Mar 25, 2013

Poems to Ponder

Tells you what a difference a good, loving, caring teacher can make. My 12 year old son who was more into Math and less into English, reading, and writing, shocked me yesterday with a 100% on his poetry assignment.

He loves his English teacher Ms. Shelly Garza, and no wonder he made an effort in his poetry assignment. I was blown away by how good his poems were - I am his mother, after all ;) - but even then I just thought I would share them. I did share my daughter's poem years ago and it is only fair that I share his too.

DEATH  ~ by Liam Namgay Lanigan 12, Grade 7 American Community School, Abu Dhabi

Death is a robber in the night
creeping in slyly, grabbing
the most valuable items it can find.
Its like a destructive wave
washing over,
catching up to everyone trying to evade it.
Some are closer to it than others
and at one point deaths wave will catch up to


GO AWAY! They are poking me with those cold dirty fingers of theirs
I can't take it when they're pressed up in my head,
all I can do is release my Anger and ask
Why wouldn't I?
Why didn't I?
I try to forget them, yet they stay and poke me with their
cold, dirty fingers.

THE SCHOOL WINDOW - mood (gloomy)

Looking out these barred windows
when will I get out of here?
The warden is lecturing..... again
My mind is blank
The only thing I hear is the clock ticking
and soon enough my time will be done
but for now I am looking out the
School Window

IN THIS WORLD - imagery

In this world there are colors splashed around everywhere
like paint splatters splashed around on a plain white canvas
In this world there are people
in all different, shapes, sizes and color
like pieces on a jigsaw puzzle, every piece fits in.

Sep 5, 2012

Bhutan: Some Thoughts on the Anti-Corruption Commission Findings on Gyelposhing Land Case

This morning some members of the Bhutanese twitterati/twitterratzi broke news about the conclusion of the ACC investigation of the Gyelpoishing Land case. If you aren't familiar with the case you can refer to Business Bhutan's story for the background.  It implicates several senior officials including the Prime Minister as having acquired land illegally from villagers. The villagers claimed that they had made repeated complaints but that their voices were not heard or heeded to. The ACC has now put a freeze notice on all the plots that were acquired as a result. (Sorry I don't think it's all. Only some?)

I am told that Kuensel/Business Bhutan? first broke the story and then The Bhutanese. Here is a later piece that they wrote. Since then other newspapers like Bhutan Times have also written about this case.

The ACC investigation concludes that "of 99 plots allotted, 67 (14.12 acres) were illegal. Genja terms and conditions, signed between the local authority and the plot beneficiaries, were not enforced." This means that 32 plots were indeed availed legally.

While the allegations have come largely against the current PM, and his name has repeatedly come up especially amongst people who want to see justice (or should I say draw blood) on this issue by making a great deal of noise on social media, it says a great deal/brings to light many things about the system in our country. 

i) This transaction happened before the elections in 2008. Prior to 2008 there were probably many more land dealings that were made in a similar manner, involving many other names, that have yet to see their time come at the ACC office. If Kuensel did not bring this to light, and other newspapers had not covered it in depth, nobody would have ever known so this is a case in point of press freedom and how far the media in Bhutan has come today. It also shows how far some are really sticking their necks out to bring truth to light. This to date is probably one of the most serious cases ever that has been unearthed by the Bhutanese media.

ii) To me, this case speaks a great deal about the hierarchical system and that very little has changed. Hence, the questions and the analysis/introspection into/of ourselves as a society should not end there. There are many more questions we need to ask. One is that of the government employees and how they see "service" to King, Country and People. Many of our officials are more concerned about securing their positions, their gains, and playing safe. At the same time there are also many who dedicate themselves tirelessly, with little recognition and benefits. And so in this case we have the role of the "in-between" officials like the Dzongda in question. In the Prime Minister's rebuttal to the allegations, he said that "No complaints have been registered in the Dzongkhag in this regard. Therefore, it is absolutely untrue that there are people who are still aggrieved." 

