takes a look at how Bhutan, led by newly-married King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, is attampting to balance democracy, modernity, and tradition. By Simon Denyer, October 30, 2011:
In Bhutan, some people are complaining that the government has no right to decide what makes them happy — not least when it banned smoking and made possession of cigarettes or tobacco a jailable offense in 2010.
When a Buddhist monk was arrested and sentenced to three years in jail for possession of $2 to $3 worth of tobacco, even the normally quiescent Bhutanese rebelled. GNH [Gross National Happiness] was nicknamed “Gross National Harassment,” and a Facebook campaign helped crystallize the opposition. Although about 60 people are in prison, the government has promised to amend the law.
“The smoking law is the overzealous Bhutanese mind-set at work,” said Kinley Tshering, a media consultant and editor who started the Facebook campaign.
Money is not everything, some critics say, but at least economic growth seems like an objective, measurable goal, while the pursuit of happiness is subjective, easily manipulated by the government to justify any policy it wants to implement. In the cities, people barely understand GNH, and in the villages, many farmers find its dogma frustrating. Under law inspired by Buddhism, they are not allowed to kill wild animals and are virtually powerless to prevent their crops from being eaten by wild boars, monkeys and elephants.
“The whole concept of GNH in Bhutan is a democratic one, but the way it is implemented is not democratic at all,” said Tashi Dorji, the editor of Business Bhutan, a newspaper that has played a leading role in investigating and holding the government accountable. “It’s top-down, with politicians and leaders telling us what is GNH.”