Thursday, December 31, 2009


Let the New Year open new doors for opportunities, happiness and love for every one.

Happiness is what matters. Whether it is between two persons, family, among the communities or nations, happiness is something that really matters. Yes, while we talk of happiness, we have never lived by the principle of happiness and co-existence.

This is not the thing to talk about on this day. Yet we do need to talk about it.

For too long, we have been fighting each other. Bombing each other’ villages. Killing each other. Coveting what the other country owns through political and other means. Why should big countries make all the money and leave us behind?

Who are they to dictate those terms by which we have to live by? We are also the equal inheritors of this earth.

The third world always had the worst of everything. The so-called modern world today never realised that the Asians or other third countries were even worth giving a second thought to. And they have said so. With Copenhagen.

What do they know about a small country struggling to survive? What do they care if the streams in the mountains dry up because of the carbon emission or a lake bursts g its dam? Why should they care if some island nations go under the sea? The point is, does any one really look into what is really important?

It’s all relative. If it affects me, I should be concerned, if not why should I be? Simple logic? Some one is spewing more carbon and why shouldn’t I? And that’s where the problem begins.

No matter how big an issue it is, it will ever be considered as one. It is how you present it and who listens. That is another story.

More important is that fact that democracy has brought our people together.

The monarchy, after having consolidated the kingdom for the last hundred years, have finally handed over the management to the people. Isn’t it time that we should take it with a sense of pride and responsibility being bestowed from above, not as just a right by birth.

Like we always pay our respects to our elders, we should also learn to pay for what we have been bestowed on.

His Majesty, the King Jigme Khesar has been at the helm of the state affairs for the last two years. He had been taking the burden of the nation because he cares. Shouldn’t we also make a small start by taking part in it. Now the question is HOW?

There are lots. The only problem is we don’t know where to look and how to go about it. But LOOK is the catchword.

We don’t have to look afar. Every time we come out with project, we think of a donor agency.

Similarly, every time we want to chew a doma or smoke a cigarette, think how much that would help our country and of course ourselves.

Most of all, we don’t have to shamelessly extend our social service begging bowl.

These are something we Bhutanese can do ourselves. But we never do.

We, in Thimpu, watch on TV, Sherubtse or other graduates come and clean our streams once in while. We have never even thanked them properly.

We have to learn whom to thank for what we are today.

That’s the resolution that Bhutanese should make on this day.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The more, the merrier?

The journalism fraternity has increased. Now we can boast of one newspaper for every 100,000 population with The Journalist in the scene.

That of course doesn’t take into account the launching of magazines like Druk Trowa, Yeewong and of course the much-talked about Drukpa. We have some nine publications going around the country now.

Yeewong, the first women’s magazine launched on 30 September, is about embracing every aspect of Bhutanese womanhood that makes Bhutanese women special and different. It would also be focusing on youth and child issues, according to its editorial stance.

Then on 9 November, Bhutan’s first film and entertainment magazine Druk Trowa came into the scene. For the first time, our film stars received publicity to their heart’s content, besides the weekly snippets that the newspapers wrote about them to cover their entertainment pages.

Then came the much talked-about Drukpa on 17 December: it plans to address the gap in the Bhutanese media and give readers something different in the process. Every issue of Drukpa will be based on a specific and special theme, which will be covered in an in-depth and comprehensive manner.

Now following on their heels, comes another weekly. It is run under the supervision of a man who is a writer in his own rights, and he has a bunch of reporters/writers who cut their teeth when Bhutan Times came into operation. Gopi knows what he is doing. So do his staff members.

The birth of this paper can be traced back to Tenzin Rigden, who may not have direct connections with this paper, but has much to do with why it came about in the first place. The end of his term, which resulted in a new management, caused the reporters to resign, and begin a paper of their own.

Tenzin Rigden started off with Bhutan Media Services, before plunging into newspaper when government decided to liberalise it, is a good writer and an organizer too. He has a knack of the business of media. But then like all journalists and writers, he is also susceptible to chew what he cannot swallow.

But then, that sounds like making remarks in retrospection. We all know the CICCC bid to make a name and fame clipped his wings.

Other members of the press fraternity looked on him with awe. Sadly, at the end of it, his board of directors and shareholders were not impressed.

Though the Bhutanese media scene is booming, one criticism has been the lack of depth on issues covered in newspapers. That is correct. But how do we go about correcting this problem? This will happen only when, if not all but most of the literate members don’t wrinkle up their nose, read the Bhutanese product and give fair comments to encourage its development and growth.

Despite the courage it has taken to plunge into it, Bhutanese media still needs time to build itself into an institution that the country will look up to.

But then, the new media organizations joining the fraternity means that the government is open about it. After all, media and democracy go hand in hand. That obviously is the reason why free media was allowed in Bhutan even before the first democratic elections were held.

In some countries, the newspaper and magazine business is almost like cottage industry.

We in Bhutan haven’t come to that sad stage. The possibility is very near. Yet despite all that possibility, let’s look up to the brighter side of new news organizations coming into operation. Whatever is happening is for the good, like one journalist said.

The more the merrier.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How soon can we infuse GNH into the curricula?

(Note: This is something that happened somewhere around 13 December, I am uploading it only for information.)

With the workshop on Educating for Gross National Happiness that ended Saturday, the kingdom today stands at a remarkable crossroads in its history, in terms of its education policy.

Once the GNH principles and approaches are embedded in the structure of the country’s educational system and curricula, GNH will be a living reality in Bhutan. This is a decision that will influence the future of the country for generations to come.

And it should rightly be so. GNH, the country’s guiding philosophy since 1972 has sought to integrate sustainable and equitable economic development with environmental conservation, good governance, and preservation and promotion of the country’s ancient culture and profound traditions.

What does this mean in practice? First, sustainability principles, values, factual knowledge, and behavior would not only be taught in dedicated courses on environmental science, protection, and conservation, but they would also serve as examples in mathematics exercises, grammar texts, science experiments and more.

Noted educators like David Orr have critiqued conventional science texts for neglecting and underplaying human dependence on the natural world, and in some cases implicitly promoting environmentally destructive behaviors by implying the potential dominance of man and technology over nature.

A GNH curriculum would correct that present imbalance by focusing more on the interdependent nature of reality, including human interaction with natural forces.

It would also promote and teach respect for indigenous human cultures, languages, and knowledge. A few Bhutanese educators have been inspired to take students into the country’s old-growth forests to show and teach youth about the medicinal value and uses of local herbs and plant, which are in danger of being lost if not incorporated into formal educational curricula.

Of course, much discussion had taken place between our leaders and the educators before this concept of incorporating GNH into the education system ever came into being.

Our Education Minister himself has emphasized that genuine GNH curricula would go beyond mere conceptual and intellectual learning but attempt more effectively to integrate heart, mind, spirit, and behavior. In other words, such curricula would incorporate learning that draws not only on reasoning alone but also on experiential, artistic and feeling faculties, and that attempts to translate knowledge into action.

The first step in designing GNH curricula has already been taken. The assembly of a top international team of educators has contributed all they could for the system. Now the real task is to put all those points, depending on what fits where, breaking them down to subjects, topics and activities.

The workshop has provided the education ministry with a road map and a plan of action to begin the process of incorporating GNH values and principles into the school system by the beginning of 2010. Lyonpo Powdyel himself expressed confidence and optimism when he said that we know now what we should be doing in the next couple of weeks and months. And a national task force has been constituted to implement the plan.

Confidence and optimism is one thing, but it takes time to arrange things. Logistics take time. First and foremost would be to orient the principles to the new concept and approach.

The concept is beautiful, but how does one go about integrating it each subject. That calls for experts and cannot be left to the individual teachers, without proper guidelines.

