The Members of Constitutional Bodies of BASA
In 1988, as members of Bhutanese community of Nepali origin, we were denied of fundamental human rights and persecuted and eventually evicted en-masse by the Royal Government of Bhutan. Being forcibly exiled, we spent 18 years in impoverishment languishing in the UNHCR assisted refugee camps in Nepal. In 2008, we took our life’s biggest and best decision and started to resettle in South Australia. As a State practicing multiculturalism and rule of law, we found ourselves safe and secure in the hands of South Australian government – never to be denied of human rights and persecuted again. In concordance to the vision of South Australian government of creating an inclusive, cohesive and equitable society, we incorporated and established an inclusive organization recognizing and embracing the diversity of language, culture, caste, religion and race prevailing in our Bhutanese community.
Scores of members from eleven distinct castes and races in the Bhutanese community joined hands to establish the Bhutanese Association in South Australia. Towards building an inclusive and cohesive community, we adopted a constitution affirming to preserve diverse culture, language and heritage and to promote better understanding, mutual respect, amity and unity amongst the Bhutanese community members. This approach was felt indispensable to promote the enjoyment of equal rights to protection and to participation by the diverse members of the community. This was also felt necessary to eventually emancipate the Bhutanese Nepali community from the historical and unwanted pain of division and discrimination.
Coming from a socio-politically backward nation and having resettled in a democratic and advance country like Australia, all those Bhutanese aspiring to create an inclusive community were optimistic of positive societal transformation and wished to pass a legacy of compassion, amity and unity to the younger Bhutanese Australian generation. Sadly, this aspiration is now beginning to dampen as some of those opposing the principle of inclusion have begun to raise their ugly heads to challenge the mission of creating an inclusive and cohesive society and of bringing positive and value-based change in the Bhutanese community. It is very unfortunate to land in this circumstance and much more unpleasant to get exposed of darker and dirtier sides of our own community. The endeavor had already been commenced and the community should have been given the opportunity to systematically get rid of some inhuman and evil practices by opting the means of social reconciliation and other remedial methods. But now as the issue has been pushed to a public domain – it is necessary to deliberate and address.
On 21 August 2010, I, along with three other Bhutanese colleagues, happen to visit newly arrived Bhutanese family in Salisbury. It was very disturbing to hear from the family that a fellow Bhutanese, who had settled in Salisbury many months ago, came to their residence, early morning, on the next day of their arrival and started to preach the Doctrine of Superiority – inciting the family to practice the primitive Hindu value of caste segregation and discrimination. When the family declined to accept such divisive religious value, he threatened them by saying that the Hindu priests in the Bhutanese community would not perform religious ritual in their house and that they would be socially ostracized and boycotted. Recently, same person is reported to have incited, in similar line, another family in Salisbury.
These are appalling examples of disseminating ideas on caste and race superiority and hatred, and an incitement to caste and race segregation and discrimination with religion as a basis. Hinduism, as a religion, is transcendent and preaches the value of ‘Basudaiva Kutumbakam’ – affirming oneness of life in equivocal terms. The true tenet of Hindu religion is therefore antithetical to the idea of hereditary superiority and inferiority of caste or race. Through interpolation of religious scriptures, as affirmed by Mahatma Gandhi, the self serving Doctrine of Superiority was brought into being, some thousands of years ago, during ‘Vedanta’ age. The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, adopted on 21 December 1965, has declared that “Any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous”. In 2010 in South Australia, as some members from priestly class contrarily continue to propagate and impose the Doctrine of Superiority, through fear psychosis and social sanction, the Bhutanese community is being unnecessarily held hostage to the outrageous practice of hierarchical caste and race differentiation and discrimination.
Through phony interpretation of religious scripture, the orthodox Upadhya [priestly class] places itself in the highest rung of caste ladder and proclaims to be purest and superior among human species. It considers other castes and races as impure and lower beings, and are classified in hierarchical order and subjected to discrimination and segregation accordingly. Some typical examples are mentioned below:
The Upadhyas, following Vaishnav sect, consider the non-Vaishnav Upadhyas impure and lower beings. If a non-Vaishnav Upadhya happens to visit the home of a Vaishnav Upadhya, the Vaishnav Upadhya performs a rite of purification. In this rite, the particular place in the house, where the non-Vaishnav Upadhya had sat will be cleansed with water immediately after the visitor leaves. Sprinkling the holy water in the house and chanting the verses from the scripture, the house will be purified again. This demeaning practice has led to the creation of animosity between the Vaishnav and Non-Vaishnav Upadhyas. Paradoxically, this purification rite is practiced at the back drop of the hallowed Hindu concept of “Atithi Deva Bhawa” – meaning guest is God.
