Friday, January 27, 2012

Shangri-La’s doomed citizens

Changala (left) and Chudrula in Chamkhar
Photo Courtesy: Bhutanobserver 
With our distinctive developmental philosophy of GNH (Gross National Happiness), Bhutan is more known as the Land of Happiness. No wonder, best part of Bhutanese people enjoy tremendous contentment. Indeed, this is the underlying ground for considering Bhutan the last Shangri-La. And we are the privileged deities who enjoy the fullest of happiness.

However, undeniably, there are still lots of lowly deities on the Land of Happiness. Just think of a Bhutanese town free of beggars! It is very rare, I guess. Beggars are a common sight in most Bhutanese towns, showing the other side of our GNH country. Even more disgraceful is to see such vulnerable people ever-increasing with each passing day.

What seems common amongst Bhutanese beggars is that most of them are elderly folks who have been or are likely to be abandoned by their children and relatives. Shouldn’t it be difficult for us to accept such unforgiving things happening in the country whose roots lay deep in the great tenets of Buddhism! Looks like we are entering into a new phase in our development journey where children abandon their own parents. But then, looking rationally, I am not taken aback by such practice for many factors contribute to alienate one’s elders.

For example, rural to urban migration has become rampant in the recent years. For the youths who have been in the schools for decades, the prospect of going back to their communities is not appealing. Moreover, there are better amenities, including employment opportunities, in urban areas. In such state rural to urban migration is not seen as atypical. In fact, it is powerfully enforced by the situation.

With much sadness, I am talking about old age homes here. There were days when we thought a country like Bhutan would never need old age homes. Yet, the need today is rather dire. Our distinctive culture and religion have successfully instilled a discipline of loving heart in all Bhutanese. That’s why family values must be preserved and protected.

However, the need for safer home for underprivileged people, which is something more than the old age home, has become burning issue in Bhutan. There are many senior citizens who don’t have any children or relatives to look after them. Moreover, abandoned handicapped (mentally and physically challenged) people from all walks of life are increasingly seen across the country. Begging is the only option left for them, but the situation will be worse when they become too old to even beg. When one’s legs grow heavy and hands feeble, it will be worthless to own all the riches of the world. What one would long for at such times is a helping hand and this is what old age homes can provide to the destitute.

The downside of such a development is that individuals may intentionally hurt their aged relatives or abandon them so that they are taken care of by homes. There are chances the family values will suffer in the long run given that we are today adopting (and aping as well) more Western mores. What is important is that we must have laws to administer such homes and their occupants.

Today, we are proud of being citizens of the country that propounded GNH. But, every so often it seems we are overlooking some important issues that are directly or indirectly related to human happiness. Let’s prioritize elderly people and make their last days meaningful. Maybe then we would have moved a step closer to the ideal of Shangri-La.
(Contributed to Bhutanobserver, January 27, 2012)

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