Besides, incorporating the GNH principles and approaches to the syllabi involves a revision. Revising the text books on various subjects calls for time and lots of experts in a particular subject. This is particularly interesting when we realise that our school text books haven’t been revised for the last five years or so.

The People’s King

He is regal. He is humble. He knows the past and he understands the problems of the present. And he tells us what we should bequeath to our children. And he is right.

He walks in the rain, sleeps in a tent and plays football barefoot with children. And he has even cooked for them. He is the ultimate father.

For the last so many months, he had made his headquarters in the east. While in the midst of comforting people, affected by the earthquake and fires, he made it a point to run back to the capital to see how things are going: attending to both national and international events.

His Majesty, King Jigme Khesar is the real people’s king. It is presumptuous to even to think how he manages. Can we do it even if we are of his age? No, we have had rather a very easy life. But then that was another generation.

But then, what is beautiful is that King Jigme Khesar knows how to bridge that gap between all the generations that may be living. As he pats and kisses the young children, or bends down in reverence and respect t for the elderly, from all walks of life, is a testimony of his great feeling and love for the people.

May be, we have forgotten to show respect to our elders. But His Majesty has not forgotten it, as he bowed to his father, the Fourth Druk Gyalpo yesterday at the National Day celebrations. Of course, as parents, we shouldn’t forget our responsibilities to our children.

Addressing the nation, His Majesty the King said that we should be in a position to hand over our country intact to our children and they should be in a better position than us to manage it.

The youth has the strength. For, it is the present that moves into the future. But then the present relies on the past to chart the way for the future. That is what His Majesty had always being telling us. For the wisdom of the past shows the way into the future.

It takes every one big and small to make up this great nation. This year’s honour list reflected that. His Majesty conferred the national order of merit to 16 private individuals, school teachers and an association of film makers. The awardees were nominated on two themes- dignity of labour for the general public and an excellence for quality education for teachers. (HIGHLIGHT THISPARA)

His Majesty the King expressed his appreciation to all the teachers of the country for the efforts that they have undertaken for the education of the future. Gaur Hari Manna, from Kolkotta, working in Yangchenphug High School, was one of the teachers who was conferred the national Order of Merit among other four Bhutanese teachers.

All buildings have to start with bricks and stones. It is the small man who makes a great nation. This year’s honour list salutes these small men.

What makes this small but great nation going?

It is the personality of King Jigme Khesar’s stature that makes us a part of this great nation. That is what makes us going. More than that, it is the hopes His Majesty the King has reposed in our youth that keeps us going.

We have a great hope for the future; for the King has always said the youth and the children are our future. And he keeps a great store by them. The youth of the country should rise to the occasion and rally behind his cause.

For that is where the destiny leads.

The supreme law man?

If you catch him in a roomful of people, he will look like any other prosperous and satisfied civil servant, mingling with other guests. He has a smile and something nice to say. It is not put on, as someone who doesn’t know him may think.

Some may even allege he is slow. But no, he is thorough. As a judge, he doesn’t give the judgement before hand. Once he is sure everything is in order, he will implant his signature on the document. That experience had been shared by many.

Well, there was this case of some one who had to get the documents signed by the High Court Judge, that he was then. But before the documents can be signed, they had to be investigated and ascertained. Meanwhile, he had to leave on a tour of the southern dzongkhags. But before he left, he asked the person to get all the relevant documents that were required. It took the person as long as it took the Chief Justice to complete his tour.

One fine morning person went to the High Court to find all the papers signed, with instructions that certain missing ones should be attached. Now, who would have even bothered to give that instruction? But then, lack of those documents would have meant a delay.

And to whim, justice delayed is justice denied.

So having served the Tsa-wa-sum for the last 38 years, of which 25 years were spent in the judiciary and 19 years as the Chief Justice of High Court, he retired. But then before he could even think of a peaceful retired life, he had been called back to duty.

Well, good men are rare. And the opportunities to fill in the blanks in history is even rarer. We always have to look for the best who would serve the nation. That sounds almost like the elimination game. But then to the discerning ones, it isn’t so.

At this point in history, we do not have the luxury of choice or experimentation. We have to go for the one in whom we can repose our confidence and faith. For that we have to go by the track record. This is not to say that there may not be others who are equally competent enough.

The post calls for not competence, but also sagacity and experience, and some one with a track record of consistency, knowledge and loyalty and dedication. And who would be more appropriate than him, considering the duties and responsibilities of the Chief Justice of Bhutan’s first Supreme Court.

He piloted how the judicial system should move in consonance with the political, economic and social developments taking place in the country. He supervised the drafting of the constitution and worked on the preparation for the introduction of the democratic process in the country.

The Supreme Court of Bhutan is an integral and critical entity of the democratic institutional framework mandated by the Constitution at this point in the political history of the country. The Supreme Court must ensure that the actions of the Legislature or Executive or any entity are in full consonants with the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

As he himself said, the Supreme Court, being the guardian of the Constitution, must be guarded well consistently, consciously and constantly by adhering to the inalienable principles of the Constitution which should give decision on all matters without fear and favour.

Who would know that better than the man who steered the development of the judicial system in the country for the last 25 years.

GNH and Copenhagen climate conference

The conference: Educating GNH that ended exactly a week before the signing of the Copenhagen Accord, had requested the participants to use the pool bus service that was being provided for the national participants.

The message in the invitation card said: Leave your car home and use the pool transportation service and of course thereby lessen the carbon emission. We don’t know how many of the participants agreed to the suggestion.

Though the Prime Minister did mention at the GNH conference about providing free bicycles to many of the citizens as a mode of transportation, to cut down on the carbon emission, many world leaders in his position, meeting in Copenhagen and spending millions of dollars to be just there, refused a simple solution that might prevent the world from being swamped by ocean waves, or just blowing apart the world in one big bang.

Ah, the world, according to the scientists, started with a big bang. Are we also going out in a bang – a flash of blinding light and smoke? That is what it is going to result in taking in all the intransigence that developed nations have displayed at the Copenhagen climate conference.

Perhaps, they would like to go to the moon or even Mars for holidays when all the beautiful island nations around the world go under the sea and the Himalayas, the Alps, Rocky Mountains and the Andes are bereft of glaciers and snow.

A climate writer even mentioned that a lot of animal species that are in the food chain, along with other fruit species might be lost to the world, if the soaring temperature is not kept in check before it is too late. This is something that had been happening since the pre-industrial days; we cannot reverse the process and put it back, but at least we can contain it and stop it from becoming worse.

At Copenhagen, the world leaders only came out with the motion that they were “taking note” but never agreed on the specifics for carbon emissions, which even Obama conceded, was “not enough.” Like Obama added, we have come a long way but we still have much further to go.

How much further? And what will happen during that period is another question?

The plea of the V-11 (vulnerable countries) has fallen on deaf years. Nepal’s cabinet going up to the base of Mount Everest and Maldives’ under the sea to hold cabinet meetings to express their concern will go into history as another gimmick that failed. But then, those acts were not mere publicity device to attract the world attention. For Maldives, it was a matter of survival if the world temperature went up by 2C.

How much carbon can Bhutan sink that the world is producing with its 72 per cent forest coverage? Our Prime Minister even mentioned the possibility of providing free bicycles, if there were any takers, and the opposition leader was already reported to be trying to ride a bike at the centre of Thimphu town.

That is a natural step when you think that preservation of natural environment is one of the pillars of Gross National Happiness. It will not only cut down the carbon emission but also noise pollution.

Yet, while more and more Bhutanese are queuing up to buy cars, with so many new car agencies offering different brands of different makes, shapes, colour and sizes, it is good to note that the agriculture minister, Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho and his staff members are still walking to the office every Tuesday.

