawful is this type of frequent address of king Jigme to his genuine citizens citing repatriation? Comparatively, Bhutanese refugees are remaining almost within the periphery of non-violent situation and a question of revolt against suppression is normal due to the long stay in exile as refugees.
On the other side, Bhutan needs to think of the possibilities that India may repeat the history of Sikkimization. India is more interested to view these refugees get assimilated in Nepal or either resettled somewhere in a third country. Being a huge democratic country, it minds more to hear incidents related to deteriorating democratic and freedom exercises but how wise it is, to keep Bhutan, its border neighbor, behind the dark curtain? The time has really come for Indian media to take necessary steps to furnish attention of its government towards Bhutanese refugee problem, which is considered as a controversial burden of South Asia. So, to help eradicate this issue, refugees have the ultimate trust upon Indian media campaign. At this critical hour refugees mind no more even to lose any values to return home and that may twist either into unexpected massive demonstration or hard-line activities. Thus, India needs to take the matter seriously as to which the situation should halt at a peaceful point before the arrival of circumstances as mentioned above.
(Mishra, the CC Member of Association of Press Freedom Activists (APFA)-Bhutan edits “The Bhutan Reporter” monthly.)