༄། །བྷུ་ཀྲན་པི་པཱལྶ་པ་ཀྲི།།
Bhutan Peoples' Party  

Ethnic Community

Bhutan is a nation of diverse communities. It is a small mountainous Buddhist country, the last Shangri-La in the eastern Himalayas. Until the recent decades, Bhutan has maintained self-imposed isolation from the outside world in diverse field. One of the attributes may be the geographical compulsion that has prompted Bhutan to adopt this isolationist policy for a considerable span of time. Bhutan was divided into petty kingdoms under the rule of Debrajas till 1907 when the first king of Bhutan Sir Ugyen Wangchuk consolidated the total administration with the support of the British regime in India. Hence, Bhutan emerged as a sovereign, independent country with the establishment of hereditary monarchy.

It is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-linguistic and multi-religious country. It has pre-dominantly an agrarian economy till relying on obsolete technology through striving to move ahead with changing times. Bhutanese people fall into three broad ethnic groups: Ngalongs, Sharchhops and Lhotshampas, majorities of whose ancestors have migrated to Bhutan at different points of time in history. Approximately half of the population is composed of Buddhists with cultural traditions akin to those of Indo-Tibet and Indo-Burma.  The Buddhist majority consisted of two principal ethnic and linguistic groups:  The Ngalongs of the western part of the country and the Sharchhops of the eastern part of the country.  The remaining population, Nepali-speaking people, most of who are Hindus some Buddhist; few Christians primarily live in the country’s southern dzonkhags (districts). The contrasting ethnic diversity of the Bhutanese people has meant that a number of different languages and dialects are spoken throughout the kingdom. So different are the dialects that eastern and western neighbours can have great difficulty understanding each other.

I. Ngalongs:

The people residing in the north and west, known as Ngalongs, are the descendants of Tibetan immigrants who came to Bhutan from about ninth century onwards, settling in the fertile valleys of northwest region where the capital Thimphu is also located. This community speaks the traditional forms of Dzongkha language and uses the scripts called ‘Lhoyig’. This language of lhoyig script known as ‘Dzongkha’ (the language of the fort) is the National Language of Bhutan, spoken by 33 percent of the total population. This community practices Drukpa Kagyup sub-sect of Mahayana Buddhism. They wear Gho and Kira (Gho for men and Kira for women) and dietary patterns. Most of the developmental activities are concentrated in the west and the Ngalongs are the most privileged class of society among all.

II. Sharchhops:

‘Sharchhops’, inhabit the eastern districts of the country from around 7th century. This community was originally called Ridakpas with ‘Tshangla’ as their language. They practise the Nyingmapa sect of Mahayana Buddhism and belong to Tibeto-Burman ancestry. Sharchhops are apparently Indo-Mongoloid in origin and are believed to have entered eastern Bhutan around 7th century A.D. from Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya (all Indian territories) and Burma. This community has the history of contributions to the development of the country, but all the successive reigns have ignored their socio-economic development. These aborigines are most neglected and poor among all the communities. They have certain commonness with Ngalongs in respect to Buddhist Tantric practices, wearing of Gho and Kira (Gho for men and Kira for women) and dietary patterns. They are engaged in subsistence farming and animal husbandry for their livelihood.  No books of their cultural heritage and traditions exist. The script of Tshangla-lho, is yet not distinctly developed and is in the process of development. Till date they share the same script, called Lhoyig with the Ngalongs.

The Sharchhops have been the most subjugated, suppressed and exploited community by the ruling elites for centuries.  Due to extreme economic exploitation by the ruler and resultant poverty, thousands of Sharchhops had to flee from their homesteads in 1950s and take shelter in adjoining Arunachal Pradesh of India and are still there today eking out difficult life and facing uncertain future. In 1997 many monks and religious teachers were forces to leave the country due to the religious persecution are living in exile, majority of them in Nepal.

III. Lhotshampas:

Another section of the population is the Nepali speaking people who began to settle in Southern foothills districts of Bhutan around the first quarter of the seventeenth century. This community comprise of Indo-Aryan and Indo-Mongoloid races, speaks ‘Nepali’ in common and use the ‘Devanagari’ script. This community is comprised of Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. At the beginning stage southern part of the country had thick forests. History must accept that the land in the southern districts were basically unwanted for settlement by those from the northern Bhutanese fearing wild animals and malaria in the past.  It was these Lhotshampas who boldly initiated settlement and turned fertile after years of their occupation. Surrender of the Eighteen Duars to the British India supports the fact that the southern territories were vulnerable until occupation by the Lhotshampas. The Nepali speaking community are officially called Lhotshampas, literally, in Dzongkha.  Lho: means south tshampas: means those who live in the south.

Based on the historical records, Lhotshampas have traced their history of migration to Bhutan in 1624 A.D, the year the then King of Gorkha, Ram Shah, had dispatched some Nepalese artisan/ agriculturist families under the leadership of Bishun Thapa Mager, on the request of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal, the Dharma Raja of Bhutan, as a gesture of goodwill and cooperation between the two states. The oldest monasteries of Bhutan, Kichu in Paro valley and Jambay in Bumthang valley, were constructed with the help of artisans from Nepal.  Ever since their official settlement, the Lhotshampas have sacrificed their sweat and blood and contributed to the maximum to the National development that pertains to different areas, maintenance of peace and tranquillity, protection and preservation of National environment, National Identity and sovereignty.

Besides, there are number other minorities and ethnic groups of indigenous people having their own distinct characteristics in the form of language, culture and religious practices, which includes Doyas, Totas, Brokpas, Khengs, Sikkimese,  Tibetans, Mundas and Santhals. They are endangered species and need to be protected. But, the present government has not paid any heed to them.

(Resolution of 11th Session of the National Assembly in 1958.)

Resolutions No 3.

Matter relating to Southern Bhutanese:

“It was resolved that henceforth the Nepalis of Southern Bhutan should abide by the rules and regulations of the Royal Government and, pledging their allegiance to the king of Bhutan, should conscientiously refrain from serving any other country (such as Gurkha). They should submit a signed agreement to this effect to the government. In addition to the above, the Southern Bhutanese should themselves shoulder the responsibility of protecting the Southern border”.

 “It was resolved that henceforth the Nepalese of Southern Bhutan should abide by the rules and regulations of the Royal government and, pledging their allegiance to the king of Bhutan, should conscientiously refrain from serving any other country (such as Gurkha). They should submit a signed agreement to this effect to the government. In addition to the above, the Southern Bhutanese should themselves shoulder the responsibility of protecting the Southern border.” (Resolution  3 of 11th Session of the National Assembly in 1958.)

“There were two ethnic groups in the kingdom under the rule of His Majesty the king. Since the Nepalese inhabiting southern Bhutan as bona-fide citizens of this country had submitted a bond agreement affirming their allegiance to the king and country the Assembly resolved that from this date the Nepalese would enjoy equal rights in the National Assembly, as well as in the country, like other bona fide citizens.” (Resolution  8 of 13th Session of the National Assembly in 1958.)

Bhutan Before 1991

Bhutan After 1991

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