The Population and Housing Census of Bhutan (PHCB) is an important national exercise undertaken every after 10 years to determine the socio-economic status of the entire population. The last time we had this kind of survey was in 2005. The findings from this survey are expected to guide the future plans and policies of the government to boost socio-economic development of the country. Hence, it is not surprising to see the questionnaire covering different aspects of social, economic and public life of each individual when an enumerator walks into your house. The main intention behind having such a comprehensive set of questions is to get the exact socio-economic profile of a person. It is therefore very important for each of us to participate in the survey and get counted. After having patiently waited for one and half days, I finally got counted this evening.
On the evening of 19th May 2017, I was invited to join a team of staff from the Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan (DPAB) to go to Wangdue Phodrang for a disability awareness program which was to be held over the weekends. The cool Friday evening breeze rejuvenated us as we eased our way through the mountains and valleys towards Wangdue Phodrang. It was about 8 o’clock in the evening when we reached the ancestral home of Sonam Deki, our team leader. We were to stay in this house until Sunday.
Recently, a taxi driver in Thimphu was taken aback when he was flagged down by police for having a Marlboro sticker pasted on the back of his car. He didn’t know that decorating his car with such stickers was an offence under the Tobacco Control (Amended) Act of Bhutan 2014. Likewise, there are many shopkeepers who still sell candy cigarettes to children not knowing that it is also an offence. The Tobacco Control (Amended) Act of Bhutan 2014 states that the sale or use of any product intended to promote the use of tobacco products is an offence. The candy cigarettes and the stickers of various brands of tobacco are believed to encourage people to smoke. This was one of the key messages conveyed during the Tobacco Awareness Program conducted in Kabisa in Thimphu by Khasadrapchu Youth Center on 12th May 2017 as part of its outreach sensitization program.
Decades ago, I remember people talking about the possible cyber war in the future. At that time, it did not make any sense to me. But today, it seems what people had feared for years is becoming a reality. The advanced computer technology of the modern age has given birth to many sophisticated hackers who are responsible for some of the deadliest cyber-attacks the world has ever seen in the recent history. The first was the widely publicized hacking of Sony Pictures in November 2014 in which a group named The Guardians of Peace hacked the database of the film studio and released several new films online. Then came the hacking of Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 US Election which led to the leak of thousands of confidential and private emails of the Democratic Party officials on WikiLeaks. Today, we are seeing another kind of cyber-attack, through a ransomware called WannaCry which has already affected more than 150 countries since last Friday. WannaCry is a malicious software that freezes your computer and demands $300 to be paid online if you want to regain access to your files. What causes more panic for the victims is that the ransomware threatens to permanently delete all the files within a week if the ransom money is not paid. Although there is no guarantee that the access will be granted after paying the money, the analysis of the Bitcoin Wallets has shown that a significant amount has already been paid by the victims in a desperate bid to get back their files and documents.
As part of the outreach service program in Kabisa community conducted by Khasadrapchu Youth Center in Thimphu yesterday, the officials from Bhutan Narcotic Control Agency (BNCA) interacted with over 50 youth and sensitized them on narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, and the associated drug laws in Bhutan. The rising trend of drug abuse and smuggling cases in the country over the years seriously call for aggressive public awareness campaigns so that young people can stay safe from drugs. It has been found that many youth are committing drug-related crimes simply because they don’t have adequate knowledge of the legal provisions in the Narcotic Drug, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2015. So most of the time, they are found unaware of what they are doing. It has been reported that a young graduate has been recently caught in Eastern Bhutan with 90 pieces of N10 in a parcel he was carrying for his friend from another person. If he had known that carrying N10 which is a Schedule III drug more than two times the permissible quantity of ten pieces would send him to jail for 5-9 years (3rd degree felony), perhaps he would have double-checked the parcel he had received for his friend. So for the benefit of all the youth of Bhutan, I would like to share some of the most important highlights from the sensitization program held in Kabisa.
One winter night in 1993, my wife’s elder sister, Sita Rai in Sibsoo got the biggest shock of her life. While everybody was busy with works late into the night, a group of men suddenly circled them and started attacking them with sticks and machetes indiscriminately. All their faces were covered in black soot. They threatened the family that they would kill them if they do not surrender their money and jewelry. Her father-in-law was subsequently dragged away into the fields, to the spot where he had hidden the money underground and was left with severe cuts and bruises after robbing him of his life-long savings. Later, the family learned that the robbers were from the same village but since they had distorted their faces with soot, they could not be identified. Likewise, many robbers disguise themselves when they rob people. Even if they do not hide their identity, they at least wait for the night to fall before they decide to act so that their identity can be hidden by nature. This is the negative energy you would get when you hide yourself behind the masks.
With the ongoing road-widening activities in full swing and the early arrival of Monsoon this year, it is becoming increasingly risky for people to travel along the national highways today. Over the past couple of months, we have seen a number of tragic accidents along the West-East National Highway that have killed both foreign tourists and Bhutanese nationals. As a mountainous country, the topography of Bhutan itself is not friendly for road travelers but during the Monsoon season, the highways become even worse. The road blockages due to landslides and shooting boulders along the national highways are once again becoming a common phenomenon. As a result, it is very important to take extra caution while driving nowadays. We have already lost many precious lives due to reckless driving. Only the affected families would be able to feel the real pain of having to lose somebody like this. The heaps of sands and lose soil alongside the roads, and the overhanging boulders due to the road-widening activities are some of the most dangerous risk factors for road mishaps. As a driver, one should drive slowly and cautiously so that everybody would be safe. Travelling along the national highways today is like travelling between life and death. One has to be always alert and vigilant because anything can happen any time.