This statement made by the PM could be true or untrue. True; because our "in-between" officials are sometimes - in their quest to please the authorities and curry favour, or not risk losing their jobs or promotions - very good at hiding reality and not giving people in power the true picture on the ground/ providing incorrect information. They may also do this because they are under pressure from authorities. Either way we have an example from the elections in 2008, PDP workers probably painted the wrong picture for their candidates running for election simply to curry favour or because they were under pressure? The PM's answer could also be Untrue, that he was indeed informed by the Dzongda of grievances, but he failed to heed. According to the ACC report, however, it appears that the villagers did indeed complain but the Dzongda seemingly brushed it away.

Whatever the case, each and every person involved in these allegations now has to take a look at themselves and ask these questions. Did we act without knowing, or with the full knowledge that we were depriving innocent civilians/ villagers/farmers, who have next to nothing, but their land.

We should not be quick to jump to conclusions or draw blood from the buyers either because ours is a complicated system. Had they been lied to by the Dzongda or the official in between who brought forth the land prospect simply to please them? This is something not unknown/or alien in our society. Often the people at the top are not only naive but foolish not to ask the right questions and see through this or deliberately ignore the reality.

Then again, it says a lot for the people who are in these positions; holding offices and having a certain standing in Bhutanese society you are expected not to exploit that position. That because of who you are you simply cannot take undue advantage of the system and its loopholes to enrich yourself. 

Will this case help in adjusting many things in our system? Will Dzongda's or for that matter any official now look at their roles more differently? That they are really there to look into the interests of the people and not the powers that be; Whether their jobs are worth saving more than the livelihood of innocent farmers and villagers? 

It is at a time like this that each government employee should be looking into himself and asking that question. Would I have forgone that opportunity myself if I had been approached with one?  For, more often than not, we are looked upon as fools if we didn't/don't seize such opportunities to benefit ourselves and our families, and made great examples of when we do. It is entrenched in the way we think. 

Captain Sonam Rinchen was a man who was, in his heyday, a Captain in the army (at that time in the 80's, a very senior position) and then later a Dzongrab.  Today he is a poor farmer. To the people who know him, he is an example of what not to be. "He didn't take his opportunity" ( to use the exact words) - kho zhung na dhoebdha za ma shebay/ while he was in the govt he didn't know how to eat. Implying that he didn't know how to "use or misuse" opportunities to his own advantage; is what I have heard people say.  But to the people who really know him well, Captain Sonam Rinchen at the cost of a nice building/house and a car to drive, served as a dedicated, honest, straightforward man to his King, Country and People, and retired with little. The world or all of Bhutan doesn't need to know of his humble contributions, there are many like him; but he knows what he's done and I am sure there is someone else too.   

“To know what is right and not to do is the worst cowardice.” ~ Confucius

Sep 2, 2012

The Full Interview on Anonymity on Twitter in Bhutan

With the spate in personal attacks in Bhutan through the misuse of "Anonymity" on social media forums like Twitter, I gave two interviews; one to Kuensel and another to an anthropology student working on a dissertation on social media behaviour in Bhutan.

One was published, the other I never heard from. However, I am posting my answers to Kuensel here. You can see why they really couldn't (for lack of space and because my answers were too long) print everything ;)

1. In your view, what does this reflect about Bhutanese society and freedom of expression? Is freedom of expression not possible in Bhutan? 

Yes, it is very interesting that there are so many anonymous tweeters now. I think the need to go anonymous can really be misinterpreted by some to think that there is a serious lack of freedom to express in Bhutan, but that is a misconception. In a society like ours, where everybody knows everyone, I think it speaks more for, and reveals the level of comfort people have in expressing him/herself. Because of the nature of Bhutanese society it can be very uncomfortable for some to make criticisms or speak out against certain people without ruffling feathers/upsetting friends/ relatives. It is not that there isn't freedom of expression, but that freedom of open expression will always be something that will not be fully executed by those  who don't have the courage to do so without sacrificing being liked for who they are or what they say. Freedom of expression is possible and we are seeing it is. Just ten years ago, the things that are being said in Bhutan would be unimaginable and would have costs. Anyone who says there isn't freedom of expression today in Bhutan has probably misinterpreted the reasons for their own discomfort because of the nature of belonging to a small society, with that of a real restriction to that freedom. This is something that no matter what law/legislation is brought into effect - to protect the person/journalist- will it help ease that discomfort. Belonging to a small society where everyone knows everyone will be the shackles for some/those people who  feel inhibited and hence choose anonymity. You cannot blame that on a lack of freedom to express. But that being said, people should also understand that even with freedom of expression you do not have the liberty of spreading hatred; being a misogynist; defaming; making false accusations; racial,sexual and ethnic slurs against anybody. Even in a free world or in societies which gave birth to the concept/ notion of freedom of expression and the press, these things aren't tolerated. And the danger with anonymity or masking is that it can unleash that side to some people because of the safety it provides.

