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Profile TP MishraArticle

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Thakur Mishra is the current head of the Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency, working to resettle Bhutanese refugees in the United States. Mishra is himself a refugee, having fled Bhutan when he was six or seven years old. He spent most of his childhood in a refugee camp in Nepal, living in tents made of "bamboo and plastic." They did everything, including showering, without any privacy. It was there he became aware of the great social, political, and economic hardships faced by Bhutanese people. While in the refugee camp, Mishra received an education and took creative writing courses from an Australian group working there. "I started reading the paper…it was spontaneous…I started writing." Thus, Mishra became a self-taught journalist, who worked with the Australian group to help start a newspaper specifically for the residents of the refugee camp. The monthly newspaper, called the Bhutan Reporter, still exists long after Mishra started it in 2004. Mishra and his partners used whatever computer equipment they had in the camp to publish the paper, design it, and distributed it themselves.

Before the advent of his own newspaper for the refugee camp, residents had access to "not enough" information because it was all fed to them from the Bhutanese government's "disingenuous" press. There was no freedom of press in Bhutan, and there still isn't, which is why Mishra insists that reporting is the only viable means to achieve freedom. Knowing the state-run media is dishonest, Mishra wanted the refugees to have access to information as well as to have the vehicle to tell their own stories. Even after Mishra left Nepal, he has kept up his commitment to journalism and freedom of speech and press. He knows that his work is subversive, but working in Nepal on behalf of the refugees provided some semblance of protection.

Mishra now lives in North Carolina and is pursuing a degree in international studies. He came to the United States because "they accept refugees from all over the world." Mishra was became fully resettled by 2009. While in New York City, Mishra continued to report on conditions in the refugee camp but realized the limitations of keeping the paper a print publication. Mishra subsequently switched to new media, and started an online news portal for the Bhutanese refugee community. Mishra states, "By 2009, we were totally online." He worked tirelessly, "working around the clock with 2-3 hours' sleep," but he claims it was "enough" because he was driven. "I dreamed this would happen. This is what keeps me going."

Since living in the United States as a refugee, Mishra focuses on telling the stories of others like him who have moved to the United States. His reporting made it to the Wall Street Journal, where Mishra was able to expose the story of the outrageous suicide rate among Bhutanese refugees living in the United States. "The suicide rate in my community is higher than most communities in the world," Mishra states. Therefore, he became more determined than ever before to help his people and minimize their suffering. Exposing the truth about Bhutan and the refugee problem was step one.

Mishra claims that the intensity of trauma suffered by the refugees is the reason for the high rate of suicide. He considers himself lucky, having survived the camp whereas others experienced trauma and abuse far worse than he did. His own father was imprisoned and tortured. "He had all kinds of bruises on his back and legs. We should document this type of suffering from first hand victims. When they die the history dies."

Upon arriving to the United States, many of the refugees had trouble fitting in and had no community of support. Young people "as young as 15 years old" were committing suicide because of problems like bullying. "My people are not use to bullying, he had no idea how to handle it."

With no means to cope or find solace, the refugees in the United States have also struggled with what they perceive as discrimination and injustice. Many refugees are afraid of the police and law enforcement, having witnessed atrocities. Others have experienced direct discrimination, and struggle with everything from language to customs. "I'm kind of a tough guy, so I've been able to handle it. Most of the people who come are scared," notes Mishra.

Of course, the refugee camp in Nepal still exists and now has a population of 15,000 people. However, 90,000 Bhutanese refugees currently live in the United States. This is why Mishra feels committed to the community in the United States; the majority of the refugees has already left Nepal and need advocacy in their new homeland.

Mishra was a fifth-generation Bhutanese of Nepali descent. During the early 1990s, Nepali-speaking ethnic groups like his were the target of terror campaigns sponsored by the Bhutanese government. Mishra remembers, "the government physically assaulted people. Several cases where books were burned and entire country was terrorized."

The Bhutanese government gave families like Mishra's "24 hours ultimatum to leave the country at gunpoint." At first, they engaged in peaceful protests. "We were protesting for democracy for fundamental change," but the government of Bhutan "cracked down on the protests, "which received little to no international support even though they were only asking for peaceful democratic reform. The government physically assaulted and terrorized its own citizens, who fled to India. India, however, would not accept the refugees, gathered them onto dump trucks, and sent them straight to Nepal. They lived for years as a stateless people with no legal rights, living in constant fear of harassment and persecution.

The Bhutan News Service serves as an "advocate for the Bhutanese people living in the diaspora." The news source covers what is actually going on in Bhutan, number one, about Bhutans living in diaspora, number two, and third, what's going on in the refugee camp." Mishra states, "This is independent. There's no fear. That's the #1 thing." With complete freedom of press, Mishra and his colleagues can publish their opinions without fear of persecution. His story illustrates the fundamental feature of a democracy: freedom of the press. Mishra notes that Bhutan also has a problem with corruption in politics, which is impossible to address with a state-controlled media because there is no independent public watchdog. "We can link to people in Bhutan. We can educate them on full fledge press freedom and gently advocate for them."

Bhutan may be changing, but slowly, notes Mishra. He has noticed a few more voices willing to open up and tell the truth. Many of these voices can be heard online only, but small progress is being made. Mishra understands that operating his newspaper online, even from within the United States, places him at personal risk. "We're really cautious about safety," he states. He feels no fear, but knows that what he writes about would be condemned and censored by the government of Bhutan. One of the goals of the Bhutan News Service is to reach out to residents in Bhutan, who need more access to information about their own country. Mishra notes that they have even had brave reporters on the inside, publishing stories in the Bhutan News Service that they never could have spoken about internally. The Bhutan News Service is doing its job by linking fellow refugees and their compatriots together, advocating on their behalf, using freedom of the press to promote self-empowerment.

Mishra has received death threats, but remains strong and courageous. With a future focused on international affairs and journalism, Mishra hopes to become a beacon of light for all refugee communities worldwide. More than just a news service, the Bhutan News Service is an advocacy group. For example, Mishra helped one man who is currently serving a prison term to establish a blog so that he, too, has a voice. Providing a voice for those who would otherwise be silenced is important for promoting freedom and democracy in Bhutan. Mishra notes that it can be dangerous to speak out, and takes safety very seriously.

Just this past May, Mishra transferred responsibility for the Bhutan News Service because he wants to "use his skills to do more," and "take the project to the next level." He registered as a non-profit news organization, and also wants to perform in-depth research work to document the history of his people. With enough sponsors, Mishra intends to produce a documentary film. Currently, the board of directors includes the founder of the BBC Online and several other writers and journalists committed to helping Mishra realize his dreams for the project.

Thakur Mishra's wife, Renuka Mishra, also agreed to an interview. She is from Bhutan, like her husband. When asked about her personal and professional background, she replied, "I work as a Quality Assurance Supervisor in a sweet bakery -- one of the largest in Charlotte, NC." Renuka Mishra also goes to a community college called the Central Piedmont Community College. "I am doing my associate degree in Culinary Arts. Upon completion of this course,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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