Pema Namgyel unseen since 2007
by Sandhya Jain on 10 Jun 2013 1 Comment
The continued incarceration of the young child monk Pema Namgyel (b. November 2004), the tenth Shabdrung Rimpoche and spiritual leader of a Buddhist Lama school in Bhutan, is causing grave anxiety among his followers who are clamouring for his immediate and unconditional release. The Shabdrung Rimpoche was placed under house arrest by the Royal Bhutan government, for unstated reasons, soon after his arrival there in October 2005, and has not been seen in public ever since.


Disciples have been unable to access the monk, who has also been denied legal recourse, to the distress of his followers in Bhutan and India.

According to students of the Druk Ngawang Thubten Choling (Buddhist Institute for Higher studies and research) at Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India, Pema Namgyel, his parents Tashi Dawa and Weshi Wangmo, and his oracle (teacher), the Choechong Tseurama, were invited by the King of Bhutan and the Reincarnation Committee for a ‘meeting’ in Thimphu.

The group accordingly left the Bodh Gaya monastery in October 2005. Soon after arrival in Thimpu, however, they were placed under continuous government surveillance, denied permission to leave Bhutan, and also denied the right to have visitors. The Pema Namgyel’s students condemn the detention as “house arrest without justification of the law”.


In the absence of official information, allegations abound. The students claim that the regime is holding the oracle Choechong Tseurama in a Thimphu jail, in violation of international law.

The Shabdrung school of Buddhism is a venerated lineage going back to Ngawang Namgyel Rimpoche (1594-1651), a Tibetan Buddhist lama and unifier of Bhutan as a nation state. He was given the honorific title of ‘Shabdrung’, which means,
at whose feet one submits. He unified the various warring fiefdoms for the first time in the 1630s, and named the country Druk Gyalkhap (Land of Peaceful Dragon), and the people came to be known as Drukpas.


He carved out a Bhutanese identity distinct from the Nyingmapa Tibetan tradition from which it derived and made this Drukpa Kargyupa the state religion. Ngawang Namgyel Rimpoche created a dual system of governance, whereby the Je Khenpo presided over the Drukpa Kargyupa sect and the Desid or Deb Raja ran the state. They were appointed by different groups of people for a period of three years; the tenures could be extended.


The Shabdrung title has since vested with successive reincarnations of Ngawang Namgyel Rimpoche. Unfortunately, the British Raj sowed the seeds of discord between the monarchy and the spiritual leadership, which has continued unabated since then.


The 9th Shabdrung Jigme Ngawang Namgyal, who had lived in exile in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, since the age of five years, passed away in April 2003 (allegedly murdered as the previous two incarnations are widely believed to have been). In an interview in 2005, he said he was not prepared to return to his country: “It is dangerous. You can’t speak about the system. It is worse than terror, so it is extremely dangerous.”


His 10th incarnation was born in November 2004 amidst auspicious indications like the blooming of unseasonal flowers, appearance of spring water in a village that went dry when the death of 9th Shabdrung was declared. When a team of students approached the 17th Karmapa Ugyen Thinley and the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala, the Karmapa predicted a child had been born to a couple in eastern Bhutan.


The child and his parents were found and brought to the Druk Ngawang Thubten Choling Monastery at Bodh Gaya, Bihar, in December 2004, fearing a threat to their lives from vested interests in Bhutan. The 17th Karmapa, in the presence of the Dalai Lama, officially recognized and authenticated the child as His Holiness the 10th Shabdrung Pema Namgyal. The child was officially consecrated and ushered into the Kagyu institution at the tender age of 14 months.


Fearing persecution at the hands of the regime (the fate of successive Shabdrungs), the parents decided to remain in India. But soon, responding to the invitation of the King, they returned, hoping to get the Shabdrung officially recognised in his own country.


The group planned to return to Bodh Gaya on completion of the recognition process by the Incarnation Committee, but never returned. As far as can be ascertained, the child monk has not been allowed to go to school or to go to any Buddhist institution within Bhutan.


Suddenly in September 2012, a picture of the 10th Shabdrung appeared on Facebook after a gap of seven years; there was no explanation of where and when the picture was taken. This created a flutter of excitement among his followers, but despite strenuous efforts, no further information could be gleaned about his whereabouts and those of his parents and oracle.





Another issue agitating Bhutanese refugees is the fate of Tenzin Gawa Zangpo, 48, general secretary of Druk National Congress-D, who was arrested with National Democratic Front of Bodoland ‘home secretary’ Sabin Boro on 12 November 2008 and detained in Sata Silambari police station, Dispur, in connection with a serial bomb blast in Guwahati on of October 30, 2008, in which 86 persons died.


Zangpo was charged under various sections of the law, but granted bail on May 6, 2009. However, even as his wife Karma Zangpo was waiting for him outside the jail, he was mysteriously ushered into a Maruti van, sandwiched between two police escort vehicles, and whisked away.


The DNC-D members in Nepal fear that he was falsely accused as part of a conspiracy to detain him; granted bail in which should have been a non-bailable offence; and then spirited out of the country. They believe that he has been handed over to the Bhutan authorities illegally.

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