Take a quick look through the front pages of our papers these days. The headlines scream of rapists, child labour, trafficking……things that we hardly admit to existing in our country.
Yet, what is the reaction from our readers?
Sometimes newspapers need to fear that constantly highlighting such issues may backfire and produce the opposite results to what we hope for. That instead of being wracked with concern because everything is not as perfect as we would like to believe in Bhutan, our readers will grow indifferent, accepting such things as part of everyday life. That they will glance at the headlines and it won’t mean anything to them except a graph with rising numbers.
Child labour is a real issue in Bhutan. And it is a shame because it may happen elsewhere, but it must not happen in a country that declares Gross National happiness to be its national policy that an innocent child does not get to lead the life he or she desires and deserves to.
And there are only two things we can do about this. We can admit that we are, like any other country, cruel to those children who we don’t feel responsible for, that we are the kind of nation that will accept that it’s children are living in despair. Or we can give their lives back to those children who deserve to play outside, not work.
But what we cannot do is globe trot, naming the pluses of the great philosophy of Gross National Happiness, teaching its ‘real meaning’ to the other countries who are unenlightened in our wise ways, while we know in our hearts that our children are suffering back at home.
The malignant hypocrisy hangs in the air when a rich official’s wife ill-treats her maidservant, who is only a child, while her husband attends international conferences and speaks to people about GNH. It happens in Bhutan.
Hypocrisy reeks out of the workshops where the mechanic’s helper is but a small child with a grease-smeared face, who we fail to look at; somehow, our gaze always goes through him.
It is a shame that we must remember every time we tell a newcomer about Bhutan the Shangri la. A shame, because we are the ones responsible for this despicable occurrence, and we are the ones who should act to remove it.
We are the ones who should go beyond saying, ‘tsk tsk, he should be in school,’ to ensuring that he IS. The ones who should think of what kind of persons we re, when we employ that little girl from some remote village to work for us, to look after our children when she herself is no bigger than they are. When we deny her education, and in some deep-rooted way, teach our children, and worse, herself, that she is somehow less of a person than they are.
It needs a brief looking back into our own childhood, into the hurts and losses and all the emotions that we may still remember with clarity, and the realisation that they are just like that. Beneath those rough exteriors, they want a little love, and assurance of an adult, whose shoes they have stepped so early on in their lives while their hearts are still raw with childhood.
And we, the people who say with pride that our national philosophy is GNH, need to give out a little bit of that happiness to these children.