Joining the cause against violence

The time couldn’t be more befitting. As the ‘One Billion Rising’ coalition mobilized men and women across the globe to demand an end to violence against women and children on February 14, the National Council in its ongoing session adopted the Domestic Violence Prevention Bill 2012 on February 18.

Such initiatives would certainly go a long way in combating violence in almost all its forms that has always pervaded women’s lives, not only globally but also in our society as well.

pixxxxDetailed or accurate information on violence against women in Bhutan may be hard to get, but to say it doesn’t exists is a sheer understatement. The reported cases in the media are just the tip of an iceberg.  Most of the cases go unreported or are withdrawn.

It’s perhaps because of the privacy of the matter, for fear of stigmatization or trepidation in cases where a woman is a dependant. And even if they want to, most of the women are oblivious of the laws and organizations that stand up for them.

A research carried out by RENEW on violence against women in Thimphu in 2007 has revealed some alarming facts. A survey conducted on 867 women (ages ranging between 15 years and 69 years) from urban areas and 102 women from rural areas, 165 men and 118 children shows that violence is prevalent in a woman’s life, whether single or married.

While 144 women (77%) reported case of physical abuse, 101 women (54%) reported undergoing emotional torment while 44 women (23%) reported forced sex.

Violence against women has been considered morally wrong in Bhutan but despite this consideration, it continues to prevail. Many unfortunate women have become victims to physically abusive husbands, sometimes suffering battery and forceful sex. And instances of working women facing some form of harassment at their workplaces are also sprouting up.pixxx

Alcohol consumption, financial problem and extra-marital affairs are often outlined as reasons for domestic violence in the country.  But what is little known is that these are just triggering factors.

Solution to these factors just won’t suffice if we are serious about addressing this issue. We need to change the rooted discrimination against women which continues to be emboldened by socio-cultural belief, gender concepts, inequalities and hierarchies. More is found wanting than a policy alone. An Act on domestic violence, as some put in, does legalize the issue, but it doesn’t solve the problem per se.

What is found wanting for now is attitude and behavioral changes against women that stems from the inherited psyche of society; and for a start, we can begin with effective public education and rigorous campaign.

Timing it right

The Speaker’s announcement on the early dissolution of the government in the run up to the 2013 elections has provoked mixed responses across the political spectrum. Many new political parties view this move as a shrewd strategy on the part of the ruling party to hijack the upcoming elections, without giving them a fair chance at competition.

The new parties, including the opposition, are still getting their house in order. They are struggling to field all the candidates in the 47 constituencies, forget the rest of it. Although the Election Commission of Bhutan has allowed the new parties to launch introductory tours, they have a lot of ground to cover. In this wake, early dissolution of the government that would push the election dates closer than anticipated gives new parties but little room to maneuver.

To top it all, the ruling party enjoys the advantage of incumbency. They have created a strong impression on the minds of the electorate with their visibility and presence in the last five years. The recent constituency visits and many to follow in the weeks to come will only reinforce DPT’s presence and further its chances of winning.

Juxtaposed to this, the new parties are way behind in the race. Of course, they have every reason to be jittery.buckle-up-orioles-banner

Certain quarters of Bhutanese society has questioned DPT’s decision to dissolve the government early, labeling it a political act of hitting under the belt. For a fact, the incumbent government can, and legitimately so, propose to the King to dissolve the government early. Only motivations for doing so can be scrutinized.

However, it should not be forgotten that all new political parties emerged only in the fag end of DPT’s five-year term. If timing is critical in politics, certainly new parties failed to see it. Look how the ruling party is timing the 2013 elections, whatever the justifications it still gains out of it.

If the new parties are caught off-guard, it is largely to do with the timing of their arrival. They entered the political scene rather too late when they could have started any time. What’s disconcerting is the fact that despite having been there for the last five years, the opposition party seems as ill prepared as any other new party.

All said and done, there’s still some time, and hope. As much as the ruling party enjoys an edge over others, it will also have to face a lot of anti-incumbency hostility.  For all the wrong moves and policies it churned out during its term, certain disgruntled voters will definitely punish them by choosing to support a new, alternative party. That’s where new parties must come in. Time to buckle up!

