Tại sao Bhutan muốn luật “chống đổi đạo”?

13.12.2010

Bhutan, một vương quốc Phật giáo trên Hy Mã Lạp Sơn ở Nam Á, sắp có luật ấn định phạt tù 3 năm về tội “truyền giáo.” Tuần rồi, quốc hội Bhutan thông qua một điều luật mới cho Bộ Hình Luật để cấm đổi đạo với áp lực hay khuyến dụ – theo mẫu luật chống đổi đạo tại một vài quốc gia Ấn giáo. Trong khi vài điều khoản của dự luật còn đang được thảo luận trong phiên khoáng đại quốc hội lưỡng viện – Hội Đồng Quốc gia (The Natioanal Council) và Nghị Hội Quốc Gia (The National Asembly) – điều khoản về “truyền đạo” đã được cả hai viện đồng ‎ý, báo chí địa phương tường trình.

Một sự kiện khác đang được chờ đợi ở Bhutan, một trong những quốc gia cô lập nhất của thế giới cho đến mấy lúc gần đây. Chính phủ có thể sắp cấp tư cách pháp nhân cho người Ki tô giáo, đang sống như là một phong trào không chính thức trong vòng vài thập niên qua, nhất là trong những người Lhotshampas (là những người dân tộc thiểu số Nepal ở nam Buhtan). Ước lượng có khoảng 6000 trong số 700.000 người dân Bhutan là người Ki tô giáo. Nhà nước đã cho biết là cơ quan nhà nước quản lý các tổ chức tôn giáo trong nước đang suy tính việc đăng kí‎ một liên hiệp Ki tô giáo. Dù hành động này nhắm đến đưa người Ki tô giáo vào luật lệ nhà nước, nó cũng có thể có vài ích lợi. Người Ki tô giáo phải được cho phép xây nhà thờ, bắt đầu in Thánh kinh và các sách vở Ki tô giáo, mở tiệm sách Ki tô giáo, v.v…

Hậu quả của hai sự kiện xảy ra đồng thời nói trên phản ánh khó khăn của Bhutan, với các cuộc bầu cử dân chủ lần đầu tiên xảy ra và trở thành một chế độ quân chủ lập hiến hai năm trước đây. Vua và các lãnh đạo chính trị Bhutan muốn cho nhân dân quyền hành, nhưng sợ rằng làm như vậy có thể hy sinh hai lợi ích của quốc gia: bảo tồn văn hóa đặc biệt của Bhutan, và bảo vệ luật lệ và trật tự. Về tự do tôn giáo, Ki tô giáo có thể được cho phép sống chung với Phật giáo chi khi nào tín đồ Ki tô giáo tiếp tục tuân phục văn hóa và giữ gìn trật tự công cộng.

(TĐH trích dịch từ phân tích của Liên Hiệp Tin Lành Thế Giới)

WEA-RLC Research and Analysis Report
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Why Bhutan Wants Anti-Conversion Law?
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December 13, 2010

Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas in South Asia, will soon have a law providing for imprisonment of three years for “proselytization.” Last week, the parliament of Bhutan approved inclusion of a new provision in the Penal Code to ban religious conversions by force or allurement – emulation of the “anti-conversion” laws in force in some Indian states. While some provisions in the amendment bill are yet to be discussed in a joint-session of Bhutan’s bicameral parliament – the National Council and the National Assembly – the “proselytization” clause has been endorsed by both houses, local newspapers say.

Another significant development is expected in Bhutan, which was one of the world’s most isolated nations until recent years. The government may soon give legal status to Christianity, which has existed as an underground movement, especially among the Lhotshampas (as the ethnic Nepalese from south Bhutan are called), for the last few decades. It is estimated that 6,000 of the 700,000 people in Bhutan are Christian. The government has indicated that the country’s religious organizations’ regulatory authority is contemplating registration of a Christian federation. While the move may be aimed at bringing Christians under the government regulation, it will have some benefits, too. Christians will have to be allowed to build churches, start printing of the Bible and other Christian literature, open Christian book stores, and so on.

