There is absolutely no problem when you call a spade a spade, but something is wrong when you call a crowbar or a shovel a spade. The term ‘Jaga’ in Bhutan is an official tag for India and its people just like ‘Jami’ for Chinese and ‘Chillips’ for Westerners. But it’s sad to know that in the feat of anger and hatred, many Bhutanese have the tendency to call Lhotshampas or Southern Bhutanese Jagas which carries a strong racial tone. Over the years, I have often heard people using this term to refer to Lhotshampas whom they hate and I have always been wondering what is actually there in the word that satisfies people who use it. Is it retaliation to the word ‘Bhotey’ often used in the south to refer to Drukpas? If that’s the case, I feel there’s nothing that one should be angry about. The word ‘Bhotey’ literarily refers to the people of ‘Bhot-stan’, one of the earlier names of our country which means ‘The country of Highlands’. So, I feel one should be instead proud to be called Bhotey, but the word ‘Jaga’ has literarily nothing to do with Lhotshampas.
The equivalent word of ‘Jaga’ in Sharchhop in Eastern Bhutan is ‘Ngera’, and during my school days, some senior students regularly called me ‘Ngera’ but I took it lightly as I knew they weren’t serious about it. But as I grew up, I found people using this term more seriously to humiliate the Lhotsham people. There had been a funny incident when I was in my college in India. A few of us were gossiping about a Lhotshampa friend regarding his behavior and attitude and suddenly, one of the friends said “Jagas are always like that”. Everybody went silent and another friend of mine couldn’t help but burst into laughter. The person who said it felt guilty because he didn’t realize I was there. Since I have spent almost twelve years in Eastern Bhutan, I have a very good accent of both Sharchhop and Dzongkha languages and hence, many people don’t think I am a Southern Bhutanese. So they often land up humiliating Lhotsham people in front of me. A couple of years ago, I was shocked to hear that even a senior official in my organization calling the Lhotshampa gardener ‘Jandroey’ meaning ‘Indian ghost’ when he failed to do what he was instructed to do. Considering all that, I have now come to realize that although we claim to be a non-racist country, many Bhutanese have this racial factor in their blood which explodes to the surface under certain circumstances and conditions.
I don’t actually see any reason why we should be referred to as Jagas when we have no link to India. Our ancestors have not come from India. They have come from Nepal. But if we are Jagas just because we are immigrants, then I should say the entire Bhutanese people except the Doyas are immigrants. Only Doyas are considered the native people of Bhutan. The rest of us have all come from neighboring countries: Tibet, Nepal and India. So, I don’t find it reasonable to discriminate us on our immigration status. Then do we look like Indians that we are aligned with them? If it is so, I know there are many Sharchhops, Ngalungs and Khengpas who also have similar looks. No matter how different we look or no matter where we originated from, we all are now under the same king and that we must be bound together by common interests and national identity. Keeping all our racial differences aside, let us all now sail in the same boat with love and joy and prove to the outside world that we are a true GNH country.
I feel we should also now stop using the word ‘Nepali’ to refer to Southern Bhutanese because we have our own official tags given by the government, i.e. ‘Lhotsham’ community or ‘Lhotshampas’. The tag ‘Nepali’ is associated with Nepal and it’s literarily wrong to use it in Bhutan to refer to our own people. That reminds me of what a young graduate who sat for the Civil Service Common Examinations last year told me. He said when he was asked if he knew how to speak Nepali language during the viva exam, he said “I don’t know Nepali. I only know Lhotshamkha”. He was appreciated for his logical and technically correct answer. I think we all should have such an attitude. By the way, the graduate was not a Lhotshampa. He is Kinley Dorji who is currently doing his Postgraduate Diploma in Public Administration in the Royal Institute of Management (RIM). I should personally applaud him for conceiving such an attitude even at such a young age. It is very important to educate our children on such things right from now. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s not possible for our country to become like America one day where the blacks and whites kill each other on racial grounds. Anyway, God bless our great nation and its people in all the times to come. May we all live together in harmony forever! I would never wish to see anybody being dragged to court on racial charges in Bhutan in the future.