Smriti's story continued ...

With nostalgic memories about the past, we optimistically look towards the end of the southern Bhutanese problem in the near future. We hope that our people living in exile in refugee camps in Nepal will get an opportunity to start their life once again by being able to return to their beloved homes in Bhutan.

I see this as a political, cultural and human rights crisis and a problem that I have become familiar with since I was a child.

After we left Bhutan, Nepal was the only safe haven for us so we lived there for a number of years. My dad had a strong and passionate involvement in the human rights movement while living in Nepal. I remember he volunteered full time to promote the cause and would hardly be home.

Some occasions, I was also taken along with my dad to human rights protest rallies where I have faint memories of carrying banners and marching the local streets of Kathmandu.

We also quite often visited refugee camps in Nepal, since many of our relatives were living there. As a human rights activist my dad also traveled to many countries in the world to highlight the refugee problem - an issue that had not only left our family homeless but also a multitude of our fellow southern Bhutanese families.

While dad volunteered to fight for the cause of human rights, it called for my mum to be the main bread winner at home. While in Bhutan, she worked in the government hospital in the capital, Thimphu. Her background in science enabled her to get a teaching job in a high school in Nepal.

Traditionally in Nepalese culture, the husband is the main food provider while the wife may sometimes assist in providing some income, but most commonly works in the home as house wife and child bearer.

This meant that it was a different and difficult task for my mum to adapt to the new role in the household; working full-time while still having to perform the household chores, as well as looking after me.

Financially too, it was big challenge for the family – moving from a very comfortable life in Bhutan to a single income source barely enough to meet our daily needs.

However, with their hard-worked income my parents decided to send me to a school in Kalimpong (a sub-division within Darjeeling district) in India in 1995, which had a reputation for providing excellent education and was run by Irish nuns. My maternal grandmother lived there so it meant that I would be looked after well, and living with 9 cousins definitely ensured that I felt at home.

The 3 years following July 1998 would probably be the hardest years for me and my parents. Separated from each other - my dad came to Australia to pursue higher studies, my mum worked in Nepal while I went to school and lived with my grandmother in India.

It was harder for my mum than me, as I guess I was with a group of my cousins while she was lonely. Nevertheless, I still longed for my dad’s company. Since it became too hard to live with the three of us separated from each other, my mum moved with me to Kalimpong in about a year.

The 13th May 2001 is yet another significant day in our family life. Having finally obtained visas for Australia, my mum and I traveled to Sydney and were reunited with my dad on this beautiful day. It was almost three years since the family was separated (except for a brief meeting in Bangkok in between the years) and arriving in Australia meant that we would now be together permanently.

Now I’m 17 years old and we have just celebrated six years of our new found life in Australia. After the long struggle that we went through, we have finally arrived in a country where there is freedom – respect for human rights, freedom of speech, a right to justice and all citizens are treated equally irrespective of their race or religion.

While we were denied our rights to live in our homeland, this beautiful country has welcomed us and we have embraced Australia as our new home.

In spite of this, we will always cherish our origin as southern Bhutanese in our very hearts.

It is difficult to understand why such dreadful things happen. Human beings conjuring hatred towards each other is hurting and destroying others, who are like themselves.

The word ‘race’ segregates people with difference in cultural or ethnic background but should rather be uniting human beings as we are of the same ‘race’ - the human race.

We were all placed into this planet by God and while our purposes in life may differ, I believe His purpose was definitely not to eradicate our own race through hatred and war.

I want to be back to Bhutan, the country where I was born - to see the home that I lived in for the first two and a half years of my life, to see where my parents were bought up, to visit the schools that they were educated in, the places where they worked.

It is this uncertainty of not knowing whether we will ever be able to go back to our birthplace or not that makes this issue all the more grueling for me.