That is just one small step towards reducing carbon emission.

Tiger, tiger, burning bright

“Tiger, Tiger, burning bright

In the forests of the night……”

So said William Blake, the famous poet. May be they are not burning as bright as they used to do in the days of Blake. Perhaps, Jim Corbett is to be blamed for all his killing that eliminated the man-eaters of Kumoan region. But those were the days, when it was a matter of wild animals and the humans.

In some ways, it hasn’t changed much even today. While the rest of the world is clearing large tracts of forests to resettle people or to accommodate industrial expansions, we, in Bhutan had been coming out with legislation to save the wild life.

Every year we have reports of wild predators destroying our crops and fields and the farmers had been requesting the government to give them some sort of means to handle them. But no! They have to abide by the forest and wild life preservation rules and regulations.

To be quite frank, tigers are no big menace as predators in our country, unless and until one may take the matter of a bear being killed in the high mountains, where tigers were not supposed to be. Of course, there was a big talk about the effect of the climate change that led the tiger to move to new areas.

Why did it go to areas where it is not suited for and where it doesn’t have the right type of food? It certainly wasn’t looking for green pastures like the cows.

Of course, it is good to know that the prediction by the World Wildlife Fund that the tigers are going to be extinct by 2010 is not a correct assessment, at least for Bhutan, is a welcome statement. Bhutan has been taking all necessary measures to safeguard the wild life.

One thing that should be taken note of is that tigers are not the actual predators. Crop damages and destructions by wildlife have been attributed to elephants, wild boars and monkeys. Perhaps, the tigers killed a domestic animal or two and these incidences have never made it to the news.

These royals have maintained their exclusivity and elusiveness. Yet, they are priced for their colourful skins and bones and other parts, some of which are considered to be of medicinal value. At one time in history, hunting tigers was considered a game of the royals. And elaborate excursions and arrangements were made for such an event.

It is reported that there might be only some 3,200 tigers in the wild. That is sad. They might go the dinosaurs’ way. It is not only that their absence might change the balance in nature. They are part of what makes this world bright and beautiful. They are part of this world that is great and small.

As long as they have a peaceful habitat, where there is enough games to live on, they are the predators that they are believed to be. When actually, man is the real predator.

We are the ones who created conditions that they cannot live in. As poachers and trophy hunters, we went after their lives. As polluters of the environment, we changed their habitat and the environment where they lived in peace.

But there is a hope for them. Bhutan will maintain 72 percent of the land surface under forest cover. Within that large area, the tigers will find some space to live in. Not only them, but all other species that is native to the country.

So, despite what is happening to the rest of the world, given our environmental approach, the tigers may still be burning bright in the forests of Bhutan.

The lifestyle diseases

Way back in the 1970s or even before, every one walked to the office, perhaps, except for a few heads of departments.

Let’s go back a few years earlier. We, who are today in a comfortable position, had never heard of our parents having the problems that we are suffering from. It is indeed a sad state of affair.

Is it so? There was time when our people used to drink down three to four mugs of suja and a meal that contained a piece of pork pah, if not more, strewn with other vegetables.

But then, of course, they went down to the summer field to harvest the crop or went up the mountains to check on the herds. In retrospect, life sounds romantic and one thing no one realizes is that it is also tough. Go to plough the field or even dig a vegetable garden.

That’s how they burned their energy. They collected manure to spread on their field. They went to the forest to collect firewood and shogshing for the winter. If an animal was lost they walked the mountains to look for it.

They again went often to the mountains to collect mushrooms.

But they never collected cholesterol. Diabetes was never heard of. High blood pressure? They died more of hard work feeding us than high blood pressure.

Now, the old adage: all studies no play makes Jack a dull boy should be rephrased to Old people, no work should now start exercising. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily is limited to old people. This applies to many a young and middle aged people who lead a sedentary life.

What do the latest reports say? That 93.1 percent of the people are prone to what is known as lifestyle diseases. Well, at least we were not aware that somebody suffered from high blood pressure and diabetes in the olden times. We never ended up with cholesterol when we were working in the rice fields.

Ironically, it is not the men or women who have to chase the cows in the mountains who are falling ill or succumbing to high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and other diseases. These are diseases that are known as lifestyle diseases in other modern societies.

More than anywhere else, it is true of Bhutan.

High level of drinking and smoking, and of course unbalanced diet, wherein our intake of vegetable is reported to be low, is reported to be the culprit. That is right. At one time we lived off the land. It provided us with everything that we ever wanted.

Drinking has been reported as the biggest culprit, and of course smoking. There was a time when drinking took place only on social occasions, and smoking was a luxury. The survey only covers Thimphu and drinking is obviously high here in the capital. We have more alcohol shops than tea or coffee joints. Perhaps except for shops operated by cobblers and shoemakers, every second shop has a signboard that says: Hotel-cum-bar,Grocery and bar, or general store-cum bar. That is the beauty; you may not get a good coffee but you will get booze.

Yes, we have also been talking about alcohol and drugs and how harmful they are. We all know about it without the government spending so much money into it. Somewhere along the line, something hasn’t clicked. Somewhere between the preaching and practice, something has to be done.

There might come a time when many of our overweight or those afflicted with high blood pressure or cholesterol may not have to walk all the way up to Sangaygang every morning.

But then lifestyle is something that doesn’t change overnight.

Don’t’ set precedence

The seven employees of the Education are being punished, according to reports. They are losing out in every way.

They have been convicted and as a result, they lost their jobs. They were also liable for imprisonment if they are not able to pay what was owed against them. Even if they are in a position to pay, they would still lose their jobs, once convicted.

And thirdly, they may stand to lose their benefits accruing to them from the years of service that they have rendered.

The seven employees of the education ministry were involved in a forgery scam known as the “Ghost Employee Case.” If a pun can be used then, one might say that the “ghost” returned with a vengeance to punish them three times.

The case had been making news for quite some time. They were reported to have misused government funds, shown as payment of TA/DA to various head teachers and community leaders, who attended the education workshops. According to findings, the workshops were not even organized.

The crime that these employees have committed is a foregone conclusion. For that commission of crime, they have been suspended, then handed over prison terms and then sacked without benefits for their involvement. The degree of their crime is not relevant at this point.

Humans have been accused of many unsavoury and cruel actions. The “ghosts” are unforgiving. But forgiveness is not the question here. The fact is that all legal action should be tempered with understanding and compassion.

How many times does one have to pay for the same crime? This is not to justify criminality on the part of the person committing it. Every one should be punished for the number of crimes committed.

Yes, there have been instances when a person has been penalized and punishments awarded for different crimes committed by him or her. It is justifiable as he/she has been convicted on each count.

Now, the matter has come up for deliberations in the National Assembly. Many members of Parliament supported the Opposition Leader that the employees have been treated too harshly. It is of little comfort to know that the education ministry was not responsible for sacking the employees and that the Royal Civil Service Commission has been requested to relax the penalty. In fact, the education even sounded slightly apologetic.

While still under suspension, the case was forwarded to the court which convicted them. And the BCS Rules 2006 says that convicted civil servants are liable for termination from service. It is not about conviction but the fact that they have been disproportionately penalized for the crime they committed.

According to BCSR, one penalty should be imposed on each case. Some MPs even pointed out that the penalties meted out could even tantamount to violation of human rights and asked the government for its intervention.

What actions the government will take on the matter is something one cannot comment on. It is the government’s prerogative. However, to say that the government is helpless because RCSC is an autonomous body and it cannot interfere in its decision is like putting all autonomous bodies on a high pedestal than they don’t necessarily deserve to be on. We may even end up quoting different rules to justify our means and ends, at this rate.

