Indigenous tribes of Bhutan
Main languages: Dzongkha (national language)
Main religions: Buddhism (state religion), Hinduism
Main minority groups: Nepali-speakers (35%), indigenous and others (15%) CIA World Fact-book, 2007.
Over the years there has been a process of official downgrading of population. An official census conducted in April 2002, provides a figure of 672,425 and a more recent census puts it at 554,000. Bhutan is one of the least densely populated countries in Asia, with only 20 per cent of the population living in urban areas.
Four ethnic groups – Ngalong, Sarchop, Kheng and Nepali-speakers – make up 98 per cent of the population. Ngalongs, Sarchops and Khengs are all adherents to the drukpa kargyud school of Mahayana Buddhism, although each has a distinct identity as well. Ngalongs are people of western Bhutan and of Tibetan origin; they form the ruling and social elite.
Dzongkha, Bhutan’s national language, is derived from Ngalong speech and has been imposed on the entire country since 1988. Sarchops are possibly the earliest settlers of Bhutan and share the same religion as the Ngalong, but they have their ethnic roots in Arunachal Pradesh and are of Indo-Mongoloid rather than Tibetan descent. Khengs are inhabitants of central Bhutan and may be indigenous people of Bhutan. All three groups are culturally integrated to some extent.
Numerous other ethnic groups are present in Bhutan on a much smaller scale, including Adivasi, Birmi, Brokpa, Doya, Lepcha, Tibetan and Toktop. These smaller groups, though adding great diversity to Bhutan’s ethnic make-up, represent approximately 10 per cent of the total population.
Nepali-speakers are a mostly Hindu ethnic group, predominantly based in the south of Bhutan and called lhotshampa, literally southern border people, by the drukpa.
Although no reliable figures are available, it is estimated that at least a third of the population of Bhutan comprises Nepali- speaking people, a proportion that has increased in recent decades. Despite their growing numbers, Nepali-speaking Bhutanese have been the victims of persecution in recent times.