Who We Are
(Compiled by Tek Rimal from different resources including excerpts from his own directory)
The Bhutanese refugees are the former citizens of Bhutan. They were called Lhotshampas (“southerners”), a group of people of Nepalese origin, including some Kirat, Tamang, and Gurung peoples. These refugees were registered in refugee camps in eastern Nepal during the 1990s after forcibly evicted by the Government of Bhutan. As Nepal and Bhutan have yet to implement any agreement on repatriation, many Bhutanese refugees have since resettled to North America, Australia and Europe under the auspices of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The earliest surviving records of Bhutan’s history show that Tibetan influence already existed from the 6th century. King Songtsen Gampo, who ruled Tibet from the years 627 to 649, was responsible for the construction of Bhutan’s oldest surviving Buddhist temples, the Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro and the Jambay Lhakhang in Bumthang. Settlement in Bhutan by people of Tibetan origin happened by this time.
The first reports of people of Nepalese origin in Bhutan was around 1620, when Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal commissioned a few Newar craftsmen from the Kathmandu valley in Nepal to make a silver stupa to contain the ashes of his father Tempa Nima. During the late 19th Century, contractors working for the Bhutanese government began to organise the settlement of Nepali-speaking people in uninhabited areas of southern Bhutan in order to open those areas up for cultivation. The south soon became the country’s main supplier of food. By 1930, according to British colonial officials, much of the south was under cultivation by a population of Nepali origin that amounted to some 60,000 people.
Settlement in Bhutan of large numbers of people from Nepal happened for the first time in the early 20th century.This settlement was encouraged by the Bhutan House in Kalimpong for the purpose of collecting taxes for the government. In the 1930s, the Bhutan House settled 5,000 families of Nepali workers in Tsirang alone. In the 1940s, the British Political Officer Sir Basil Gould was quoted as saying that when he warned Sir Raja Sonam Topgay Dorji of Bhutan House of the potential danger of allowing so many ethnic Nepalese to settle in southern Bhutan, he replied that “since they were not registered subjects they could be evicted whenever the need arose.” Furthermore, Lhotshampa were forbidden from settling north of the subtropical foothills.
Expatriate Nepalese, who resettled in West Bengal and Assam after leaving Bhutan, formed the Bhutan State Congress in 1952 to represent the interests of other expatriates in India as well as the communities they had left behind. An effort to expand their operations into Bhutan with a satyagraha (nonviolent resistance) movement in 1954 failed in the face of the mobilization of Bhutan’s militia and a lack of enthusiasm among those Nepalese in Bhutan, who did not want to risk their already tenuous status. The Bhutanese government further diffused the Bhutan State Congress movement by granting concessions to the minority and allowing Nepalese representation in the National Assembly. The Bhutan State Congress continued to operate in exile until its decline and gradual disappearance in the early 1960s. The leaders in exile were pardoned in 1969 and permitted to return.
Bhutan’s Citizenship Act of 1958
Further information: Bhutanese Citizenship Act 1958
Toward the end of the reign of the second King Jigme Wangchuck in the 1950s, the numbers of new immigrants had swelled causing tension between the King and the Dorji family in the Bhutan House. Amnesty was given through the Citizenship Act of 1958 for all those who could prove their presence in Bhutan for at least 10 years prior to 1958. On the other hand, the government also banned further immigration in 1958.
From 1961 onward however, with Indian support, the government began planned developmental activities consisting of significant infrastructure development works. Uncomfortable with India’s desire to bring in workers in large numbers from India, the government initially tried to prove its own capacity by insisting that the planned Thimphu–Phuntsholing highway be done with its own workforce. The government also attempted to rein in immigration. While the project was a success, completing the 182-kilometer highway in just two years, the import of workers from India was inevitable. With most Bhutanese self-employed as farmers, Bhutan lacked a ready supply of workers willing to take up the major infrastructure projects. This led eventually to the large-scale immigration of skilled and unskilled construction workers from India.These people were mostly of Nepali origin and settled in the south, as required, among legal and illegal residents alike.With the pressures of the developmental activities, this trend remained unchecked or inadequately checked for many years. Immigration check posts and immigration offices were in fact established for the first time only after 1990.
