Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Butterflies and Lizards

Can anyone ID the creatures? Look at the color variations on the two lizards. Could it be that one is a female? Or is it displaying colors of agitation?

Lizzards & Bueeterlifes

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

All-Hail To All The Smart-asses Of This World!

-->I am currently lodged at my dad’s home in Tingtingbi. I was in the area shooting butterflies so I dropped by to participate in the Local Government (LG) elections that was conducted yesterday the 27th of June, 2011.

My dad and me, we usually cover every topic on the first day of our meeting - as of the second day, he will go back to howling his prayers at the top of his voice as if the Gods were deaf and I will make a beeline for the woods and the riverside, shooting whatever there is to shoot. So, here we were, talking of things this and that. We began with the LG elections.

I knew exactly which Gup and which Tsogpa would get my vote but as far as the Mang-Gey-Aapa - that is what we Khengpas called them; others call them Maang-Gi-Aap or Mangmi - was concerned, although I did not know a thing about the candidates, my dad told be exactly who I should vote for. Well, why not? The old man does not realize it but in accepting to do his bidding now, I am thinking long term. Come 2013, if need be, I am going to remind him that it is pay back time. By accepting to do what he wants me to do now will give me the moral right to ask him to do a return of favor - to vote for the political party and the candidate of my choice. You see, the world over, horse-trading is accepted as a skillful form of effective negotiation.

Well, I agree that it is rather foxy of me, but the reality is that he is the local guy and thus, my dad, and not I, has to face the consequences of voting in a wrong Local Government candidate. So, it is only fair that his decision and wisdom should override mine. As a dweller of the Gyelsa Tewa, I am more concerned with the government at the national level. When it comes to that, I cannot have my dad farting around with opposing views to mine. If he does, I will, most pleasurably, remind him of this day :).

One topic that my dad unfailingly brings up is the unfair manner in which the government took over his family land at Tingtingbi - with the proposal to relocate the Zhemgang Dzong and to set up a modern Township. In the process, his family lost 13 acres of prime irrigation land. After two and half decades, the Zhemgang Dzong remains perched on the same ancient hillock where it has always been and, the proposed Township site is now overrun with grass and weed. Particularly for my dad, it was a painful loss because he spent 21 years of his prime youth - plodding to and from the Dzongkhag Court and the High Court - fighting a legal battle with his cousin who attempted to wrest the ownership of the land from him and his family. He won the case, only to lose the land to the government.

However, this narrative is not about the injustice done to my dad but the pathetic attitude of a Dzongda the likes of who, it would appear, may be behind a lot of suffering of the poor rural folks. This is the first time my dad told me of the incident and I am disgusted that such a moron can be appointed as a Dzongda.

My dad’s grouse is that the compensation offered for his family’s land was way too low as opposed to what was given in the Western part of the country suffering similar losses - such as those in Thimphu and Punakha. He appealed to the central government, through the local government (Dzongkhag in those days) requesting that his family be given enhanced cash compensation or, failing that, be recompensed with substitute land, in addition to the pitifully inadequate cash compensation that was paid his family. His argument was that since the land tax paid by him in Tingtingbi is at par with that paid by people in Thimphu and Punakha, it was not justified that he should receive lower land compensation rates than that which is paid to those in Thimphu or Punakha.

Term after term, he unfailingly appealed to every new Dzongda who took office in Zhemgang Dzong in the hope that the new appointee might be of a different mind set and see his viewpoint and thus, take up the issue with the government. No such luck. Then one day a very smart Dzongda took office in Zhemgang Dzong and suggested to him a way out. This Dzongda told him the following:

“If you wish to get the same compensation rates received by those people in Thimphu and Punakha, you ought to dislodge your land from Kheng area and carry it on your back and take it to Thimphu or Punakha.”

There is no dearth of smart-asses in this world.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Viewshed Analysis

One reader from a distant land obviously feels as distressed as many of us here in Bhutan who have been silently suffering the humiliation of the Amankora being built along side the very special Wangdicholing Palace. The reader sent me the following mail.

