Traitors: Suspicion, Intimacy, and the Ethics of State-Building

By Tobias Kelly; Sharika Thiranagama | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Intimacy, Loyalty, and State Formation:
The Specter of the “Anti-National”

Richard W. Whitecross

On 19 April 1998, the Tiger’s Nest temple, in Taktshang, near Paro in western Bhutan, caught fire and was substantially destroyed. The destruction of this major Buddhist pilgrimage site was attributed, though never publicly established, to be the work of “anti-nationals” or “traitors.” Commencing fieldwork the following summer, I found the so-called anti-national was an ever-present entity. Each evening, I would watch as Senge made offerings to placate those spirits that cause illness, and for a long time, the anti-national felt equally intangible. Conversations would touch on their presence in the community, and I was advised on several occasions about places and people to avoid. At the same time, I was slowly learning about thadamtshi—the concept of loyalty and respect. I became increasingly aware that this concept had been transformed in recent years as the Bhutanese state sought to protect Bhutan cultural identity and political sovereignty.

In this chapter, the first section illustrates how loyalty and its counterpart treason were, until recently, based on intimate personal relations rather than on abstract notions of the nation. However, as part of the modernization of Bhutan commenced in the late 1950s, this traditional view of loyalty based on direct social relations was transformed and extended to include new concepts of the “Country” and the “People.” The Bhutanese subject/citizen was now held to be loyal to the “Three Roots.” The next section outlines the emergence in Bhutan of a legitimate state—a state backed by something called a “nation” and able to speak in the “name of the people”—and specifically the production of a national ethnos (Appadurai 2006).

Central to the process of creating the nation-state in Bhutan was the promotion of an official vision that presented Bhutan as a homogeneous

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