The subtext of these two simultaneous developments reflects the predicament of Bhutan, which had its first democratic elections and became a constitutional monarchy two years ago. Bhutan’s king and political leaders seemingly want to give rights to its people, but fear that doing so may sacrifice their country’s two key interests, i.e. preservation of its distinct culture and maintenance of law and order. In relation to religious freedom, Christianity can be allowed to co-exist with Buddhism only if its adherents remain culturally compliant and maintain public order.

The Constitution of Bhutan, an absolute monarchy for around 100 years until 2008, provides for religious freedom, but it also mandates the government and its institutions to protect Buddhism, the country’s “spiritual heritage” and author of its unique culture. While in most democracies religious freedom is subject to public order and morality, in Bhutan it is subordinate also to protection and preservation of culture.

The stress on preservation of religion and culture in Bhutan is for both religious and political reasons.

In Bhutan, Vajrayana Buddhism is practised. It is part of the Mahayana denomination, one of the two broad classifications of the religion, apart from Hinayana or Theravada Buddhism. Globally, the Theravada sect is in majority. And Vajrayana Buddhism is seen as an “endangered” sect by its adherents. So the political and religious leaders of Bhutan are expected to protect and preserve their religious heritage.

Additionally – and more importantly – Bhutan needs to protect Buddhism for geopolitical reasons.

It is a “tiny nation between two giants, India and China,” as Bhutan’s political leaders often describe their fear. They also take pride in the fact that their ancestors did not allow the nation to be colonized by outsiders, and they believe that Bhutan’s religion and culture protected its sovereignty.

Bhutan’s fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, famously explained the reason behind the stress on preservation of religion and culture in Bhutan. “Being a small country, we do not have economic power. We do not have military muscle. We cannot play a dominant international role, because of our small size and population and because we are a landlocked country. The only factor we can fall back on … which can strengthen Bhutan’s sovereignty and our different identity is the unique culture we have.” In other words, Bhutan needs to be visibly different in culture from its neighbours, India and China, to assert its sovereignty.

This is why until today Bhutan has preserved its distinct, uniform culture. All the buildings in the country conform to the signature Bhutanese architecture and the Bhutanese citizens are required to wear the national dress – knee-length robes, known as the gho, for men, and the ankle-length kira for women – at work and at public functions.

The use of distinct culture as the guardian of the nation’s sovereignty is also reflected in the clubbing of home and culture as one ministry. Bhutan’s minister in-charge of national security is also responsible for the preservation of culture.

Given that Bhutan perceives a constant threat to its sovereignty, its leaders fear that even a minor law and order problem or any people’s movement can be exploited by a foreign force. This is why authorities in Bhutan have not allowed labor unions or pressure groups or political activism.

The “invasion” of two neighboring Buddhist nations, Sikkim and Tibet, by outside forces cemented Bhutan’s suspicion. While China gained control over Tibet in 1950, India incorporated Sikkim, a Buddhist kingdom, in 1975. Bhutan alone remained untouched. But the nation’s leaders did not take it for granted. They intensified cultural unification through the “One Nation, One People” programme in the late 1970s.

The unification exercise involved the use of one language, Dzongkha, in education, apart from other measures. But Bhutan’s ethnic Nepalese population, mostly Hindu, rebelled against the kingdom, which over-reacted and used brutal force to quell their protests compelling around 100,000 ethnic Nepalese to seek refuge in Nepal. Many of them are still in refugee camps in Jhapa in Nepal – a monument to Bhutan’s violation of human rights.

The government of Bhutan needs to be apprised that a nation that is driven by gross national happiness must not practise repression.

Studies have shown that the enactment of anti-conversion laws in India has resulted in communal violence rather than preventing it. The possibility of the misuse of the anti-conversion provision in Bhutan is also high because the Hindu rightwing Vishwa Hindu Parishad (based in India) is planning to open a chapter – though under a different name – in Bhutan. Given that a majority of Christians in Bhutan are ethnic Nepalese, the VHP will create frictions between Nepalese Hindus and Nepalese Christians. Therefore, the government of Bhutan will need to ensure that any such attempt is nipped in the bud.