Bhutan’s Citizenship Act of 1985
Further information: Bhutanese Citizenship Act 1985
By the 1980s, the government had become acutely conscious not just of widespread illegal immigration of people of Nepali origin into Bhutan, but also of the total lack of integration even of long-term immigrants into the political and cultural mainstream of the country. Most Lhotshampa remained culturally Nepalese. For its part, the government had largely ignored illegal settlement, but had encouraged intermarriage with cash payments as a means of assimilation. However, this was met with negligible success as far as actual assimilation. There was also a perception of a Greater Nepal movement emerging from the Nepali-dominated areas in Nepal, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and West Bengal which the Bhutanese feared as Nepali chauvinism.
Perceiving this growing dichotomy as a threat to national unity, the government promulgated directives in the 1980s that sought to preserve Bhutan’s cultural identity as well as to formally embrace the citizens of other ethnic groups in a “One Nation One People” policy. The government implied that the “culture” to be preserved would be that of the various northern Bhutanese groups. To reinforce this movement, the government forced the use of the Driglam Namzha, the Bhutanese national dress and etiquette code. This policy required citizens to wear the attire of the northern Bhutanese in public places under penalty of fines, and reinforced the status of Dzongkha as the national language. Nepali was discontinued as a subject in the schools, thus bringing it at par with the status of the other languages of Bhutan, none of which are taught. Such policies were criticized at first by human rights groups as well as Bhutan’s Nepalese economic migrant community, who perceived the policy to be directed against them. The government, for its part, perceived that free Nepali-language education had encouraged illegal immigration into southern Bhutan.
The Citizenship Act of 1985 clarified and attempted to enforce the Citizenship Act of 1958 in order to control the flood of illegal immigration. In 1988, the government conducted its first real census exercise. The basis for census citizenship classifications was the 1958 “cut off” year, the year that the Nepali population had first received Bhutanese citizenship. Those individuals who could not provide proof of residency prior to 1958 were adjudged to be illegal immigrants.
Bhutan’s first census (1988)
The issue was brought to the fore when the government of Bhutan discovered in its first census the magnitude of the Lhotsampa population. Lhotsampa of Nepali descent who had been living in southern Bhutan since the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were induced to leave Bhutan after the country carried out its first census in 1988. The government, however, failed to properly train the census officials and this led to some tension among the public. Placement in the census categories which ranged from “Genuine Bhutanese” to “Non-nationals: Migrants and Illegal Settlers” was often arbitrary, and could be arbitrarily changed. In some cases members of the same family have been, and still are, placed in different categories; some admittedly genuine Bhutanese have been forced to flee with family members the government found to be illegal immigrants. Other Lhotshampa who considered their own citizenship secure were prevented by government officials from obtaining proper documentation, losing their property.
The government also attempted to enforce the Bhutanese driglam namzha dress and language code at the same time, in order to have the Lhotshampa population assimilate into Ngalop society.The government explained its cultural identity programs as a defense against the first political problems since the Wangchuck Dynasty was established in 1907 and the greatest threat to the nation’s survival since the seventeenth century. Its major concern was to avoid a repeat of events that had occurred in 1975 when the monarchy in Sikkim was ousted by a Nepalese majority in a plebiscite and Sikkim was absorbed into India. In an effort to resolve the interethnic strife, the Druk Gyalpo made frequent visits to the troubled southern districts, and he ordered the release of hundreds of arrested “antinationals”(According to the government officials then). He also expressed the fear that the large influx of Nepalese might lead to their demand for a separate state in the next ten to twenty years, in much the same way as happened in the once-independent monarchy of Sikkim in the 1970s.