The reader talks of something called “Viewshed Analysis”. I think I can guess what it means and I am excited by the concept. That is precisely my view as well. I am not objecting to the setting up of Amakora chain of hotels around the country. My objection is that they do so without taste or regard for our culture and heritage and as if to deliberately insult our sense of aesthetics. It is a pity that a bunch of unthinking and incompetent people agreed to allow such a grotesque structure to be built by the side of Wangdicholing Palace. If they cared, they should have allowed the construction of the hotel at another location where it was unlikely to be such an eye sore - like their other hotels in Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Phobjikha.

One day, sitting at the Jorden restaurant in Hong Kong market, Tenzin Rigden, one of the senior most journalists of Bhutan asked me a question: How important and valid is culture and tradition in the context of Bhutan of present times?. One of these days, I am going to elaborate on the short answer I gave him, but for now, I invite you to read the following mail and get the implications of what the writer is saying:

Hello Yeshey,

I am afraid I come across as a know-it-all whenever I comment on issues in Bhutan as I have spent mere months there. So, I usually keep my thoughts to myself although I am a follower of your blog and I read each post! The problem of the Jakar Amankora hotel forces me to speak up, however.

For all the talk about protecting Bhutan's culture from foreign influence and controlling the negative impacts of tourism, this is a major, tangible contravention.

There are ways to ensure that if a structure as special as Wangdicholing Palace were to have a development project proposed in its vicinity, it would not be adversely affected. One process would be 'viewshed analysis' which is simply considering the potential visual impact of the proposed development on the historic structure and landscape. The Amankora hotel, which leaves Wangdicholing Palace literally in its shadow, is clearly out of harmony with its historic context. I realize that local administrators in Bhutan don't have access to trained experts and funds to deal with landscape preservation but the monolithic hotel should have been permitted only in a less obtrusive part of the valley.

Since development is happening at such high speed here in my country, we have many processes in place to protect significant structures and landscapes although they don't always succeed. My work now is related to protecting archaeological sites from construction works. I'm working as a civil servant with the Ministry of Culture here in my home province.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I feel extremely inspired and motivated to contribute however I can to the management and protection of Bhutan's historic sites. I hope I can return and do some good work in this area, share what I've learned, maybe even train others. I've had the opportunity for education and experience in this uncommon field, in a setting of rapid development. Nobody in Bhutan right now has this background. I understand and appreciate why there's a continuing backlash against "foreign experts" and I know that non-nationals aren't easily employed in Bhutan (unless sponsored by an NGO, which is my hope) so it would be very difficult to make this happen. But, dreams are not supposed to be simple to achieve, right?

Anyway, thanks for reading all that. I hope you are well and I look forward to your continuing posts and photos.

Take care

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Fallacy Of Gargantuan Proportions

One time a friend introduced me to his young son. 

He said; “Yeshey, this is my son."

In response, I asked him; “Are you sure?"

He looked flustered and asked; “What do you mean?"

I laughed and told him that I was joking. But ofcourse I wasn’t joking. I mean how far is he certain that he really is the progenitor of the boy?

Centuries of societal indoctrination has numbed our mind into believing that a child born to a wedded mother is, without contest, fathered by the husband of the woman bearing the child. This belief is so deep rooted in our consciousness that to suggest otherwise is anathema. But if you were to contemplate this matter a little deeper, you will realize that this is a fallacy of gargantuan proportions. The truth is that no one, but a mother alone may testify to the veracity of the fact. For all you know, the child could have been secretly fathered by someone from Timbuktu.

This brings us to the realization that where the Bhutaneseness of a child is needed to be established, nothing can be as authoritative and genuine and genetically pure as that of the Bhutanese mother who bore the child. Since there is room for duplicity, I think it is erroneous to set the criteria that the father of the child ought to be a Bhutanese for the child to qualify as a Bhutanese. This does not seem like a foolproof authentication means to validate the Bhutaneseness of a child because of the possibility that the Bhutanese father may not be the real progenitor of the child. On the contrary, there is no question of any doubt about the mother being not the mother of the child.

