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Law, “Tradition” and Legitimacy: Contesting Driglam Namzha

Whitecross, Richard W.



Johannes Dragsbaek Schmidt


During the 1990s, the High Court of Justice played a significant role in the promotion of Bhutanese culture, intertwining the development of the Bhutanese legal system with Bhutanese cultural traditions. Notably, the Research Unit of the High Court of Justice actively researched Bhutanese cultural traditions and incorporated them into the development of judicial proceedings, the legal education of the emerging cadre of legally trained judges and the iconography of the court rooms and court buildings. This chapter focusses on driglam namzha. Driglam namzha or code of discipline or conduct was introduced by the founder of Bhutan, the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, in the seventeenth century. Practised in the main administrative centres, dzongs, and maintained with the emergence of the monarchy in 1907, it appeared to decline in importance during the 1960s and 1970s as Bhutan experienced major social, political and economic changes. However, it re-emerged in debates about culture and concerns over perceived threats to Bhutanese cultural identity. The discourses around driglam namzha provide an important vantage point from which to examine law, tradition and legitimacy in Bhutan. The parallel development of the legal system and the role of the National Assembly trace the legal and political development of Bhutan during a period of its history when it began to increasingly engage with outside pressures. Central to this process of engaging with international legal concepts is the role of Bhutanese law as it has been shaped over the last 20 years and integral to the process of defining Bhutan in the twenty-first century

Acceptance Date Dec 1, 2015
Online Publication Date Mar 23, 2017
Publication Date Mar 23, 2017
Deposit Date May 13, 2015
Publicly Available Date Mar 23, 2017
Electronic ISSN 2509-4181
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Pages 115-134
Series Title Contemporary South Asian Studies
Series ISSN 2509-4173
Book Title Development Challenges in Bhutan: Perspectives on Inequality and Gross National Happiness
Chapter Number 7
ISBN 9783319479248
Keywords Role of law; legal institutions; statebuilding; Bhutan; Driglam namzha; code of discipline;
Public URL
Contract Date May 13, 2015