The royal massacre: An unsolved mystery

The royal massacre: An unsolved mystery

By: Kamal Raj Sigdel

Posted: 10/27/08

It would not be an overstatement to say that the history of South Asia's politics is one filled with heinous assassinations. There have been several assassinations of political leaders and head of states in the countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. Yet what baffles many is that most of the cases remain a mystery.


One such assassination in South Asia that is still unsolved is the 2001 royal massacre in Nepal. The whole family of the second to last monarch of Nepal, King Birendra, was shot dead while they were at a royal feast inside the Narayanhiti Palace.


The world was shocked; hundreds of thousands of people mourned and the politics of the tiny Himalayan nation took a U-turn. Yet not a single effort was made to dig out the truth behind the massacre. The people of Nepal and the world have been given no clear explanation as to who actually was the culprit or who plotted the assassination.


Immediately after the massacre, the government formed a special committee under the leadership of the Speaker of the Parliament, Taranath Ranabhat, in order to investigate the incident. After a 24-hour secret investigation, the Ranabhat Committee concluded that it was Crown Prince Dipendra who shot his father, mother, sister and brother and then killed himself with the same gun.


The governmental investigation stopped thereafter. No more questions, no further investigations, no second inquiry. Not a single person agreed with the Ranabhat report, which was too hard to swallow and too contradictory. No one believed that the crown prince was the culprit. Despite all this, no effort has been made to investigate the massacre in a more scientific way to this day.


Right after the tragedy, many books were written and the market was flooded with different versions and conspiracy theories on who killed the royal family. Most of the speculations condemned the government's report and pointed fingers at King Gyanendra, the late king's brother, and his "lust for power." Others tried to blame India and its icy relation with King Birendra. And some even stated that the Maoists, who were fighting against the state, plotted the event to ultimately takeover leadership.


Some of these stories catered greatly to the need of the politicians. The Maoists, for example, capitalized on these circumstances. The royal massacre ended up weakening King Gyanandra's support base among the general public and garnering support for the Maoists' ascension to power in the Democratic Movement of 2006.


Now that the country has abolished the institution of monarchy, the time has come for a fair investigation into the killings. The success of the Democratic Movement has brought new hopes that the new Maoist government will undertake a second investigation into the carnage. The current Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (also known as Prachanda) committed himself to finding the culprits and he must take that promise seriously.


This is one of the very crucial jobs the government can do now to establish a good image among the war-torn faces of Nepalis as well as the watchful world community. The government must provide fool-proof answers to the questions regarding the assassinations.


Nepal cannot let the killings remain an item on the already long list of unresolved assassinations in South Asia.


Sigdel is an Asia Pacific Leadership Program fellow at the East West Center

© Copyright 2008 Ka Leo O Hawaii (A UHM student newspaper in Hawaii, USA)

The royal massacre: An unsolved mystery - Commentary

The royal massacre: An unsolved mystery - Commentary: "as well as the watchful world community. The government must provide fool-proof answers to the questions regarding the assassinations.

Nepal cannot let the killings remain an item on the already long list of unresolved assassinations in South Asia."

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South Asia focus: conflict in Kashmir

Sheik Huma
Issue date: 10/16/08 (Ka Leo)
Kashmir is a particularly beautiful, yet unstable, region in South Asia that lies between India and Pakistan. Over the past 60 years, both India and Pakistan have fought three wars over this territory. Kashmir has been grappling with incidents of violence since a separatist uprising in 1989 and now the recent spate of protests due to a controversial religious land transfer issue has added fuel to the fire.

On May 26, the Jammu and Kashmir Government, in consultation with the Indian government, reached an agreement to transfer 100 acres of forest land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board. The board is responsible for the smooth and trouble-free pilgrimage to the holy cave shrine of Amarnath, and the acres were given in order to set up temporary shelters and facilities for Hindu pilgrims.

This evoked a huge controversy; demonstrators from the Kashmir Valley were against the land transfer, while protesters from the Jammu region supported it.At first, the people of Kashmir opposed the land transfer because they feared ecological imbalance in the region. The protesters later claimed that land transfer was an attempt to change the demographics of the valley.But the acre agreement is not the real issue, as far as protesters are concerned.

The people in the region have pent-up emotions and take advantage of any situation that arises. There are already thousands of acres of farmers' land under the occupation of the Indian Army in the valley. While farmers are still optimistic about getting back their land, it seems the Indian government is no longer interested in the reduction or withdrawal of troops from the valley. The land transfer has only helped to spread negative sentiment.Kashmir has been recognized by the U.N. as a disputed territory.

The origin of the problem in the valley is traced back to the non-implementation of the agreement made by the Indian government in 1947 when India and Pakistan won their independence from Britain. According to the agreement, the people of Kashmir were promised the right to self-determination by the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru.

The various phases of self-determination, however, were always evaded by the Indian government. The valley has since become the bone of contention between the two neighboring countries.
The protesters also said that according to Article 370 of the agreement - which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir - no non-Kashmiri can own land in the valley.

