Thursday, February 7, 2019

Are We a Thinking Society?

The self-appointed guardians of compassion and empathy - the religious and the righteous - will have you believe that the purpose behind imposing a ban on selling meat during the holy month (we are currently into one) is to reduce the slaughter of animals. Alas! They achieve just the opposite - it causes thousands of animals to be slaughtered days and weeks before their time. The meat lovers are coerced into buying a whole month’s stock of meat in advance! So what? The religion vultures are too ashamed to admit their folly. The rule stands - while rationalism takes a beating. This world is being taken over by the pseudo-religious!

A learned friend tells me that the term Goongtong is now passé - he says that the catch-phrase should now be Yuetong. According to him, it is no longer village homes that are being abandoned and left empty - in his view, the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that whole villages are now being emptied of human habitation. Wildlife predation is at the root of this problem.

But the authorities fail to see it that way. In recent times, there have been reports of elephants marching through human habitat - in some cases even close to urban centers. In one incident, an elephant crushed a villager to death - by trampling.  You cannot believe this - but the authorities called the cause of death a “human-wildlife conflict”! A hulking behemoth saunters in and crushes the helpless farmer to death. Pray, explain to me, how does a cowering farmer mount a “conflict” against a hulking colossus?

The popular belief is that the country’s Ministry/Department of Agriculture has the highest number of doctorates and researchers. And yet, recent reports in the media point to the fact that the forestry and agriculture sectors remain the most neglected and untended.

Dr. Phuntsho Namgyel is a forestry expert and analyst. In his recent article in the Kuensel dated 26th January, 2019 (, he actually opines that our forest is overstocked, that there is no cause for us to be proud of the fact that we have 83.90% forest coverage. In his opinion, this supposedly abundant natural resource is more of a burden than good. He in fact thinks that we should cut down our trees, if we are to save our forests.

Dr. Phuntsho points out that in 2015, we exported wood products worth Nu. 0.35 billion. As against that, we imported wood worth Nu. 2.60 billion. For a country with 1,001 million m3 of timber reserve, it is irresponsible to import so much wood, while our own are left to rot away.

Could it be that our doctorate researchers and experts in the Ministry/Department of Agriculture left the forests alone with the belief that trees are good for the environment and that it contributes to carbon sequestration? Were/are they clueless about the negative effects of overstocked forests - both for the environment as well as for the health of the forests? Why was such an important and abundantly available national resource allowed to go to waste? What kind of experts are they that they are unaware of the cause and effect of overstocked forests - on wildlife, on ground water stock, on the overall ecosystem?

Then there is this perennial stray dogs problem that we are simply unable to solve. The only solution to the problem that we have been able to come up with so far is: advise the visitors to the country to bring along earplugs. The DXers Magazine published by Gus Browning Enterprises of Cordova, SC, USA gives a graphic description of the stray dogs problem experienced by the radio amateur Gus Browning during Paro Tsechu in 1965. This means that this problem existing during and even before 1965, has been allowed to fester, even compound, since then.

At some point the Bhutanese society needs to start thinking - thus far there is no indication that we are a thinking society.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

One More, For Our Men In Blue

Yet again another solar fencing project for our men in blue - this time at their open-air prison complex at Dawakha, under Paro Dzongkhag.

The Club President and the Superintendent of Police of Chamgang Jail inaugurate the solar fencing project yesterday at Dogar open-air prison facility of the RBP

Few of the proud Members of the Rotary Club of Thimphu participate in the handing-over ceremony of the solar fencing project to the prison authorities which was also attended by the Thrizin and Mangmi of Dogar Gewog. Members present during the ceremony were (from left to right): Rtn. Tashi Rinzing Schmidt, Rtn. Kesang Tshomo, Rtn. Sonam Wangmo, Rtn. Tsewang Rinzing and Rtn. Karma Gyaltsen. Also seen are (from left to right): open-air prison in-charge Dedrim Sonam Tobgay, Dogar Gup, Chamgang Jail SP Sonam Wangchuk and Dogar Mangmi. In the background is the infamous Dawakha Jail - now converted into an institute of learning.

Part of the 6 acres of vegetable farm that is now secured from wildlife predation with solar fencing

The open-air prison concept of the prison authorities is a noble idea where prisoners who have served most of their prison terms undergo a sort of a reintegration process - through gradual and limited access to free movement and normalcy. The dwellings in this prison facility are as normal as normal can be - there are no fortified walls, no ferocious guard dogs, no armed sentinels to keep vigil over the inmates. The inmates here are engaged in very normal and routine human activities such as gardening, weaving, knitting and, on occasions, jaunts to the nearby markets and towns. What is even more out of the ordinary is that 9 children belonging to some of the 25 all-female inmates domiciled in this facility, live within the bounds of this tranquil patch of human settlement.

There is something truly noble about the experiment called open-air prison. It is a dramatic departure from the traditional belief that people serving prison terms should be bound and shackled inside high walls with spikes and guarded by vicious bloodhounds. It is my understanding that this revolutionary concept helps the inmates re-orient themselves with their innate human nature that may have undergone turmoil and disconnection - as a result of many years spent within the walls of shame and dishonor. The permissive environs of an open-air prison helps to reintroduce the inmates to engage in normal human activities, feel emotions that are naturally human, help shed that stigma associated with being a prisoner. The freedom of movement and interaction, even while limited and controlled, help the inmates to realize that they have done their time for their crimes and that they are now on their way to being released into the societal fold, of which they are still an indivisible part.

In my capacity as the Club Secretary I have taken on the responsibility of implementing all of our Club’s many projects. Thus, I have had to visit the open-air prison 5 times since the start of the project - the last one being yesterday when I went along with some other Members of the Club, to hand over the solar fencing project to the prison authorities. 

Every one of my 5 trips have been trips of great emotional unease. In an attempt to be seen as being normal, I shared theirs meals, entered their lodgings, spoke to them, asked them where they were from, saw them weaving, knitting, packing chilies. I laughed with them and shared jokes with them - in an attempt to make them feel at ease. But despite my most earnest attempts, I could never shake off the feeling of being an oddity - a paranormal - among the lot who must be counted among the most normal.

Being in the company of these inmates reminded me of the bigoted nature of human society. The only fault of these inmates has been that they were foolish enough to be caught committing a crime. Had they not been caught, they would not be called criminals. There are more sinister criminals committing even more heinous crimes than these inmates - but they roam free, talk big, dispense religious sermons and give discourses in morality. They are counted among the leaders of society and captains of trade and industry. They pass verdicts on who is a criminal and who is not - while they themselves are bankrupt of morality and goodness.

The Rotary Club of Thimphu cannot hope to change the unfair nature of human society but we can certainly try and make life a little less painful and a little more livable, for some. It is our hope that within the confines of the solar fencing that we provided to the inmates of the open-air prison, they will grow vegetables and other foods that will go on to contribute to rebuilding their lives and restore their dignity - lost through carelessness of being caught in the act.