Bhutan’s border with India, about 700 kilometres of wildlife infested jungle, characterised by brutal terrain and harsh weather most of the year, has been vulnerable to crime, including armed militancy, for decades. With the menacing implications of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are reminded that this porous border will always be a threat to our well-being.
It takes special attention and effort to understand the conditions and circumstances that affect life along this expanse. Even as we enjoy a relatively comfortable life in most other parts of the country, the current situation requires that we stop to think about the reality that is daily life along the border for our fellow citizens.
An unprecedented crisis can only be overcome by an unprecedented response. Between September 26 and October 13 His Majesty The King visited the settlements along Bhutan’s southern border and talked to government officials, security troops, volunteers, businessmen and women, students, farmers – people who understood that they are not left on their own. The Bhutanese population was also comforted to see His Majesty The Fourth King visiting the Southern dzongkhags last week.
The diligence of officials, the loyalty of security troops, and the outpouring of volunteers inspired by His Majesty The King has been heartwarming. But this Royal tour also focused on the Bhutanese people. It brought home the veracity that, while we appreciate the work of our front liners, the daily lives of the average citizens play a critical role in protecting the rest of the country.
They, too, are our defense line. And their lives are not easy. Bhutanese living in the south are sometimes more connected with their neighbours living across the border than with the people who live inland. Farmers depend on Indian workers to till their fields, they buy their basic necessities from Indian stores, and there are even intermarriages with people across the border. Today, the restrictions on the communities on both sides of the border are necessary and their lives are understandably disrupted.
Such a situation heightens the sensitivities and cross-border implications of the pandemic. India not only ranks high on the international Covid-19 infection scale, we are told that the actual numbers may be greater. The real level of infection and death and the difficulty of tracing, monitoring, and treating a population of 1.5 billion often seems like an exercise in futility.
Medical experts predict that it will be months before a vaccine is available. Trends indicate that the situation will become worse before it gets better. For Bhutan, every new infection is felt with excruciating consternation.
Meanwhile, the least we can do is to appreciate and support our people in the south who are, in many ways, holding the fort. We were reminded, once again, of the values that truly matter, on October 13 – the ninth wedding anniversary of His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen.
What we saw was an important occasion being marked by momentous action. On October 13, 2020, His Majesty The King ended yet another arduous tour of the entire southern region. His Majesty The King arrived in Thimphu, late evening, and checked into a local hotel for a week-long quarantine. This is, indeed, a time for prayer and reflection.