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Citizenship for Just and Harmonious Societies

By Rachel Haswell


Most individuals would consider citizenship to be a right, but the Lhotshampas of Bhutan see the blessing of citizenship as a gift.

The Lhotshampas, who are ethnically Nepali and practice Hinduism, have been living in Bhutan since the nineteenth century. Despite their roots in Bhutan, however, the government has produced strict laws targeting Lhotshampas to reduce ethnic diversity in the country. Many have fled due to harsh persecution, including eviction, rape, arbitrary arrest, torture, and killing. Neither neighboring Nepal nor India will claim this community. This has left Lhosthampas stateless and without geographical or cultural context.

The question of citizenship and statelessness is being tackled during the 9th World Assembly of Religions Peace during the session on Welcoming the Other through Citizenship for Just and Harmonious Societies. This segment will particularly focus on displaced persons and refugees.

It is the responsibility of government to grant citizenship to its people. What happens, though, when no government will claim a people as its own? In Bhutan there is an in-group mentality with the government’s belief that homogeny is the key to the nation’s growth. The Lhotshampas have been targeted as outsiders in all the nations where they have ties, both their ethnic homeland of Nepal and their geographic homeland, Bhutan.

At this point, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is the main body responsible for this group. However, as an international body, it does not have the authority to grant them citizenship in countries that will not accept them. Citizenship is a link to human dignity, to belonging. This denial of citizenship is the government failure to extend human dignity down to the core of its nation. To stateless people, like the Lhotshampas, citizenship is a gift that they may never receive.