From where we stand

As the date for the next elections draws closer, there is a deluge of new candidates entering the political arena, pursuing their political dream. Be it broadcast or the print media, everything presently seems to be about elections.

While some are vying for seats in the National Assembly, some are up for the Council, believing that they would bring the long due change, as some claim, found wanting in the system.

New candidates are coming forward, revealing themselves and their reasons for the plunge in politics. In other words, they are making themselves known to the electorates and what they intend to do if elected to power.

But as a Bhutanese society as we are, whenever an individual makes his/her political ambition known, the least we do is out rightly assess the particular candidate, whether he or she is befittingly made for politics.

They are put under the scrutiny radar. And then judgment is passed, unfortunately sometimes even based on their personal lives. We decide whether that person would make a good politician or not. Call it prickly or wretched, such things are inevitably bound to happen given the closeness of our society.

Our perception about politicians is increasingly becoming not a benign one. May be this could perhaps also be attributed to politics and politicians in some of our neighboring countries. And thus our same perception as filthy, debauched and demoralizing. We view them the same way as other politicians in some countries are depicted before us.0129197950085

Are we seriously heading in the right direction if that is what our discernment? Definitely not! We cannot envision having this mindset not at this time, not at this time when democracy has only begun taking roots in the country.  If bad gets worst, it would compromise all our painstaking efforts that we have put in to reach where we are.

People making a plunge into politics must be lauded for their efforts and given the due they deserve, instead of viewing them as famished for power, money and wanting a comfortable life. We need to comprehend that not all birds are of the same feathers.

What would be the nemesis of a young democracy like us when people entering politics are increasingly becoming subject of suspicion? True to the words of the Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley, “If we doubt and suspect every politician, I believe, this would be the undoing of Bhutanese democracy.”

So what would it cost to change this mindset of ours? Or should we continue having the same outlook and not worry about the successful fruition of democracy and its power that is bestowed on us? Perhaps, a little change in our attitude would suffice here.

The last session!

Many people seem to be enthusiastically and anxiously waiting for what would transpire during the 10th session of the Parliament- the last session of the elected government- scheduled to take off on February 8.

In the 15 days of deliberations and lawmaking, one thing is definite that no new bills will be introduced in this session. So instead, Members of the Parliament (MPs) of the two houses will deliberate on pending bills and issues that spilled over from the 9th session.

The assembly will look up into the dispute resolution bill and contract bill; the council will deliberate on domestic violence prevention bill and road bill, while disaster management bill and national flag bill could be up for discussion in a joint sitting.

Further, the last session will perhaps be the longest Parliament session ever given a number of national holidays and weekends, and with the session scheduled to conclude on March 6.

Indubitably, the last session, some political enthusiasts say, is significant in numerous other aspects as well. Firstly, it is the last Parliament session of the first elected government, keeping in with the spirit of the Constitution of Bhutan.

National Assembly Building in Thimphu
National Assembly Building in Thimphu

The other most probable and interesting speculation among political aficionados is that the date for the dissolution of the present government would be announced in a joint sitting of this session by the Prime Minister.

But it’s purported likely that the government will stay till the end of its tenure – April 20. There are apparent reasons too. Dissolving early would mean forgoing certain retirement benefits and it’s unlikely the government would do so, at least not for now.

Few opine that the last session should not be used by incumbent parties for propagandizing for the next elections. They say it will be unquestionably unfair if MPs are taking advantage to gain political mileage this time by promoting themselves for the upcoming elections.

The other key highlight of this session is the presentation of the state of the nation report to the Parliament by the Prime Minister. While doing so, some contend, it is time for the government to exhibit accountability, an integral component of democracy.

No denying; this is the time when the government should divulge information to the public – precise and in true manner about its progress and achievements during its tenure, and whether the promises made in 2008 were delivered so.

Therefore, the last Parliament session is significant in many ways than the earlier sessions. It could be described as the judgment day of this government because it will determine whether people’s expectations have been met by the government. And in essence, this will either renew and reinvigorate people’s faith, trust and reverence in democracy or lose them.