But, this much can be said that these employees are lucky to have their problems mentioned and deliberated upon in the highest legislative body in the kingdom. We hope this doesn’t set up precedence. Or else we might end up discussing internal management problems rather than taking up matters of national importance.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Changing the marriage act

Broken homes and the resultant divorce is traumatic for all families, except in cases where the level of incompatibility is so high that the bonds of wedlock becomes a mental stranglehold and life together turns into a living hell.

Divorce and separation were not new things before the Marriage Act was promulgated. In the extended Bhutanese family, the child never suffered, at least prior to 1980s. As it happened, the children always lived in the mother’s family in almost all such cases.

It is the same traditional approach that worked into our 1980 Marriage Act, whereby the mother ends up being the custodian of the children.

It is often said and there is a truism to a great extent that the mother always tends to give greater care and love to the children, even after divorce. The father may have all the money, but it takes a mother to give a sense of belonging. That is true when we look at the traditonal structure of our family. That was when tradition ruled the roost and legal process had not entered our lives.

There are people who believe that a piece of paper (marriage certificate) can keep two people together. In one way, that is true if we go by the proverb that marriage is made in heaven. So why should a pice of paper tie two people together through thick and thin.

That was fine when tradition and culture was a great bonding factor in our social lives. But when the traditional joint family structure breaking away at the seams, as more and more young people preferred to live far away from their home hearth, either in government, corporate or private servic e, the thread that bound us started getting stretched.

So we started nuclear families, away from our home and families. During the annual gathering of the family members, which usually happens when Lochoed (annual puja is being held, we are almost like strangers meeting for the first time, with our own likes and dislikes. We are only there bound by our connection with the ancestral home, which is at breaking point.

So when the Marriage Act 1980 came into force, the mothers ended up with the custody of the children. Nothing wrong with it. But when this traditional sentiment got expressed into black and white in the act, there were quite a few things that were not given due consideration.

How much would 20 percent of the father ‘s contribution help the child, if the mother is unemployed. And if she is saddled with two or three children under nine years of age, she may not even have the time to go out and earn a living.

Biological rights of the mother not withstanding, how about if the mother is not able to, forget the child’s right, provide a proper atmosphere or the necessary care due to various factors. There was a case of a father who lost his daughter to the mother . But then the father went from the dzongkhag court to the high court till he got the custody of the child. Of course he presented concrete proof of the mother’s inability to care for the child.

Now coming to the question of child support, most father’s had found it difficult to part with the 20 percent of his earning. The court may rule out that the mother has to be paid the amount but who will ensure that it will be paid every month. Every time the money is not paid, the mother has to run to the court. Some times, the father may not be living in the same dzongkhag. Who is going to trace him out and make him pay?

Therefore, the decision to amend the Marriage Act in conformity with the changing times would be a good approach.

Only education will lead to empowerment

It is alright to come out once a year with slogans and posters to protest violence against women. That is what we do because a day in a year is dedicated to the elimination of violence against women.

Violence is only one aspect that the women are suffering from. What is the solution?

We all know what the solution is but for some reasons, the solutions that we come forward with for the welfare of the women are mostly half-baked attempts.

We have often talked about empowering our women. But how do we empower them? The word itself is a strong one. But for the strength that the word may carry, the process of empowerment of women has been more written about in various documents and project reports than acted upon.

Empowerment doesn’t come without a minimum level of education. Of course this is not to say that efforts are not being made to make the women self-reliant and stand on their own feet by teaching them some skills or trade that would enable them to make a living independent of dependence on men folk.

Having some skill or trade might free them from the stranglehold of dependence and poverty. In most cases, as reported in various media, poverty is the culprit and has invariably driven them into situations from where there is no escape.

For instance, prostitution is something we can legally and technically say doesn’t exist in the country. That is because legally we don’t accept that it exists. And if we are aware of its existence, we just tend to turn a blind eye and ignore it.

We are not talking of mass trafficking of women and young girls, like it is reported to be happening in some parts of the world. Yet, our young girls are being lured into the trade or the profession that is one of the oldest one in the human history.

Basically it is the lack of education that is the root cause of the evil. Without education, they are not even in a position to acquire skills that will provide them with decent livelihood. This inability to earn a livelihood makes them susceptible to all forms of degradation and indignities that can be heaped on a woman.

Despite the negative labeling of Third World women as ignorant, poor, uneducated, and powerless, it is a clear indication that there are many obstacles that hinder women empowerment in Third world countries. Even with the multitude of media technologies and communication means, women in the developing countries especially those residing in rural and remote areas are still voiceless compared to women in developed countries.

When an illiterate young village woman comes to a town looking for employment, the only alternative open to her is dishwashing. If she is good looking, she gets to wait around the tables. Slowly she slips into the slimy side of the business.

It is not only the illiterate ones who fall prey to such temptations. Some times the temptations come as an opportunity to earn some extra money to tide over a bad financial situation. Many school drop-outs, when faced with dire unemployment, are also forced into it.

Of course, they don’t like it. Like every one they would like to have a family and raise children. But once they are into it, there is most often no way out of the morass.

It is not too late. We have to come forward with programmes to educate and empower them. No matter what kind of programmes we may implement, it has to start with education. Only education will lead to empowerment.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cultural impostion?

If you were to visit Darjeeling or Kalimpong these days, you would think that the college students in these regions were not going to classes but to celebrate ethnic day in the campus.

Three times a week, you will see them trooping into colleges, sporting colourful ethnic costumes. The Bhutias and Tibetans in their chubas, ethnic Nepalis of the region in Daura-sural for men and Chaubandi Choli and Pharia for the girls and so on.

It’s all right if the ethnic Gorkhas of Darjeeling district want to flaunt their ethnicity by attiring themselves in garments that actually is the national dress of Nepal. Incidentally, the citizens of Nepal themselves don’t wear the national dress when they go to their offices, except on national events. That too is applicable only to the civil servants.

But the point is why impose such regulation, which is actually an offshoot of the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha’s (GJMM) political campaign for a separate homeland, on our Bhutanese students studying there when it is not applicable to students of other nationalities such as Bangladeshis and Thais?

This is politicising education, by imposing the dress code. If the Bhutanese are found not wearing Ghos and Kiras to college, they are not allowed to attend the classes by the volunteers of Gorkha Janmukti Vidarthy Morcha, a student wing of the GJMM.

In fact, the Bhutanese students thought that they didn’t have to comply with the regulation as they were foreigners just like the Bangadeshis and Thais. But no; the Yuva Morcha or the youth wing volunteers summoned the president and some executive members of Bhutanese Students Association to their office and warned them that they are not exempted.

What is the rational behind forcing only the Bhutanese to wear the national dress? Darjeeling district is not providing free education for our children. In fact, our children are contributing to the local economy by using educational facilities located in their region.

We like to send our children to schools and colleges there because we share similarities when it comes to climate, food habits and to some extent cultural life and language. The Bhutanese at one time used to go to Kaliphu and Dorjeeling more often than any other place in India for business. Our association goes a long way back.

But the recent belligerence displayed by GJMM to our students, away from their parents and home, is an uncalled-for act which almost gives the feeling that Bhutanese students have been singled out specifically from amongst other nationalities to deliberately hassle them.

Wearing the national dress may not pose that much of a problem. But forcing them to participate in GJMM’s rallies is political coercion and they have to take part out of fear for their life and limb.

The Royal Government had already had a first round of talks on this issue with the West Bengal government, following which the Bhutanese students were told by the home ministry not to wear the national dress for fear that they might come under attack from other disgruntled elements than the volunteers of the GJMM.

With the examinations looming ahead of them before the winter vacation, the Bhutanese students are in a dilemma. Perhaps the best solution would be not to send our children, no matter what, to Darjeeling region for studies in future.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Something should be done

Even as Bhutan fell by four points at 49 from last year in the corruption perception index (CPI), the third annual Anti-Corruption Commission’s report is due for review today at the National Council’s agenda today.