However, these measures combined to alienate even bona fide citizens of Nepali descent. Some ethnic Nepalese began protesting perceived discrimination, demanding exemption from the government decrees aimed at enhancing Bhutanese national identity. The reaction to the royal decrees in Nepalese majority communities surfaced as ethnic strife directed against non-Lhotshampa. Reactions also took form as protest movements in Nepal and India among Nepalese who had left Bhutan. The Druk Gyalpo was accused of “cultural suppression,” and his government was charged by antigovernment leaders with human rights violations, including the torture of prisoners; arbitrary arrest and detention; denial of due process; and restrictions of freedoms of speech and press, peaceful organization and assembly, and workers’ rights. Antigovernment protest marches involved more than 20,000 participants, including some from a movement that had succeeded in coercing India into accepting local autonomy for ethnic Nepalese in West Bengal, who crossed the border from West Bengal and Assam into six districts across Bhutan. As the census exercise came to an end, the southern border of Bhutan became a hotbed of militancy for several years.
Supporting the anti-government activities were expatriate Nepalese political groups and supporters in Nepal and India. Between 2,000 and 12,000 Nepalese were reported to have fled Bhutan in the late 1980s, and according to a 1991 report, even high-level Bhutanese government officials of Nepalese origin had resigned their positions and moved to Nepal. Some 5 million Nepalese were living in settlements in India along the Bhutan border in 1990. Nepalese were not necessarily welcome in India, where ethnic strife conspired to push them back through the largely unguarded Bhutanese frontier. The Bhutan Peoples’ Party operated among the large Nepalese community in northern India. A second group, the Bhutan People’s Forum for Human Rights (a counterpart of the Nepal People’s Forum for Human Rights), was established in 1998 in Nepal by Tek Nath Rizal, a Lhotshampa and former trusted official of the Royal Advisory Council who acted as a chief liaison between the government and the Lhotshampa in the south, as well as a former member of the National Assembly of Bhutan. The Bhutan Students Union and the Bhutan Aid Group-Nepal also were involved in political activism.
In November 1989, Tek Nath Rizal was allegedly abducted in eastern Nepal by Bhutanese police and returned to Thimphu, where he was imprisoned on charges of conspiracy and treason. He was also accused of instigating the racial riots in southern Bhutan. Rizal was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1993.
Interethnic conflict (1990s)
Interethnic conflict generally escalated during the 1990s. In February 1990, antigovernment activists detonated a remote-control bomb on a bridge near Phuntsholing and set fire to a seven-vehicle convoy.
In September 1990, clashes occurred with the Royal Bhutan Army, which was ordered not to fire on protesters. The men and women marchers were organized by S.K. Neupane and other members of the illegal Bhutan Peoples’ Party, which reportedly urged the marchers to demand democracy and human rights for all Bhutanese citizens. Some villagers willingly joined the protests; others did so under duress. The government branded the party, reportedly established by anti-monarchists and backed by the Nepali Congress Party and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), as a terrorist organization. The party allegedly led its members – said to be armed with rifles, muzzle-loading guns, knives, and homemade grenades – in raids on villages in southern Bhutan, disrobing people wearing traditional Bhutanese garb; extorting money; and robbing, kidnapping, and killing people. Reportedly, there were hundreds of casualties, although the government admitted to only two deaths among security forces. Other sources indicated that more than 300 persons were killed, 500 wounded, and 2,000 arrested in clashes with security forces. Along with the above-mentioned violence, vehicle hijackings, kidnappings, extortions, ambushes, and bombings took place, schools were closed (some were destroyed), and post offices, police, health, forest, customs, and agricultural posts were destroyed. For their part, security forces were charged by the Bhutan Peoples’ Party, in protests made to Amnesty International and the International Human Rights Commission, with murder and rape and carrying out a “reign of terror.” In support of the expatriate Nepalese, the general secretary of the Nepali Congress Party, the ruling party in Nepal, called on the Druk Gyalpo to establish a multiparty democracy. Some of the organizers of the marches were arrested and detained. The Bhutanese government admitted only to the arrest of 42 people involved in “anti-national” activities in late 1989, plus 3 additional individuals who had been extradited from Nepal. All but 6 were reportedly later released; those remaining in jail were charged with treason. By September 1990, more than 300 additional prisoners held in the south were released following the Druk Gyalpo’s tour of southern districts.
