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Bahun, Chhetri, Khas people, Newar people
Newar people, Kirati people

The Lhotshampa or Lhotsampa (Nepali: ल्होत्साम्पा; Tibetan: ལྷོ་མཚམས་པ་, Wylie: lho-mtshams-pa) people are a heterogeneous Bhutanese people of Nepalese descent.[5] "Lhotshampa", which means "southern borderlanders" in Dzongkha, began to be used by the Bhutanese state in the second half of the twentieth century to refer to the population of Nepali origin in the south of the country.[6] After being displaced as a result of the state-run ethnic cleansing and living in refugee camps in eastern parts of Nepal, starting in 2007 most of the Bhutanese Refugees were resettled to various countries, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and other European countries. As of 2021 the number of Lhotshampa in Nepal is significantly lower than that in the United States and other countries where they have resettled.[7][failed verification] People of Nepalese origin started to settle in uninhabited areas of southern Bhutan in the 19th century.[8]


The first small groups of Nepalese emigrated primarily from eastern Nepal under British auspices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[9] The beginning of Nepalese immigration largely coincided with Bhutan's political development: in 1885, Druk Gyalpo Ugyen Wangchuck consolidated power after a period of civil unrest and cultivated closer ties with the British in India. In 1910, the government of Bhutan signed a treaty with the British in India, granting them control over Bhutan's foreign relations.[10] The actual immigrants registered and settled through the agent from Kalimpong, Raja Ugen Dorji and (son) Raja Sonam Togbay Dorji started in the reigns of the second and third kings. Immigrants from Nepal and India continued to enter Bhutan with an increase from the 1960s when Bhutan's first modern five-year plan began, many arriving as construction workers.

The government traditionally attempted to limit immigration and restrict residence and employment of Nepalese to the southern region.[9] Liberalization measures in the 1970s and 1980s encouraged intermarriage and provided increasing opportunities for public service.[9] The government allowed more internal migration by Nepalese seeking better education and business opportunities.[9] However, the most divisive issue in Bhutan in the 1980s and early 1990s was the accommodation of the Nepalese Hindu minority.[9]

In 1988, the government census recategorized people with Nepali heritage as illegal immigrants. Local Lhotshampa leaders responded with antigovernmental protests demanding citizenship and damaged government institutions.[11]

In 1989, the Bhutanese government enacted reforms that directly impacted the Lhotshampa. First, it elevated the status of the national dress code of the Driglam namzha from recommended to mandatory. All citizens including the Lhotshampa were required to observe the dress code in public during business hours. This decree was resented by the Lhotshampa who complained about being forced to wear the clothing of the Ngalong majority.[12][13] Second, the government removed Nepali as a language of instruction in schools in favor of Dzongkha, the national language.[10] This alienated the Lhotshampa, many of whom knew no Dzongkha at all.


Since the late 1980s, over 100,000 Lhotshampa have been forced out of Bhutan, accused by the government of being illegal aliens. Between 1988 and 1993, thousands of others left alleging ethnic and political repression. In 1990, violent ethnic unrest and anti-government protests in southern Bhutan pressed for greater democracy and respect for minority rights.[10] That year, the Bhutan Peoples' Party, whose members are mostly Lhotshampa, began a campaign of violence against the Bhutanese government.[10] In the wake of this unrest, thousands fled Bhutan. Many of them have either entered Nepal's seven refugee camps (on 20 January 2010, 85,544 refugees resided in the camps) or are working in India. According to U.S. State Department estimates in 2008, about 35% of the population of Bhutan is Lhotshampa.[14]


Traditionally, the Lhotshampa have been involved mostly in sedentary agriculture, although some have cleared forest cover and conducted tsheri and slash and burn agriculture.[9] The Lhotshampa are generally classified as Hindus. However, this is an oversimplification as many groups that include Tamang and the Gurung are largely Buddhist;[15] the Kiranti groups that include the Rai and Limbu are largely animist followers of Mundhum (these latter groups are mainly found in eastern Bhutan). Whether they are Hindu or Tibetan Buddhist, most of them abstain from beef, notably those belonging to the orthodox classes who are vegetarians. Their main festivals include Dashain and Tihar.


