Tag Archives: News

Royal Massacre, 11 Years Later…

I wanted to highlight an old post today.

P mentioned to me that I should write something about the Royal Massacre since 11 years ago today it took place. I wrote about this a while ago, so please excuse the recycling, but I think it’s an important enough topic to rehash.

Hope you are all well. I promise even though I have been quiet, I’ve been doing a lot of writing…

So now we are up to the point where Birendra, grandson of Tribhuvan (who re-took the throne), is now king. He began his reign in 1972 after his father Mahendra’s death.

King Birendra

Birendra was the first Nepali monarch to receive a formal education, studying abroad in India, the UK, Japan and even at Harvard University (from 1967-1968). Upon his return he married Aishwarya Rana (yes from that Rana family) in 1970 and had three children: Prince Dipendra (1971), Princess Shruti (1976)  and Prince Nirajan (1977).

Royal Family: King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, Princess Shruti, Prince Dipendra and Prince Nirajan

He ascended to the throne as an absolute monarch, inheriting a country with banned political parties, and ruling through the panchayat system. In 1990 a series of strikes and pro-democracy riots broke out across Nepal, and due to this Birendra eventually agreed to become a constitutional monarch. He appointed a Constitution Recommendation Commission, and November 9, 1990 the new constitution was approved by the Prime Minister.

However quarrels continued leading to the Nepali Civil War between the Maoists and government forces between 1996 and 2006 (a post all of its own).

Which leads me to the massacre.

I’m not sure if we will ever really know what happened the night of June 1, 2001. Much like the American conspiracy theories of who assassinated President Kennedy, different theories about the Royal Massacre abound. The fact of the matter is—the Nepali Royal Massacre was the largest slaughter of a royal family since the shooting of the Romanov family during the Russian Revolution.

The more widely known story: Prince Dipendra was a bit of a troubled youth. Prone to drinking with a keen interest in all things military and a short temper. Not long before the massacre, Dipendra had been arguing with his parents over the choice of his bride. Dipendra wanted to marry his girlfriend Devyani Rana (also a member of the Rana family). Dipendra’s mother was against this match (due to the historical animosity between the king’s family and the Ranas… although Queen Ashiwara was also a Rana, so I’m sure I’m missing part of the story…) Tempers flared.

Dipendra and Devyani

On the night of June 1st much of the royal family gathered for an evening together including uncles, aunts and cousins. Missing from the party was Prince Gyanendra, younger brother to the king and potential heir (if Birendra and his two sons could no longer perform the duties as king).

Following an evening of heavy drinking, and still angry at his family, Dipendra was upset when he was scolded by his father for “misbehaving” at the gathering and told to leave the party. An hour later Dipendra showed up dressed in military fatigues with an MP5K and M16 and started shooting up the room, killing his father, sister, uncle, aunts, and a few other family members while wounding several others. His mother and brother escaped the room but confronted the prince in the garden, where he killed both of them, shooting the queen multiple times in the face (it was so badly damaged that her face was covered with a mask for the cremation ceremony). Before any guards arrived Dipendra turned the gun on himself.

Prince Dipendra survived his suicide attempt for three days, and was proclaimed king while in a coma. He died on June 4, 2001. While Dipendra lie in his coma his uncle Gyanendra (remember, the one conveniently missing from the party?) maintained the deaths were an “accident” but once Dipendra had died full blame was placed on him.

The country went through a period of national mourning—many people including P’s dad—shaved their heads as a symbol of death in their family, since the king was the “father” of the nation and revered as a god. The country was already embroiled in a civil war, and now they were without a symbolic figurehead.

Some people in Nepal suspected that Gyanendra was responsible for the massacre, and that Dipendra was blamed so that Gyanendra could take the throne. He was third in line to the throne (after Birendra, Dipendra and Prince Nirajan) and had been conveniently out of town during the party. It’s true that his son and wife were at the party and were wounded, but both survived (his son with only minor injuries). Feeding these rumors is the allegation that Dipendra was mortally wounded by a gunshot to the left side of his head, while he was right-handed, casting doubt on whether the injury was self-inflicted.

Gayanendra wearing the Nepali royal crown

Two survivors have publicly confirmed that Dipendra was the shooter, but many Nepali people still consider it a mystery.

