The Bhutanese refugees that we have today in countries like the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and around Europe, all come from a specific ethnic group called Lhotshampas. The Lhotshampas are the “southern Bhutanese” who are the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese. They used to be one of the three main ethnic groups of Bhutan, they made up between a third to half of the entire population of the country prior to the ethnic cleanse that took place in the early 1990’s.
Over 100,000 Southern Bhutanese have lived or still remain in refugee camps in Eastern Nepal, they have spent between 15 to 20 years there before resettlement to other countries began in 2008.
But why did the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese find themselves in the need to flee and seek asylum elsewhere? Here is a little bit about the history of these Nepali/Bhutani ethnic group and their confrontation against their dual identity:
In the late 19th century Bhutan began a campaign to inhabit and cultivate the southern area of their kingdom, which was mostly empty and ready to be worked, so they contracted Nepali-speaking peoples from their surrounding borders to come, live and work the land. Very quickly, the south became one of the main suppliers of food in the country and prospered greatly with at east 60,000 people living there who could trace their lineage to those newcomers that had moved two to three generations prior. Because of this prosperity, the rest of the Bhutanese kingdom began to see them as a political threat and in 1985 a new citizenship act passed that required Lhotshampas to produce documentary evidence of legal residence. A strong nationalistic feeling was rising throughout the kingdom and the need of exclusion of those non-native Bhutanese, called “anti-nationals” became apparent when in 1989 the population was obligated to wear only traditional northern clothing and Nepali language was removed from the schools’ curriculums. The Southern Bhutanese were systematically excluded from the population and facing primitive imprisonment and even torture, their citizenships were being removed making them nationless and therefore taking away their lands in order to give them to northern Bhutanese.
In 1991 the first refugees fled to neighboring India but were not allowed to stay there so they moved to eastern Nepal where the UNHCR set up seven official refugee camps. The population in the camps kept on growing as children were being born there plus later arrivals of Nepali-speaking Bhutanese. As Lhotshampas were not considered citizens of neither Bhutan nor Nepal, they became nationless, and in 2008 they began to be accepted by third countries to be resettled. The US was the country that took-in the majority of them (about 85%) between the years of 2008 to 2015.
*For more information go to http://bhutaneserefugees.com/
In the past, Bishnu has brought Sel Roti to the Loom Studio to share, and when I asked what recipe she wanted to tell me about for the cookbook, she chose this one. Her selection highlighted a deeper metaphorical meaning, since Sel Roti can be found throughout the geographical region of Bhutan, West Bengal and Nepal, rendering this food borderless.
Sel Roti is a fried sweet. This is the way that Bishnu makes it:
2.5 cups of rice flour
.5 cups of wheat flour
1 tsp of baking powder
3 tbsp of cane sugar
enough water to make a pancake consistency liquid
3 tbsp of Ghee (or butter)
Mix the rice and wheat flour with the baking powder, sugar and ghee with enough water to make a liquid in similar consistency that when making pancake batter (this is how Bishnu explained).
Pour frying oil into pan and heat for deep-frying. When the oil is ready, submerge the ladle in the batter and lift above oil, letting the batter fall into the oil while making a circular shape. Let fry until brown and repeat until you run out of batter.