The continuing census problems faced by the fatherless children born to Bhutanese mothers not being recognized as bona fide Bhutanese on the grounds that their fathers are unidentifiable or have gone missing is something of a misnomer. As long as the mothers are Bhutanese that should be more than enough justification to warrant the recognition of these children as Bhutanese.

A benevolent law should not encourage gender bias and unequal treatment. We have always been a matriarchal society and thus, it is not in our character to treat our women as if they were second class citizens. Our laws should give them the same dignity, right and freedom as those that are accorded our men.

I hope our Parliamentarians will work towards amending the existing laws that allow such disparity in the recognition of the rights of our women.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

In Support Of Tobacco Control Act: Part III

We are a nation of barely 700,000 people. If we should fail as a society, it will not be because of our unmanageable population or because nature hasn’t been bountiful with us - it will be because we are morally corrupt, intellectually impotent, undisciplined and, above all, habitual law-breakers without a conscience or a sense of duty. The signs of decay and rot are far too evident. Look around you, everything is falling apart and nothing works. Nothing is as required by law.

Have you seen the abominable structure that is the Amankora hotel in Jakar, Bumthang? It has not only broken every single building code and guidelines prescribed for built-up structures in the urban spaces of Bhutan, but the audaciously inappropriate structure has been allowed to be built alongside the historic and iconic Wangdicholing Palace. How did such a sacrilegious monstrosity come to be built next to a national monument that is the citadel of the Wangchuck dynasty?

There is no two ways about it - the structure is a symbol of defiance and a challenge to our laws and disrespect for our heritage. But the shameful thing is that some Bhutanese who are supposed to control such blatant affront to the laws of the land did not do their job - whether knowingly or unknowingly. Who is responsible?

Am I flogging a dead horse? May be, but the very existence of this structure points to something so typically Bhutanese - our total disregard for the law. It is shameful - but I can bet you that those who failed to perform their duties still have the gumption to walk tall and talk of service to the Tsa-Wa-Sum while, those of us who care, has to hang our head in shame every time we pass the Palace because the very existence of that structure by the side of the Palace is a constant reminder to us of the depths to which we have fallen. For a fistful of dollars, we can be capable of selling our very soul!

The morality of the Bhutanese people is at its lowest ebb. Consider, for instance, the case of the car quota privilege accorded to a certain category of civil servants. Everything is so wrong about this supposed entitlement. This is a clear case of state sponsored corruption of the highest order and it has been going on for decades.

Firstly, it assumes that this category of citizens is more deserving than others. The award of this preferential treatment creates a class segregation that implies that those who are not entitled to it are inferior citizens who do not contribute to nation building. The reverse is true - the workers in the corporate and private sectors contribute way more than any civil servant does. It is unethical on the part of the government to reward some while ignoring others.

However, I bring up this issue not because the quota system goes against the concept of the government’s policy of Drangnam and Drangden (Equity & Justice), but because it is associated with one of the most shameful and enduring corrupt practices that has been going on for decades. And, this has happened because, true to form, the Bhutanese people have no shame about blatantly breaking a law.

Like backstreet touts, the civil servants shamelessly peddle their quota entitlements to the highest bidder in the open market. They know they are not allowed to do that, and yet, they have no compunctions about their illegal behavior. Even while the government is aware that such behavior has serious ramifications on the morality of the nation as a whole, it continues to turn a blind eye to this menace. All these point to one thing: something is seriously wrong with the Bhutanese mentality.

The government must accept sole responsibility for the proliferation of such illegal activity among some section of the civil service. In creating the quota system, the government has, in an indirect way, created an enabling condition to lure the civil servants into immorality. The abuse of the car quota system creates not one but two criminals - the seller and the buyer. Few hundred million Ngultrums are lost every year because these buyers are able to evade duty and taxes on the cars they buy in the names of the corrupt civil servants.

Why does our public service delivery fail? Why is a public servant playing computer games when he should be attending to people needing service? Why are civil servants playing archery and making out as if they are fulfilling a national objective while they should be in the office earning their keep? Why is a civil servant feeling chivalrous in spending half a day of public time at the cemetery attending a funeral of some one dead?

