Despite nine development plans spanning five decades, Nepal remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Nepal’s underdevelopment is a result of the historical effects of unequal distribution of assets and social and economic status among different groups, and effects of recent development efforts that have generated further iniquitous income and assets distribution.
Understanding Nepal’s underdevelopment has become particularly pressing in light of the Maoist insurgency that began in 1996. In addition to the deaths of more than 6,000 civilians, instability has caused economic stagnation, discouraged foreign investment, and prevented the expansion of the hydropower and tourism industries. Nepal’s future depends on an understanding of how its institutions have created inequity, and how it will respond to the need for institutional reform.
Culturally, Nepal is a patriarchal and hierarchical society. Caste is important in the world’s only Hindu nation. Gender, ethnicity, land ownership, and location are also historically important social determinants.
Nepal’s history and geography have contributed to the perpetuation of these cultural values. Historically, Nepal has been very isolated. Situated between China and India, it is bisected by the Himalayas. The country is divided into three bands running from east to west – the Himalayas furthest north, the flat and dry Terai in the South, and the middle hills sandwiched in between. Extreme differences in topography, and a lack of roadways and efficient transportation, have meant that communities tended to remain isolated and distinct, closely linked to traditional cultural practices and norms. Industry has been slow to change this, as most Nepalese depend upo.
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. astern Nepal, respondents reported that “society does not recognize the merit of physical work in agriculture; it encourages people to prefer leisure over work, and sees working people as belonging to the lower classes. So far, foreign aided projects have not been able to alter people’s attitudes towards physical work by providing alternate examples” (Shrestha, 41). Even as development efforts increase, rural people mistrustful of exploitation, and depressed by development failures, are growing harder to reach.
Nepal’s political crisis is a response to social inequalities increased and hardened by recent development. Future development will require radical reform: redistribution of resources and increased rural development, weakening of traditional power structures, increased access to and transparency in government, and independence from foreign interests.
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System of Government
The third monarch, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1952-72) who is regarded as the builder of modern Bhutan introduced several reforms in the socio-economic and political set up of the country. The existing political structures were established during his time.
Established as an absolute monarchy in 1907, Bhutan moved towards a constitutional monarchy with the setting up of the National Assembly orTsongdu in 1953. It is the chief law making body of Bhutan and all civil, criminal and personal laws emanate from it.
The Druk Gyalpo retained veto power over actions of the National Assembly until 1969 when the National Assembly, following his 1968 decree, became the kingdom's sovereign institution. A bill passed by the Assembly can only be returned by the ruler once, but if it is passed again with a simple majority, it automatically becomes an Act.
The ruler of Druk Gyalpo is the head of the state, government and the church. Jigme Drogi Wongchick revived the institution of Council of State established by Nagawang Nangyal to assist and advise-the ruler. Renamed as the Royal Advisory Council (Lodi Tsokde) it emerged as the principal executive organ of the government of Bhutan. Headed by a chairman, rise of its members are the representatives of the people, two representatives of the monasteries, and one representative of the Government of Bhutan.
The Council is advisory in character and its principal role is to assist the ruler in day-to-day administration. Since all its members are also members of the National Assembly, it seldom comes in conflict with the legislature.
Besides the Advisory Council, there is the Council of Ministers. The ministers are appointed by the ruler, but with the approval of the National Assembly.
The first Council of Ministers was constituted in 1968. The ministers are responsible to the ruler and take orders from him. Since the ruler is also the head of the government, there is not such office as that of the Prime Minister.
The strength of the legislature varies from 140 to 200 as the Assembly or Tsongdu is allowed to set its size every five years. The Assembly has three categories of members: representatives of the people elected by indirect vote every three years and comprising between half and two-thirds of the National Assembly membership; monastic representatives also appointed for three-year terms and constituting about one-third of the membership; and government officials nominated by the Druk Gyalpo.
