Bhutanese Americans make History Advocating on Capitol Hill

Washington, D.C. (November 19, 2014) -- A delegation of nearly 30 Bhutanese Hindus from across the country made history on Capitol Hill on Monday with the first ever Bhutanese American Advocacy Day. The unprecedented event, organized by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), featured a congressional briefing along with meetings with the State Department and several House and Senate offices.

“The Hindu American Foundation is honored to have provided a platform to give voice to some 80,000 Bhutanese refugees resettling in the U.S., and the entire Diaspora in exile worldwide,” said Suhag Shukla, Esq., HAF’s Executive Director. “Equally notable is the documentary, The Refugees of Shangri La, that has given international focus to an otherwise untold story.”

The briefing, which was held in conjunction with the Congressional Nepal Caucus co-chairs Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), sought to educate policy makers on the challenges endured by Bhutanese Hindus resettling here in the U.S., as well as the ongoing human rights concerns in Bhutan. A short clip of the documentary was featured at the briefing with filmmaker Doria Bramante describing the inspiration behind the project.

“Far from a one-time effort, we pledge to continue supporting this community through our advocacy efforts, as we have done in the past,” said Jay Kansara, HAF’s Associate Director of Government Relations. “The onus also falls on the largely successful Hindu American community at large to give voice to the concerns of their Bhutanese brothers and sisters to our lawmakers.”

Starting in 2007, several countries, including the U.S., agreed to resettled many of the refugees after the Bhutanese government refused to accept their return. There are now nearly 80,000 Bhutanese Hindu refugees living in major cities throughout America, and they face a number of challenges, including a high incidence of mental illness and suicide, trouble obtaining employment, and difficulty retaining their cultural and religious traditions.

“Although Bhutan has long been celebrated for its ‘Gross National Happiness’ index, little is known about the brutal ethnic cleansing campaign it carried out in the early 1990’s, when more than 100,000 mostly Bhutanese of Nepali descent were stripped of their citizenship and expelled from the country under the ‘One Nation, One People’ policy,” said Dr. Chhabi Lal Sharma, a psychiatrist and community leader, who spoke at the briefing. “With our joint effort alongside HAF we have been able to bring voice to the voiceless shedding light on the ‘gross national hypocrisy of Bhutan’ which continues to repress Hindus along with other religious and ethnic minorities in Bhutan. It is unconscionable that Bhutan has not yet been held accountable for this historical injustice that forced one-sixth of the country’s population to leave and languish in refugee camps in Nepal for over twenty years.”

The day was capped off with a meeting between the entire delegation and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), the first and only Hindu in the United States Congress. Delegate leaders and HAF directly briefed the Congresswoman on the circumstances prevailing in Bhutan as well as the difficulties these refugees face assimilating to life in a new country. The delegation also asked the State Department and members of Congress to assist in applying multilateral diplomatic pressure on Bhutan to repatriate refugees remaining in the camps of Nepal as well as those resettled in other countries who long to return to their ancestral homeland.

“I hope I can someday - as a proud American citizen - visit my birthplace in Bhutan and take a picture for my children to see their ancestral home,” said Madhav Sharma, an English language educator and community leader based in Philadelphia. “Despite these hardships, I want to assure that we Bhutanese Hindus, the newest citizens or future citizens, will serve this greatest nation - The United States of America - with all the power that God has bestowed on us.”