A Bhutanese Family's Mourning May End With Eviction, After Neighbors Complain

Sep 1, 2017

Around 40 people gather in Hem and Leela Timsina’s two-bedroom apartment Wednesday afternoon.

"Today is the 13th day of death rituals of our dear mother," says Kashi Adhikari, who works for the Vedic Welfare Society of Columbus. "All our friends, our families, our immediate relatives have been gathering in this house to have the final honors to her."

Lok Timsina died of liver cancer a couple of weeks ago. For the past two weeks, friends and family have mourned her passing with spiritual readings and prayer. As those rituals come to a close, though, they face yet another hardship: Eviction.

Makeshift Temple

"We have been grieving the loss of our mother," Timsina says, with Adhikari translating. "We have been going through a very difficult time."

The Timsinas and everyone here are Bhutanese and Hindu. They’ve traveled from Utah, California and Georgia, essentially turning a Pendleton Lake East apartment into a temple.

A pile of sneakers, sandals and other footwear from visitors sit outside the apartment door, since the ground inside is now sacred. 

"Bhutanese-Nepali community in Columbus do not have a common place of worship at this time," Adhikari explains.

But now, Timsina, her husband and two children face eviction. They first received a warning last Thursday, while their mourning rituals were underway.

A priest blesses a man as part of the Bhutanese death rituals, which traditionally last 16 days.
Credit Adora Namigadde

A letter from the property manager says he’s received numerous complaints about the family. It cites noise, fires, and trash as violations of the lease. And the woman who died was living there but not on the lease.

The day after the first complaint, they got a notice saying they have until September 30 to leave.

Timsina says the neighbors don’t understand what’s going on, but that this is culturally important. 

"The religious freedom, we could know that we are independently allowed to worship our god and goddesses, follow your religion or not follow your religion, but that has just gone opposite at this time," Timsina says.

Unfamiliar Customs

The property manager declined to be recorded, but said he received three letters and two calls complaining about the apartment. He says it was a tough call, but at the end of the day, it’s not worth losing five tenants for one.

"The problem is all these people going in and out all the time," said one of those neighbors, who does not want to use her name because she fears retaliation. "And it has been going on for two weeks. It’s like in and out, in and out, in and out, in and out."

Up to 50 people gathered in the Timsina home at one time. That and other lease violations led to the eviction notice, the landlord said.
Credit Adora Namigadde

Sometimes she’d come home and find her assigned parking space occupied by someone participating in the death rituals. She also complained about clothing worn by some mourners.

"What bothered me about the whole thing was when the guys came out and you could see through their little wrap that they had on," the neighbor said.

Noma Adhikari, another Bhutanese neighbor, interrupted the neighbor to explain why the men were loosely clothed.

"In our culture, when someone dies they have to stay in certain part, they can’t touch anything or even each other," Noma says.

"I had a problem with the guys, the way they were dressed, only because I didn't understand it," the neighbor replies.

Too Little, Too Late

The neighbor says she only recently discovered the families were participating in religious rituals. Now, she hopes they can stay.

"Even though I wrote that letter, I was upset that day," she says, beginning to cry. "But I don't want to see them evicted."

Bhutanese death rituals usually last 16 days, but after receiving the eviction notice, the family cut the rituals short and stopped on day 13.

Hem and Leela Timsina will be evicted from their apartment, following complaints from neighbors during their mourning rituals.
Credit Adora Namigadde

The property manager says he didn't know the ritual was temporary until it was explained. He says he's considering offering the family a different apartment within the complex on Monday, rather than a total eviction.

Timsina says she wishes her neighbors simply came to her first.

"Nobody has addressed this directly," Timsina says. "Nobody has knocked on our door and came to us and complained about the situation."

Neighbors also say they wish the Timsinas had explained what the death rituals would entail before they were underway. 

Editor's note: The name of the property manager has been removed from this story.