Thimphu (AsiaNews) - Instead of promoting its 'Gross National Happiness' index' (GNH), Bhutan should "guarantee religious freedom to the kingdom's Christians," said Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC). He spoke to AsiaNews ahead of India's 64th Republic Day (26 January) where Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is expected. On that day, the people of India will celebrate the country's constitution and its secular status. For the Christian leader, it is also the right moment to talk about existing anti-conversion laws, which are used to persecute "foreign missionaries" and small Christian communities.
Created in 1972, the GNH is based on four pillars: sustainable development, cultural values, natural environment and good governance. The Centre for Bhutan Studies further developed the concept, coming up with nine pillars with 72 objective and subjective variables to measure well-being: time use, psychological and physical health, community vitality, cultural variety, education level, standard of life, good governance and quality environment. On the basis of these criteria, 66 per cent of the Bhutanese population of 742,000 is sufficiently happy.
Since 2006, the Bhutanese government has introduced democratic reforms after centuries of absolute monarchy during which religions other than Buddhism were banned.
In 2008, a new constitution was adopted that, formally at least, recognised religious freedom for all Bhutanese, as long as they informed the authorities. A few Hindu temples were thus built but Christians continue to be denied the right to build their churches or hold Masses in public.
The situation has in fact worsened since anti-conversion laws were adopted in 2010. "These laws were designed to prevent forced conversions or the use of financial inducements to convert," said Sajan George said. "And they impose a three-year sentence for 'proselytising'."
"As in some Indian states, these laws are being used to persecute Christians, on the basis of false charges with regards to forced conversions," he explained. "Often, they are used against charities as well."
In India, seven states have anti-conversions. They are: Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Himanachal Pradesh.
"The GNH is promoted and publicised as a reliable indicator of development," the GCIC president noted; "however, it is a concept, alienating loose. The kingdom has many challenges ahead, like religious freedom, if it wants to achieve some kind of global development. As Benedict XVI said, material progress has not made people happier or freer. True happiness can only be found in God and faith."