In the face of government resistance to demands that would institutionalize separate identities within the nation, protesters in the south insisted that the Bhutan Peoples’ Party flag be flown in front of administrative headquarters and that party members be allowed to carry the kukri, a traditional Nepalese curved knife, at all times. They also called for the right not to wear the Bhutanese national dress, and insisted that schools and government offices stay closed until their demands were met. The unmet demands were accompanied by additional violence and deaths in October 1990. At the same time, India pledged “all possible assistance that the royal government might seek in dealing with this problem” and assured that it would protect the frontier against groups seeking illegal entry to Bhutan.
By early 1991, the press in Nepal was referring to insurgents in southern Bhutan as “freedom fighters.” The Bhutan Peoples’ Party claimed that more than 4,000 advocates of democracy had been arrested by the Royal Bhutan Army. Charges were made that some of those arrested had been murdered outside Bhutanese police stations and that some 4,200 persons had been deported.
To deter and regulate Nepalese migration into Bhutan from India, the Druk Gyalpo ordered more regular censuses, improved border checks, and better government administration in the southern districts. The more immediate action of forming citizens’ militias took place in October 1990 as a backlash to the demonstrations. Internal travel regulations were made more strict with the issue of new multipurpose identification cards by the Ministry of Home Affairs in January 1990. By the end of 1990, the government admitted the serious effects of the anti-government violence. It was announced that foreign- exchange earnings had dropped and that the GDP had decreased significantly because of terrorist activities.
In 1992 interethnic conflict again flared, prompting a peak in Lhotshampa departures, totaling over 100,000 by 1996. Many Lhotshampa were forcibly evicted by the military, who forced them to sign “Voluntary Migration Form” documents stating they had left willingly.
In 1998, Tek Nath Rizal was granted a royal pardon and left for Nepal to form the “People’s Forum for Human Rights.”
Refugees outside Bhutan
During the 1990s, the several thousand Lhotshampa and a few Sarshop from Eastern Bhutan, who left Bhutan settled in refugee camps in Eastern Nepal set up by UNHCR. The UNHCR began to distribute aid to the refugees and recognized most of those who arrived in Nepal from Bhutan between 1990 and 1993 on a prima facie basis. By 1996, the camp populations had exploded to 100,000. The Bhutanese refugee issue remains unresolved. Most of the refugees were received by camps in Nepal, exceeding 107,000 persons according to UNHCR.
Refugee camps in Nepal
The government of Nepal and UNHCR have managed seven refugee camps since the arrival of people claiming to be refugees from Bhutan in the 1990s. The government of Bhutan contends that among these refugees are local Nepalese people attracted to camps for their resources. Below is a list, along with their populations as of 2011.
- Beldangi I, 12,793
- Beldangi II, 14,680
- Beldangi II Extension, 8,470
- Goldhap, 4,627
- Khudunabari, 10,688
- Sanischare, 13,323
- Timai, 6,874
Because of significant third-country resettlement, refugee camp populations have fallen. As a result, the UNHCR merged Goldhap, Timai and Khudunabari camps into Beldangi and Sanischare camps recently.
Camp conditions were initially rife with malnutrition and disease including measles, scurvy, tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, and beriberi, although camp conditions improved markedly between 1995 and 2005. Education was among the best services provided within the refugee camps, generally better inside than in the surrounding countryside of Nepal. Camps, however, remained significantly overpopulated through 2006. Malnourishment associated with age-based food rationing, violence against women and children, and marginalization resulting in a degree of radicalization remained serious issues. Since this time, camp populations have fallen largely due to third-country resettlement. As of early 2012, some 45,000-50,000 remained in camps in Nepal awaiting resettlement.
