Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Common Forum: An Exercise in Futility

Listening to the speeches delivered by the Candidates of different political parties in the Common Fora around the country awakens in me a sense of Déjà vu … one that relates to my late grandmother.

As the most indulgent and favourite among her 170 odd grand children, my late grandmother would single me out - for special privilege. From her winter residence in Gaylegphug, she would issue her summons for me to travel all the way from Thimphu to Gaylegphu - in order that she may undertake her annual pilgrimage to Bumthang where she would spend her summer months - in prayer and penance.

Being way past 90, she was in no condition to undertake any physical activities. Regardless, she would unfailingly attend all the Buddhist sermons that would be conducted in and around Bumthang valley. Amid rain and sun and swirling dust she would sit, among a sea of human bodies, in rapt attention, listening to a tirade of Buddhist teachings delivered in words that were total Greek to her. To this day I have not understood the merit or the meaning of listening to words that made no sense.

Rumour has it that during the 80’s and the 90’s when the Royal High Court of Justice was pronouncing judgments on the prisoners who where being prosecuted for acts of terrorism and other anti-national activities, verdicts were being read out in Dzongkha - to culprits who were largely Lhotshampas who didn’t understand a word of the language. Then one day, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo is supposed to have questioned the High Court on how justice was seen to be served - when the culprits who had to understand what they were being charged with - was being done so in a language that they didn’t understand.

That is exactly what is happening now - in the common fora being conducted all over the country.

On the one hand it is clearly evident that most of the speakers are unskilled in the Dzongkha language. Thus, majority of the speakers stutter and stammer and choke on their words, as they struggle with Dzongkha words that are quite obviously new and unfamiliar to themselves. Most candidates come through as shamefully incompetent. On the other hand, three fourths of the national audience - other than those in the western part of the country - are not Ngalongs. They are either Sharchops, Lhotshampas or Khenpas who do not speak or understand Dzongkha. Thus, you can see that most of the audience in the common fora are clueless about the halting words and disjointed sentences that drone away as they sit on the floor, like zombies.

It is a pity! Here is a case of the medium killing the message.

If the common forum is to serve a useful purpose; if it is to be a process of education for the voters, then these forums need to be conducted in a language that can be spoken with ease by the speakers and one that can be understood by the audience. Dzongkha language as a medium of communications is a poor and inappropriate choice - atleast for the Eastern, Central and Southern Dzongkhags. It is like speaking astronomy to an audience wholly comprised of medical students. If any sense is to be made, a Khengpa Candidate should speak Khengkha to a gathering of Khengpas! Otherwise the common forums are a total waste of time and resource.

Even worst, over time, there is a real danger of the voters suffering fatigue - from an overdose of bombardment of senseless words and unrealistic promises that are an insult to the Bhutanese people's intelligence. This could result in poor voter turn-out during the D-Day: the polling day of the General Rounds!


  1. Agree.
    Diversity of languages, and true art of speaking could be celebrated in the language freedom at common forums.

  2. Yes, and speaking in the dialect(s) of the area of the form would eventually also help to protect the respective dialects some of which are already weakened with time. By the way, love the story about your grandma and you seem to have been the spoilt grandson (brat).

  3. Unfortunately, in Bhutan, the Dzongkha lobby is too strong, so even if what Au Yeshey has eloquently written continues, there will be no shift in policy at all. The Chief Election Commissioner is a rigid task master, so he will follow the rules to the T, even if it does not make any sense and will not allow for any changes to be made. A few years ago, there was a discussion on social media about allowing English to be used in the NA and NC as many of our elected representatives did not participate in the NA/NC deliberations since they were very poor Dzongkha speakers, well the Dzongkha language lobbyists even went to the extent of calling people Ngolops for even suggesting that we allow English to be used. So even if the majority of the people don't understand what is being said and some of our elected leaders don't make any contribution to the discussions in the Parliament, this rule is not going to change anytime soon.