Even when there is a rule that prohibits government vehicles from being engaged in private work, why are government vehicles seen at the school parking lots and near chortens dropping off and picking up monks and children? Why is garbage dumped at the spaces where there is a signboard that specifically cautions: NO DUMPING?

Why are the Bhutanese people habitual lawbreakers? The answer is simple: we do not have respect for the law. And, the reason why people do not respect and follow the law is because the laws do not provide for punishments strong enough to deter wrong doers. And, even when there is a law in place, it is poorly enforced, if at all.

We have a desperate need for strong laws to save ourselves. Let us ask for them. We have a government that is showing signs of courage and commitment. Let us encourage them by rendering our support to their initiatives. Let us not be mislead into believing that the Tobacco Control Act does not have the support of the majority of the Bhutanese people - it does because the Act was passed by the Parliamentarians elected by the majority of the Bhutanese people.

We have many problems that need solving. Weak laws and even weaker enforcement isn’t going to solve our problems. To solve them, we need strong laws and determined enforcement agencies to enforce them. Therefore, let us demand for many more of the Tobacco Control Act and hope that, one day, we too will be counted among those nations and societies who respect and adhere to law.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Gross National Happiness II

Serious writing is energy sapping business and in writing 3 parts of my article to counter the anti tobacco control lobby, I have been drained of energy and spirit. When one feels so powerfully about something, one tends to pour out every bit of passion one has. In the process, one can be drained and I felt totally drained upon completion of my third part - yesterday night. After all that outpouring of passion, I was in doubt if what I write will make any difference and that doubt made me feel a little sad.

This morning I woke up and logged on to the net to check my mails. And there, I see that a friend had forwarded to me the following mail which touched me deeply and enthused me all over.

The writer of the mail is a wildlife photographer from India who was introduced to me by the designer of my book: BHUTAN BIRDS. I spent few days with him showing the sights and sounds of Bhutan. I spoke to him about our culture, our environment, our tourism policy and everything else. The photographer went back to India few days back and had apparently written the mail to his circle of friends.

What he writes about Bhutan is so encouraging. My GNH is that I was a part of the experience this photographer had in our country. It makes me feel that our country is still a worthy cause to fight over. So I am not going to lose hope. I will revise my third part to make it sizzling HOT. I will post it either this night or tomorrow morning:

Dear friends, 
I first went to Bhutan in 1994. Now in 2011 with coz. Cuckoo and Pushpa it is the second time. The country has changed. So called 'progress' tends to change all countries. Africa,which I visited also for the first time in 1994, has also changed dramatically. Change is inevitable. But when it takes away the inherent spirit of the land it leaves behind an empty flavour of what it was.

Bhutan, till now has somehow, while keeping its character; its magical spirit, been able to keep that unique balance of a land steeped in its culture yet endeavouring to provide  the discerning visitor the amenities he is used to in modern tourism. 

We have been lucky to have been guests of a prominent local family, friends of my cousin Cuckoo. Also, I was fortunate enough to meet up with a fellow photographer. Both were instrumental in showing us their country from the 'inside'. If we had gone as regular tourists I don't know if we would have returned with the same indelible impression. 

This is a country that measures progress not in GNP but in GNH (Gross National Happiness). This is no marketing cliché but the vision of its last monarch who had endeavoured to take Bhutan through the tough process from a feudal monarchy to a parliamentary monarchy. Jigme Singye Wangchuck born 11 November 1955 is the former King of Bhutan. He was the fourth Dragon King  of Bhutan from 1972 until his abdication in favour of his eldest son in 2006. He is credited with many modern reforms in the country. 

There are 5 Aman resorts in the country and even the formidable Mrs. Ong has a super luxury resort there. But this is not the reason to come to Bhutan. This is a country for trekkers and panorama fiends; for mystical experiences and Mahayana Buddhism and primal Hinduism. Where the pace of life has not lost its way into the monotonous desert of hedonistic experiences. 

