before year’s end.
Bhutan’s history, the Buddhist nation’s government seems ready to grant
much-awaited official recognition and accompanying rights to a miniscule
Christian population that has remained largely underground.
next meeting – to be held by the end of December – how a Christian organization
can be registered to represent its community, agency secretary Dorji Tshering
told Compass by phone.
authority, locally known as Chhoedey Lhentshog. As a result, only these
two communities have the right to openly practice their religion and build
places of worship.
replied, “Absolutely” – an apparent paradigm shift in policy given that Bhutan’s
National Assembly had banned open practice of non-Buddhist and non-Hindu
religions by passing resolutions in 1969 and in 1979.
heritage, but it also says that his majesty [the king] is the protector of all
religions,” he added, explaining the basis on which the nascent democracy is
willing to accept Christianity as one of the faiths of its citizens.
the country in 2006 – after the rule of an absolute monarchy for over a century.
The first elections were held in 2008, and since then the government has
gradually given rights that accompany democracy to its people.
the present king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who is respected by almost all
people and communities in the country. In his early thirties, the king studied
in universities in the United States and the United Kingdom. Prime Minister
Lyonchen Jigmey Thinley is also believed to have agreed in principle to
recognition of other faiths.
register only one Christian organization and would expect it to represent all
Christians in Bhutan – which would call for Christian unity in the
people, are also represented by one legal entity, the Hindu Dharma Samudaya
(Hindu Religion Community) of Bhutan, which was registered with the
Chhoedey Lhentshog authority along with Buddhist organizations a year
look at technicalities in the Religious Organizations Act of 2007, which
provides for registration and regulation of religious groups with intent to
protect and promote the country’s spiritual heritage. The government began to
enforce the Act only in November 2009, a year after the advent of
in the country, Tshering said “conversion must not be forced, because it causes
social tensions which Bhutan cannot afford to have. However, the constitution
says that no one should be forced to believe in a religion, and that aspect will
be taken care of. We will ensure that no one is forced to convert.”
bringing the community under religious regulation, said the anonymous source.
This is why it is evoking mixed response among the country’s Christians, who
number around 6,000 according to rough estimates.
years of prison for screening films on Christianity – which was criticized by
Christian organizations around the world. (See www.compassdirect.org, “Christian in
Bhutan Imprisoned for Showing Film on Christ,” Oct. 18.)
conversions by force or allurement in the country’s penal code.
sovereignty as fragile due to its small size and location between two Asian
giants, India and China. It has sought to protect its sovereignty by preserving
its distinct cultural identity based on Buddhism and by not allowing social
tensions or unrest.
unity, ethnic Nepalese citizens, who are mainly Hindu and from south Bhutan,
rebelled against it. But a military crackdown forced over 100,000 of them – some
of them secret Christians – to either flee to or voluntarily leave the country
for neighboring Nepal.
authority with queries, no organization had formally filed papers for
that Chhoedey Lhentshog’s mandate does not include
registering a Christian organization, Christians will then be registered by
another authority, the source said.
authorities to hold public meetings. Receiving foreign aid or inviting foreign
speakers would be subject to special permission from the home ministry, added
Buddhist leader and the unifier of Bhutan as a nation state, hosted the first
two foreigners, who were Jesuits. Much later, Catholics were invited to provide
education in Bhutan; the Jesuits came to Bhutan in 1963 and the Salesians in
1982 to run schools. The Salesians, however, were expelled in 1982 on
accusations of proselytizing, and the Jesuits left the country in 1988.
increased, the need for active Jesuit involvement in the educational system
declined, ending in 1988, when the umbrella agreement between the Jesuit order
and the kingdom expired and the administration of all remaining Jesuit
institutions was turned over to the government,” writes David M. Malone,
Canada’s high commissioner to India and ambassador to Bhutan, in the March 2008
edition of Literary Review of Canada.
also be allowed once again in the country, given the government’s stress on
educating young Bhutanese.
political and religious leaders, especially the king and the prime minister,
will help preserve the country’s unique culture and seeks to contribute to the
building of the nation.