According to the report already in circulation, the complaint against the local government (LG) is reported to be the highest with of course Thimphu Dzongkhag leading the pack with 34.9 per cent and Chukha coming as second with 11.5 per cent. Paro and Wangdue are in the third position with 5.7 per cent each.

Gasa and Lhuentse received the lowest complaints against their local governments with just 0.5 per cent each.

After the LG, corporate governance is the second highest in the list of complaints with the abuse of authority and embezzlement following close after. Most of these usually occurred in areas such as award of contracts for construction, procurement and human resources, where nepotism, deception and bribery are most common place.

Though not open, yet corruption in terms of underhand dealings is obvious in construction and supply of materials. Some are even straight cases of pilferages from the construction sites, where materials supplied are not fully used for the work in hand.

Nepotism, one might say, is as old as humanity itself. It extends to the whole spectrum of the society. So why blame only the civil service? Anything from appointment and promotion to trainings and easy postings fall under the category of nepotism. Merit, most often, doesn’t work.

Some years ago, there was this unique case of a man, in one of the ministries, who sent his own wife on training. It so happened that there was a female staff member in the same ministry who had the same name as his wife’s. While his wife didn’t have the academic transcripts which would have qualified for the training, the other staff had the required educational qualifications.

So, he did the simplest thing. He switched the academic transcripts from their personal files and sent his wife on training. It was easy enough. But it didn’t last long. The discrepancy, if one might say, was discovered earlier than expected.

This is just one such example. There would be hundreds of such cases, if one only has the patience to dig. Award of contracts for procurement and supplies are areas where it is not even possible to dig through the layers of underhand payment and bribes that accrue to the man who has the authority to swing the contract to the favourite candidate. Every thing is legal – just a manipulation of certain clauses. (highlight this para)

Some one said that one should know how to use the law to his or her own advantage. Nothing wrong really with the law as such. They have been framed with all the good intention in mind and for the greater benefit of every one. But one has to have the ingenuity to find the loopholes in them.

Embezzlement, though it doesn’t head the list, is still rampant from lowly misuse of money at the level of cashier or accountant to wholesale siphoning of project funds. We don’t have to go too far. Just look at some of the bridges, roads or government buildings around the country or in the capital itself. How many times they had to re-built and crosschecked to find out whether they confirmed to the initial designs; and of course how many times new funds had to be injected to bring them to the standard that they were supposed to be in the first place.

And who suffers? The general public for whom those infrastructures have been constructed. Who is at the receiving end whenever such infrastructures fail? The government, of course. The government initiates such grandiose projects for the benefit of the people. The government gets the blame.

There certainly must be something that can be done to avoid this.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Need to halt global warming

Climate change is not an abstract threat. Glaciers in the Himalayas and the Alps are retreating by two metres every year. Ice caps are melting, raising the sea level.

The melting glaciers cause flooding in the low lying countries while rising sea level threatens to submerge the Maldives and other low-lying coastal areas. This is the result of hundreds of years of carbon emissions, which is cooking the earth. So much so that north of England will soon be producing red wine, after almost 600 years, thanks to warm autumn that the region is experiencing now.

It is very much likely that the low fertile land today might turn into unproductive barren wasteland. The farming pattern may also drastically change. The climate change will also adversely affect the natural habitats of both humans and animals.

The Climate Vulnerable Forum, which recently ended in Male, Maldives, called on world leaders to reach a binding agreement at next month's Copenhagen conference on the issue of global warming. The issue of global warming had been a matter of concern for developing countries. But then, the developing countries can do nothing about it on its own.

It is the developed and industrialised countries that have to cut down its carbon emissions that are heating up the planet. US had never agreed to either the Montreal or Kyoto Protocols. Neither did the emerging Asian industrial giants like China and India.

The industrial giants flood the markets of the climate vulnerable nations that also have to suffer the adverse effect of global warming as a direct consequence of massive industrial activities, with their mass-produced goods.

The decision of the ‘V-11’ countries, of which Bhutan is a member, to “green” their economy is a step in the right direction towards achieving “carbon neutrality.” Scientists say rich countries must cut carbon emissions by 25-40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020 to prevent Earth's temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius above its average temperature before the industrial revolution. The rise of temperature by 2 degree Celsius means the Maldives will be submerged completely.

But so far, reduction pledges only total 11-15 per cent.

One may think that it is a moral, financial, social and human rights issue. But such issues pale in comparison when it is a matter of trade in the stock exchange. The ‘V-11’ nations want the developed nations to provide public money amounting to at least 1.5% of their gross domestic product annually by 2015, to assist developing countries make their transition to a climate resilient low-carbon economy.

The issue of funds from wealthy states, like Western European countries and the United States, to developing nations to fight climate change has proven a major sticking point in negotiations.

The developed nations also have to commit to maintain emission reduction targets consistent with limiting global average surface warming to well below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and long-term stabilisation of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at well below 350ppm.

The current level of carbon concentrations is 387 ppm. To reduce that to 350 ppm, the world would likely need to develop new technologies or strategies to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

To drive home the point that something serious has to be done about global warming, President Nasheed of the Maldives and his cabinet members, last month, donned the diving gear to hold the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting in a symbolic cry for help over rising sea level. Nepal is planning to hold its next cabinet meeting on Mount Everest.

Celebrating children’s Day

This year, the birth day of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo was celebrated as the Constitution Day and also Children’s Day. And appropriately so.

His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo often said that children were the future of Bhutan, and that it is important to enable them to bear the responsibilities efficiently and effectively.

It is important that we define who is a child on this day. The age-old adage says that the child is the father of man. The definition may not go down well in the present world context.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as "every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier." Biologically, a child is anyone in the developmental stage of childhood, between infancy and adulthood.

The age at which children are considered responsible for their own actions has also changed over time, and this is reflected in the way they are treated in courts of law. In the Roman era, children were regarded as not culpable for crimes, a position later adopted by the Church. In the nineteenth century, children younger than seven years old were believed incapable of crime. Children from the age of seven were considered responsible for their actions.

Surveys have found that at least 25 countries around the world have no specified age for compulsory education. Minimum employment age and marriage age also vary. In at least 125 countries, children aged 7-15 may be taken to court and risk imprisonment for criminal acts. In some countries, children are legally obliged to go to school until they are 14 or 15 years old, but may also work before that age.

Whatever it is, the children are our hope for the future. Many parents consider them as the staff to lean on in old age. All the more reasons why they should be provided with an enabling environment in which to grow and develop into responsible citizens of tomorrow.

Bhutanese children are getting better education and healthcare, thanks to the vision of the Druk Gyalpos, and the support from International Organisations.

With the changing family and societal structures, new difficulties have arisen for children. Children can be in conflict with the law, they can be in a difficult circumstance, and many times, one usually follows the other.

There have been increasing reports of Children being abused and children living hard lives, in poverty, without education, or without family or a proper roof over their heads for the sake of education.

This is a sign that such problems, while not as severe as other countries in the region, do exist in Bhutan as well.

While education has not been made compulsory for children in Bhutan for various reasons as cited by the government, the existence of a National Commission for Women and Children in the country that dedicates efforts to bring relief to those children who are less fortunate than the others is heartening.

Bhutan was one of the first countries to become a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the government has shown that it is committed to the cause of bringing a smile to the young faces of the nation by honouring the clauses of the convention.

It is a continuous work, in which the media, the government, families, schools and societies, all have a role to play.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

When we have to learn to say NO

It all began in the ancient times when Socrates had to drink hemlock juice. At that time, it was a choice between violent and peaceful death.

