Students from Assam and Samdrupjongkhar schools calls for more interactions 

Seminar: Across the Samdrupjongkhar gate is Assam, Bhutan’s closest neighbouring state in the east where Bhutanese and Assamese interact on a daily basis. Besides the daily interaction, mostly for trade, young Assamese don’t know much about their neighbour.

Students like Bimal Gharkti, 17, have heard about Bhutan from friends, but never visited or interacted with Bhutanese. “We study about India’s relations with other countries, but not Bhutan,” the student from Kumarikata high school in Assam said. “We took for granted and never really bothered to learn or know about Bhutan.”

For many students among the 200 students who came to Samdrupjongkhar on Monday for a seminar, “Stepping Stones” their knowledge about Bhutan were limited beyond Samdrupjongkhar and the insurgency problem where they believe Bhutan played an important role in flushing out the militants.

The seminar, organized by the Bhutan India friendship Association (BIFA) Samdrupjongkhar chapter, was to bring together youth from the two neighbouring districts and to inspire them to strengthen and take forward the legacies of the wise leadership that had established friendship between the two countries.

Students from both countries are already expressing the need for closer interactions so that they could know each other better. “Because of some bad people, we feel scared travelling through Assam,” Yeshi Gyeltshen from Dungsam Academy school. “We tend to feel all Assamese are bad people. We forget that they are our friends and the closest neighbours,” he said.

Senior faculty member of Institute of Management Studies in Thimphu who designed the seminar, Tandin Dorji said the programme was prepared to help the Indian and Bhutanese youth to reflect on the past and build pathways to strengthen this profound bond. He said the programme aimed at sensitizing and letting students understand how the friendship evolved by telling them the history of Bhutan and its friendship that they can take back home and share with other students and people.

BIFA general secretary Norbu Wangdi said the security issues that emerged about two decades ago has hampered the close relationship between Assam and eastern Bhutan. “People have quickly forgotten the long history of good relations we had,” he said.

“It was timely that these youth are made to understand about the friendship and revive it.” The general secretary also said Assam and Eastern Bhutan friendship has improved over the years and to keep the same pace, these youth shall take forward the relationship to keep it alive and active.  “If we’ve such bonds then these students could make their people understand about the friendship and help Bhutanese travellers travelling on Assam highway, for instance.”

A teacher from Assam accompanying the students, Bimal Gharkti, said such programmes should take place often. “We need more activities and exercises next time,” another student Rimjim said.

Students from four colleges and six schools in Samdrupjongkhar and Assam attended the seminar.  The programme is dedicated to the 60th birth anniversary of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

Yangchen C Rinzin, Samdrupjongkhar