2. You are vocal in your views. You were very vocal if I remember correctly during the campaign to amend the tobacco control Act. Why do you not choose to mask your identity? Is it in anyway connected to the fact that you are not employed in the government, or living in Bhutan? 

I have no problem with anonymity or masking identities. I think it is necessary in societies where there is no freedom of speech or expression or in societies like ours which is small and hence provide its own hurdles. And it is understandable if people want anonymity because really people do get upset over anything you say. Then again, you cannot blame people for not getting upset by what you say because this is just the nature of how people are. There is a price to pay when one is vocal and speaks out without masking your identity. In some places you pay with imprisonment, in societies like ours you risk being liked or popular. If I was going to be imprisoned I would go undercover but if it is sacrificing being liked or popular; really? I only have a problem with anonymity when it is misused by people to say things of and to people that they would otherwise NEVER say if their identities were revealed. Anonymity is very empowering. It can allow you to do/say many things that you cannot otherwise, and I think people tend to get carried away especially when they know that they can't get caught.

I make as much noise as I can when there is social injustice. I made a lot of noise during the Tobacco Act because people were being imprisoned unfairly. I don't make much noise otherwise except commenting or letting people know how I feel about a situation. The latest twitter battles I had were because I felt that some were really abusing their anonymity. 

3. Have you ever faced any kind of discrimination/malpractice/questionable actions based on your opinions online, when in Bhutan?

Oh I feel it - the dislike, for being outspoken. I have not faced any outright discrimination but I know that some people really don't like me for my outspokenness or my views. On twitter I have been attacked and said things to simply because I spoke out and told people what I thought. I could go anonymous and save myself from dislike, but I think I can give myself more credit and say that I do have what it takes to be myself. 

Bhutan: Update on Social Media and Anonymity

The last few months, as I said earlier, have been very interesting on the social media front.

Given my outspoken/opinionated nature and coming from a very, very small society (Bhutan's population is .5 million and of that only a very small percentage is on twitter and about 70,000 on Facebook) it has made it even more interesting and difficult.

For one, because I am a stay at home mother who has the time to tweet, I do. Hence I wonder how in the world all these anonymous tweeters who claim they are working for the government and are afraid to speak up under their own ID's find the time to tweet to glory at the government and tax-payers expense! Now you can judge why nothing moves in the Bhutanese government. Many are busy airing their political grievances or engaging in mindless gossip instead of doing their work. Others, I am sure, don't work in the government, don't have jobs (like me) or have never held a steady job in their lives. And not to generalize or say it is wrong, there are some (probably govt workers too) on Twitter who are making/bringing meaningful information to the people through this forum. And even if they are not, I am not saying it is not ok to criticize the govt. There is nothing wrong with that. But like it or not, there is an etiquette even in doing so, and while there are no written laws for what you can and cannot say on social media, there is an unwritten one - there is no room for instigating hatred, racism, misogyny etc. Even in the height of Bush bashing in the US, you never saw anyone personally attacking his wife or children (only until of course they did something wrong; like one of them tried to get into a bar on a fake ID or something like that.  Same goes for Obama, his wife and children are off limits. Tells you how much we have yet to learn on social etiquette no matter on or offline!)

I was attacked before when I called on this, and even last week. But last week, however, it got very personal when one tweeter dragged in his/her living room gossip hoping to crucify me. I hate myself for it, but I did take the bait once again to get sucked into it.

But these very negative developments on twitter have been noticed and happening not only in Bhutan but also around the world. London, during the Olympics, experienced/saw such ugly cyber-bullying on twitter that tougher laws on monitoring these sites were suggested.

In India, things went to an extreme when 40 people were killed and as good as 400,000 were displaced as a result of ethnic fighting which authorities said were sparked by instigations and inciting from Facebook, Twitter, Texts and YouTube. According to some, the fear and hate mongering instigations were based on false information and doctored videos posted online by people belonging to hate groups. 

