Bhutan, quo vadis?

I know many of you must be wondering what quo vadis stands for. But for the moment, let us forget about it. I know it instills a sense of inquisitiveness, that’s fine.

A few sequences of events propel me to put forth the following for discussion. First is the blanket rule born out of the annual conference of cultural officers (though we know they are mere scapegoats) that directs our women folks to wear only ada rachus hence forth, purportedly to prevent dilution of culture and also to provide a clear distinction between the royals and the common folks. This makes very little sense to me.

First, on the dilution of culture: If everything that has evolved out of creativity of the artisans and enhanced economic conditions of the society is considered dilution of culture, then we might as well stick to wearing nettle fiber clothes, walking barefoot and abolish riding cars et al. The list would be endless and it would only throw us back in time. Culture perhaps survives in two scenarios. One, in an absolute dictatorship where people have no choice but to abide by the orders; other, when it is vibrant and dynamic. Prior to 2008, we were an absolute monarchy yet our beloved monarchs were revered more than feared for they cared for the people. Post 2008, we are supposedly a democracy yet today governance is borne more out of fear of repercussions than of duty, respect and reverence.  What is preferable and what must or must not last, we must decide as a society.

Second, to create clear distinction between the royal and the commoners: The true distinction I believe is in the blood and not in the clothes we wear. There is already a clear distinction in terms of color, size or the way it is worn. I see no urgency why it has to be further reinforced, apart from sycophancy. The other day, in Punakha, at the naming ceremony of our beloved Gyalsey, our King was dressed in a plain sertha namza whereas our Prime Minister had worn an intricate lungserm shinglochem and I had no difficulty identifying the King! If not anything, I see this dictate as a great disservice to our Royals who always made us feel part of the larger Bhutanese family.

What disturbs me more, however, is that there are very few voices of dissent from among the women folks themselves or organizations that represent them. Is this a sign of a society of subservience? Almost everyone I have heard or talked to is unhappy with this abrupt rule yet hardly anybody would like to object it publicly. This is the kind of democracy we have created because voices of dissent are often always construed as anti-establishment or even worse, anti-national. This is a dangerous precedent.

Monarchy is the most important institution in our country. It is the most respected and most revered for obvious reasons stated above. Any attempt to discredit this institution, knowingly or unknowingly, should be seen as a serious threat to the sacred institution as well as to the nation. Politicians will come and go but we remain in solace under the hope that our Monarchs will always be there to lead the way and serve reminders if we sway. I see two types of threats in the present scenario; one that threatens the institution from the outside. This is the one that is visible and can be externally controlled. The other is the one that lives inside and sucks on the blood. This is more catastrophic. Yet both are disastrous.

The other rule that I cannot comprehend is disallowing filming only beyond 200 meters of any dzongs or monasteries. I agree we need clear rules and guidelines. I agree we need to preserve the sanctity of certain portions of our dzongs and monasteries. I agree some of the players must have breached the instructions but that doesn’t mean we throw in a blanket rule. Putting every youth in prison for the fear of youth related crimes or building concrete walls around chortens to avoid chorten vandalism would not be prudent decisions even if they help solve the problems. The first task for the Dzongdas now would be to demarcate the 200 meter boundary to ensure that filmmakers don’t shoot from 199 meters out of ignorance. Films are powerful mediums and they help document our culture and traditions for posterity. If only we had a camera back then, we would have a picture of Desi Jigme Namgyel today. If only we had cameras then it would be easier to replicate the interiors of Drukgyal Dzong as we take on the gigantic task of rebuilding it. Look at how much we cherish old pictures and videos today because they give us perspectives of our past. Is Jigme Namgyel revered more because we don’t have a picture or is Ugyen Wangchuck revered less because we have his pictures? Would it be considered disrespectful if a filmmaker created a replica of the interiors of the Kuenray of Punakha Dzong and put in a pole dance sequence? Is the sanctity restricted to the Dzong itself or even applied to its replicas or artistic re-creations? An explanation from the relevant authorities would help so that people don’t fall prey out of naivety.

I am not despising nor condemning anyone or any institution, all I am insinuating is that we must all stake a claim in the kind of society that we aspire to build, the kind of future we dream and the kind of legacy that we want to leave behind. The role of state building, cultural preservation and patriotism are not a monopoly of the few powerful individuals or those in authority. It’s a duty of every Bhutanese like you and me.

Quo Vadis is a Latin phrase meaning “where are you going?” And indeed it’s time to ask Bhutan and the Bhutanese, where are we going?

 

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