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
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
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."