The waves of development have turned the tide in Bhutan. Interpreting development as an improvisation and advancement of a certain thing, its impact has been felt in all areas, viz. politics, economy, culture and the society as a whole. From democracy to mixed economy, and the changing habits of daily lives in the areas of foods habits, dresses and expressions, forces of development have reached in all spheres and in all walks of the Bhutanese lives.
On the political front, institution of democracy has opened up the system of the governance bringing those rulers ever closer to the ruled. Transparency and accountability have been the hallmark of the system while ensuring maximum people’s participation starting from voting to decision making. On the other hand, party politics and hunt for votes have divided communities, neighbours, friends and families on party lines thus building foes in place of fraternity.
Our economy has transformed in form as much as its size. From pastoralist economy and barter system, transactions in Information Communication and Technology (ICT) products and hospitality services testifies Bhutan’s transition. The reverse effect has come in the form of closure of household production of goods such as mustard oil, dwindling fate of cottage and small indigenous industries and local delicacies.
In the areas of culture and aesthetic expressions, the change has been significant. From constant modification of Gho and Kira to our perception and involvement in festivals and rituals, it continues to be an item of necessity result of its historical significance and accord established long before rather than feeling of an innate responsibility to be part of it. As rural setting give way to urban structure, the biggest change is seen in our architectural designs from dovetail technique and mud houses to quality tested concrete buildings. Growing popularity of night clubs in the urban centres, decreasing practices of night hunting in some rural pockets and lingua franca in the form of Dzonglish, at least among literates are some of the changes that have come about.
Telecommunication and transportation have been the biggest drivers of the development. Mobile phone connectivity, access to internet, installation of telex and postal services coupled with road and aviation connectivity have sped up the delivery of goods and services both within and outside the country. The olden day practices of messenger and luggage carrier of the masters, and the practice of potter and ponies is also declining except in some remote parts of the country. Television in particular, through news, entertainment programs and advertisements has brought the globe ever closer. One immediate effect we see is, our kids are ever attentive to cartoon series and play stations while folktales of ageing grandparents go unrecorded.
Our consumption pattern over the last decade has seen significant shift. From fast foods to fizzy drinks, rice and ema datshi (Chili and Cheese) propelled by inflows of rice and curry cookers, ladles and water boilers, the place of flours of barley, wheat and buckwheat, pots, zaru and zencha is almost non-existent in rural households, let alone in urban Bhutan. The ripple effect it has brought about is declining role of our smiths and artisans. Ever convenient plastics have dislodged the role of fig and banana leaves, once commonly used for rolling butter and cheeses. In the same vein, hot cases, flask, plates and mugs did for bangchung, torey and locally made wooden cups.
Much has been changed in the spheres of games and sports. While the archery continues to be the dominant game, partly due to it being the national game of the country, the zest for football is on the rise, particularly among the urban dwellers and those coming through the modern education school system. Other games that have found its place among the Bhutanese includes, basketball, badminton, tennis, volleyball, carom, snooker and playing cards. On the other hand, games such as khuru, doegor, soksum, jigdum and pungdo (shotput) with exception to the khuru are left on the fringes. Archery also has undergone considerable changes in the form of compound bows and arrows.
Introduction of modern education system has brought about changes in societal views and ideologies. Individualism, capitalism and feminism has all established their roots in the country. Individualism and capitalism has implanted in every individual the belief and confidence in oneself vis-à-vis entrepreneurial instincts. Inquisitive mind furthered by drive for profit making, has encouraged rural illiterates venturing into Hazelnut plantations. Assertion for equal rights have seen women come forward in all spheres from academia, diplomacy, and politics to sports. On the other side, individualism, possibly has delinked ties from families, neighbours and communities as evidenced by unattended elderlies in Bus stations and Hospitals and those street beggars.
From schools, hospitals and Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) centres in far flung rural areas to well-maintained cowsheds, toilet and dustbin put in place in hamlets, the transformation has been unprecedented. This has contributed in increased life expectancy and literacy rates, improved living standards and ensured quality life. However, with the growth of urban centres accompanied by the forces of development, social evils in the form of pollution, unemployment, migration and rural depopulation, the phenomenon best described as Goongtong, are on the upward spiral.