Identity is no longer non-negotiable

My final column that appeared in Business Bhutan on 18th July 2015.

I’ve been pondering our Bhutanese identity. Yes, once again. It’s been prompted by the reaction of a RAPA official to young hip-hop dancers last week on BBS. The boys believe what they are doing is Bhutanese, but the official rubbished their claim.

As Bhutanese, we must support local talent and skills first. Therefore, awarding of training opportunities to local resource persons is minimal while most (costly) “experts” are non-Bhutanese. Other professionals meanwhile: Skilled craftsmen, artists, and even footballers are denied entry into the country (visa issues). A film cannot be registered as a Bhutanese film because the cast and crew are not Bhutanese even if the idea is that of a Bhutanese director’s. It is quite alright that local development support is not standardised, and that it is contingent on the whims and fancies of a handful of people. 

You are Bhutanese if you have at least one online anonymous account. And you manipulate travel claims, think of a further studies opportunity as an entitlement, react wildly to rumours and heresy, and set up appointments- turn up late or not turn up at all, and use the bank or hospital as an excuse.

We are all conspiracy theorists.

It is normal to spend public money without public consultation, and not face public ire. We will panic about fuel price hikes when we see a long queue of vehicles at the fuel depot but we will not panic about our rising public debt. We don’t know what to do with our garbage so we throw it where we can’t see it: Behind our houses on someone else’s land or below the road. Out of sight, out of mind. This is the way of the Bhutanese.

Being Bhutanese is being suicidal. Suicide is among our top six killers. Being Bhutanese is being drug or alcohol- dependent. We are the highest per capita consumer of alcohol in the South Asian region. Being Bhutanese is being gay or queer. There are 9000 of us who identify with the LGBTI group.

No. I will not give you a seat at the table if all you are bringing to it is a blinkered notion of what it means to be a Bhutanese in this day an age, and will not agree to disagree. Identity is not frozen in time. Identity is fluid. Identity evolves. History bears testimony to this. Identity is a space for negotiation. This is not one person’s domain alone. We speak of a widening generation gap, and yet remain both actively and passively responsible for the cleavage. Many of us, mainly adults are guilty of being non-negotiators of identity. Accept it. Only then can we make some progress.


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