The administrative system which is inherited from Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel times, divides the country into 20 Dzongkhags (dongs districts or states).
Each district has a district officer, appointed by the Druk Gyalpo. Since the Penlop system was abolished, these officers come under direct central rule. Larger districts are divided into blocs, comprising 500 families each. The head of each block is chosen by the villagers; he is the main between them and the district administration.
Bhutan has no political parties. But political organisations are not altogether absent. In 1952, some of Nepalese from southern Bhutan who had settled in West Bengal and Assam formed the Bhutan State Congress (BSC).
The BSC tried to expand its operations into Bhutan with a satyagrah (nonviolent resistance) movement in 1954. But the movement failed due to lack of enthusiasm among the Nepalese in Bhutan and also because of the mobilisation of Bhutan's militia. The BSC movement was further weakened when the government granted concessions to the minority and allowed Nepalese representation in the National Assembly. The BSC declined and eventually disappeared in the early 1960s.
The country's judicial system, both-civil and criminal, is based on the foundations laid by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. The highest-level court is the Supreme Court of Appeal-the Druk Gyalpo himself. All citizens have been granted the right to make informal petitions to the Druk Gyalpo.
The Supreme Court of Appeal hears appeals of decisions emanating from the High Court (Thrimkhang Gongma). The High Court, which was established in 1968 to review lower court appeals, has six judges, two elected by the National Assembly and four appointed by the Druk Gyalpo, for five-year terms.
Below the High Court are the district courts headed by a district judge who is usually drawn from the ranks of the civil service. Minor civil disputes are adjudicated by a village head.
Revolutionary changes taking place in the neighbourhood of Bhutan in the post-war period-India emerging as a democratic republic, China emerging as socialist state and the overthrow of the Rana system in Nepal-had their impact on Bhutan.
The king was enlightened enough to grasp the situation and introduce many reform which were not even demanded by the people. For instance, Jigme Dorji Wagchik put a 30 acre ceiling on land holdings, made land revenue more equitable, and abolished land revenue in case of poor farmers with smaller holdings.
He made slavery and serfdom in the country illegal and later on, abolished capital punishment. He also established the National Assembly, the legislative organ of the government and eventually made it into a sovereign institution. Consequently, Bhutan unlike other neighbouring states remained for long period calm and quite.
With the opening up of Bhutan to outside world and exposure to the industrial culture, life style of the people began to undergo a change.
The old value system of a feudal society is changing fast. The traditional elite, the Lamas and feudal classes, are gradually losing ground to the emerging middle class. This class, manning administrative and technical positions, is educated more in a secular tradition. As a result, the elite have become highly conscious of preserving their traditional identity and position.
However, the ruling elite perceive threats to their traditional identity and position from another quarter-the assertion of separate identity by the Nepalese in the southern region. With the inflow of large number of unskilled and semiskilled Nepalese into the country since it launched economic development programmes in the 1960s, the ruling elite fears that the ethnic Nepalese would one day out number them and seize political power.
This fear became ingrained in their mind when in Sikkim the Nepalese immigrants who constituted about 75 per cent of the population, rose against the Sikkim ruler in 1973-74 and depraved him of his absolute power.
In order to maintain country's territorial integrity and cultural identity, the ruling elite has adopted a twin pronged strategy. First, it tightened the citizenship laws. In 1977 and again in 1985 citizenship laws were enacted barring persons staying in Bhutan since 1958 and whose names are not recorded in the census register from acquiring citizenship. Secondly, it took steps to strengthen Drukpa identity. In 1989, the King promulgated decrees aimed at preserving Bhutan's cultural identity in a "one nation, one people" policy called driglam namzha (national customs and etiquette).
These decrees made it compulsory for all citizens to adopt the Bhutanese style of living, including the dress. Women the required to cut their hair short in the traditional Bhutanese style. The conduct of all required to cut their hair short in the traditional Bhutanese style. The conduct of all individuals was to be based on precepts of Buddhism, the only religion legally recognised for practice.
