The Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan, situated in the eastern Himalayas neighboring India and China, has historically shielded its religion by its policy of isolation.
But as this nation gradually opened up to the outside world, beginning in the 1970s, it began to lose its traditional Buddhist values. Today, the distortion of its ancient culture has reached alarming proportions. “With rising indicators of youth-related crime, such as violence, drug abuse and prostitution, one question on every Bhutanese mind today is: are our youth getting out of control?” reports the state-run Kuensel Newspaper (April 14).
Bhutan allowed the first foreign tourists only in the 1970s, and television was introduced as late as the 1990s. Thus a culture that was foreign to most citizens intruded on the country. But what was initially unfamiliar soon merged with the local culture, as reflected in the emergence of discos and pubs in cities. In 2008, Bhutan was declared a constitutional monarchy and had its first parliamentary elections. The Constitution, which allows other religions, sees Buddhism as the spiritual heritage of Bhutan.
But preserving that heritage in a secular, democratic set-up seems even more difficult. The government has merely succeeded in enforcing codes related to visible aspects of culture—such as the use of national dress and language and uniform architecture—while the values behind the nation’s distinct culture continue to be eroded by the day.
— By Vishal Arora, a New Delhi, India-based writer who recently returned from a visit to Bhutan