Also, incidents like the recent sentencing of a Christian man, Prem Singh Gurung, from Bhutan’s Sarpang District to three-year imprisonment for showing a Jesus film will harm Bhutan’s otherwise good international reputation. (Since Gurung’s conviction for “attempting to promote civil unrest” was seemingly frivolous, an appeal in a higher court could have reversed the order – but it had to be done within 10 days after the judgment was passed, as per the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan.)

Being a landlocked, mountainous nation, Bhutan (India’s former protectorate) depends on aid from New Delhi, which competes with China for influence in South Asia. Bhutan’s leaders privately admit that they are weary of their dependence on India. And, quietly, they are striving for economic independence and to establish ties with Western nations.

Gradually, Bhutan is gaining self-confidence. For example, in April 2010, it hosted a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit. Besides, Prime Minister Lyonchen Jigme Thinley is often on official visits abroad or hosting foreign delegates in Thimphu.

Bhutan’s king and political leaders are generally known for being simple and sincere – which sets them apart from their counterparts in other South Asian nations. So true to their reputation, they should be asked to provide religious and other freedoms to all the people of their country and explained why there is little reason to continue to feel anxious about their sovereignty.

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Bhutan proposes ‘anti-conversion’ law
Already suppressed Christians say bill is designed to control growth
by Vishal Arora — CDN

THIMPHU, Bhutan – Christians in this Himalayan nation who are still longing to openly practice their faith were disheartened this month when the government proposed the kind of “anti-conversion” law that other nations have used as a pretext for falsely accusing Christians of “coercion.”

The amendment bill would punish “proselytizing” that “uses coercion or other forms of inducement” – vaguely enough worded, Christians fear, that vigilantes could use it to jail them for following the commands of Christ to feed, clothe and otherwise care for the poor.

“Now, under section 463 [of the Penal Code of Bhutan], a defendant shall be guilty of the offense of proselytization if the defendant uses coercion or other forms of inducement to cause the conversion of a person from one religion or faith to another,” reported the Kuensel newspaper.

“There was always a virtual anti-conversion law in place, but now it is on paper too,” said a senior pastor from Thimphu on condition of anonymity. “Seemingly it is aimed at controlling the growth of Christianity.”

Kuenlay Tshering, a member of Bhutan’s Parliament and the chairperson of its Legislative Council, told Compass that the new section is consonant with Article 7(4) of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, which states, “A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. No person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement.”

He said that the National Council had proposed that offenses under the proposal be classified as misdemeanors, punishable by one to less than three years in prison.

Tshering said that the amendment bill “may be passed during the next session of Parliament, after the National Assembly deliberates on it in the winter session.”

Asked if he was aware that similar “anti-conversion” laws in neighboring India had been misused to harass Christians through vague terms of “inducement,” he said he was not.

Authorities usually act on complaints by local residents against Christian workers, so frivolous complaints can lead to their arrest, said another pastor who requested anonymity.

Of the 683,407 people in Bhutan, over 75 percent are Buddhist, mainly from the west and the east. Hindus, mostly ethnic Nepalese from southern Bhutan, are estimated to be around 22 percent of the population.

There are around 6,000 Christians, mostly ethnic Nepalese, but there is neither a church building nor a registered Christian institution. The Bible, however, has been translated into the national language, Dzongkha, as well as into Nepali.

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the government has not officially recognized the presence of Christians, whose practice of faith remains confined to their homes.

The Drukpa Kagyue school of Mahayana Buddhism is the state religion, with Hinduism dominant in the south, according to Bhutan’s official website, which adds, “Some residues of Bon, animism and shamanism still exist in some pockets of the country,” but makes no mention of Christianity.

Still, since Bhutan became a democracy in 2008 after its first-ever elections – following more than 100 years of absolute monarchy – people have increasingly exercised their freedom, including religious choice.

‘Why More Religions?’

Home and Culture Minister Lyonpo Minjur Dorji told Compass that Bhutan’s government had “no problems” with Christianity or any other faith.

“But Bhutan is a small country, with a little more than 600,000 people, and a majority of them are Buddhist,” Dorji said. “We have Hindus, also mainly in southern parts. So why do we need more religions?”

Buddhism is closely linked with political and social life in Bhutan. Dorji’s office sits in a gigantic monastery in Thimphu known as Tashichho Dzong. Buddhism unites and brings people together, Dorji said, explaining that the social life of a village revolves around its dzong (monastery).