The government also stressed standardisation and popularisation of Dzongkha, the primary national language. The declaration of 15000 Nepalese as illegal immigrants and the strict enforcement of driglam namzha caused discontent among the ethnic Nepalese. Inspired by the triumph of democracy in Nepal in 1990, the Nepalese in Bhutan launched a political movement under the banner of the newly established political party, the Bhutan Peoples Party (BPP).
The BPP presented a charter of demands to the King, which among others, demanded unconditional release of political prisoners, change from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy, proportional representation for various ethnic groups in the cabinet, and amendment "of the 1985 Citizenship Act. When the government refused to yield to its demands, the BPP organised violent demonstrations.
Suppression of this uprising by the government resulted in the exodus of a large number of ethnic Nepalese from Bhutan to Nepal, where they stayed in several refugee camps. With this, the government of Nepal has emerged as an important player in the efforts to resolve the ethnic conflict in Bhutan. External Relations
The mountainous character of the terrain, lack of any intra-societal demands, and above all, a fear of loss of identity, motivated Bhutan to lead a life of splendid isolation. This isolation also prevented the ruling elite an exposure to the happenings abroad. Conscious of their limited capability and the desirous of preserving their independence existence, Bhutan kept her doors shut to the outside world even after the World War II.
However, with the winds of change sweeping in Asia, particularly the withdrawal of British from India and a successful socialist revolution in China, the Dragon Kingdom slowly and cautiously became a member of the international community of states.
In 1947, Bhutan participated in the Asian Relations Conference held in New Delhi. Later the King of Bhutan visited India to seek assurance form the new rulers in India regarding Bhutan's status and position vis-a-vis India. It was, however, the visit of the Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to Bhutan in 1958 which proved to be the most decisive event which finally led to the end of centuries old policy of isolation.
The first step Bhutan took in this direction was to accept the economic and technical assistance offered by India. A major consideration evidently behind his change was the Chinese intervention in Tibet in the 1950s and their irredentist claims on Bhutan, Sikkim and the NEFA area of India, threateping the very existence of Bhutan! Bhutan became convinced that recognition by the larger global community would act as a deterring factor on the part of Chinese to repeat a Tibet in Bhutan and ensure its separate existence.
It would also end all uncertainties regarding Indian intentions towards Bhutan. This goal was eventually realised in 1971 when Bhutan was admitted to the United Nations as its full fledged member. Two years later, Bhutan joined the Non-aligned Movement.
In the 1970s Bhutan also began efforts to achieve diversification of economic and technical assistance, particularly through the help of the UN agencies and multilateral financial institutions. Bhutan also diversified her external contacts, with the countries of Asia and Europe. With Bangladesh and Nepal, Bhutan has full- fledged ambassadorial level diplomatic relations.
The assertive role of Bhutan as an independent actor has been evident on several occasions in the UN, Non-aligned Movement and in other international forums. Membership of SAARC also enabled Bhutan to project its independent status and play an active role in the management of regional affairs.
Bhutan is inhabited by various ethnic people who still continue to live in isolation, because of the formidable mountain passes. Till the 17th century, the country's traditional name was Druk Yul, Land of the Drokpa (Dragon People). The fourth hereditary ruler, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, unified the feuding regions of Bhutan in 1907. In 1998, he voluntarily curtailed the monarchy and drafted a constitution for ushering Bhutan into a two-party democracy. In 2008, Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party formed the first democratically elected national assembly.
Culture of Bhutan
The national religion is a branch of the Mahayana Buddhism called Drukpa Kagyupa. headed by the Je Khenpo (chief monk). The official language is Dzongkha. which is derived from the Tibetan. The national flag of Bhutan, features the wingless white dragon holding jewels in its claws represents prosperity. The saffron yellow represents the monarchy and the orange color stands for Buddhism. 17th December is celebrated as the national day, in memory of the monarchy's establishment from 1907. The King's birthday, 11 November and Coronation Day on 2nd June, are important national holidays.