The potency was such that it became a political weapon. The Boxer war is a witness to it. It is a historical fact.

While at one time it was an indulgence that the rich pampered themselves with, it somehow became a habit among the general mass. It removed the aches in the body and gave one a sense of general well-being.

That is when the problem began. Or rather the drug industry started sprouting up. Of course, we have heard of the Golden Triangle, somewhere between the then Burma, Thailand and other neighbouring countries, where war lords cultivated hashish to fund procurement of guns and ammunition.

The same thing happened in Afghanistan. As the war raged on, cultivation of poppies was one great agricultural activity that fetched easy money. Of course, every penny earned went in to buy weapons and ammunitions.

Despite the accepted norm among the drug dealers that one should not get high on ones’ supply, yet every one gets high. More than that, it is what floods the market that really causes mass damage.

Now with all the fancy drugs available in the form of pills, most of which actually are only supposed to be prescribed by registered doctors, every one has access to all forms of drugs. And the drugstores or the so-called medical shops are willing to sell them as long as there are buyers. Who bothers about the ethics, if any?

As far as we know, substance abuse in Bhutan was limited to chewing doma, which cost you your teeth and perhaps your taste -buds, but definitely not your sanity.

We were told that illegal drugs, hardcore drugs were not to be found in Bhutan. That the police may have a hard time keeping prescription drugs in check, yet illegal substances did enter the country.

The news reports show that we have greatly underestimated the problem, with heroin use being reported from all the major towns which have better connectivity.

Perhaps we are jaded by the amount of shocking news that our headlines scream every day, because it seems we do not care anymore, even though every issue that plagues us is worse that we originally thought.

BNCA’s report is overdue, but its better late than never. Now that we know the situation is bad, what is needed are extensive long and short term plans. Short term plans should include a crackdown on peddling, rehabilitation facilities for drug users, and massive anti-drug campaigning.

Long term plans would have to involve looking at the whole issue more holistically; recognising that drug abuse is also a problem that has social roots.

The problem goes deeper than some anti-social youth behaving badly. It comes from low self esteem, from hearts that are not healthy and whole.

Perhaps it is asking too much of the government to heal the hearts of the young people. But they need to do what they can. And while we look at the government for every solution, we must also look at our own families, at what our children are doing, why they are doing what they are doing. It is a solution we must all come to collectively.

Perhaps, it is our culture of drinking on social occasions that is the culprit. But why blame the culture. Our forefathers knew when to say no. All we have to do is say NO!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Squabble in the media industry

So, the media personnel made it to the news column yesterday. We are supposed to write about others and not about ourselves.

But then it is a classic case of a fight between the management and the workers. At one time it used to be between the landlords and the peasants, in historical context.

Every one in the media circle knew that the trouble was brewing in Bhutan Times. It happens. While the management is more concerned about the money that comes in, the editorial people are more concerned about the stories to meet the deadline.

There has always been a tussle between the management and the editorial on how much should be spent on a particular story. The management goes by the greatest number of stories for the money spent, while the editorial people go by the value of a story.

We are told that the editorial felt the interference of the management. There are three versions to every story, that of the two parties, and then the truth. We are no one to judge who is right, but this is an issue that needs scrutiny.

In Bhutan, the laws are clear on the news being untainted by the polities of those who own the newspaper. While it is acceptable in some countries to push the political ideas and parties that they favour through their newspaper, this is illegal in Bhutan.

It is not clear if such issues plague the private papers in Bhutan, certainly this issue has never been brought up.

But nonetheless, it is an issue we need to make clear provisions for. While some think it is perfectly acceptable to use a newspaper that they own to push their own agenda, others deem it unethical. Those who do not see a problem say that after all, if the readers do not like the paper’s views, they will not read the paper, so it is the paper that loses out. Others who take the opposite view feel that the papers owe it to the readers to provide a ‘middle’ news. Facts, and no less than facts.

Of course, the existence of an editorial means that papers do take some stand on all issues. Bhutan sees occasional ‘fiery’ editorials that condemn this and praise that.

In the case of Bhutan Times, the management publicly said that it was they who suggested that the editorial not to use the paper to their own ends.

That sort of clash was always there in one form or the other. But the editor and reporters of Bhutan Times walking out just two days before the publication of their Sunday issue created a commotion among the readers and the management alike.

According to reports, the department of information and media and BICMA were also worried. After all it was an unprecedented move, something that never happened before.

The Bhutan Times people resigned to protect independent journalism in the country from interference from the management. The new managing director had a different thing to say. These allegations and counter allegations are expected.

One would not say that the employees have to play up to the management. Yet one has to have a sense of responsibility towards other co-workers from other sections. And most of all, one has to have respect for one’s clients. In this case, it means the readers.

The companies may go bust. Along with it our own reputation may also go down. Our clients may not trust us the next time round.

The squabbles are not uncommon. But these petty things must be settled internally.

The magic of fall

Autumn is a beautiful season. Much has been written about it. From the ancient times to the present, it has been a subject much written about.

New thoughts always pour in. One young woman wrote about how she felt about autumn because she was the child of autumn. She always had a connection with the season. We always have connection with what we like best.

Now, why do I always like autumn? It is one of my best seasons. How do I connect to it? I don’t even have the vaguest idea.

All I can say is that the sky is clear and golden leaves float down the street and they give a nice colour to the surrounding. When you really think of it, the season also gives a feeling of death around the corner, if winter is the Death.

So what reminds me of the beauty of autumn? What makes me revel in it? Perhaps, it is Wagner’s music from the Four Seasons. Or Keats Ode to Autumn. They are just romantic ramblings of a silly old romantic man.

But then I can’t help it. I am also in the autumn of my years. For some reason, I feel that this is the best time of my life. Yes, I haven’t achieved a lot of things that I wanted to, or lot of things that people keep store by. I am not worried. I have lived my life to the hilt. Winter is just a few years away (if not months).

If I had the strength, I would just like to zoom away on a powerful motor bike into the country and enjoy the warm sun, the blue sky and the green and gold countryside. I am still willing to brave the chilly evenings and mornings. When the sun rises, I would be what I had always been. I just need the warmth of the sun on my face to wake me up, unlike the farmer-soldier from the south of France who died in Wilfred Owen’s poem, Futility.

Perhaps, it is the strains from Lara’s theme from Dr Zhivago that reminds me of autumn. The Russian autumn was beautiful, at least in the movie.

Or is it the slow whisper of wind that imperceptibly moves through the wood and the soft sound that the falling leaves make on the forest floor?

But I am talking of my own autumn. I like to look into the clear blue sky and enjoy the warm sun. The harvest seems good down the valley and looks golden in the afternoon sun in contrast to the green conifer trees on the hill. The villagers are already down with their scythes to reap the harvest of the year.

They do it with love and care. For the harvest that they are reaping should see them through till the next one.

Hope is what keeps us going and keeps us looking forward to the next year.

How many such autumns I will see, I don’t know. But I would love to watch as many as possible so as I live.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How do we integrate it into the curriculum?

The workshop to come out with a framework on media literacy in schools ended last week.

But the precursor to this one was held on 2-5 June 2009 under the name “developing strategic framework for media education and literacy programme in Bhutan”. The retreat at Kingacholing Resort, Wangdue Phodrang came out with broad guidelines and suggestions. That was what it should have come out with at that point in time, which it did.

It pointed the way to the right the right direction.

The Department of InfoComm and Media Authority spent a hefty sum in organising the workshop. The point about the second workshop was basically to come out with a curriculum to educate the children on the value of media and of course use it as a tool to learn, if the teachers find it relevant.

Who stands to benefit most? Every one, of course. For too long we were fond of using that catchy phrase about “developing a knowledge-based society” that is suppose to contribute to the process of democracy. It is an interesting idea. But how do we go about creating a knowledge-based society so that they can come to an informed decision-making process.