The Indian government, amidst much criticism, cracked down on these sites as rogues had taken to using this otherwise wonderful tool to unleash such hate and destruction. It is unfortunate to see what can happen when people who use this tool/internet to connect to the world and enhance their knowledge of it, have to suffer as a result of the misuse of some. It was good that sites like Facebook and search engines like Google cooperated with the Indian govt to remove the content and bring perpetrators to justice, but Twitter, it seems, did not cooperate.

The situation in Bhutan's own Cyberworld hasn't been as bad fortunately, but we have seen the beginnings of it. Apart from my own posts 2 papers, Kuensel and Business Bhutan, came out with good analytical pieces on what is happening on that front. 

It seems many have been taking cue from the international so called "hacktivist" group called Anonymous to think they are "fighting" for a "cause". But while the group Anonymous has done good work in advocating Wikileaks and fighting the US govt on the internet freedoms front, it must be remembered that it also resorts to "illegal" means to do this. And thinking that they are emulating such bravado as that group, some Bhutanese tweeters have taken every liberty to misuse being "Anonymous." 

This is a great and V interesting piece (must read) about one of the founding members of Anonymous, who eventually turned around and went to work with the FBI. It tells you a great deal of his background, how it came about and that without laws, the internet can be a very dangerous place and people have to/should be more responsible. 

People in Bhutan should remember that we are a "unique" society. Not because of GNH, but because we are a "small" society where everyone knows everyone. We are also a society that has not (at least up until now) seen the horrible things that happen in other societies, happen in ours. Understood that ours is not a perfect one either and that there is always room for improvement. We can all contribute to that through reasonable and sound discourse rather than making personal attacks on people. Agreeing to disagree; respecting that others have a different point of view is something we need to respect - well that would indeed be a wish come true ;) I guess, even in the virtual world there is no ideal society like we claim/dupe ourselves into thinking we have in the real one ;)

Jul 19, 2012

Bhutan: Unbridled Freedom in Anonymity and its Misuse

All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

After experiencing the interesting and rather disconcerting developments on the Bhutanese Twittersphere recently I was contemplating a blogpost but lacked the focus and time. Knowing that I will be uprooting in 2 days from NY, I've been feeling like an ADHD person on crack (just saying, I don't know what it feels like to be on crack ;) but ADHD deprived of sleep? yes!)

However, another blogger/writer Jurmi Chhowing (twitter handle @Telling Talisman) who had, I presume, already experienced or seen these developments as early as 2011 wrote articulately about it (Putting a gag on gossip.) I think that while the Bhutanese media landscape has seen many newspapers and forums, people should branch out and read citizen media perspectives like his that reflect online societal behaviour of the Bhutanese and perhaps learn something about online social mores. There is a difference between being outspoken and being racist/derogatory/lewd/spreading fear and hatred.

Well, I could/should say, most of the attacks became personal (directed mostly towards me) after I took it upon myself to speak out against some of the very personal attacks against mostly one person, the Prime Minister. There is a difference between criticism and making very personal attacks. I think this is something that many who have recently taken to tweeting/posting on very public forums like twitter, have not been able to distinguish. (One of the charges against me was my comment following the Wangdidzong fire. The comment I made might have been inflammatory as it was seen questioning the wealth of the Dratshang, but I don't see how questioning one institution against another is any different. If people have questions for the government, can I not question the Dratsang?)

Else, they may have thought that under a pseudonym or a guise they could treat it like, a forum in which Bhutanese took to ranting/airing their grievances against anybody. (The forum shut down last year) More often than not, they became vicious and personal in their posts. But the information provided there, although more gossip and rumours than fact, was still informative in the sense that it reflected how people were thinking or capable of thinking. It is essential to have forums where people use words to channel their frustrations. Nevertheless, it is also important as individuals who are on these forums to be responsible and accountable for what they say and not use the unbridled freedom to make false allegations and crucify an individual (whether the PM, the Opposition Leader, or any other person they may not like)

In forums such as, people were all under false identities so anyone who logged into it knew that a lot of what was said was hearsay/opinions/rumours that had to be corroborated. People crossed the line all the time so nobody really relied on that forum for the absolute truth. Yet, a lot of the information posted there "could have" influenced the elections of 2008 when a certain person with the avatar "commonman" wrote/posted maniacally against one of the contending candidates in that election. The candidate lost by huge margins and common man was never heard from again. I don't think anybody knows who he was or what happened to him.

