Culture changes as Bhutan changes its politics

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Jan 15 16:13:58 UTC 2009

Culture changes as Bhutan changes its politics

Those who not know the wraths of ethnic policies exaggerate the
virginity and natural splendor of Bhutan. Additionally, culture
preserved over centuries is also the subject of attraction for the
western visitors. The government policy is to preserve the Drukpa
culture – the culture of the ruling class who follow Drukpa sect of
Mahayana Buddhism. The tantrik form of Buddhism adds flavor to this
unexploited culture.

There are policies such as 'One Nation One People' and Driglam Namzha
(dress and language etiquette) enforced by the government aimed not
only at preserving the Drukpa culture but to expand it to other ethnic
groups. As the result of government efforts to expand the culture,
over 100,000 Nepali speakers were evicted in 1990 who defy the
government orders to subscribe their culture and religion.

As time changes, so must culture – a journalists in Thimphu writes. In
one hand, government efforts continue to clamp on with the age-old
culture and on the other young generation tend to run with time. In
the word of Thomas L. Friedman, the earth has become flat. And Bhutan
can play here, cannot remain isolated if it wish to be benefited by
the flattened world.

The politics of Bhutan has change. And it is politics that bring waves
for changes in other areas. Culture in Bhutan is not likely to resist
the influences of flattened world where several cultures hybrid to
make a new one.

According to Diglam Namzha, a Bhutanese must bow low anytime a
government official walked by and cannot talk face to face with the
royal family members. This you can still observe if you visit
Bhutanese refugee camps in eastern Nepal or Bhutan. It was introduced
in Bhutan by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the 17 century and
reinforced by the government after 1970s. It says only how a person in
lower grade should behave in front of a person with higher grade and
not the other way round.

In recent years, little things changed. Bhutan, which still bans the
fashion TV held its first beauty pageant last year. A fashion show was
held and Indian movies have begun to grip the fashion stint young
Bhutanese. Fashion shops have opened in Thimphu and Paro and dance
bars have sprouted up in capital city. Young Drukpas began to realize
the burden of Driglam Zamzha that disciplines them to get Bhutanese
traditional attire while visiting senior officials or government
offices or attend formal functions

Bhutanese rulers have painted the Driglam Namzha with three books in
the last decade. This is in fact a design to create social hierarchy,
instead of developing the culture of equality. As Bhutan encompasses
democracy – the rule of people whose primary motive is equality in
society – policy such as this to promote social strata could be fatal.

The Kuensel journalist further writes:

This may explain why, in many aspects, our government behaves like an
authoritarian body. It is dominated by a civil service and
politicians, who are sure of themselves and aristocratic in assumption
of both duty and privilege. They are, so to speak, a benevolent
authority, modernised by meritocracy, democratised by the public
opinion poll and a broadened social conscience, but remaining firmly
seated in the old traditions of aristocratic ethos and its alliance
with a hereditary social class. It is inherent in the existence and
nature of such a system to create division.

Besides, change in politics has brought change in culture. Recently,
the elected parliament revoked the age-old government order of
meatless Bhutan for two months every year – first and fourth of the
Bhutanese calendar.

The young generation generally avoids Gho and Kira unless in formal
occasion. The trend is stronger among those youths who studies abroad.
As they nurture themselves with culture of the country they studied,
reorienting with Bhutanese culture would be abysmal task for them.
Dago Tshering, former home minister, who devised the policy of Driglam
Namzha in 1980s, is also seen in occasion without the national dress.
There are several other senior government officials not abiding by the

The government of Bhutan has announced to increase the number of
tourist in the coming years to boost the economy through tourism
industry. This will obviously influence the tradition of the Bhutanese
society. The IT boom and access to TV channels in urban centre can be
the best instrument for culture change in Bhutan and no agents can
here act so strongly to restrict people from changing.

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