Once upon a time, the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, often likened to “Shangri-La,” made a name for itself by measuring and promoting its Gross National Happiness, and these days it claims to have achieved “universal happiness” among its Buddhists citizens.
But there is a serious dark side to this near-mythic land: Ethnic cleansing, drug and alcohol addiction, and disease.
In the 1990s, thousands of non-Buddhist Bhutanese were forcibly expelled from the country, and relocated to Nepal, where many continue to reside as stateless persons in cramped refugee camps.
This was the effect of its “One Nation, One People” policy, which is often overlooked in the flood of positive press the kingdom gets these days.
More than 100,000 people, mostly from of the Lhotshampa minority group, were stripped of citizenship and property, and thousands were tortured and killed.
Ironically, Bhutan’s dominant Buddhist faith, which aims to honor the sanctity of all life, also creates a conundrum in its battle against malaria and dengue fever — it’s difficult to get community buy-in over the eradication of disease-bearing mosquitoes.
Pesticide sprays and even mosquito nets are viewed askance by many citizens.
Bhutan also has been struggling with drug and alcohol abuse.
For a nation that boasts about the general happiness of its people, alcohol causes 50 percent of patient deaths in hospitals, two-thirds of Bhutanese college students use their pocket money to buy alcohol and drugs, and addiction is linked to 70 percent of all suicide cases.
All told, alcohol-related woes cost Bhutan $70 million — four times the revenue earned by alcohol sales.
According to IOGT, a global public-health advocacy agency based in Sweden, the main driver behind Bhutan’s substance-abuse woes is government neglect.
Sources: CNN, New York Times, BBC News, IOGT, The Diplomant