It was a simple occasion, when former judge Ugyen Tenzin surrendered his kabney and patang to the Royal Privy Council yesterday. But there is more than just handing over a kabney and a patang.
The judge is the second senior official to do so, bringing alive the tradition of Zhidu, a tradition where individuals, honoured with symbols of power and position, hand over the paraphernalia to the one who bestowed it. The honours are bestowed to the position, and it is a wise decision to hand them over when they retire from the position, whether they are retiring after superannuation, or getting transferred to other positions.
More so the decision is becoming more relevant, considering that we are going through dramatic changes in terms of our political system. Kabney or patang, for that matter the title of Dasho, has for long, had always been an issue, whether it is in interpretation or as status and responsibilities.
There is some clarity coming out, with the tradition of surrendering position-based honours. Most of all, there is some pragmatism and new understanding surrounding titles and honours. It is clear that officials, after retiring and continuing to wear the scarves or the patang, would demean the value of the honours, as they were no longer in position.
The tradition of swords and scarves is an age-old tradition. A lot has changed then and today change represents a blend of tradition and modernity. While we draw deeply from old customs and tradition, it is of paramount importance to keep in mind existing global traditions.
To put it bluntly, hundreds of people were honoured with the kabney and patang, including elected leaders that change every five years. We cannot afford to have one in three people to be differentiated with the colour of the scarves he wears or the sword dangling from his waist.
There is an exception and that is citizens who received decorations from His Majesty for outstanding contributions to the nation.
From the way some hang on to the kabney and the patang, it makes obvious that we are obsessed with the colour of our robes. To borrow a line from Dzongsar Khentse rinpoche, this could be more divisive and create more class-consciousness in the society. This is not a healthy trend, when we are trying to imbibe democratic values and principles.
If the gup continues to wear his khamar, the elected member his blue, the drangpon his green, the minister his orange, and so on, after retirement or completion of office, apart from having a colourful crowd, we are not serving much.
We will always value our customs and respect our values. Walking out of the Royal Privy Council donning an ordinary white kabney with fringes should not reduce our status or class.
It is a symbol of successfully completing a duty and responsibility bestowed upon us, and retiring or moving on to the next phase.