For the residents of about 190 households in Narang chiwog, Mongar, the tshogpa not only serves as their representative but also helps them when they lose a family member.

The tshogpa, Kanjur Tshering, 35, was elected in 2016 but the villagers appointed him as a ‘phajo’ for the chiwog last year.

His role as a ‘phajo’ is to help the people as an astrologer and conduct rituals when a family member dies.

Kanjur Tshering said one or two people die in the chiwog in a month and he fulfils his duty as an astrologer and as ‘choenep’.

He said villagers appointed him as a ‘phajo’ since he learned astrology at Drametse lhakhang with a friend. “My friend served as ‘phajo’ for three years and it is now my turn. My grandparents were ‘phajos’ too.”

A villager from Narang chiwog, Sonam Jamtsho, said people of the four chiwogs appointed the tshogpa as ‘phajo’ since there was no ‘phajo’ in the chiwog after the former ‘phajo’ resigned.

He said although there are lay monks and gomchens, who served as ‘phajos’ they are old now. “The ‘phajo’ has to be in the house of the deceased every evening and morning to serve meals to the dead.”

There are, however, some residents in the chiwog who complain that an elected representative should not be allowed to serve as ‘phajo’.

A villager, on the condition of anonymity, said the tshogpa should not participate in religious activities, as it contravenes Election Act and Constitution, which states registered lay monks, gomchen, lama, rinpoche and truelku should be apolitical. “

He said that if an elected member could work for religious activities, Election Commission or dzongkhag election officials should monitor it.

He also said the ‘phajo’ is paid Nu 50 from every household in a year. “The victim’s family also pays him when they consult him and seek his service.”

There are also others who say that a tshogpa is not a politician and should be allowed to serve as ‘phajo’ as long as it doesn’t affect his works. “He is not a politician.”

Gomchu chiwog tshogpa in Narang gewog, Sangay Tashi, said the tshogpa could serve as ‘phajo’ as long as it doesn’t conflict with his tshogpa duties.

Narang gup Tandin Wangchuk said that the Election Act and the Constitution doesn’t specify that a tshogpa cannot serve as a ‘phajo’. “Kanjur Tshering doesn’t neglect his duty as a tshogpa and he is only helping the people.”

Tashi Phuntsho | Mongar