Friday, December 28, 2012

Are Constitutional Bodies Democratic Institutions?

The public perception, and that of my own, is that the Constitutional bodies were created to safeguard the democratic process and for the provision of effective check and balance under a brand new and an unfamiliar system of governance. But recent cases of checks provided by some of the Constitutional bodies seem to be designed entirely to upset the balance.

In their eagerness to flex their unbridled muscles, irrespective of whether their individual Acts empower them or not, what has clearly been demonstrated by their actions is that they have no respect for the democratic process. Or, rather, these Constitutional bodies seem to have been empowered to function outside the democratic norm.

Yesterday afternoon a friend tells me that as of the beginning of January 2013, the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has imposed a complete ban on the performance of annual Chokus – until the end of the upcoming elections and the declaration of its results. As a result, I am told that a large number of households around the country are in a frenzy to perform their annual Choku this month - a Dha-nag (inauspicious month)! Traditionally, it would be anathema to conduct Choku during a Dha-nag.

On the one hand the ECB has infringed on the fundamental right of the individual and the society to a free and fair practice of their religious and cultural traditions. On the other, they have, knowingly or unknowingly, forced the people to digress from centuries old religious belief - that conducting Choku during a Dha-nag is inauspicious and earns bad Karma. It is nothing short of blasphemy, for those who are believers.

I do understand the logic behind the ECB’s concerns. However, what is the rationale behind attacking only the religious and cultural practice of the Buddhists in Bhutan? What of the holding of the Christian Mass and the performance of Hindu Pujas, where a large number of people congregate too? What of other social events such as: archery tournaments, marriages, celebration of births and deaths, promotions, sporting events, National Day celebrations, Tsechus and Dromchoes, etc.? Is the ECB going to ban those too?

To me it seems like the more intelligent and reasonable way would be to issue a rule saying that politicking during such events would not be allowed. Completely banning such events is akin to desecrating the female womb on the grounds that it can foment a potential miscreant.

At best, the ECB would have to manage and oversee less than 400,000 voters on the day of the polling. For such a minuscule number, it seems like they are going completely overboard. I am told that some universities abroad have that kind of student enrollment.

No doubt, some institutions may be empowered with extremely formidable powers. Regardless, it is important for these institutions and the persons heading those institutions to realize that certain powers should be exercised only in the rarest of rare situations.

You are not a rich man because you have millions hoarded away in a secret vault - but because you have enough to give to those who stand in need. You are not a powerful man because you wield so much power - but because you have the sensibility and wisdom to contain those powers - for the good and benefit of those whom you have been elected to serve.

Monday, December 17, 2012

105th National Day Celebrations: Photography Not Allowed!

The following photograph of multicolored ribbons flying off from atop the floodlight post inside the Changlemithang is the sum total of the photograph I have of the 105th National Day celebrations that is currently under way at the Changlemithang Stadium today. It was shot from outside the grounds.

The security people manning the stadium gates had strict instructions not to allow any cameras inside the stadium. I had no prior knowledge of such a prohibition being imposed although, I had a premonition of sorts when a photographer friend asked me if I had a license to carry a camera into the grounds. He said that he was denied entry into the grounds so was walking back to his car to deposit his camera. I had no intensions of walking back to my car, which was parked about 2 kms away.

I had parked my car at the Tarayana Centre since there was no parking space anywhere else. I walked down the road passing the Centenary Market and then on to the lower gates of the stadium. I was not allowed access and was told to enter through the upper gates. So I walked all the way to the Lungtenzampa bridge and then turned right to try and gain access through the upper gates a little further away from the Kisa Hotel.

Upon reaching the gates, I was told that I cannot enter with my camera.  I wasn’t alone - there was another elderly Bhutanese with a point-and-shoot camera slung over his neck and 4 tourists with cameras. They too were denied entry. The tourists were trying to call their guide to come and collect their cameras - only to find that the cellphone network had been shut down. One of them walked away to look for the driver and the guide.

The Bhutanese guy was trying to give his assurance to the security personnel that he would not take photos but that his family had already gone in and would be looking for him and would be worried if he didn’t show up. He reasoned that some of the expensive mobile phones had lot higher resolution than is camera. He argued that if photography was not allowed, they should disallow mobile phones as well. All that fell on deaf ears.

I asked the security personnel if he would allow me in since I hold a Media Card issued by the BICMA. He hadn’t heard of any such Card and, in any event, he said he had no instructions to allow Card holders in.

Bhutan must take great pride in being the only country in the world where a very public event, in a very public space is out of bounds for photographers and photography.

After I got thrown out of the National Assembly Hall some three years ago by the agents of the ROM, I completely stopped going to public functions and events because I am certainly not looking forward to another run in with them. Today too I didn’t want to go but the day was beautifully clear and I wanted one picture - just one - of the huge crowd on the stands with the blue skies in the background. No such luck! So I walked back all the way to my car and, enroute, I shot the photograph of the multicolored ribbons flapping in the winds.

