But Rai, now 68, is penniless and battling cancer. His wife Urmila Rai’s kidneys have failed, and she needs dialysis twice a week. They are destitute and abandoned.
In 2004, Rai told this reporter he would not opt for third-country resettlement, and he has remained true to his word. His dying wish is to be able to return to Bhutan, but Thimphu has turned down repeated requests from the UN.
On Tuesday, members of civil society held a function in Kathmandu to raise money for the treatment of the Rai couple. He sent a message to the meeting that he was more concerned about repatriation of the remaining refugees rather than his own life.
Prakash Angdembe, a filmmaker, says the central character of his award-winning movie Desh Khojdai Jada (In Search of a Nation) was inspired by the life of Bhampa Rai.
“I have never met a more self-less and iron-willed person than him,” Angdembe said. “It is heart-breaking to see such a great soul in misery.”
Rai never asked for anything for himself, but sent a letter to the Nepal government, requesting for free dialysis for his wife — a facility that poor Nepalis can get. However, she is not Nepali, and is not entitled to free treatment.
Prime Minister K P Oli is from the same town in Jhapa where the Rais served their compatriots and Nepalis for nearly three decades.
Says journalist Devendra Bhattarai who is also from Jhapa: “PM Oli knows who Bhampa Rai is and what he has done, I wonder why he is not coming forward to help the couple.”
Ironically, Prime Minister Oli has himself had a kidney transplant and needs constant medical attention.
Donors who want to contribute to the Rai couple can contact [email protected]
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