Bhutan's population is divided on ethnical and regional lines, which are Bhote (50%), ethnic Nepalese (35%) and indigenous or migrant tribes (15%). The central Himalayan region is inhabited by the Drukpa people, of Mongoloid origin. Farming, breeding cattle and trading is the traditional way of life for these people. The Northern Himalayan Zone is home to semi-nomadic Yak herdsmen. Their dwellings are made of black yak hair, where they spend most of the year and during winters they move into dry stone walled houses, where they also store their goods. Many Nepalese farmers are found in Southern Bhutan, who brought the Hindu religion and the Nepalese language with them from Nepal in the 19th Century. However in 1991, a pro-democracy campaign of the Nepali immigrants, led to the eviction of more than 100,000 Nepali civilians from Bhutan. The east is home to the earliest dwellers of Bhutan, the Sharchops who are of Indo-Mongolian origin.
All festivals are celebrated as per the highly complex Bhutanese calendar, which is based on the Tibetan calendar. The most popular festivals are held in Thimphu, Paro and Bumthang, that attract a large number of tourists. The largest festival is the Tsechu. in honor of Guru Rimpoche. The Dzong (fortress) courtyards, where most of the festivals are held, comes to life with the dances, music and colorful costumes of the local people. All dances, known as cham have spiritual meaning and are based on the teachings of the Buddhist dharma. The dances, masks and costumes have remained unchanged, for more than 1000 years. Each dance is believed to be an exact re-enactment of visions seen by the great Buddhist saints.
The traditional dress for men is a robe known as the gho. some men also carry a dagger known as a dozom in their gho. On formal occasions, the traditional boot known as dalham, a knee-high boot made of cloth and embroidered with decorations is worn. The women's traditional costume is a wrap around garment called the kira. which they wear with a woven sash called rachu. The textiles used to make these traditional costumes are important as they highlight the cultural aspect of the nation. The Bhutanese art forms such as thangka paintings, textile weaving, paper making are popular worldwide.
The present King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, expressed the term Gross National Happiness (GNH). GNH is based on Buddha's teachings of inner happiness, as the ultimate purpose of life. Despite constant global economic onslaught and an ever present threat from China, Bhutan has managed to preserve its traditional model of development of improving quality of life and its military values and ethos. Today, here is no better example than Bhutan, in terms of development based on non-material values. The need to hold on its peaceful co-existence with others was best seen in its systematic approach to eradicate the banned United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) from its soil.
Food and Drink in Bhutan
Every region in Bhutan has its own distinct flavor. A vegetarian dish called 'Ema Datshi', made of cheese and chili is a delicacy. The Capsicum annuum, a fluffy red variety is the main ingredient of every meal. Rice is the staple diet of the people and is consumed in various forms from breakfast to dinner. The rice is available in two varieties, white and red. Rice based delicacies 'Desi' and 'Zow' are the King's favorite. In the east, the staple diet is 'puta' or wheat noodles. Yak meat, is a staple food for the non-vegetarian. Every part of the Yak is consumed. Cheese is made from the Yak's milk and the skin is fried and served as a snack. Although a Tibetan specialty, Momos are a permanent feature in the cuisine. The barter system is still prevalent between the Yak herders and the rice cultivators. In some parts of the eastern Bhutan, animal slaughter is sacrilege, but if the animal fell off the cliff, it can be consumed. The Bhutanese enjoy most of their meals with 'Suja' butter tea or 'Ara', a locally made wine.
Bhutan is rich in tradition and culture and its faith is the bases of all ethical, cultural and sociological development. Over 72% of Bhutan is still forested and is the most important part of the high bio-diversity in the Eastern Himalayan hot-spot. It also has the distinction of being the first country, where monarchy was curtailed and democracy was introduced by the King.
Last Updated: October 28, 2016