Gyanendra assumed the throne and was king until 2008 when he was forced to abdicate due to social pressure and rioting.

Now people have their theories—but I was at the former Royal Palace in the summer of 2009 and went on a tour with the daughter of one of P’s family’s neighbors whose father used to work at the Palace as a food taste tester (I know, one of those strange connections). The suspicious thing is—when Gyanendra took over as king he dismantled the house in the garden where the massacre took place—brick by brick. All that is left is an outline of the house on the ground. A few bullet holes still mar parts of the garden wall but everything else is gone. It makes me wonder what he was hiding.

If you are interested in more information, the BBC had a documentary on the massacre, which you can watch on Youtube in five parts:

Earthquakes (reprise)

As I’m sure many, if not all, of the readers of this blog already know, on Sunday (evening Nepal time, morning US time) there was an earthquake in Nepal and Northeastern India. Although much of the damage attributed to this earthquake was centered in Indian Sikkim, buildings shook in KTM, toppling over a wall at the British embassy—a wall I used to walk by everyday on my way to Nepali language class–killing three.

Surveillance footage from a Lazimpat grocery store not far from British Embassy
  

Many Nepalis in diaspora probably heard about the earthquake in the same way that P did, through instant updates on Facebook and Twitter. It took an hour or so for news broadcasters to catch up and start posting pictures and reports.  By mid-morning P saw a Facebook status from a friend back in KTM that said, “I hope I’m alive tomorrow morning” meaning people were still afraid about aftershocks, and building integrity.

I wrote about this in January 2010 shortly after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Drawing many comparisons between the tiny developing island nation and the small developing mountain nation, I wrote:

As with Haiti, many of the buildings in Kathmandu are made of concrete and cinder block, with very little “earthquake proof” reinforcement. Additionally, the population of the Kathmandu valley has literally exploded in the past decade due, in part, to villagers flocking to the city in the hopes of escaping the Maoists/army violence in the countryside. Since the KTM valley is pretty well defined topographically, the city doesn’t have a lot of room to expand outward. Thus people are claiming more space for themselves and their families by building upwards—now you sometimes find very skinny tall houses to save on space. A quake of significant magnitude has the potential to absolutely devastate the densely populated city.

Also similarly to Haiti, political turmoil, lack of current infrastructure, a small national airport with one landing strip, and few roads leading to current medical facilities could further complicate rescue efforts. At least Haiti, as an island, allowed medical ships from the US to medi-vac severely injured patience to overcrowded floating navy hospitals. Landlocked Nepal would have to fly victims to India or Pakistan, if anywhere at all.

A quick google search reveals all sorts of articles about the potential future dilemma in KTM:

In a 2007 MSN/Forbes article called “The world’s most earthquake vulnerable cities” a nonprofit research group called GeoHazards International ranked Kathmandu Nepal the most vulnerable, followed by Istanbul (Turkey), Manila (Philippines), and Islamabad (Pakistan).

Similarly a February 2010 New York Times article by Andrew Revkin entitled “Disaster awaits cities in earthquake zones” noted,

Without vastly expanded efforts to change construction practices and educate people, from mayors to masons, on simple ways to bolster structures, [Roger Bilham, a seismologist at the University of Colorado] said, Haiti’s tragedy is almost certain to be surpassed sometime this century when a major quake hits Karachi, Pakistan; Katmandu, Nepal; Lima, Peru; or one of a long list of big poor cities facing inevitable major earthquakes.

After Haiti, Nepal braces for big quake” commented on the lack of regulations in building codes in KTM,

…Amrit Man Tuladhar, head of the Nepal government’s earthquake preparedness programme, admits [building] regulations are often ignored, and says the older buildings in Kathmandu are a cause for concern.

“We believe more than 80 percent of old buildings could collapse,” he said.

“Many of the buildings in the Kathmandu Valley are very old. If a quake struck at night, people would not be able to escape their houses.”

Another reason P’s friend’s facebook status sounded so ominous.

Earthquakes put people in the Himalayan region on edge. I hope that mother nature has gotten all of her shaking out of her system for the time being.

