Tuesday, November 18, 2008

King Kesar, President Obama and The Tug of Refugees

By Govinda Rizal

In the first week of November, 2008 when Barack Hussain Obama was being elected President of colossal USA, the people of tiny Bhutan were celebrating the coronation of a new monarch. The two newly destined rulers have many things in common and many things uncommon. While president elect Obama is elected for the next four years, Monarch Kesar can chose to rule as long as he wishes or lives. Both leaders are young in their respective peoples' expectation and people of both countries are more hopeful about them than they were with their predecessors.

The issue of Bhutanese refugees is the single string that ties the two and yet keeps them in a distance. Hundreds of thousands of Bhutanese refugees who make up more than one sixth of Bhutan's population, were chased from the country by the former monarch, the present monarch's father, for opposing his rules. These people who were unable to live under the former king's brutal administration, to save their lives fled under the cover of darkness. They lived in exile in India and Nepal for two decades, hopefully waiting for the king to think like them. The king did not change his mind nor could the people change him.

The people who have their citizenship and nationality at stake, who on charges of opposing the king's rule had their citizenship revoked and were made stateless, expect a change in the law to make it accommodative for them. More than the law, the reality is that the land and property owned by them were usurped by the king. All possible allegations have been made against them, to make the already repressed fugitives unable to return and claim their lost legacy. For decades, these people languished in camps, scraped a living with the UNHCR providing food. They always have had an expectation; an international body to see and understand them, talk on their behalf to their monarch to allow them back home. Their expectations were never met.

Their plight in the refugee camps, in the subhuman conditions, won the hearts of American people who graciously invited them to stay in America with them. Today there is a long chain of Bhutanese people and their relatives, right from Bhutan via the refugee camps to the United States of America. At the two ends of the human chain there are new leaders. The Monarch Kesar is in the source and President Obama in the end of the long line of refugees.

For both the leaders to be clear, all these people want to return to Bhutan, but not all may return. As long as all the willing people are not allowed to return, the wound of Bhutanese society will remain cancerous. The expectations from the new leaders are high. Despite his intricate responsibilities, President Obama is expected to listen to sixty thousand Bhutanese minorities being settled in USA, and say to the new monarch of Bhutan to take back his people from exile, win their hearts, earn their appreciation, respect and fulfill a royal obligation.

Will a day come soon, when the two leaders will meet somewhere in the world, talk of these people who connect them, who bind them and who expect from them?

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