Dorji said India’s multi-religious society had led to tensions and bloodshed.

“India can survive riots and unrest,” he said, “but Bhutan may not, because it is a small country between two giants [India and China].”

With leaders who have been proud that they have not allowed it to be colonized, Bhutan historically has been keenly concerned about its survival. Bhutan’s people see their distinct culture, rather than the military, as having protected the country’s sovereignty. And it is no coincidence that Dorji’s portfolio includes both internal security and preservation of culture.

The constitution, adopted in July 2008, also requires the state to protect Bhutan’s cultural heritage and declares that Buddhism is the spiritual heritage of Bhutan.

A government official who requested anonymity said that, as Tibet went to China and Sikkim became a state in India, “now which of the two countries will get Bhutan?”

This concern is prevalent among the Bhutanese, he added.

Sikkim, now a state in India’s northeast, was a Buddhist kingdom with indigenous Bhotia and Lepcha people groups as its subjects. But Hindus from Nepal migrated to Sikkim for work and gradually outnumbered the local Buddhists. In 1975, a referendum was held to decide if Sikkim, then India’s protectorate, should become an official state of the country. Since over 75 percent of the people in Sikkim were Nepalese – who knew that democracy would mean majority-rule – they voted for its incorporation into India.

Bhutan and India’s other smaller neighbors saw it as brazen annexation. And it is believed that Sikkim’s “annexation” made Bhutan wary of the influence of India.

In the 1980s, Bhutan’s king began a one-nation-one-people campaign to protect its sovereignty and cultural integrity, which was discriminatory to the ethnic Nepalese, who protested. Their non-compliance, however, resulted in a harsh crackdown by authorities, leading to the expulsion or voluntary migration of over 100,000 ethnic Nepalese, many of whom were Christians, to the Nepal side of the border in Jhapa in the early 1990s.

“Bhutan did not want to become another Sikkim,” said a local resident, explaining why the government did not tolerate the protests.

Bhutan is also rigorous in implementing its laws related to the use of the national language, the national dress code and the uniform architectural standards throughout the country to strengthen its cultural integrity. Bhutanese men are required to wear the gho, a knee-length robe tied at the waist by a cloth belt, when they go to work or attend a public function. Women have to wear the kira, an ankle-length dress clipped at one shoulder and tied at the waist. Non-compliance can lead to fine and imprisonment.

 

About Trần Đình Hoành

I am an attorney in the Washington DC area, having graduated with a Doctor of Law in the US, attended the master program at the National School of Administration of Việt Nam, and graduated from Sài Gòn University Law School. I aso studied philosophy at the School of Letters in Sài Gòn. I have worked as an anti-trust attorney for Federal Trade Commission and a litigator for a fortune-100 telecom company in Washington DC. I have taught law courses for legal professionals in Việt Nam. I have founded and managed businesses for me and my family, both law and non-law. I have published many articles on national newspapers and radio stations in Việt Nam. In 1989 I was one of the founding members of US-VN Trade Council, working to re-establish US-VN relationship. Since the early 90's, I have established and managed VNFORUM and VNBIZ forum on VN-related matters; these forums are the subject of a PhD thesis by Dr. Caroline Valverde at UC-Berkeley and her book Transnationalizing Viet Nam. I translate poetry and my translation of "A Request at Đồng Lộc Cemetery" is now engraved on a stone memorial at Đồng Lộc National Shrine in VN. I study and teach the Bible and Buddhism. I founded and still manage dotchuoinon.com on positive thinking and two other blogs on Buddhism. I study the art of leadership with many friends who are religious, business and government leaders from many countries. In October 2011 Phu Nu Publishing House in Hanoi published my book "Positive Thinking to Change Your Life", in Vietnamese (TƯ DUY TÍCH CỰC Thay Đổi Cuộc Sống). In December 2013 Phu Nu Publishing House published my book "10 Core Values for Success". I practice Jiu Jitsu and Tai Chi for health, and play guitar as a hobby, usually accompanying my wife Trần Lê Túy Phượng, aka singer Linh Phượng.
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