Sunday, April 3, 2022

Images That Tug At Your Heartstrings

Tomorrow the 4th of April, 2022 the whole of Bhutan and all those who inhabit it will come unshackled! The release of emotions and the soaring of the spirits will take on different hues for different people. Being liberated from the lockdown will no doubt mean different things to different people. But one thing is bound to be universal – each one of us will sigh the sigh of relief at long last.

But for some of us – it is a time for heightened worry – a time for double masks and a need to burrow even deeper into the safety of our personal realms. Suddenly, the world has, upon our own determination, turned lot more deadly and dangerous. But I have always said that worrying is pointless and unproductive. The thing to do is to do what needs to be done.

In the midst of trying to take stock of what lies ahead, I am faced with a number of images in the social media that has gripped me with alternating emotions of joy, foreboding and sorrow.

Look at the following images of the celebration of the arrival of the first tourist group of 32, since the pandemic. I am overjoyed – this can only mean that our tourism reopening is going to happen soon. We desperately need our tourism to reopen – it is the biggest employer; its benefit is accrued across the broad spectrum of the Bhutanese society. It is also perhaps the only industry where tax evasion is practically none existent – given how the business is regulated. Thus no one should dare fool around with this industry.

Rolling out the welcome wagon: Champagne & Cake for the group of 32
Image curtesy of DrukAir

The Group of 32 landing in Paro airport yesterday
Image curtesy of DrukAir

In the midst of this jubilation – comes along the following image. The image shows hundreds of Bhutanese youth queuing up to register for IELTS at the IMS. These youth hope to depart the country to seek employment and livelihood elsewhere in the world. This brings in its wake the steady outflow of human capital – in a country already constrained by falling birth rate. And yet, the bright side to the malice is that remittances from Bhutanese working aboard have now surpassed that of the earnings from the tourism sector - until now the highest foreign exchange earner. In 2020, the inward remittance by Bhutanese working abroad amounted to Nu. 8.269 billion, as opposed to a total of Nu. 6.648 billion from the tourism industry, in the year 2019.

Hundreds of Bhutanese youth jostling for space - to register for IELTS

While the flight of the Bhutanese youth to work abroad are contributing to the much needed foreign exchange earnings of the country, their exodus out of the country is creating a situation with long term implications. Increasingly, Bhutan’s rural population look like the following.

The face of the inhabitants populating the homes of rural Bhutan

Leaving the old and the aged to fend for themselves – in villages devoid of the young and the able handed – is a cause for serious concern. The resulting Goongtongs (abandoned households) that over time will translate into Yueltongs (abandoned villages), and finally Gyaltong (abandoned kingdom), is a scary thought, but a real possibility, if no interventions are put into place.

1 comment:

  1. You couldn’t have said it better! Our country desperately needs to work on creating more opportunities for the youth in the private sector. Uplifting the private sector can’t just be lip service anymore - we need to make it happen! The government can’t (and shouldn’t) be the sole employer. We need more and better opportunities for our youth in the private sector! That can only happen if we have a thriving private sector! I personally feel that the biggest bottleneck we currently have is access to capital! As it stand right now, you have to already wealthy to get access to money! All bank loans are collateralized so if you don’t already have wealth, you cannot get access to loans! We obviously need a different system! People should be able to borrow based on collateral and credit worthiness, perhaps a system similar to the ones adopted in the West. Perhaps we need a centralized database that tracks people’s credit or financial credibility. Track people’s actions - do they pay rent on time? Do they make loan payments on time? Are they financially responsible? All these actions should become a part of their credit history.