If all the stakeholders do not participate in this process, then every one loses out in the process. That is something that we have always failed to understand.

We may claim that the whole process is supposed to benefit the society in general. This may ensure a new generation of young people, plagued with unemployment and other attendant ills, to think of something that will guide them along. The exposure to information and media help them to make choices and prepare them to make those choices.

At the school level, the children just want to know and learn to access different forms of media, which will contribute to their learning process. If children are made aware of the value of media, if not any one at least the media industry will have an increased readership.

Sadly, the participation from the media was rather low. Equally unsatisfactory was also the participation from the education ministry, particularly from groups who knows and how to pilot these new programmes. They are the experts. Media personnel can only contribute. So there is a need for understanding among all the people working towards what the ministry of information and communications is trying to do.

How do we integrate this new idea or are we going to start off with a new subject. As it is the schools curriculum and the teachers are overburdened, to say the least. The only way that this programme will see the light of the day is by integrating it in various relevant subjects. This is a matter that experts, who develop curriculum, know better and should handle it accordingly.

Another important thing is to know the funding process. Is the literacy programme going to end with just a series of meetings and seminars? Or will be continued into the future. For that we need fund.

During the workshop in Paro, some participants pointed our that a particular programme was implemented with such a great gusto, but when the funding came to an end, everything ended up there.

So if we are serious about this media literacy programme, every one on board should be serious and ask if it is relevant. The answer should come more from the education sector.

If so, how do we integrate it into the overall curriculum?

How do we improve the quality of education?

The teachers have been flogged at for too long for not ensuring the quality of education. They have been at the receiving end all along.

Yes, the parent felt that they were not doing a good job. The education ministry or the school department also felt that they were not doing anything good. Of course, it has often said, rather in a derogatory tone, that if you don’t find a job the best option is teaching.

In some way or the other, the nobility of the profession has been degraded with all these debates. And we have lost our sense of respect for the teachers. What is it that has really lead to it is one big question that needs an answer from the ministry that dispenses education and is responsible for a so-called literate society.

In the past, and in all our culture there was always this theory about the transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the pupil. In the Hindu tradition, there was this guru-chela parampara and in Buddhism too, we had the similar tradition. Every teacher passed it down to the next group or the students.

That was the time when writing materials were expensive and not readily available. Every thing had to be transmitted orally, with practical examples. Perhaps, it would do us good to know how Marpa the translator taught Milarepa, one of our great Karguep leaders.

For a sorcerer, it was not easy, according to Buddhist tradition, to attain that level where he can be ordained and be worthy of receiving the teaching. That’s what the master said. At this point in time we don’t want to dispute what the great masters said and their way of teaching.

They did it for what they thought was good for the posterity and for ensuring transmission of knowledge to the future. And they chose their pupils (chelas) accordingly. If they didn’t qualify for the lessons that they were supposed to receive, they were not accepted.

At the time of Socrates, or for that matter, the great Hindu sages or Buddhist lamas who dwelt in the Himalayas teaching the values of religion, we had no formal schools. Everything was oral. It came from the masters to the students.

In Bhutan we follow the same tradition. We still have a great respect for the teachers. Or we had.

When education went on what one may call mass production that is when we went into problem. There is nothing wrong in the concept itself. When every one is educated, the world as a whole is educated. That is good for the world.

But somewhere along the line about this great concept of educating the world, something went wrong.

For one thing, we never gave enough importance to teachers, particularly at the lower level. They slogged at remote places without enough incentives and they were not provided with the right trainings or opportunities to improve their skills.

So, demotivation set in. In some schools, even books failed to arrive in time, forget about the news of change in the curriculum. It was reported that some principals didn’t even realise that there was a change in the curriculum. This is what is called information gap.

Another thing is we have always treated our teachers in an ungenerous manner. More often than not, principals and vice principals have been nominated for workshops and trainings and the workers in a remote school is always neglected.

If teachers are not given the opportunity to upgrade themselves, then we should not complain about the quality.

Some one has to do something about it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Taking tragedy in stride

What nature has in store for us is something we know only after it has happened. It is wild, uncontrollable and unpredictable.

But it is nature that provides us. We have to know how we can keep nature at peace, if that is the word.

That is what we all realised during the recent earthquake that devastated the eastern parts of our country. It is a sad thing. The celebration of Thruebab was subdued.

On the day of Thruebab, a young man wished a friend. The friend expressed his thanks but said that there is no happiness with reports of some 11 people dead in the eastern part of the country.

The person only wanted to express his good wishes on that occasion. But he was taken aback by his friend’s answer. In the course of discussions, he mentioned that his uncle’s house in Udzorong was completely destroyed and he doesn’t know if any one was hurt or not.

Despite this knowledge, he wished his friend happy Thruebab. It takes a lot of courage to do that. It was a sad Thruebab.

Some families lost two to three family members in this disaster. Most of us were so detached from the scene of destruction and devastation that we only have a vague picture of it. That is because it has not directly affected us.

Every death makes us small. Most of all, it is our inability to do anything about it that really makes us so incapacitated and useless. What do we do a about it? We just express our condolences and hope that such a thing will not happen to us.

In their hour of bereavement, the prime minister and the home minister went east to supervise relief operations. The officials from the Zimpoen’s office and the personnel from the Royal Bhutan Army and private citizens are doing a fine job assisting the people in providing some sort of temporary shelter.

Even with all the concerted efforts, it is obvious that the old houses are not going to be restored in time before the winter sets in. Besides, with the Autumn at our door step, it is time that people will have to reap their harvest or whatever is left of it.

Sadly, many of the families will be engaged in performing rites for the dead ones. Death is a business that we, Bhutanese, take very seriously. Our failure to perform our duties towards our dead always haunts us.

The east, for some reason or the other, had always had to bear the brunt of natural calamities. The wind storm that blew away roofs and damaged many houses was a tragedy in itself. Now the recent quake causing massive destruction is absolutely something out of the blue.

It is surprising that the outside agencies had all the details about the gravity of the situation before we even had an inkling of what was going to happen or when it did, how it happened.

As we are in seismic zone, we should have some system of advance warning to enable the people to be prepared. Such arrangement could be made when other agencies were able to come out with the details of the seismic activities in the country before our own agencies could come out with the vaguest details.

Perhaps there is a need for more cooperation and study. We have been too complacent for too long.

Celebrating the victory of good over evil

What makes this day so remarkable. We are celebrating the victory of the good over evil.

Whether you are in Tendrel Thang observing the tsechu or at home going through the rituals of dassai, it means the same thing. Perhaps, the Bhutanese should, both Buddhists and Hindus, realise that the celebration of tsechu and dassai falls on the same day (Thimphu tsechu). Many of us have never even thought of this co-relation between Thimphu tsechu and dassai.

Tsechu is generally a triumph over evil. The tsechu should be observed at three levels. First, at the visual level, when you observe the dances as they unfold on the tsechu ground. This is just what is presented to you on that particular day.

While many young men and women go for the fun and frolic that the day provides, many elders consider the day as sacred. For the tourists, it is just another cultural event which they can record on their handicams and show off to their friends over a glass of beer and a have a good laugh back home.

Similarly, the dassai is also a time for fun for the young people. In fact, it is a day when the elders bestow their best wishes on the younger ones and the younger ones should be paying their respects to their elders.

But times change. Culture changes. Most of all, we all change. What our fathers followed, we never follow. Perhaps, we may express in modern terminology: the demand and supply is not at a consistent level.

Nothing wrong. In fact, it is the time of the year when the flock of tourist who come for this particular festival that adds on to our national economy. It’s a matter of give and take, to be honest.