Nepal TV Station Presents News By Kerosene Lamp

I’ve discussed the problem of load shedding and power shortages in Nepal before. It’s a huge challenge, especially in Kathmandu, and one that really effects daily life. Imagine regularly not having electricity 12 hours or more a day! I’m not even talking about the practicality of using a computer, or charging a cell phone– but the basics, like having a refrigerator to keep your food from spoiling, or having a light to study for your exams and do your homework by in the evening. Perhaps one could imagine this as a problem in a village, but in the capital city? It’s truly remarkable, and sad.

The BBC’s Joanna Jolly had an article today which highlights Nepal’s electricity problem– apparently the nightly news broadcast on Kantipur Television has started to present their show lighted only by a kerosene lantern.

Reading the news by kerosene lamp-- is it 1911 or 2011? (photo credit: BBC)

“We want the government to produce more electricity as soon as possible,” Kantipur News head Tirtha Koirala told the BBC.

“So far we’ve been getting a very positive response from our audience, but nothing yet from the government.”

Mr Koirala said his television news bulletin would continue to be broadcast in darkness until the government responded.

I say “bravo!” to the news for taking a stand.

If you want to read the full article click HERE.

World War II Indian “Spy Princess”

The BBC had a feature article today which I found interesting and thought I’d share. It was a profile on Noor Inayat Khan, who served as a British spy in France against the Nazis during World War II. Eventually she was captured, (and some sources say tortured, although it is unconfirmed), and executed in Dachau at the age of 30. Her final words were “Liberte!”

So often we hear negative news stories about South Asian Muslims, and rarely are heroic or strong South Asian or Muslim females featured, so I wanted to take the opportunity to point you towards her story. Additionally—the intercultural twist—her father was an Indian Sufi, and her mother was a Caucasian American, and she was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1914.

Noor with her American mother, Ora Meena Ray Baker

According to the BBC article (Churchill’s Asian spy princess comes out of the shadows) and the Wikipedia entry on her, she was the great great grand-daughter of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore (and hence the use of the word “princess” in relation to Noor), who ironically was famous for fighting against the British.

Although Noor was “deeply influenced by the pacifist teachings of her father, she and her brother Vilayat decided to help defeat Nazi tyranny.” She was quoted as saying, “I wish some Indians would win high military distinction in this war. If one or two could do something in the Allied service which was very brave and which everybody admired it would help to make a bridge between the English people and the Indians.”

Noor in the early days

At first her Special Operations Executive trainers expressed doubt about using Noor in the field due to her “gentle and unworldly character,” however she was fluent in French and trained in wireless operation, and was ultimately selected to work as a spy in Nazi-occupied France. She was deployed in June of 1943 under the code name “Madeleine.”

A month after her deployment her spy circuit began to collapse and her commanders urged her to return to England, but she refused to abandon what had become “the principal and most dangerous post in France” because she did not want to leave her French comrades without communications.

For three months, she single-handedly ran a cell of spies across Paris, frequently changing her appearance and alias until she was eventually captured. On her arrest she fought so fiercely that the German police were afraid of her and she was thenceforth treated as an extremely dangerous prisoner (contrary to her earlier description of being too “gentle”). She attempted to escape twice during her interrogations, and according to the former head of the Gestapo in Paris, Hans Kieffer, “never gave a single piece of information to the Gestapo, but lied consistently.”

On November 25th 1943 she escaped with two fellow agents but were captured shortly thereafter during an impromptu air raid alert. She refused to sign a declaration renouncing future escape attempts so she was shipped to Germany and held in solitary confinement for ten months, classified as “highly dangerous” and was kept shackled in chains most of the time.

Noor, in the field

On September 11th 1944 Noor and three other agents were moved to Dachau Concentration Camp, and in the early hours of September 13th the four women were executed by a shot to the head. An anonymous Dutch prisoner reported in 1958 that Noor was cruelly beaten by a high-ranking SS officer named Wilhelm Ruppert before being shot in the head. Her last words were “Liberte!”

She was posthumously awarded a French Croix de Guerre and the British George Cross (Britain’s highest award for gallantry not on the battlefield).

To learn more about her, the BBC recommends Noor’s biography “The Spy Princess” by Shrabani Basu written in 2006.