October 21, 2012

The Dark Side of the “Happiest Country in the World.” ~ Maja Despot

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Bhutan: land of beauty, land of sorrow

Breathtakingly beautiful, the Kingdom of Bhutan is a land locked country in the southern part of Asia—bordered by India and China. For the most part, Bhutan is known as the country of the smiling Buddhas. Outsiders, even most tourists, know very little of the ethnic cleansing and institutional discrimination that continues to go on to this day.

From the mid 1980’s to the early 1990’s the government in Bhutan led an enormous ethnic cleansing campaign against the Lhotsampa minority of Nepalese origin. The growing ethnic Nepali population was seen as a threat by the Bhutanese elites, and discriminatory laws were put in place that robbed the them of their citizenship.

The Lhotsampa people settled in Bhutan in the early 1900’s before the reign of the Drukpa monarchy. Rather than assimilating into Bhutanese culture, they kept their own distinctly different customs, religion and language. Through farming the Lhotsampa contributed greatly to the country’s economic well-being.

However, none of this mattered now, their traditions were outlawed paving the way for a violent system of ethnic cleansing.

Those that did not comply with the strict new laws forcing them to assimilate to Northern Bhutan’s culture, were charged with treason, lost their jobs and homes and were forced to leave the country, some even lost their lives at the hands of the government.

Bhutan’s government uses the vague measure of Gross National Happiness to mask the brutality of the ethnic cleansing and to claim that the citizens are among the happiest in the world, not taking into account those of Nepali descent that have been forcibly evicted.

This idea of Gross National Happiness is a hoax—a well orchestrated act that hides the ugly truth.


How can the happiest country in the world produce over 100,000 refugees?

One sixth of the Bhutanese population has been displaced and continues to suffer in refugee camps across Nepal. Once citizens of the country, the Lhotsampa are not allowed back. With the reality of a history filled with discrimination it is almost morbid to see the continual propaganda of Bhutan as the happiest country in the world.

Seeing the pain in the eyes of the refugees shows a more accurate depiction of Bhutan than any measure of Gross National Happiness.

The immediate refugee crisis seems to have been solved by the compassionate and humanitarian actions of many Western countries including the United States. In 2006 the United States put plans into motion for the resettlement of Bhutanese refugees in America. For the Lhotasampa people a fresh start in America comes with a new struggle; assimilating to a vastly different American culture. At first the United States may seem frighting, but for these refugees it represents a safe haven, a fresh start.

In addition to the United States, seven other countries have opened their arms to Bhutanese refugees, those countries include New Zealand, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Australia and Canada. The journeys of these perseverant people show the importance of international aid in times of crisis and need. Still, many refugees hold the hopes of one day being able to return to their homelands. Due to the continuing discrimination and the revocation of their citizenship that is currently an impossible feat.

Although each refugee’s story may have a tragic past, it can have a happier, more peaceful future.

To learn more about what you can do to help visit refugeeone.org. RefugeeOne is a non for profit organization that creates opportunities for refugees fleeing war, terror and persecution to build new lives of safety, dignity and self-reliance.

For more information about Bhutanese refugees check out CNN and Human Rights Watch.

My personal story as a refugee from the former Yugoslavia is coming soon.



Maja Despot is a college student trying to figure out her place in the world, while making a positive impact. She’s a veggie, a blogger and mother of a feisty puppy named Minnie, whom she absolutely adores. She enjoys yoga, crafts and learning. Maja came to United States in 1997 from the former Yugoslavia. Six months later she was fluent in English. She’s currently studying Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and hopes to use it to give back to the refugee community.




Editor: Kate Bartolotta


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