Truly, it is an experience different.



Monday, June 13, 2011

In Support Of The Tobacco Control Act: Part II

The anti tobacco control lobby argues that the law is too draconian. Seriously, why should that be a source of worry for anybody - unless, ofcourse, one is a potential lawbreaker?

I believe that most of those who go half-cocked over this Tobacco Control Act have not really thought the matter through properly. If they did, it is simple to understand that the law can be said to be draconian only when, and if, it is invoked and enforced. Once you understand that, you will also understand that the law is enforced when it has been broken. This simply means that if you do not break a law, you need have no fear of the law - draconian or otherwise. Unless you are fearful of the certainty that you are likely to break a law one day in the future, no one may stand in dread of any law.

The whole purpose of a law is to deter people from committing offenses that are harmful to society and to thwart actions and behaviors that are undesirable. And, the only law that works is one that is strong and unbending; a law that is enforced rigidly and without exception. Unfortunately, we Bhutanese are a unique lot (as we are so proud to claim!) - we simply refuse to be deterred by any law. In fact, we diligently break every single law that comes into force.

Interestingly, there is something laughable about the claim that the Tobacco Control Act is too draconian. If it were so, how come the law is being broken with such unfailing regularity?

A novice monk by the name of Sonam Tshering was the first to be arrested under the Tobacco Control Act - he was arrested on 24th January, 2011. Since then, despite a continuous stream of news and a barrage of protestations concerning the severity of the punishment, there have been a total of 37 tobacco related arrests as of writing this post - an astounding average of over 9 arrests per month!

If the Act were draconian and if the punishment were as severe as it is touted to be, how is it possible that there is so much disregard for the law? How come people are not cowering in fear and fainting with dread? The only explanation can be that, the law is not draconian enough or, failing that, the Bhutanese people have got to be the world’s most incorrigible and pathological of lawbreakers. Other than that, the only other explanation that I can think of is that the myth that the law is too draconian is nothing more than a fiction conjured up by the idle minds of the Internet troopers that make up the anti tobacco control lobby.

I cannot remember of a more serious law. And, no law in this country has ever been enforced with the resoluteness and effectiveness as that which has been done in the case of the Tobacco Control Act. As I see it, it would be highly irresponsible on the part of this motley of people who oppose the law - to offer the constricted view that the Tobacco Control Act is designed to control consumption of tobacco and to infringe on the personal freedom of the people. The passage and enforcement of this Act goes way beyond that.

The passage and enforcement of an Act of this nature and substance is demonstrative of the fact that our Members of Parliament are serious about their responsibility to the people whose will they must respect and be subservient to. Even while being mindful of the fact that the Act is likely to be unpopular with some section of the population, they still had the courage and the determination to go ahead and do what is expected of them - for the benefit of the society. If this is not proof of their competence and courage, I do not know what is. The Tobacco Control Act is proof that our legislators - the NC and the MPs and the DPT government and the enforcement agencies are capable and willing to take some hard decisions. Therefore, instead of moaning away, as responsible citizens, let us give them support and encouragement to do more in all the areas where we need similar laws. It is not often that the politicians are encouraged to set aside their political agenda and do something truly meaningful and progressive.

We need strong laws to effectively fight such heinous crimes as rape, pedophilia and child molestation. We have been fighting a losing battle against drug abuse, gang fights, chorten vandalism, indiscipline and alcoholism. The reason is simple: our current laws that deal with them are so ineffectual and the punishment prescribed so weak that they fail to deter criminals from committing the offenses.

Let us not give up with the belief that we are beyond mending. We can always try. It is never too late. Just because there are stray instances when it would seem that the law is unenforceable, we cannot give up. This is not Utopia - this is the real world and in the real world, some we lose - but definitely we win some too.

Close on the heels of the denial they suffered in their attempt to introduce the well-intended tax reforms, if this Tobacco Control Act too should suffer defeat, I fear that the government and the legislators will be discouraged from doing things with spirit and boldness. As a result, we will slide back to doing things the same old Bhutanese way - being stuck in the same spot - whirring away like a top, very efficient but without effect - a kidu-centric society. Finally here is a law that means business, a law that has the potential to turn us into a law abiding and disciplined society. And what do we do? We oppose it vehemently. 