The recent row is thus a fight of Kashmiris for their rights.Thousands of people took part in the processions in which 40 people, including a separatist leader, were killed and hundreds were injured due to police firing. As the protests turned violent, the Congress-led government in the region came under extreme pressure from its main alliance party, the People's Democratic Party. The party threatened to withdraw support if the government did not revoke the land order.

Though the order was revoked, the Ghulam Nabi Azad government had to step down after the People's Democratic Party didn't lend support to his government and the governor rule was imposed in Jammu and Kashmir.The revocation of the order, on the other hand, provoked widespread protests in Jammu. Several people there were killed and many others injured in demonstrations. The people of Jammu, in support of the land transfer, enforced an economic blockade in the Kashmir Valley by stopping traffic on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway.

The protest continued for 61 days, and on Aug. 31, a Jammu and Kashmir governor-appointed panel signed an agreement with the Hindu groups, who were leading the agitation in Jammu. According to the agreement, the shrine board would be making temporary use of 40 hectares of land during the "yatra" (pilgrimage) period.Although the new agreement has brought the situation under control in Jammu, it has provoked Muslims in Kashmir.

Though there was a lull in violence in the Kashmir Valley during the holy month of Ramadan, a string of violent incidents have taken place in the past few days. Recently, curfew was imposed in the valley and several separatist leaders were arrested in order to stop them from holding sit-ins in Lal Chowk, the heart of the capital city in Kashmir.The question is how many more lives must be lost before there is a complete end to violence in Kashmir?

Nepal's "living goddess" tradition meets modernity - Commentary

By: Kamal Raj Sigdel
Posted: 10/20/08
Last week, Nepal witnessed the coming of a new "living goddess" in the sacred temple of Kumari in the ancient city of Kathmandu. News headlines splashed in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, CNN, BBC, and many other media across the world.
The news stories tried to present the event as vividly as possible, but mostly cast the event as an exotic oriental experience. The government of Nepal, too, did its best to publicize the event in the world tourism market. What seriously lacked in all these media representations, however, was a real analysis of the tradition's challenge to survive.

According to local legend, the tradition of virgin "living goddess" worship, as manifested in the Kumari of Kathmandu, dates back to the time of the Vedas. The ancient Hindu monarchs used to worship Kumari (the virgin) for power to win great wars. It is believed that unlike the living human goddess today, Kumari used to be one of the immortal deities.

When it came to the seventeenth century monarch Sidhinarasingh Malla, however, something very unfortunate happened. One day, when the queen saw the king playing dice with the Kumari, she complained, thereby offending the goddess and prompting her disappearance.

After the king made several appeals and apologies, the deity agreed to reincarnate herself by entering into the body of a young girl, whom he could visit once per year. She would, nonetheless, vacate the young girl's body during menstruation. Today, when the young goddess comes of age, a panel of sacred judges identifies a new girl to become the next living goddess.

The first challenge to this tradition came when the monarchy was abolished after the successful April Uprising of 2006. When the king was sacked, Nepalese authorities chose to assign all cultural responsibilities the head of state.

Unlike the dynastic kings, current heads of state can be anyone from any religion, as the country has been declared a secular state. The culture would face a serious problem if, in course of political developments, a non-Hindu becomes a president and fails to carry on the cultural responsibilities that the cultural groups assign.

More intriguing is the way the Maoist-led government is dealing with the tradition. Allaying people's fear that the communist government scarps all "bourgeoisie" cultural practices, the Maoists have allowed the tradition to continue, probably because they understand that the culture has its own unique political semiotics, which were displayed during the Democratic Movement of 2006 against the monarchy.

When the movement was in its climax, the Newar community of Kathmandu invited the prime minister, instead of the king, to pay an honorary visit to the Kumari, which marked the first symbolic abolition of the monarchy. Though the Maoists understand that the Kumari deserves their respect, they are not clear about how a secular government can continue to sanction affairs that are particular to a certain religion. If they do not change their wrongheaded policy now, the culture will soon lose its way.

Another challenge comes from the unrealistic representation of the tradition by the international media, who allege that the tradition is a human rights violation. The argument is that the tradition, against the spirit of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, is "executing the child and snatching her right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion."

Most of the allegations - which come primarily from the Western media - are baseless. If the culture does not violate the rights of the child in the eyes of the Newar community, it should be allowed to continue as it has for centuries. In fact, the living goddess lives for about seven to ten years in the luxury of the Kumari palace, just as an elected president lives in the presidential palace, with all facilities provided, with her parents and friends around her and with her education advanced by special tutors.

Thus, it is in the best interest of the government of Nepal to prevent its head of state from religious meddling by shedding off the cultural responsibilities that it inherited from the Hindu monarch, while at the same time clarifying some of the myths associated with the tradition.

(Sigdel is an Asia Pacific Leadership Program fellow at the East West Center and can be reached at kamal.sigdel [at]
© Copyright 2008 Ka Leo O Hawaii

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