You may have heard of the country Bhutan. You may have heard about its lush jagged peaks due to its perch at the eastern base of the Himalayas. You may have heard that Bhutan exceeds in “Gross National Happiness,” placing quality of life over material wealth.
This is what Bhutan wants you to hear. But there are aspects of the country that the tourism board won’t necessarily advertise on its website. While all of these aspects of the country exist – the culture and the landscape are beautiful and rich, and the people economists have surveyed are, indeed, happy – there’s a darker secret that this beauty and joy masks. A mass exodus of Nepali minorities from Bhutan make up one of the largest refugee groups proportional to the country’s population. Since the early 1990s, more than 100,000 ethnic Nepalis have fled southern Bhutan (about one- sixth of the entire population) because of a concentrated governmental effort to impose a “One Nation, One Culture” policy for fear that the Buddhist-practicing Drukpa majority would be overtaken. The crackdown of protests from the oppressed minority eventually drove an entire ethnic group out of the country to Nepal where, not exactly accepted by the country from which their ancestors emigrated in the late nineteenth century, many spent the decades since in refugee camps.
Somehow with all the attention Bhutan gets for its happiness index, this history has been lost. But one person in the San Francisco Bay area of California, Meg Karki, is helping to tell this story by way of coffee.