........ To be continued

Friday, June 10, 2011

In Support Of The Tobacco Control Act: Part I

For quite sometime now, I have been aghast at the continuing protestations against the passage and the enforcement of the Tobacco Control Act. I know that no single law has ever found complete acceptance anywhere else in the world. There will always be those who will see things differently - either as a result of their ignorance or, lack of an intelligent understanding of the real issues involved or, in some cases, because of self interest.

The enactment and enforcement of the Tobacco Control Act does not cause any industrial disruption thereby causing loss of jobs and income to the people of Bhutan. And, no one may dispute that the premise and the principal behind introducing a law is because there is a need for it.

So then why is the government’s endeavor to curtail the use and consumption of a substance that can cause harm to the consumers, as well as to none consumers, being met with such organized and orchestrated resistance from the supposedly educated lot of the Bhutanese people? Is it borne out of a genuine concern for Bhutan and the Bhutanese people? Or is there something more sinister and evil at work - that which is designed to bring about the failure of a genuinely progressive and courageous piece of legislation?

I am seriously worried. In the aftermath of the awakening of a sense of trepidation provoked by the incessant propaganda assault unleashed by these faceless ravagers of the void, there is a real danger that a perfectly good and useful law may yet stand to be nullified and rendered ineffectual. The cancerous growth and spread of the malice propagated by theses doomsday soothsayers has the potential to derail a genuine attempt on the part of the government to get serious about meaningful governance. Even worst, there is now a concerted attempt to suggest that the views of this minuscule number of detractors represent the views of the mainstream Bhutanese.

Therefore, it is important to remind the government, the law makers, the judiciary and the people of Bhutan that these voices of dissent uttered from behind the cloak of anonymity in the social media of the World Wide Web do not represent the national view. The reason is simple. This negligible and insignificant number of people who are hell bent on spreading misinformation - number only a few hundred who dwell in the urban centers with internet access. The larger of the population is in the rural villages without any internet access and thus, without the means or the expertise to express their views. But that does not mean that this country can be allowed to be intimidated and coerced into submission by a minority group simply because the silent, unspeaking majority is not internet savvy.

Agreed that even the minority has the right to voice their views - irrespective of whether those views are educated or otherwise. They have that right. However, to go on and on and on, as if their views alone mattered and, in the process subject the majority of us to this barrage of bunkum has got to stop at some point. There is a limit to how much we can tolerate. There is a need for some of us to counter and oppose those who choose to attempt to scuttle a law that is well intended, necessary and RIGHT ON TRACK!

The detractors of the Act offer two primary arguments on the grounds of which they oppose the Act: (a) that it infringes on the liberty and the rights of the individual and, (b) that the law is too draconian.

Since the advent of democracy in this country, too much has been spoken and written by too many about liberty and the right of the individual. But most seem to miss a very simple truth: that a certain amount of government control is essential, even imperative, if liberty and freedom as guaranteed by the Constitution is to be prevented from cannibalizing itself. The only way to guarantee the perpetuation of the right of the individual and liberty of the self is to ensure that those rights are not allowed to be abused. Because, when abuse happens, curtailment will follow. Thus, pre-empting abuse through legislative measures is another form of protecting the individual right and freedom.

The Tobacco Control Act does not ban the consumption of tobacco - meaning that it does not infringe on the individual right or freedom. What it does is require the users to be more responsible in the exercise of their rights and freedom. It requires the consumers of tobacco products to behave responsibly towards those who do not share their inclinations.

While every Bhutanese citizen can stake a claim to our individual right and freedom as our God-given birthright, each of us has the responsibility to ensure that in the exercise of those rights, we do not cause harm and discomfiture to others around us. With right come responsibility and when one fails to be responsible, that right becomes a hindrance and an obstacle and, thus, it can justly be restricted.

……………. To be continued