Political Map of Bhutan
Political Map of Bhutan showing all districts. The people of Lhotshampa are located in the Southern part of Bhutan, in Samchi, Chirang and Geylegphug.

Lhotshampas speak Nepali as their first language. Samchi, Chirang and Geylegphug are southern dzongkhags that have a large Lhotshampa community where most people speak Nepali. In southern Bhutan, Nepali used to be taught in the school and was spoken and written in these areas. However, this changed during the 1980s when there was racial conflict between Nepali in Bhutan and Bhutanese. Since then, Nepali is only taught in the home and has become a spoken language in Bhutan. Thus, some Nepali speakers from southern Bhutan cannot read or write in Nepali. Currently, Nepali is the first language for most southern Bhutanese and most people use it in their home. Also, Nepali is most commonly used in school outside of the classes.

Nepali in Bhutan is different in the rural areas and Thimphu. Also, some Nepali words are used differently in Bhutan than Nepali in Nepal.

Vocabulary differences[edit]

Nepali words in Bhutan and Nepal[edit]

English Nepali in Bhutan (Lhotshamkha) Nepali in Nepal
Brother Daju Dai/Daju
Dirty Maila Phor/Maila
Door Dailo Dhoka/Dailo
Pea Matar Kerau/Matar
Shop Dokan pasal/Dokan
Throw Phag Phal/phyak
Vegetable Sabji Tarkari/sabji
Vehicle Gadi Motor/Gadi
Wait Parkhi parkhi/Parkha
Window Khirkey jhyal

Notable Lhotsampas[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Population of Lhotshampas in Bhutan". UNHCR. 2004. Archived from the original on 16 October 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2016.
  2. ^ Adelman, Howard (2008). Protracted Displacement in Asia: No Place to Call Home. Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7546-7238-8.
  3. ^ Frelick, Bill (1 February 2008). "Bhutan's Ethnic Cleansing". New Statesman, Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
  4. ^ Mishra, Vidhyapati (28 June 2013). "Bhutan Is No Shangri-La". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 September 2014.
  5. ^ Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain. Worden, Robert L. (1991). Savada, Andrea Matles (ed.). Bhutan: A Country Study. Federal Research Division. Bhutan - Ethnic Groups.
  6. ^ Nelson, Andrew; Stam, Kathryn (11 August 2021). "Bhutanese or Nepali? The Politics of Ethnonym Ambiguity". South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies. 44 (4): 772–789. doi:10.1080/00856401.2021.1951460. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  7. ^ Aris, Michael (1979). Bhutan: The Early History of a Himalayan Kingdom. Aris & Phillips. p. 344. ISBN 978-0-85668-199-8.
  8. ^ "Background and History: Settlement of the Southern Bhutanese". Bhutanese Refugees: The Story of a Forgotten People. Archived from the original on 10 October 2010. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Worden, Robert L.; Savada, Andrea M. (1991). "Chapter 6: Bhutan - Ethnic Groups". Nepal and Bhutan: Country Studies (3rd ed.). Federal Research Division, United States Library of Congress. pp. 424. ISBN 0-8444-0777-1. Retrieved 2 October 2010.
  10. ^ a b c d "Timeline: Bhutan". BBC News online. 5 May 2010. Retrieved 1 October 2010.
  11. ^ "Background Note: Bhutan". U.S. Department of State Archive. October 2008. Retrieved 15 January 2023.
  12. ^ "Country profile – Bhutan: a land frozen in time". BBC News online. 9 February 1998. Retrieved 1 October 2010.
  13. ^ "Bhutan country profile". BBC News online. 5 May 2010. Retrieved 1 October 2010.
  14. ^ "Bhutan (10/08)". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  15. ^ Repucci, Sarah; Walker, Christopher (2005). Countries at the Crossroads: A Survey of Democratic Governance. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 92. ISBN 0-7425-4972-0.

External links[edit]