Tag Archives: Bhutan

The Abortion Debate

I titled this post ‘The Abortion Debate’, but the fact is that there really isn’t much of a debate going on.

Abortion is illegal in Bhutan, and newspapers occasionally write about it whenever there is an illegal-abortion related death. The penal code allows abortion in four cases- if the mother’s life is at risk, if the mother is mentally unsound, in case of rape, or incest. Many times, the four cases overlap- A minor or a mentally unsound person may be raped, and the pregnancy may pose a major health risk to the mother.

However, despite the law, many victims of rape, including minors, are forced to go through pregnancy and childbirth, as rape has to be proved.

The ‘debate’ eventually peters out, until another heart-wrenching case  occurs, and the media picks it up again. There isn’t much of a lobby from women’s rights groups, probably because the women who are in a position to raise the issue are never really directly faced with the dilemma- educated women aren’t commonly rape victims here, and they have the information to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, and even if they are in that situation, they can just go to India or Bangkok and get a quick, hush-hush abortion done, in a good, safe hospital.

The women who really need the law to change do not really have a voice- they are minors, women from remote places and poor families, and maids.

Do we need the law to change? Lets say a minor is raped. For the record, a minor below the age of 16 is always raped, even if the act was consensual, because sexual intercourse with a minor constitutes statutory rape. But rape has to be proved, even in these cases, and it means forcing a young girl, sometimes still in her early teens, to bear a child, because by the time rape has been proved (if ever it is), it is too late to terminate the pregnancy.

There are those that will say that to take a life is wrong in any case, even if the mother is a victim of rape. It may be a matter of opinion, but it infuriates me, that someone can just sit behind a desk and spout morals, and force a young woman to bear the brunt of a crime, while (in many cases) the offender walks free. My take on this is simple- if you think abortion is wrong, don’t do it. But don’t impose your beliefs on another person, especially when it causes them so much trauma.

I have said this in conversation, and the people arguing with me have told me that the ‘live and let live’ philosophy cannot apply to just anything. Should we leave a woman alone, for instance, if she happens to murder a child after it is born, reasoning that while we think murdering an infant is wrong, and we would not do it, we should let others so as they like.

But the problem with the above counter argument is that it is flawed- it doesn’t differentiate between an unborn and a newborn. When ‘life’ as we define it begins is a matter of opinion. At what point can we say, that it is not merely a potential for life, but life itself, sacred, with a right of its own? A baby may not be able to voice its rights, but we would all agree that it has the right to not be killed. Does a fetus? And at what point, exactly, does it begin to have that right? A lot of people will have a prompt answer to this question, and a lot of the answers will be vastly different.

Some people believe that the right to life begins with the potential of life. Which is why some religions forbid contraception. If terminating a pregnancy is no different from killing a newborn, then surely, not allowing fertilization to take place (and thus preventing a possible life) is no different. It may sound absurd to some, but some people do not think it is any different from abortion or murder.

And if contraception is murder, than surely, abstinence is murder as well. Each and every sperm and egg that does not become an infant has been denied the chance to life, and is therefore, essentially murder.

You may think I am being ridiculous with my comparisons, but if you are anti-abortion, explain to me why you would draw the line where you do.

So the questions remains- at what point does the object with a possibility of life begin to have a life, and have the right that comes along with life? As a sperm or egg, as a zygote, or as a fetus with hands and legs, or as a baby, breathing the air through its lungs? Broadly speaking, a zygote may be considered to have a life, in the same way that the cells in your body are considered to have a life, as are plants, and bacteria, or a person with no brain activity kept on life support (another debate, but medically and legally considered dead). But I don’t see people fighting for the right to life of these living organisms.

I will probably be roasted for comparing a human zygote to plants and bacteria, but let me make a few points. First, we may identify a ‘human with life’ as an individual with rights. A zygote can sometimes split into two, and become two individuals- who will grow to be identical twins. If a zygote, which was single, can be considered as one individual (with rights), where did the other individual come from?

Away from the philosophy on what it means to be alive, and what it means to be an individual, is reality-

A baby was found abandoned a few days back in Thimphu. It sickened me. To leave a human being with a physical form in a drain(ones own child, at that), to the dogs, literally, must need a heart that is stone cold. I do not condemn the woman. I don’t know if anyone has given thought to murder. It is in practically every movie and story, but how many of us can actually carry out the act? It must require us to be inhuman, to be able to take a life. The woman must have been desperate. How great must have been her fear, for her to give up her humanity. I never believed that circumstances made criminals- some people go through harrowing lives, and still end up being wonderful, inspirational human beings. But circumstances must, at some point, drive some people over the edge, into the ghastly.