Traditionally, the orthodox Upadhyas holding to the Doctrine of Superiority consider Sharmas as impure and lower beings. They are not allowed to become a priest and perform religious rites. When the priest from the Upadhya community comes to perform religious rites in Sharma’s home, the priest does not eat the food cooked by Sharma family and specially demands an Upadhya man or woman to cook food for him. The Upadhyas vehemently oppose entering into matrimonial relationship with the Sharmas. If in case the daughter of Upadhya is married to the son of Sharma, the Upadhya parents no longer eat food cooked by their daughter. Even when a Sharma man marries a woman from Mongoloid race, the Doctrine of Superiority, dictates the off-springs from such marriage to be ‘down-graded’ to Chhetri caste. Traditionally, the members from Chhetri caste are treated by the priestly class as impure and lower beings – one rung below the Sharmas. There are number of other castes pegged in rank-order classification and subjected to segregation and discrimination.
On the basis of Doctrine of Superiority, the Shilpakars are dumped on the lowest rung of the caste ladder, and considered by the orthodox Upadhyas, Sharmas and Chhetris as most impure and lowest beings. Historically, Shilpakars are the progeny of Vedic divine entity called Devashilpi. According to the ancient scripture Rig Ved [10.81 and 10.82], Devashilpi is described as the god with multi-dimensional vision and supreme strength, who is able to predict, well in advance, in which direction his creation will move and can look into the future and steel himself against disaster that may come his way. In Rig Ved [10.121], Devashilpi is said to have constructed earth, water and whole universe. He is said to be the personification of Virad Viswa Brahman – the ultimate reality. He is the revealer of Sthapatya Ved – the science of mechanics and architecture. The Mahabharata, a Hindu epic, describes Devashilpi as “The most eminent of artisans, the lord of the arts, the executor of a thousand handicrafts, a great and immortal god.” Nonetheless, the advocates of Doctrine of Superiority alienate and ostracize the Shilpakars socially and religiously and subject them to most degrading form of exclusion and discrimination.
There are seven distinct sub-communities from the Mongoloid stock in Bhutanese community in South Australia – with diversity of language, culture and religion. Under the Doctrine of Superiority, the members from Mongoloid community are differentiated and discriminated as well. A girl from a Mongoloid community married to a Sharma boy is known to have undergone alienation and mental trauma. The elderly members in the family accepted the Mongoloid girl as part of their family. But the advocates of Doctrine of Superiority in the community were said to be pressuring the family to live in accordance with the value of their doctrine. This pressure from the community was worrying for I knew one similar case, where a girl from Gurung community committed suicide, when she was subjected to prolonged alienation and humiliation in her husband’s home of Upadhya family. This was one of the cases that I had managed while working as Human Rights Officer in the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal.
Some months ago, a disquieting signal was received in the Bhutanese community, when the members from Vaishnav sect held a ceremony of converting the non-Vaishnav into Vaishnavism in Salisbury. The ceremony consisted of ritual of branding non-Vaishnavs with the symbol of the Sect and accepting them into its fold. For this ceremony, there is a special branding iron which is heated in a fire and pressed on the body of the converted one – leaving a lasting mark on the skin. During this ceremony, scores of people were branded and converted into Vaishnavism with age ranging from almost 4 years to 40 years. On the following day, the ones who had converted into Vaishnavism were found to be munching fruits and carrots instead of normally using microwave oven to heat the lunch and having it hot during the break in ELS classes. Many eye brows were raised when the converted ones were found to avoid using microwave oven in TAFE used by non-Vaishnav and others.
In 1973, the United Nations declared the race and color based practice of segregation and discrimination in South Africa as Crime of Apartheid and crime against humanity. In 2010, the advocates of the Doctrine of Superiority are actively inciting and imposing the religion based practice of apartheid in the Bhutanese community in South Australia. The latest incident of incitement to caste segregation and discrimination in the Bhutanese community in Salisbury, with religion as a basis, is a matter of grave concern and alarm. Religion is viewed as a good medium of spreading positive human values of love, compassion and goodwill in the society. This incident of incitement to discrimination based on religious Doctrine of Superiority is an utter affront to human conscience and dignity and repugnant to the moral and ethical principles of humanity and the ideal of human society. It is an outright denial of right to live in dignity, equality and mutual respect, and to pursue material and spiritual development in the conditions of freedom, equal opportunity and dignity.
