Part V and VI

As with every other places and societies around the world, in Bhutan too blind faith in the practice of religion have been impediments to growth and progress. I do not imply that religious beliefs hinder advancement but certainly religion can be a very powerful force that can bend minds to espouse the most ridiculous of beliefs and attitudes.

Puritanical/dogmatic religious beliefs:

In Tongzhang village in Trashiyangtse, I met Pento and his wife who live in a patch of land that measures only 16 decimals. They have three small children – the eldest aged 7 years goes to the local Community School. Pento has no idea how he is going to support his son’s further education once he finish Class VI – he cannot even begin to imagine how he is going to support his college education – if the boy ever gets to that stage. For now, he supports his family by working as a day worker with the roads department.

I asked him why he didn’t rear livestock such as chicken and pigs to generate some cash. He wouldn’t hear of it. According to him he will not succumb to “Dhig pa ka lai (enterprise of sin)”. He believes that rearing livestock is sinful.

Much later, I met the animal husbandry officer of the gewog. He corroborates the sentiments of Pento. The officer tells me that religion has been the bane of his existence in Tongzhang. It has interfered with his work – in fact he has been so completely frustrated by the strange religious belief that is prevalent in the village that he thinks his presence there is a waste of time. I asked him to explain.

The village of Tokaphu in Tongzhang gewog is the birthplace of the immensely revered Lam Namkhai Ningpo. Apparently some of the Lam’s zealous followers spread the word that rearing of poultry and pigs is sinful and inappropriate for the people of Tongzhang because it is the birthplace of the high Lama. Thus, officer has not been able to convince the people in the locality to accept the free chicks and piglets that his department has been trying to distribute – to supplement their income and to improve their livelihood.

Baby sitting:

In the traditional Bhutanese society, baby-sitting is a chore performed by the grandparents. That tradition is perpetuated today as well, primarily because Immigration rules do not allow the employment of none-national baby sitters. Thus, old parents from villages now migrate to urban centers, to tend to the children of their children, thereby contributing to Goongtong. Although negligible, I believe that they still amount to a few thousand. Where young couples do not have aged parents to take on the chore, they lure young girls from rural villages to take on the role of baby sitting.

Incidences of displacement and destitution of the old and the aged parents have been reported – in the course of taking up the responsibility of baby-sitting. When old couples move to take up lodgings with their sons and daughters to baby-sit their grandchildren, they lock up their village homes, sell off their disposables and migrate – unmindful of the impermanent nature of life. Sometimes there is sudden and unexpected demise of their son or daughter. That is when they are completely and totally displaced – leaving them only one option – to return to their ancestral home that they have abandoned and forsaken, to attempt and restart life all over again.

In some cases, the old parents get separated because they have two children located at two different places that need help. The old parents go separate ways in an attempt to try and ease the lives of their children. Tragically – at times the separation becomes permanent.

Part VI

Recalling that we have a reputation for dramatically inconsistent population figures, I wondered: do the gewogs and the local government authorities take into account the demographic fluctuations caused by Goongtongs? Do they use the population figures based on the recorded census data or, on the real population on the ground – after accounting for the Goongtongs?

Divergent census vs real population:

It turns out that for the purpose of the imposition of zhabto lemi/goongdung woola, they apply the census figures. Those households who are only partially Goongtongs see this as unfair because they have to take on the burden of those who have already migrated but who still remain to be registered under their Goongs. The gewog and local government officials attempt to impose zhabto lemi/goongdung woola on the absentee registrants of the Goontongs and also on those who are not Goontongs but whose census is still recorded in the gewogs. However, the absentees remain unimpressed and refuse to contribute on the grounds that they do not derive any benefits from any of the developmental initiatives in the villages. Ultimately this anomaly becomes the basis and grounds for further Goongtongs because the few that remain in the ancestral homes tire of the system and move out of the villages.

All things considered, it would be interesting to understand the implications of applying the census data – particularly if it is applied for seeking and obtaining annual budgetary allocations for development projects by local leaders. Because of the large-scale incidence of Goongtongs, the census figures in the Eastern parts of the country cannot accurately reflect the real population figures. Thus, the census data cannot be the basis for allocation of resources simply because the real figures tell a different story.

It will be interesting to find out whether or not the gewog and the local government officials based their projections to the central government, based on the true population figures. If not, they could be implicated on grounds of obtaining funds based on false and inflated figures.

I also get the sneaky feeling that the gewog and the local government officials deliberately conceal the real population figures – because the truth about reduced population figures could mean reduced budgetary allocations.

Contributed by

Yeshey Dorji

Photographer & Blogger