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Bhutan: ‘Happiness’ As A Millennium Development Goal

UN General Assembly. Image by Sonam Ongmo

Starting Monday, world leaders descended on New York to attend the annual General Assembly. But shy of 5 years from the deadline of achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals it was sad to see countries still mired in differences and using the platform to make jabs at each other instead of talk about cooperation.

In that respect, it was nice to have a little laughter – even whimsical as it may have been – when the PM of Bhutan proposed “Happiness” be included as the 9th MDG.

“I hear some laughter – and I see some smiles,” he said, smiling himself, as he paused to the reaction from the floor. This was followed instantly with a round of applause by those who supported his notion.

As people rise above the threats of basic survival, what will our collective endeavour be as a progressive society? Must we continue to believe that human life is to be spent labouring for higher income so as to be able to consume more at the cost of relationships, peace and ecological stability? Are the causes of depression, suicide, community disintegration, and rising crime to be accepted as inevitable? Could we not find a way to steer ourselves from the self consuming fire of greed that is fuelled by the media and paid for by industry and commerce which thrive on reckless consumerism?

And to this end, he felt that since the “ultimate desire of every citizen [in the world] was Happiness, it must be the purpose of development to create the enabling conditions for Happiness.” His reasons for the proposal arose from the development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which Bhutan has been pursuing since the 70's.

Aside from this bold proposal, Bhutan also surprised many by vying for a non-permanent seat at the Security Council. The other two contenders are South Korea and Cambodia.

Bhutan PM Jigme Thinley and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Image by Sonam Ongmo

Blogger and photographer Yeshey Dorji said in response to the news.

Well, what can I say? He is our man and surely he thinks we qualify. So why not? I am excited at the news.

But not everyone was excited. Bhutanese refugees RP Subba and TP Mishra in an article titled “Why Bhutan's Gross National Happiness is a Joke” railed against the Prime Ministers speech on GNH.

And while this all sounds well and good on the surface — the surface is deceptive. The reality in Bhutan and among exiled communities abroad flies in the face of any assertion that the Bhutanese in general are happy.

Dhruva Mishra said:

When Bhutan coined the policy of “One Nation and One People”, it adopted measures to eliminate the culture, language and tradition of one of many ethnic groups living in Bhutan. This, and many other causes lead to an ethnic conflict and citizens were evicted out of their state en masse. More than 100,000 in number, these people are desperately trying to restore their destiny….

The Bhutanese as usual took to airing their views on their famous online forum Bhutantimes.com.
CosmicDust said:

If promoting GNH is a joke, should we promote war, terrorism and sale of nuclear weapons as you seem to suggest?

James Delphi tried to inject some objectivity into the argument:

It was Aristotle who asked the important question that all politicians and governments around the world should ask themselves once in while: “What is any Government for ?”
As western politicians intrude more and more in ordinary people's lives they would do well to remind themselves of what the main purpose of the government is ……
Aristotle's answer was “eudoemia” – to make the people “happy” in the fullest sense of the word.
So well done Bhutan for at least knowing why the government exists in the first place. Unfortunately, life for many people in Bhutan is very tough so many people will try to ridicule the Bhutan Government for its “aims”. It is not the principle that is at fault – although the delivery of the “happiness” may leave a great deal to be desired.

But the scathing criticisms continued. Tikaram Adhikari who claimed he was Bhutanese said:

GolabalPost and the readers would do well by enriching this concept of GNH by reading and reviewing other sources that talk about the true side of Bhutan and other perspectives on GNH. There are many sources for the readers to refer in order to understand the other and darker side of GNH as Bhutan has used torture as the main tool of taming opposing voices of its citizens

And Pinky Thapa, who also claimed to be Bhutanese responded on the same thread :

Wow, what a lies posted on this website!!!!!! As far as i am concerned those Nepali speaking people who are on exile are the most notorious people on this earth. In fact, what i know about the fact is that, this people are not forcefully evicted from the country. Most of they have been either dragged to the camps by influential people or others illegal immigrants. If there is discrimination , then see there are majority of Nepali Speaking people, who hold a dominant and influential position at the highest level in Bhutan. Though i am from southern Bhutan, i am treated with respect and have equal rights.

But there was a positive voice even from the refugee side. It came from Parangkush Subedi who has resettled in the U.S:

I just wanted to say that Prime Minister JY Thenley was just great at Columbia University. I like his speech and realized he is a man with vision. Whenever he makes visit US next time, please let me know and provide opportunity to meet him.”

So as GNH remains contentious even among the Bhutanese, only time will tell whether Bhutan has managed to convince the UN and member countries to incorporate “Happiness” as an MDG. And only time will tell whether this small country with big ambitions will secure a seat at the Security Council to represent and promote the objectives of many LDC's.

2 comments

  • […] Interesting:Global Voices in English » Bhutan: and #39;Happiness and #39; As A Millennium …But shy of 5 years from the deadline of achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals it was sad to […]

  • sonam jamtsho

    I also wanted to be a leader like our PM and our fourth king i think GNH will provide adequate serene in our country for many years.And wish that may our world lid in justice and peace. THANK YOU!

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