In 2000, after years of discussions, Bhutan and Nepal reached an agreement regarding the repatriation of certain classes of Bhutanese refugees living in camps in Nepal, subject to joint government verification. Points of contention included that some camp inhabitants were never citizens – or some even residents – of Bhutan before attaining refugee status. Also, the Bhutanese government regarded many political groups among the Nepalese Lhotshampa community, such as the Bhutan Peoples’ Party (BPP) and Bhutan National Democratic Party (BNDP), as terrorist or anti-national groups. The United States Department of State identified leaders within refugee camps intent on repatriation as hampering some resettlement efforts with disinformation and intimidation, despite generally poor prospects for repatriation. Further complicating repatriation, the land and other property formerly held by Lhotshampa refugees have been repopulated and taken over by Ngalop settlers – including government and military members – under government encouragement.
Nepal, for its part, has not accepted the refugees into its own population. Bhutanese refugees in Nepal live under conditions of restricted or controlled movement, restricted ability to work, and limited access to the local justice system.
In March 2001, the first verification of Bhutanese refugees eligible for repatriation commenced in Nepalese refugee camps. Actual repatriation was then estimated to occur one year out, however progress stalled for over a decade. In 2003, a Bhutanese verification team was attacked and injured in Jhapa, resulting in further delay. As of 2011, over 200 refugees in the Khudunabari refugee camp alone had been certified, however no Bhutanese refugees had been repatriated. In April 2011, Bhutan and Nepal again opened talks on repatriation; however the UNHCR remains committed to third-country resettlement in light of Bhutan’s refusal to guarantee full citizenship and other human rights for returnees. As of July 2011, the governments of Bhutan and Nepal had held at least 15 rounds bilateral talks, with no practical solution reached; although Bhutanese state media echoed Bhutan’s insistence on continued talks with Nepal, it has signaled its preference for third-country resettlement.
The U.S. offered to resettle 60,000 of the 107,000 Bhutanese refugees of Nepalese origin then living in seven U.N. refugee camps in southeastern Nepal, and began receiving this group in 2008. Five other nations, Australia, Canada, Norway, Netherlands and Denmark, also offered to resettle 10,000 each. New Zealand offered to settle 600 refugees over a period of five years starting in 2008. By January, 2009, more than 8,000 Bhutanese refugees were resettled in various countries.[ As of early 2012, more than 55,000 Bhutanese refugees were resettled in various countries.
Other countries also operate resettlement programs in the camps. Norway has already settled 200 Bhutanese refugees, and Canada has agreed to accept up to 5000 through to 2012.
The Lhotsampas had lived in Bhutan for up to five generations. As a result, most members of the Lhotsampa refugee community are multilingual. At home, Nepali (a language related to Sanskrit) is spoken, but most Lhotsampas also speak the Bhutanese language, Dzongkha. Although not all Lhotsampas had access to school in Bhutan, those who did were exposed to English at an early age, since it is the national language of instruction in Bhutan. Even younger Lhotsampas, who largely grew up in the refugee camps in Nepal, have been regularly exposed to English. Thus, many Lhotsampa refugees feel relatively comfortable communicating in English, although they note that Western English, especially when spoken quickly, can be very challenging for them to understand. In the refugee camp, many Lhotsampas were exposed to Indian culture and language via radio and geographic proximity to India. Social circles commonly included Indian friends who didn’t understand Nepali language and so communication would happen in Hindi.
A Lhotsampa person is generally known by a first name and a family name. Children are usually given two first names at birth or within the days following. The first name is given to the child by a priest. The second name is given by the parents, which is the name used on the birth certificate. Parents may decide that only one name is needed if they like the priest’s name choice. Parents also decide which of the two names the child will go by.