I wish some one with brains would realize that imposing blanket bans on people is the easy way out to a problem. It is a way out where the people responsible are too lazy to put in hard work and imagination and would rather inconvenience the general public by resorting to imposing bans. Banning is not the answer. Regulating is - if at all it were required. Will someone please realize this soon, before some incident takes place? What the hell is the logic behind banning photography of a very public event, in a very public and open space?

Seriously, public functions in Bhutan are becoming a public nuisance!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Druk Wangyel Tsechu

The Druk Wangyel Tsechu held at Dochula is a recent introduction. From what I hear, the Tsechu will be held every year on the 13th of December. This is a Tsechu like no other. The dances are completely different from those performed during other Tsechus held around the country.

I like the Tsechu. It is lively, it is colorful and it is outdoors. What I like most are the dresses - the Chamgo. They are beautiful and it is obvious that lot of attention and detailing has gone into their designing. And it is done at a lavish scale - even the dresses worn by the lady dancers are very nice.

What I didn't like is the huge speakers. They looked so ugly. I wish the organizers would hide them behind some blinds made of leaves. And, there is one electric tower jutting out from behind the grounds. I wonder if it is possible to move it further down so that it is not visible close to the Cham grounds. In the middle of so much beauty and color and charm, seeing them intruding on the scene is so ..... heartbreaking.

One among forty odd tourists at the Tsechu

Dasho Karma Ura who I am told choreographed most of the Chams performed during the Tsechu

Dasho Kinley Dorji, Communications Secretary posing with the highland lasses at the Tsechu grounds

I love the Chamgo and the Kira and the Gho. They are simply exquisite! Whoever was behind the Druk Wangyel Tsechu project has certainly done a fantastic job. I am posting the following closeup photos to give you an idea of how beautiful the attire are.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Plundering Buzzards

On a tip-off from one of Bhutan’s foremost birders, Hishey Tshering, I recently undertook a birding trip to Sarpang in the South to sight and photograph one of my many life birds - a handsome looking raptor called Oriental Honey Buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus). The bird is so named because its primary food source is honey that it plunders from live beehives hanging down from the branches of a particular type of tree that grows in sub-tropical areas such as Sarpang. I do not know the name of the tree nor the reason why the bees choose this particular tree. But for sure there is a reason why these bees choose this particular tree to build their hives on. Nothing in nature happens by accident  – everything has a reason and every occurrence or demise is perfectly within the scheme and natural order of things. It is as simple as death – without death it would be impossible to perpetuate life. For, death necessitates life.

I merely intended to photograph the raptors, if I could. However, I was not quite prepared for the scene that began to be played out right in front of my eyes. It was an orchestration of one of life’s most brutal ways in which to gather food.

As I scanned the treetops for any signs of the raptors, I suddenly noticed one Buzzard fly in from the right and land at a distance on the branch of the tree that bore the largest hive among over hundred hives of varying sizes and shapes that populated four full grown trees growing in the same area. After about five minutes, all of a sudden, the raptor made a lightening dive and clawed out a chunk of the hive thereby making an opening and exposing a section of the hive full of honey. While it flew away with a swarm of bees at its nether region, other Buzzards arrived to systematically dismantle the hive and rob it of its honey. There were a total of 6 Buzzards that attacked the same hive, again and again, until the hive was completely desiccated without a trace. My camera record shows that from the time the first attack was launched at 7.42AM to until the last of the hive was torn away at 9.12AM, it took exactly one hour and thirty six minutes to completely destroy the hive.

For a moment I was overcome by a sense of pity at the mindless act of plunder committed by the six raptors. This is no way to make a living. And yet, if this was an act of annihilation, how come some few trillion bees are still surviving to build new hives and feed and provided sustenance to succeeding generations of Buzzards and Drongos and Bee Eaters?

I get the feeling the there is greater harmony and balance in the natural world despite their seemingly brutal methods of survival. It is the human world that is at greater peril with our cultured and humane ways.

A Buzzard sneaks a guarded look at a hive from behind a tree branch - to determine the hive's potential for honey

A Buzzard lunges forward to launch the first attack on the hive

The severely torn and tattered hive after the third attack

A Buzzard attacks the hive and dislodges a talon full of honey bearing hive

The Buzzards do not have it easy - bees swarm them from head to tail

The bee hive is subjected to yet another attack - may be the tenth in a series

A severely depleted hive - 3/4th of the hive is gone

A Buzzard keeps guard over an abandoned hive

With the bees finally abandoning the doomed hive, a Buzzard is at last free to feed on the remains of the hive without the fear of being stung by the bees

All that remains of the hive at the end of the determined assault by the raptors