Against the back drop of this development, I would like to call upon and urge all the Members of Apex Council, Advisory Board, Ombudspersons and Executive Committee of BASA to look into the issue with profound sense of responsibility and adopt a resolution to investigate and develop mechanism to address this issue so as to eliminate further threat to peace, harmony, unity and inclusivity in the Bhutanese community.
I have the following suggestions for discussion on the issue:
1. Social Approach
The approach of social reconciliation should be intensified to promote better understanding, mutual respect, amity and unity amongst the Bhutanese community members. Social dialogue at the community and wider level must be started to address the issue. Other administrative actions and initiatives must be started at the organizational level.
i. Mandate the Ombudspersons to form a ‘Special Committee’ to investigate and report on the above issue of caste segregation and discrimination based on the religious Doctrine of Superiority.
ii. Establish BASA’s Board of Inclusion supported by special Advisory Board:
a. To deepen and consolidate the values of inclusion in the Bhutanese community
b. To serve as a bureau to receive and respond to the complaints on issues of caste and race segregation and discrimination and any other anti-inclusion issues and activities.
c. To sensitise and educate the community on the significance and value of inclusion.
d. To advocate and campaign, at the community, state and federal level, for the elimination of religion based apartheid in the Bhutanese community.
iii. To adopt a Declaration on Inclusion and get voluntary signatures and support from the community members with a theme:
never to commit any act against peace, harmony, unity and inclusivity in the Bhutanese community
never to excuse any act against peace, harmony, unity and inclusivity in the Bhutanese community
never to remain silent about any act against peace, harmony, unity and inclusivity in the Bhutanese community
iv. To hold a conference to deliberate on the Relevance/Irrelevance of Doctrine of Superiority in 21 Century in South Australia, by inviting the prominent Hindu priests from the Bhutanese community; Hindu priests from the Aussie and other communities, Members from other religious community, Members from Service Providers and NGOs, Members from Human Rights Commission, Members from government agencies, etc.
2. Legal Approach
Law is one of the principle means of prohibiting, punishing and eliminating the practice of caste and racial segregation and discrimination. Australia has laws like Racial Discrimination Act 1975, Sex Discrimination Act 1984, Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Act 1986 which broadly deal with the issues of discrimination. With the arrival of Bhutanese community, apartheid, based on religious Doctrine of Superiority, has entered into the country and there is no specific law to prohibit and punish the perpetrators. Some countries have law which imposes imprisonment for three months to three years or fine of one hundred rupees to twenty five thousand rupees, or both. It is imperative to advocate and campaign for adoption of law to prohibit, punish and eliminate apartheid, based on religious Doctrine of Superiority. We should appeal the government at State and Federal level to enact legislation:
i. To declare an offence punishable by law all dissemination of ideas based on caste and racial superiority or hatred and incitement to caste and racial segregation and discrimination
ii. To declare illegal and prohibit individual, group or organization which promote and incite racial and caste discrimination, and recognise participation in such organizations or activities as an offence punishable by law
iii. To prohibit and punish any discriminatory behaviour of exclusion, boycotts and restrictions against any person on the ground of caste, race and religion
iv. To prohibit and punish by law any insulting or demeaning speech or action on ground of discrimination
v. To prohibit and punish any preaching or justification of discrimination, on the ground of tradition or religion
Through the above social and legal approaches, we are attempting to shift our social paradigm from the vile foundation of exclusion to that of inclusion and break away from the imposed divisive values and tradition. For 18 years in the refugee camps in Nepal, we lived in an implicit state of discord and disunity. The advocates of Doctrine of Superiority kept us compartmentalized and divided on caste, race and religious lines. We were never allowed to integrate socially, culturally and emotionally. We were always rendered weak and ineffectual as a community. And we could never take united and concerted action for justice and for repatriation to our country.
Now having resettled, for good, in South Australia, let us come together to stop the advocates of Doctrine of Superiority from spreading discord, disharmony and disunity in the community. Let us come together to take both social and legal recourse to bring them to realization and justice. Let us come together to deepen and consolidate the values of inclusion. Lets us come together to teach our younger generation the values of compassion, sociability and magnanimity. Let us come together to build a Bhutanese community that is rich and vibrant socially, economically and culturally – to which Australia can be proud of.
Looking forward a tangible action from the esteemed colleagues,
Bhutanese Association in South Australia
Coglin Hall, Coglin Street,
Adelaide SA 5000
Dated: 18th September 2010