Like the Nepalese in Nepal, the Bhutanese citizens of Nepali origin in Bhutan (Lhotsampas) traditionally divided themselves into castes; a person’s family name often denotes the caste to which s/he belongs. The caste system creates a social hierarchy, identifying individuals’ position in society and influencing their choice of spouse, as well as other social relationships. Caste also typically dictates an individual’s choice of profession and role in society. Historically, among more traditional Lhotsampas, members of different castes did not visit each other’s homes, pray together, or share meals. Southern Bhutanese society is becoming increasingly quite liberal; among those living in Bhutan, the remnants of the caste system are now confined mostly to the Brahmin (priest) community. In the refugee camps in Nepal, and now in the U.S., caste may no longer an issue for some people, while still having importance for others. Some members of the community are casual/nonobservant of caste rules, while among others, an active awareness of caste still has social and behavioral consequences.
Living arrangements typically include many members of an extended family, and the younger generation assumes the responsibility of caring for elderly relatives. Within a family, respect is owed to elders, particularly – and regardless of age – by a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law. The Lhotsampas remove their shoes upon entering a house and consider it good manners to offer tea to any guest. Eye contact during conversation is standard and is not a sign of disrespect.
Marriage, Family, Kinship
Traditionally, marriages took place between members of the same caste and were arranged by the parents of the bride and groom. When a boy reaches the age of marriage, parents would begin seeking his bride. When they reached a verbal agreement with the parents of the chosen girl of marriageable age too, preparations for the marriage would begin. In more recent times, nuptial traditions have changed and even among elders, some unions were made by choice as ‘love marriages’ as opposed to arranged marriages.
Traditional weddings are great celebrations. Families spend up to a month preparing food and drink, including rice, lentils, a kind of sweetened bread that resembles a doughnut called roti, and some special kind of pickle, called aachar. They also go to the forest to collect many sacks of leaves, which they press and stitch into ceremonial plates that will be used during the wedding celebration.
The wedding celebration occurs at the home of the bride and includes prayers and rituals led by a group of Brahmin (priests), as well as ceremonial drum playing, which is traditionally performed by Darjees ( a cast among Nepalies). The groom brings clothes, jewelry, and a bead necklace to the bride’s home, signifying her married status. After the wedding, the bride travels to the groom’s home permanently. Upon marriage, the woman takes the family name of her husband.
There have been many changes in the Lhotsampa community especially in the last two decades, and the tradition of arranged child marriage is fading due to Western influences, displacement and refugee status, and improved education for girls and young women. Many young people are choosing their own partners, and improved secondary and tertiary education, which were available to a significant proportion of the refugees in the Nepal refugee camps, have resulted in career and personal choices that are quite different from those available in traditional Lhotsampa society.
Traditionally, women participate in equal measure to men in the hard labor associated with farming and other work outside of the home. In addition, women are the primary caregivers for the children in the family and are expected to do virtually all the housework and cooking. An exception is the four-day period during each month, at the time of the woman’s menses, when she is expected to rest. Because she is considered unclean during this time, she may not touch, prepare, or serve any food or drink, and there is a widely held belief that any fruit tree touched by a menstruating woman will become sick and cease to bear good fruit. During this time, other women in the household may take over her work, men may cook and clean, or, where economically feasible, the family may choose to pay a woman from outside the family to prepare meals and help keep the house in order.
In the U.S. Lhotsampa women and men are adopting the American way of life, with women and men sharing family and household responsibilities and women working outside the home. Many are planning to go to community college but first need to take ESL classes in order to be proficient enough in English to enroll.
Family and Kinship Structure
The average family size ranges from 6 to 8 children. Family is one of the highest priorities among the Lhotsampa people. Doors are usually open, and members of the extended family, as well as friends and neighbors, will come and go quite freely. Meals typically include anyone who happens to be at the house at the time.
