By Sudeshna Sarkar
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Former princesses in Nepal are adopting new public identities in post-royal life. Among them is author Sheeba Shivangini Shah, whose third book, "Facing My Phantoms," about the palace massacre, comes out in April.
KATHMANDU, Nepal (WOMENSENEWS)--When Nepal, once the only Hindu kingdom in the world, became a secular republic two years ago, the former crown prince and heir to the throne, Paras Bir Bikram Shah, chose self-imposed exile in Singapore.
But the younger princesses have proven more adaptable, with four forging distinct new roles.
Sheeba Shivangini Shah, 34, married to the former king's nephew, is an author.
In April her book, "Facing My Phantoms," will be released by India's Rupa Publications. It provides a fictionalized chronicle of the royal family's sufferings in the 2001 palace massacres and marks her third novel.
At age 19, Sheeba Shivangini Shah, under parental direction, was married to the eldest son of Princess Sharada, the king's sister. In 2001 she lost both her mother-in-law and father-in-law, Kumar Khadka Bahadur, during an attack by Maoist guerrillas on her parental home in Kailali, a remote district in far-western Nepal. Her brother, Sanjay Bahadur Singh, also was beaten to death. The killing devastated the family.
"My brother was a man who simply wanted to do good farming and improve conditions in his village," she says. "He died because of the mistakes of earlier generations. The death turned my family members into refugees in their own country."
Her writing debut came in 2003 with "Loyals of the Crown," a historical novel about a 19th century love affair and the blood bath it triggered in the royal family. The events are widely known as the Kot Massacre. The book's narrator is a junior queen who orders the killing of nearly five dozen noblemen to avenge the murder of her courtier lover.
Her second novel, "Beyond the Illusions," forays into the dark realm of tantric rites and perversions. She also writes a regular column, Time Bites, for an English daily in Nepal, The Republica.
"I was saddened by the abolition of the monarchy because I am a student of history and the crown has been a symbol of Nepal for more than two centuries," Sheeba Shivangini Shah said in a recent interview. "As a citizen, though, I feel the country should move on. If the abolition of the monarchy was needed for peace and progress, so be it."
Pramada Shah, married to Sheeba Shivangini Shah's husband's youngest brother Ashish Bir Bikram Shah, is a veteran figure in Nepal's public life. In 1992, at age 32, along with a group of friends and relatives, she founded Saathi, Nepal's first organization to advise and protect victims of domestic violence.
"Domestic violence exists in all sections, among the rich as well as the poor, among the educated as well as the illiterate," says Pramada Shah. "But it was considered a taboo subject and nobody wanted to talk about it, even the victims, for fear of social stigma."
Today, Saathi runs three shelters for battered women, provides them with counseling and legal advice and helps them become financially independent through training.
Pramada Shah's recent venture is the Animal Welfare Network Nepal, an organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals. Founded in 2008, it attracted the spotlight last year when it was one of the most vocal opponents of the controversial Gadhimai Fair, a Hindu festival held every five years in southern Nepal where tens of thousands of birds and animals are sacrificed.
"In a country like Nepal where human issues are not addressed, it is difficult to talk about animals," she says.
As Nepal edges towards a new constitution, that is to be promulgated by May 28, Pramada Shah is campaigning to have a new statute that includes provisions for the protection of animal rights as well.
"We have sent documents to the 601 members of the constituent assembly (who are drafting the new constitution) highlighting the animal welfare regulations in other prominent constitutions like India, the U.S. and U.K.," she says. "Now we are sending letters to them to remind them of animal rights, urging them to include the concern in the new constitution."
The Gadhimai campaign, incidentally, was supported by noted Indian animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi.
"Animal lovers know no boundaries," Pramada Shah says.
The latest talk of the town is former princess, Sitashma Shah, the niece of Gyanendra Shah, the deposed king, and his wife Komal.
The soft-spoken, smiling Sitashma Shah, who is in her early 30s, has opened a boutique in Kathmandu in the premises of the five-star Hotel de l'Annapurna, in which her family holds shares.
"I had worked at a call center in Scotland when I went there to study business management," she says.
Beatification, the name of boutique she has started with her cousin Rochana Shah and a school friend, Vivek Upadhya, is drawing widespread media interest in the spectacle of a former princess attending to "commoner" customers.
Sitashma Shah is the second child of Prince Dhirendra, the youngest brother of the former king. Her mother, Princess Preksha, was the youngest sister of the former queen.
In 2001, when King Birendra, her uncle, was gunned down in the palace along with nine other members of the royal family, allegedly by Birendra's son, the victims also included Sitashma Shah's father.
Less than five months later, her mother was killed in a helicopter crash in northwestern Nepal. Then, in October 2008, four months after Nepal's new parliament abolished monarchy and stripped the royals of their titles, the former princess, at the time the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, found herself widowed after her husband Avinesh Shah succumbed to an illness.
Last year, Sitashma Shah decided to start her own enterprise. She turns up for work around 10 a.m. every day when the three partners hold a quick morning meeting. Then the customers start dropping in and she shows them around. After the customers leave, she busies herself tidying up, folding the displayed garments carefully and putting them back on the racks.
The boutique sells embroidered saris and lehengas (long skirts with a stole) that are made by craftspeople in the Indian cities of New Delhi, Jaipur and Lucknow.
While Sitashma Shah looks after the management of the boutique, financial management is handled by Rochana Shah, the daughter of Suraj Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, a scion of Nepal's former Rana dynasty of hereditary prime ministers and the brother of the former queen.
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