Illustration: Sworup Nhasiju / Himal Southasian (January 2011)
Illustration: Sworup Nhasiju / Himal Southasian (January 2011)

Kagyupa only

A creeping clampdown on Christianity in Bhutan poses the serious question of whether the kingdom has really set itself on the path to secular democracy.

Centuries of theological guidance by a strong clergy has had a tremendous influence in shaping Bhutanese society. Propelled by the principles of Buddhism as generally understood, one would think that this would have led to abiding religious tolerance, allowing for the co-existence of multiple faiths. Yet in recent years, a series of incidents have indicated a continued resolve – indeed, some would say an official hardening of position – by the Thimphu establishment not only to continue to support the state-backed version of Buddhism above all others, but to actively work to stamp out 'competing' or emerging religious schools. Some of the starkest examples can be seen in the clear anti-Christian bent on the part of the government.

In principle, the Constitution of 2008 guarantees religious freedoms. To a certain extent this, coupled with the evolution of two-party politics, has given significant leverage to religious minorities in Bhutan, including Hindus in their significant numbers, in seeking international attention for their rights. The Constitution states that a Bhutanese citizen is guaranteed 'the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion' and that no one can be compelled to belong to another faith. Further, the National Security Act (NSA) prohibits any word 'spoken or written' that promotes 'hatred' between different groups, including on the basis of religion. Violating the NSA is punishable by up to three years of imprisonment.

Loading content, please wait...
Himal Southasian