As a citizen journalist who has been active on social media forums (on twitter since 2010 and blogging since 2009 solely to stay abreast of the issues and voice my views on Bhutan and issues of social justice) I can say that it was different on the Bhutanese Twitter sphere. It was very civil with most people tweeting under their own names, but that was until about a month ago (or even a few weeks ago).

Signs of hatred, bigotry, male chauvinism, and racism were pretty evident on the forum and because people could write anonymously, the venting took place full swing. Like I said until about a few weeks ago, this was non-existent on the Bhutanese twitter sphere then suddenly a host of anonymous users cropped up and comments/posts to malign, shame and tarnish others all under anonymity crept into that forum too.

Other Bhutanese on twitter probably won't see it the way I do because they may not be as outspoken or simply not care.  When I called out one who crossed the line with a lewd joke on the PM's name with his private parts, I tried to ask people to be civil only to be viciously attacked myself by a host of tweeters with fake ID's.  To them, it is either you see it our way, or no way. Although the person who made that lewd tweet and I had a civilized interaction during, which I presume he/she got my point on why we didn't have to descend that low to air ones political grievances, others still didn't seem to get the point. One even went on to refer to the PM (whom he clearly loathed)  as "Lyonchen Jigmi Yoser Rai." For him, he thought he was derogating the PM with the mere attachment of the Lhotsham (Southern Bhutanese) name "Rai", but he was also derogating an ethnic group too. This was pretty revelatory of segregation at work in Bhutanese society; of how low one can stoop to make a point.

It is pretty obvious from my interaction with them on Twitter and from a comment left on my blogpost under "My Village Aunt", that if you are a Bhutanese living outside of Bhutan (like myself, or maybe just me, because of my outspokenness) we/I have no right to comment, write or speak about anything in Bhutan. Criticism is something only "they" can make. This is because you or I who, even though we are Bhutanese, by virtue of living outside Bhutan, don't know anything. If we elect these people into office I won't be surprised to see a legislation which might make this a law, so talk about people living in glass houses throwing stones at others - or as one Tweeter said; "Those of you who do not like people who fart, should not fart either." Right back @ you MPTsheringPenjo ;)

No matter who it is (even if it is one of these people themselves being subjected to it) I would stand up for them. I also know one has to pay a price - to get sucked into time consuming debates on what constitutes crossing lines (even on free forums like social media) and taking the brunt for it. But I am no stranger to being ridiculed. I was threatened with imprisonment once in public at a social gathering and I have seen how people around you will react once you have been ostracized by an influential figure.  So it was nothing strange to see that on Twitter either. People choosing to embrace silence or joining in with the crowd that appeared to think alike and swing insults. Some played safe, one tweeter even apologized where there was no real need to."Don't mean to hurt anybody," he said, "As far as I know PM does it himself," he said, responding to allegations that PM's speeches were written by somebody else.

Without getting into details of these arguments on whether the PM is right or wrong, good or bad; whether tweeting under false names or fake ID's is right or wrong, good or bad; I don't think personal attacks, racist, bigoted and derogatory remarks should be tolerated. My readers, or people who know me, can judge that I have critiqued the PM on his policies and even his government on issues I have not agreed with and praised him where i felt he deserved it. The elections are around the corner, and Bhutanese who play dirty, partisan politics are doing nothing but a great dis-service to their fellow Bhutanese and their country. The Opposition Leader has single-handedly, tweeting under his own name and ID, managed to achieve much. I would think that others who don't approve of this government or the PM, don't have to look anywhere else for a role model for what they want to achieve. In fact I think the Opposition leader alone was doing a good enough job of debating the issues without having these fake ID's latch onto him and erode his credibility in the process.

To show you how unsettling these developments became one Bhutanese tweeter even said: "I was excited when I first joined the twitter, I'm beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable."

I am all for free speech and I have no problem with anonymity. But even in a world of unbridled freedom where we can criticize our way to glory, there is no room for racism/bigotry/sexism and lewdness.

