Being born a Bhote in Nepal, while growing up, meant being a victim of bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination, both overt and covert. While it denotes “Tibetan,” it is also an ethnic slur. The connotations include “uneducated, uncivilized, barbaric, dirty, uncouth, un-cultured” among other things.
One of the worst experiences I had as a child in Nepal was that of being ostracized by my classmates when I was in 4th grade. The reason? I had no idea, but the only one I was able to come up with was my being a Bhote. The following year I decide I have to leave Nepal and be educated abroad to escape the yoke of the Bhote label.
Even while growing up in Nepal, I do everything I could to avoid being discriminated and written off by fellow Nepalis — such as losing my accent, not speaking my language in public, limiting my association with people from my community, being studious and doing well in academics as well as sports and other activities, generally being a “good,” “well-bhaved” and “disciplined” student etc.
I am able to actually crown all that with scholarships for study abroad! Two years in Italy and four in the US as a student are followed by an international teaching career. I end up studying in four countries outside of Nepal, working in nine and traveling in another thirty or so countries.
In other countries too I get targeted for harassment and humiliation for the way I looked and/or my nationality or for my perceived nationality/ethnicity etc. The worst experience was in Qatar where a man, placing very little value on my life, because of my Nepali nationality, got me fired from my job AND jailed for allegedly insulting Islam, based on the words of his twelve-year old son and his friends.
After spending pretty much all of my adult life abroad, culminating in that traumatic experience in Qatar, I finally return to Nepal, as a middle-aged man, after having suffered so, to work on — among other things — equality and social justice through education, especially of the marginalized.
After working on them for almost two years, I get reminded of who I am to Nepali society…still, by most likely someone I personally know — a middle-aged Nepali man would be my guess. He sent me a Facebook friend request calling himself Guu Bhote (Shit Bhote)!
What do you think?
Added after the publication of the blog post because of their relevance.
The Record (Aug. 11, 2017). Police brutality in the Himalaya. The article talks about how those in the security apparatus of the country — the armed police — denigrate the natives of Dolpo, another Himalayan region, like Mustang. ‘The police repeatedly shouted derogatory and provocative comment at locals: “Saaley bhote haaru lai ek ek gari maar din chu, we will kill you Bhotes one by one.” Bhote is a pejorative [term] used against the highlanders, suggesting that they are Tibetans, and therefore not Nepali.’ [Added on Jan. 15, 2019.]