Clash of national identity and national emergency

After the country got the first case of COVID-19, numerous press briefings are being conducted almost every day.

Among many issues, one major criticism is that the media professionals are not able to ask questions in Dzongkha.

In the latest developments, the government recognised the criticism and the prime minister and cabinet ministers have started responding in Dzongkha even when the questions are asked in English.

Many well-known journalists are justifying their case saying that it is not the time for promotion of Dzongkha. A journalist stated that either English as a medium of instruction should be stopped or should hire special inspectors to go around towns and villages to fine people talking in English or other languages.

Another said: “There has never been a fast and hard rule that a press conference has to be conducted in Dzongkha.” Others have gone to the extent of defining what constitutes a “press conference”.

Those who are in support of Dzongkha say that since those who understand English can also read the language to disseminate information should be Dzongkha. Both the arguments have their own weightage but the issue is not about promoting Dzongkha but more on which language is better for effective communication.

The argument is not about journalists or the government. It is about all of us. With no written language in Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck declared Dzongkha as the national language in the 1960s.  However, concerned with the increasing use of English, His Majesty the 4th King issued a Kasho commanding that all official correspondence be written in Dzongkha.

Considering such significance, Article 1(8) of our Constitution recognises Dzongkha as the National Language. Under Thrimzhung Chhenmo, any Royal Decrees or Kashos issued by His Majesty has the force of law. Further, Article 8(1) imposes on every Bhutanese to preserve, protect and defend the sovereignty and unity of Bhutan, and Article 8(2) imposes every Bhutanese citizen to “preserve, protect and respect the culture and heritage of the nation.

Since, Dzongkha as a language is a national identity and culture, promotes unity and protects sovereignty, it is our fundamental duty to speak and write in Dzongkha besides other languages. A netizen posted that the fate of Dzongkha newspapers has reached ICU.  Does it mean, that, now we let Dzongkha die because it is already in critical condition and start using only English? Did we realise that we have disrespected His Majesty’s Kasho and ignored our fundamental right?

Democracy is not just about fundamental rights, but about duties as well.  Though the current situation is not the right forum to discuss this issue, it is important that we should feel ashamed of not having lived up to the visions of His Majesty the 4th King.

If we don’t start somewhere, we will never reach anywhere.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.

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