This banner features ripe pine corns above Tandin Ney in Thimphu. Picture taken on April 15.

Friday, 13 April 2012

More please – the stories of the silent majority

Bhutan Observer received this beautiful letter from Ms Meiko Nishimizu, former World Bank Vice President for South Asia, in February 2009 in response to reporter Rabi C Dahal's story Ungar Diary. The story received the award for the Most Valuable Story (GNH story) in the second National Journalism Awards in 2010. I am reproducing this letter because it is so beautifully written with a lot of food for thought for us the Bhutanese. 

Dear Mr. Rabi C Dahal,

Your Ungar Diary was a pure joy to read. Yes, Ungar is Drukyul, not Thimphu or Paro. That is how the bulk of her people live.

It was a joy because too many who roam the corridor of power and money tend not to see what you saw. Yes, they are “from villages” themselves. Of course, they “visit the rural areas.” But, one cannot see what you saw, unless one lives that life of basic human hardship even for a few nights.

Villagers of Ungar are fortunate. For too many, solid roof overhead is a mere dream, CGI or otherwise. They are invisible, and suffer in silence. Real life-experience like yours is the only way to see the world through the eyes of the invisible people.

No wonder, a Thimphu highway, urban “beautification” projects, domestic airports … Undoubtedly all necessary one day. But, I question, “What’s the priority? Why now?” What’s the priority, when all that money can make the simple dream of rural roads, electricity, or safe drinking water of the silent majority now? Why now, when today’s urban bias in public investments only end up accelerating the unnecessary rural-urban migration?

It was a joy because I am convinced that good journalism, like yours, is critical in changing that bias. In many countries where politics has become a money-making business, I know good journalists are the only remaining friends of the silent majority.

And, it was a pure joy, because that silent majority will harbor instability, extremism, and even revolution, if gone unattended for too long. These are the people who have nothing to lose.
Frustration of social, political, and economic exclusion, handed down generation after generation, will ignite a wrong fire in their belly.

All it takes is one, just one, trigger for them to scream “we’ve got nothing to lose!”. Today’s terrorism, in South Asia and beyond, all started like that.

So, as I see it, poverty alleviation is not a socio-economic cause. It is a national security issue, of the highest order.

May your leather jacket never lose “the smell of smoke”! I, too, have one — a shawl in my case — which will never see a wash. It is my most precious possession that has soaked up layers after layers of that “smell of smoke”, from villages and slums of South Asia… A Hazara tribe village in Afghanistan where my ama knows how to grow the world’s best grape only if there was water, and my apa spends several days out in the wilderness just to collect firewood. A Balochi tribe village near the border of Pakistan and Iran, where my skinny sisters harvest water from an underground channel apa tapped. A hamlet a stone’s throw away from Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and China, where women want to “come out of this darkness” to learn how to read and write.

An untouchables’ village in Karnataka, India, where my ama and my baby sister are slowly dying of kitchen smoke. A Sri Lankan village, now swept away by that tidal wave, where my ama’s tears ran dry having lost all her sons to the war with Tamil Tigers. A Bangladeshi village afflicted by arsenic poison in drinking water, which politicians simply ignore. A Nepali Lama tribe village just below the Tibetan Plateau, where my kin family fears starvation in lean winter months, and my grandma told me “Kathmandu is far away … they don’t care or know about us, and never come to see us once the elections are over.” And in Bemji and Nabji villages of central Bhutan, where my better endowed kin folks share what little they can with the invisible people amongst them… I attach a couple of my writings on a similar topic. Please accept them as a humble gift, from an ex-banker to a shining journalist.

With fond respect,

Mieko Nishimizu

Senior Partner

Think Tank Sophia Bank

Park Forest
Tokyo, Japan 

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