The community is very tightly knit, and people remain closely connected throughout the life cycle. The elders in the community command deep respect and affection. Very often family issues, health problems, and financial issues are first discussed with the elders in the family. The elders, in turn, may decide to involve additional community elders to deal with the situation and/or find solutions to the problems. The community is generally patriarchal in structure; sons are expected to take care of their parents and provide for them financially and emotionally.
Within the family, there are strong bonds of love and obligation. A daughter-in-law is obligated to care for her mother-in-law (regardless of her age or state of health) from the moment she joins the family. The new bride’s priority must be to keep her mother-in-law happy by preparing food, doing her washing, and massaging her legs in the evenings. This tradition is fading with the transition to life in the refugee camps, and now with the beginning of the transition to life in the USA; however, respect and courtesy will still define this relationship.
Religious Beliefs and Practices
The majority of the Lhotsampa people are Hindu, in contrast to the northern Bhutanese, who are almost exclusively Buddhist. However, significant minorities among the Lhotsampas are Buddhist, or Christian. Among Hindus, religious leaders and teachers are chosen early in life and taught by the previous generation of Brahmin. They have many responsibilities in the community, including teaching the next generation, leading ceremonies such as weddings and baby-namings, and providing prayer leadership to members of the community on a regular basis. Practices among Buddhists or Christians are largely dictated by their individual religion.
Death and Dying
The Lhotsampa Hindus believe that reincarnation occurs. Those who have acted well during their lifetimes will be reincarnated as human beings, while those who have acted badly will be boiled in oil in hell and then reincarnated as dogs.
At the time of death, members of the deceased person’s immediate family spend thirteen days in formal mourning. The deceased person’s sons traditionally isolate themselves in one room of the house and are not allowed to speak to female family members or other friends, extended family members, or neighbors. The mourners shave their heads and dress in white cloths that are not permitted to have any stitching. They smear the floor with cow dung and then cover it with straw; this is the surface they will sit and sleep on for the duration of the thirteen-day period of mourning. They will refrain from eating salt, oil or meat products, and generally will limit their intake to one meal of plain rice per day, as well as fruit, pickled ginger, lemon, and water. The women in the immediate family will engage in similar rituals, but they must be separated from the men. The ritual mourning activities are believed to assist in the purification of the deceased family member’s soul, allowing a smooth transition to heaven, where he or she will await reincarnation. If mourning is not performed properly, there is a risk that the deceased person’s spirit will not be able to make the transition to the afterlife and will remain on earth in the form of a ghost to disturb the living.
Traditional Medical Practices
Traditional medical practices vary by religion, region of origin, and socioeconomic status. The more educated and/or higher socioeconomic status members of the Lhotsampa community tend to prefer Western medicine to traditional, but this preference is not universal, and it is not uncommon to try one pathway first and then the other if the first does not achieve the desired results.
The practice of using home remedies to deal with illness is very common. Many times people will try one or two home remedies and seek external medical help only if their symptoms worsen or do not resolve. Examples of common home remedies include basil for the treatment of cough, colds, and certain kinds of pain; garlic, turmeric, ginger, and cardamom for stomach pains; and heated mustard oil for massages to relieve muscle pain in the elderly.
Traditional healers or shamans are called dhami-jakhri. Their skills include being able to enter into a trance and sometimes speak in languages they have not learned, reading leaves and rice to diagnose illness and recommend cures, and chanting incantations to heal their patients. Sickness is generally seen as an imbalance of passions or a result of the influence of evil spirits, and the dhami-jakhri focus their attention and prescriptions on re-establishing balance to bring about cure. Core methods of healing include incantations and reading rice, although they may also include prescribing special diets, sprinkling hot water on the patient, or touching the patient with a meaningful object, such as a yak’s tail. Lhotsampa refugees, particularly more educated members of the community, may require encouragement and explicit statements of acceptance before they will share their use of traditional healing modalities with their Western-trained health care providers.
Hindus who are ill may seek the assistance of a priest to perform a cleansing ritual called a puja.