Householders were away in the forests with their cattle 

On the eve of the Population and Housing Census of Bhutan (PHCB), enumerators in Merak gewog in Trashigang learnt that most of the highlanders were away with their cattle in the pastures.

The absence of most of the householders in the gewog was noticed during the two-day updating process conducted on May 28 and 29. The householders were away in various brangsa (pastureland outside the locality) with their cattle. It is estimated that about 45 households were away with their cattle.

This happened because of a miscommunication among the villagers said Merak mangmi, Phurpa. He said those herders who were on the move with their cattle assumed that the census would be conducted everywhere, irrespective of their original village, including the brangsa, which is scattered over the highlands.

“Since it was said that people need not come back to their respective villages during the census, most of them assumed that the enumerators would even come to their brangsa outside the gewog during the census,” said Phurpa.

After identifying that the missing number of households would critically hamper the enumeration, local leaders have has started calling back their people to the village for the census.

However, it was easier said than done.

Phurpa said that he along with the gup and respective tshogpas have called those people who could be reached by telephone. “But not everyone could be reached through phone because some brangsa do not have the network coverage.”

Residents having their brangsa in places like Chapling and Shetimey have stared to move towards Merak after receiving calls from the gewog administration. However, those in places like Khiliphu, near the Arunachal border and those in places without telephone network might not make it for the census.

Census supervisor in Merak, Sangay Wangchuk, said that to go to each brangsa and conduct census is not possible. He said it would require additional deployment of enumerators and the process would take months to identify each brangsa because except for the highlanders, the location of the brangsa is usually unknown.

“It is very challenging to conduct the census in such situation,” Sangay Wangchuk said. To consider it as an issue of gungtong (empty household), he said, would also be incorrect because the issue of gungtong in the highlands is different from that in the lowlands. “The possibilities of missing out on some the population and double counting are very much likely here.”

He said that a gungtong in the lowlands might be result of people abandoning their house and living in some other places. However, in places like Merak and Sakteng, gungtongs usually happen when people migrate with their cattle to their brangsa. “Going to every brangsa in the forest might not be possible and this could result in missing out some certain sections of the population.”

Trashigang dzongdag, Chekey Gyeltshen, has asked local leaders to make sure at least one individual from the household to be present during the census. “Most villagers have started their journey back and I’m told that some of them have reached Merak already,” he said. “I’m optimistic that by today most of them should be back. If necessary, the local leaders have to travel themselves and get the people back for the census.”

Dzongdag Chekey Gyeltshen said that since the people of Merak and Sakteng do not engage in cordycep business, the cost of opportunities is not as high as of those highlanders in the west and central regions. “It was all because of a miscommunication that they didn’t come back earlier,” he said. “But I’m confident because most of them are coming back and there shouldn’t be any problem.”

According to Merak mangmi, Phurpa, about 15 householders arrived in the village by 6pm yesterday. Some 20 more are expected to be in Merak by tomorrow afternoon.

There are 301 households and about 2,260 residents in Merak according to the latest records with the gewog. A total of 588 enumerators and 82 supervisors have been deployed in Trashigang for the second PHCB. There are 374 enumeration areas in the dzongkhag.

Dzongkhag records show that there are about 9,364 households and 74,441 residents in Trashigang.

Younten Tshedup