Cultural Trends/Popular Culture

Nepal's Ex-Princesses Have Found Paying Work

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.

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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."

Ex-Princess Starts DV Organization

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.

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