All these dances have the power that will enable you to see who you meet after your death, and thereby recognise who you shall meet and how one should deal with them.

It is the belief that if we observe them in this life, we will not fear them when they come to us in our afterlife. Watching the dances and understanding what they convey will help us in our journey after death.

That is why old people pay their respects whenever these religious dances are performed.

Incidentally, the festival of dassai also falls on the tenth day of Guru’s birthday. Dassai falls on the tenth day of the Hindu calendar, vijaya dassami, celebrated as the day of king Rama's victory over Ravana, the 10-headed demon king of Lanka who had abducted Rama’s wife, Sita.

The dussehra festival celebration is unique in its perspective and significance. It is the celebration of the victory of good over evil.

What we all should understand is that no matter what faith we follow, we should understand that the essence is the same. After all, we all come from the same source, no matter what the colour, language, faith, dress or the way of our life that is determined by our geography.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Killing a tree is a sin

Killing a tree is a sin

It was under a Bodhi tree that Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. The tree provided shelter to the Lord who meditated under it and unravelled the source of all problems.

To say that the tree is the source of everything is a little bit far-fetched. But to put it plainly, there are many uses of trees. Shall we list them? Well, they provide shade against the summer heat, shelter us from rains, provides us with fuel wood, timber to build houses. Before the bailey and suspension bridges were built in the country, we used timber to construct Bazam over the streams and rivers.

Of course, trees give us fruits that sustain us. It sustains our water system by absorbing the access runoff water, cleans the atmosphere in which we live by cutting down on the carbondioxide that that is emitted into the atmosphere. They ensure that landslides don’t occur when there is a heavy rainfall.

Places where large scale deforestation has taken place are the most landslide prone areas. Even when we clear the forest for cultivation, we have to ensure that there is enough forest cover for the stability of the area. There was a time when Bhutanese used to engage in large scale tseri (slash and burn) cultivation. That was the time when there was enough land for every one. That was also the time when a family owned landholdings both in the warm and the cold regions and they used to migrate from one place to another.

Over the years, as population grew the landholdings got divided and some began encroaching into the forest land. That was the time when we started misusing the forest and the land. That was also the time when we should have started land and forest management in earnest.

At least in Bhutan, we realized in time that we have to preserve the environment before it is too late. Realizing its value, the Constitution has mandated that forest coverage in the kingdom should not be less than 60 percent at any given time.

However, we as Buddhists are placed in a funny situation. One might even say that our tradition conflicts with our environmental goals. Even as our hillsides are covered under trees, prayer flags dot the strategic spurs. These flags are dedicated to our deceased ones. The more flags you hoist, clearer the path becomes for the dead soul.

But nothing less that 108 trees have to be killed as part of the ritual. The Jains would be flabbergasted if they were to visit our hillsides dotted with prayer flags. They believe trees and plants are living beings. The animal kingdom is another story.

The forestry officials are in a quandary. Reports say that there is a high demand for prayer flag poles and every day some 165 trees are felled for the poles and the pressure is mounting. People usually prefer tall and straight poles for prayer flags. The forest department is doing its best in allotting the trees. They look into aspect such as thinning wherever required. But how long will it go on at the rate demand for flag poles is increasing?

The concept of metal poles, which are reusable, for some reason never caught the fancy of our people. Using bamboo poles is another alternative. But it is not available whenever you want them.

So what is the alternative?

Educating a child is a two-way street

So the teachers are between the little devils and the deep sea. This sounds a little bit unacceptable but then this is what it looks like.

Going by the trend, of course this is not applicable everywhere and in all the instances; it would seem that the teachers would be more in the courtroom than the class room. Somewhere along the line we have to come to an understanding.

The root cause, as every one points out is that corporal punishment has been abolished. The teachers who mete out corporal punishment, more often than, will be liable for reprimand, if not other legal actions by the department. Ultimately, there is the danger of being dragged to the court either by the student or the parent.

It is not a nice situation for a teacher to be in. Consider the possibility of having to handle seven 45-minute of classes in a day. What will you receive at the end of the day. Lots of headaches, and going through the process of correcting a pile of home works.

Well, don’t complain. That is what you always wanted. You loved children. That is what we will say to the teachers.

Besides, teaching is a noble profession. The only problem is that the nobility of the profession is under fire.

We still have so many vacancies in the teaching cadre and many a graduate is not willing to join it. Going by the statistics, the need for teachers, trained and qualified ones, will be there for another 30 years or so.

We have always been speaking of the low quality of education. The tendency is to blame the teachers. It is obvious to every one that the quality of teachers compromises the quality of education. But there should be a way out of it. Haven’t we learnt our lesson?

Some system of improving the system should have been in place by now, considering that one of the greatest teachers is heading the education ministry. We should also realize that pointing a finger at others is not going to solve the problem. Every one is doing their job. Yet certain loopholes in the system don’t allow us to give our best.

So where do we begin?

It has already become a cliché to say that charity begins at home. It is felt that home is where everything should begin. Now the parents might say that the teachers are dumping their work on them.

The point is that if the plant hasn’t been watered well and nurtured in the nursery, then its growth will always be stunted. So is it with the children.

If they are not given the right sense of direction, the proper care, most of all, love and understanding, they will never come into the fold. Of course, not every child is expected to follow the required direction. What we always fail to understand is that with all the warts and quirks, the children have their own talents that need nurturing.

So blaming the children for their lack of discipline, which should have been inculcated at home, is not going to help. Nor will blaming the teachers enable parents to rid themselves of the guilt that is under the surface.

You may put your child in the best school or institution. But at the end of the day, it will only prove to be waste of money, time and efforts. Because, educating a child is a two-way street.

Friday, May 1, 2009

wake up call

A The glacial lake outburst flood (glof) that occurred on 29 April was a wake up call for all of us. For some reason, after the construction of Phochu embankments to save Punakha Dzong following the 1994 floods, we sort of pushed the fact to the back of our minds.
Some 15 years later the spectre of glof came back to haunt us. What were we doing all these time? As the Prime Minister said, if it had been a real flood like the one that happened in 1994, it would have resulted in massive destruction of both human lives and public properties, because we were not prepared for it.
The 1994 floods at least made us set up out posts that would inform us of the impending danger. It was a right approach. But it wasn’t enough.
Since then we had been conducting various studies and a disaster mitigation project had also been set up to look into it. The recent one took us by surprise.
The snow and the glacier at the high mountains had been melting at an alarming rate. Here we are not concerned with statistics. That is the area of the geologists and others experts who are suppose to plan activities to manage disaster. We the common people are concerned with hard facts if something of 1994 repeats.
It shows the concern of the government when we realised that His Majesty the king with other members of the royal family and ministers and other officials hurried to Punakha when the news was relayed. It indicates the concern that our leadership has for the welfare of the people.
We have all heard of the world melting down. We are not talking of the economic meltdown. We are talking of the melting of the snow and glaciers in the Himalayas. If the facts are correct Mount Everest will come down by four metres at the rate the world is warming up. The Himalayas, the water tank of Asia will not be able to feed the numerous rivers that feed the valleys in Nepal, India or China.
Similarly if our lakes in Lunana burst their banks, our rivers will dry up. Floods are just one time problem. Our problem is the lack of accumulation of snow on these catchment areas that provides us with a perennial source of drinking and irrigation water.
With the warming up, the ice that used to hold up the moraine banks between the lakes are weakening and the rising water level will flow down. If it were just an overflow from a lake that was brimming up; it isn’t much of a concern. The danger is that our water tanks in Lunana and other mountain areas may dry up.
Our fertile mid-Himalayan valleys and further down in the south would be deprived of water. What that means to 80 percent of our farmers is another story.
That’s the time when statistics don’t help.