Bhutanese Hindu refugees have highest suicide rate in US

June 16, 2015 Updated: April 23, 2016
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Suicide rate among Bhutanese Hindus, who have been coming to the US under a special resettlement plan since 2008 from refugee camps in Nepal, is one of the highest in the world.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the annual suicide rate among Bhutanese Hindu refugees resettled in the United States was calculated by investigators as 21.5 per 100,000, higher than the estimated annual global suicide rate for all persons of 16.0 per 100,000 (1) and the annual suicide rate for U.S. residents of 12.4 per 100,000 (2),.

Bhutanese Hindu nightmare began during the 1990’s, when Bhutan forcibly expelled more than 100,000 minority Nepali-speaking Lhotshampa, the majority of whom were Hindus. The man responsible for their terrible plight was Bhutanese king Jigme Singye Wangchuck, architect of the xenophobic “One Nation, One People” policy.

“The Drukpas, the Buddhist elite, and the Hindu Lhotshampa had coexisted, largely in peace, until 1989, when the king introduced a “One Nation, One People” policy imposing Drukpa social norms on everyone,” Vidhyapati Mishra, managing editor of Bhutan News Service, a news service for Bhutanese refugees, wrote inThe New York Times. “The edict controlled the smallest details of our public lives: how we ate, dressed and talked. The Nepali language was banned in schools, and Hindu pathshalas, or seminaries, which teach the Sanskrit scriptures, were closed.”

Even after coming to the US “dreamland”, instead of the suicide rate going down it actually goes up by almost one percent: pre-arrival suicide rate in Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal is 20.7 per 100,000, but in US it stands at 21.5 per 100,000. Of the 25 Bhutanese committed suicide in the US since 2008, two were converted into Christianity by deception.

After nearly two decades in hopeless squalor refugee camps, the U.S. government approved the resettlement of 60,000 Bhutanese refugees to the U.S.

Hindu American Foundation

Among the many challenges the Bhutanese Hindus face is one of deceptive conversion. According to the Hindu American Foundation, Bhutanese “are succumbing to pressures placed upon them by aggressive, evangelizing churches taking advantage of their vulnerability — converting them not only from their religion, but their families, communities, and heritage.”

The HAF says. “In some regions, such as Philadelphia, those preying on Bhutanese Hindus and Buddhist are Nepali evangelical missionaries, using to their advantage a shared language to pressure newly arrived refugees to convert.”

It seems like their recent bitter experience of having a different religion than the majority of Bhutanese is chasing the Bhutanese Hindu refugees even to the US. The HAF said many Bhutanese Hindus fall prey to the false equation that to be “American” is to be Christian.

In queries from this writer, Suhag Shukla, executive director of the HAF said, “Many communities are struggling with the after effects of converting out of pressure or gullibility, but there are other issues as well, including unemployment and underemployment, isolation, language barriers, mental health issues, amongst others,” Suhag Shukla, of the HAF, explains.

She said Hindu Americans are working very closely with these communities in a variety of ways, but they do not have the institutional infrastructure Christian and other organizations have to help in the resettlement process. “Hindu American groups are providing English lessons, transportation to temples, skills training, medical camps, amongst other things,” Shukla said.

She said the HAF launched The Bhutanese American Community Grant Programto provide grants in the areas of community development, social services, health, education, and youth activities, among others. The deadline for the grant applications has been extended to June 22. The CDC has identified anemia, vitamin B12 deficiency and mental health as priority health conditions when caring for or assisting Bhutanese refugees.

Shukla said HAF has been quite active on the issue for over 10 years. “We’ve covered the situation in our report, and just last year held a congressional briefing and an advocacy day in which we took a Bhutanese delegation to talk to congressional officers about their issues.”

The plight of Nepali Hindus, many of them high caste Brahmins, is bewildering as Hindu majority India is fast emerging as a global economic giant, but this peaceful and friendly community cannot call India their home. Unlike followers of other faiths, Hindus in general seem to be quite unsentimental towards the suffering of their own kind as the baniya mentality of getting rich fast reigns supreme in the community.

Shukla says India “could play a greater role” but explains some Bhutanese did flee to India in the early 1990s and that previously many Bhutanese obtained their higher education in India.