Jun 11, 2012

Bhutan: Asking To Be Spoon-fed Again?

A well-respected and prominent Bhutanese journalist who has a large following in Bhutan recently posted on his Facebook wall : "Bhutan one day could be crippled by political corruption which is why the institution of Monarchy is so important for the long term stability and the continued existence of Bhutan."

In Bhutan - where the Kings have been loved/are loved, where the institution of monarchy is highly respected because of all five King's who have placed the interest and the welfare of the country and people before themselves for as long as a 100 years - a statement like this seems fair and taken at face value it is well meaning.

It, however, takes much more to see through such a statement; especially when it is coming from a journalist who has built his reputation with great investigative pieces that have exposed large scale corruption leading him to become extremely popular and held in high regard by the common people. 

While in all fairness the journalist has a right to make any ambiguous statements he wants, I sought more clarification because I really wanted to know if there was more to what he meant with this statement. Was he :  i) asking that Bhutan eventually return to being a monarchy ii) that the monarchy have more say in the present system or iii) that the institution of monarchy which is a constitutional monarch, continue to remain this way?

Again, let me reiterate, taken at face value it is a fair statement in that the Institution of Monarchy is important and does provide the checks and balances to a democratic system. However, we need to strike the right balance and Bhutan - as of now - does have that, and I wanted to be clear that that was what he was implying.

Jun 4, 2012

Bhutan: Please, A Little Sympathy and Understanding for Our Youth

Four students from Yangchenphug High School ranging from ages 17 to 21 were sentenced from 2 and a half to 5 years in prison on May 31 for allegedly attacking a school caretaker and trying to steal exam questions.

This is not the only incident in which we have seen young people in Bhutan involved in such violence and senseless acts of crime. Amongst the many other news reports on increasing youth violence and criminal activity, there was also this incident during which one young man was sadly, killed.

But what is missing from every newspaper that I have read is who these children are; where they come from; what kind of life/childhood they had; who their parents were/are (if there are any. And I don't mean naming names). As somebody who is interested in these social developments in my country, that was once rightly known for its peaceful way of life, and where violence and crime to this scale by young people was rare if not non-existent, I am curious to know more about them than just the crime itself.

From all that the newspapers cover day in and day out about how many young people are involved in beatings, robberies, violence, attacks, drug abuse and overdoses, we know NOTHING about who these kids are, where they come from, and what their childhoods were like. In essence we know next to NOTHING about them.  Believe me, if the journalists covering these stories were more interested in adopting this approach; taking an interest in the lives of these people who are involved in such crimes, we as a society would and could probably arrive at a better understanding of the cause and begin to view these problems in a different light. Of course like any society we will never be without them, but we will better equipped to deal with it in a way where we  address the causes and the problems with a better understanding of the issue thereby mitigating the negative repercussions that will arise from our handling of it otherwise.

May 15, 2012

Bhutan Rupee Issue: There Are Two Sides To A Coin

This piece was written a while ago (last month) for Kuensel (not by me but by my husband). I am just posting it here for reference for my readers who may be looking for more information on the Rupee Issue. 

May 14, 2012

Age of Consent Being Rethought in India

Just last month when I was in India, I caught sight of a story on the front page of The Times of India: "Court urges rethink on age of consent". With great curiosity I noted that even though Bhutan has just become a democracy (2008) compared with India (1947) it seems like they are still behind or lagging in that discussion which Bhutan - thanks to media probing it - has already been having for a while.

Just goes to show that what I had been saying all along about this law when it was passed in Bhutan  -resulting in the unnecessary imprisonment of so many young people - stands the same everywhere. Implementing such laws with black and white rulings by justice systems is having same impact in India.

This was one piece I wrote (Information Please) about Bhutan's age of consent law when it was first passed making the Age of Consent 18 and below. It seems India is running into the same problems.
Here is another piece (about 2 students that were arrested in Bhutan with regards to Age of Consent).

On 20th November 2010 the National Assembly in Bhutan took a second look at the law and if I am not mistaken the Age of Consent was brought down from 18 to 16.  Hopefully this helps reduce the number of unnecessary imprisonments, but more importantly it will be how the justice system executes careful jurisprudence in looking at these cases in Bhutan, and hopefully India will find its answers too.