I don’t think that legalizing abortion will devalue life- women will go through a huge trauma even if the abortion they had was legal. But when it is illegal, the traumas will just multiply- it will mean committing a crime, perhaps living with the relic of a crime, and subjecting themselves to grievous bodily harm, and often, death.

Legalizing abortion means allowing the termination of an unwanted pregnancy at an early stage, when it is safe for the mother to do so. People are so concerned about the life of an unborn, even when it is just a clump of cells fixed on a woman’s uterus. So concerned, that the living, breathing woman, who may lose her life in an unfortunate, late attempt at abortion, or her soul, while abandoning a newborn in a drain, is inconsequential to them.

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On GNH-Why So Cynical?

I just watched the Prime Minister’s interview on the BBC on GNH, and although short, the interview represents something important- that we are making a mark globally. Of course those of us who like to subscribe to online news on Bhutan have our inboxes flooded with the New York session and know that Bhutan is making a splash.

Our papers obviously have their own comments on this. Here is a cartoon that appeared on Bhutan Observer that I pulled from the Opposition Leader’s Blog. 

Here’s one from Kuensel, that I pulled from their site

I don’t really have to elaborate on the cartoons or what they mean. I have found articles in various papers that seem to reflect similar thought. Basically asking, “Why is the Prime Minister busy selling GNH in other countries while we are suffering so much back at home?” I’ve come across comments and tweets asking exactly that.

My question is a little different. “Why is everyone so cynical?”

Seriously, why? The way people talk, Bhutan sounds like the most terrible place on earth. Apparently we are jobless, penniless, high on drugs, on the verge of killing each other, and drowning in heaps of garbage while we are at it. I’m not saying we are Shangri-la, (oh, how I hate that tag) but honestly, are we THAT badly off? Sure, it’s our job to look at what’s going wrong, to bring it out, think of solutions, and try to solve problems we have. Sure, we all have a role in ensuring our new democracy is a success, and part of that is done through criticism, by making sure that we bring out issues and discuss them, thrash them out until we have solutions. But isn’t being proud of who we are and what we have part of it, too? And sure, this government is not perfect. I have railed enough about various government policies in this blog.

But isn’t this really about Bhutan, and it’s development philosophy, and not the Prime Minister or his party?

I would see this as a proud moment for Bhutan. A small country like us has nothing much to offer to the world. We won’t be sending anyone to unexplored planets of the solar systems yet, it’s unlikely that we will invent the next great gadget, and given our recent match results, we won’t win the Football world cup for at least a century.

But we have given the world GNH. Skeptics and cynics may say what they like, but this idea, this simple but brilliant thought, that we can and should, as a country, prioritize happiness while on the path to development, captures the imagination and interest of so many people. It has made headline news on BBC.

It is a proud moment for us all, that this concept came from our King. People say now that they are tired of ‘GNH talk’, that ‘certain people have hijacked GNH to their own ends’, that they are ‘against quantifying happiness’.

I’m not tired of GNH. Honestly, I don’t care if people are using GNH to their advantage. It still remains what it always was, an ideal, a novel way to look at development, and at some level, life itself.

For me, GNH means spelling out our priorities in three letters. It means choosing to grow in a certain way, in a wise way, so that later, we don’t regret what we have done, we don’t lose some things that we may never get back again. It means not allowing happiness to be a casualty on the road to development. To me GNH is about governance- I don’t know or care about how happiness can be measured, and I am happy with the fact that the country I live in not only has a policy to prioritize happiness, but it is the country that came up with this idea.

And even though it seems obvious that any country should consider the happiness of its people before making any policy or law, if no one else has ever thought about it yet, then the world needs GNH even more.

And talking about the rupee crisis, unemployment, drug abuse, corruption, youth violence, garbage, and all the other problems we have is our way of ensuring we are walking that GNH road. We need to keep bringing out all these issues, we need to keep looking for solutions, we need to keep asking those who should make a difference, including ourselves, at times, to make a difference.

I think we can do that without becoming bitter cynics who always look for the dirt, even in the best places.

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