Friday, August 24, 2001

At 84, ex-Kumari Hira Maiya continues to enjoy her conjugal life

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Aug 22 - Ever since the news of the enthronement of the new Kumari, Nepal’s Living Goddess, fell into the ear of 84-year-old Hira Maiya Shakya, she is impatient to visit the Kumari House at Hanumandhoka Durbar Square, where the royal goddess resides.

Happily married to a craftsman of the Capital’s Srighaa area 70 years ago, she is the eldest among the surviving former Living Goddesses of the Himalayan Kingdom. She is also a living proof of the fact that husbands of former Kumaris do not land up in trouble as rumours circulating in the city have it.

Shakya often thinks about "the ancient House with beautiful doors, windows and wall paintings", where she spent "most precious years" of her life as the Living Goddess or Kumari. That was in the 1920s. She becomes nostalgic especially when she hears the news about the arrival or enthronement of a new Kumari.

"She is there to protect the country and the monarch," Shakya proudly says echoing the popular belief.

Four-year-old Priti Shakya was installed as the new Kumari or the Living Goddess of the Hindu Kingdom on July 10 after her predecessor reached her age of puberty.

"I can’t stop thinking about that pretty House, which gave me a new name and unparalleled fame. I wish I could go there every day and serve the new Kumari wholeheartedly. But I’m too old for that," she says.

She was installed as the Kumari when she was just three years old. But she was forced to retire in the same year after she contracted smallpox, an epidemic then. And when she was just 15 years old, Hira’s parents arranged her marriage with the craftsman, Pratyaknanda Shakya.

"I cannot quite remember whether I was happy or not when my mother told me about the man. I think that was okay. I have been with him till now," she says, her bright eyes shining and her wrinkled face smiling wearing a coy look - something rare at her age.

Her life changed after she came to her husband’s house, however. She had to be obedient to her parents-in-law and work at the house day in and day out.

Hira Maiya rules out rumours that a former Kumari’s husband lands up in troubles or dies after marriage. "As I grew up, I heard about it," she says. "But those rumours did not affect our marital life at all. We lived a happy conjugal life. He loves me so much even today."

Her husband, Pratyaknanda, 87, says he feels proud to be a husband of a former Kumari. He adds, "I am lucky in many ways¼" He rules out the basis of the rumour, and says, "I do not say Kumari’s husbands never die; everyone has to die one day. There are widows, widowers. It is natural and not because they were former Kumaris or their husbands."

Hira Maiya cannot properly remember those important days (when she was a Kumari), but whenever she starts reminiscing those days she becomes excited. "It was such an amazing experience, like a dream. I did not have to work like my sisters. Everyone called me Goddess, and I could play as much as I liked," she adds.

She also remembers whenever the king came in front of her and she put vermilion tika on his forehead with her left hand. "The young King (Tribhuvan) came and watched the preparations for the Kumari procession from the white barandah of the Hanumandhoka Palace. Then he sat on the throne placed on the stone-paved platform in front of the Kumari House," she says.

Sunday, August 19, 2001

Breaking chains of tradition

By Razen Manandhar

Anamika Nepali loves her friends but can’t be friendly with their parents. She knows numerous parents from her locality who force their small daughters into prostitution, shutting off all doors to prosperity.

Fourteen year old Anamika from Jaynagar, Bardiya is closely related to the Badi community that prefers to practice prostitution. Though this community has left this traditional occupation to a large extent, there are still women who continue to live as cheap sex workers even wanting their daughters to follow them.

She has seen family members urging their 14 year old daughters into the sex trade. Many parents do not enroll their daughters into schools so as to enjoy their "earnings".

She argues flatly, "Why should the little children suffer just because their parents do not want to do any other work?"

Anamika now studies in the 8th standard and lives in a hostel provided by an NGO called SAFE Nepal at Nepalgunj a city in the midwestern district of Banke. She is the treasurer of Bal Chetana Samuha and is aware of the child rights activities going on throughout the country. By talking with the local children and guided by the facilitators of the group, she has built up a kind of self-confidence when arguing with any adult she meets over these issues.

"The elders come and teach us what we should do on these issues. But, I can bet, we know the issues more thoroughly than those guides, " she claims.

She blames the tradition, started by ‘mistake’ by their parents, as to why the children have been stigmatized by society. A few Badi children now in schools also suffer from social discrimination.

Anamika is too young to know what the government is sending to Geneva as a national report on the condition of child rights in Nepal. But unlike the activists, she speaks from the heart.

"Discussions with fellow children have put up lots of new ideas. We often argue over one issue in various angles with our club members. Sometime we come up with quite new ideas."

The situation faced by girls also troubles her young conscience. She wonders why only girls have to quit school just to take care of the younger siblings, the cattle and the farm.

She is determined to work for child rights when she grows up. "The world has realized how important the freedom of children is but only our parents have yet to understand it," she says.

Likewise, Bishal Rana Magar is another boy of the mid-western region who can challenge the adult facilitators in child rights issues. This 13 year old boy from Banke, though small, is candid enough to express his dissatisfaction about child rights and the adult activists.

The youngest son of a peasant family in Kaushila Nagar, Bishal never minds riding his bicycle to and from his school Tribhuwan High School at Kohalpur, 5.5 km away from
his home.

Three years ago, members of the Rural Development Service Board of Nepal visited his school and formed a children’s club, the Progressive Children’s Group. He presides over the group which has round 30 members.

"We often discuss various problems related to children that the elder people do not want to heed. We find out the problem, discuss it and even plan what we can do to stop elders from being cruel to us," he said.

Bishal is a poet too. He can also quickly compose rhymes. His favourite theme is the fate-stricken children.

He worries that thousands of children in the mid-west region who work in cities as domestic workers or dish washers in restaurants etc. are not allowed to go to school. "The children do not have rights even to be organized. We have no platform from where to express our voices, from where we can expect justice," he says.

Both Anamika and Bishal took part in the public hearing of the first periodic report on child rights in Nepal being sent by the government to Geneva. Around 60 children discussed the draft report.
[Kathmandu, Sunday, August 19, 2001 Bhadra 03, 2058.]

Saturday, August 18, 2001

KMC to slap ‘service charge’ amid strong protest

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Aug 17 – Despite the strong protest of the local businessmen and tourism trade organizations, Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) today placed its collection booths at three entry points to slap "Service Charge" from tourists entering the ancient Hanumandhoka Durbar Square of the capital.

Three of city policemen were injured and around a dozen protesters arrested in a scuffle followed by the lathi-charge in the morning, the witnesses said.

From Friday, each tourist shall have to pay Rs. 200 to enter the square from any side. And the tourists from the SAARC countries will be required to pay Rs. 25 per head. On the first day KMC earned total Rs 24,950 from 124 foreign and 6 from SAARC country tourists, a KMC official said.

Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square was the only place among the seven zones that make the Kathmandu Valley a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, where the tourists could enter free.

This decision is sure to lower the number of the tourists visiting the area that will leave a bruising effect on the already declining tourism industry, tourism related businessmen claim.

Ramesh Shakya, the chairperson of the newly formed Durbar Square Tourism Promotion Action Committee said the mayor’s greed could be harmful to 500 to 600 curio keepers, restaurant owners, hoteliers and their families.

"The KMC has done nothing to improve the situation of the monument area, so he has no right to levy service charge from the tourists," he said.

Barun Manandhar, whose Sugat Hotel lies in the monument area, when the KMC staff would require paying Rs 200 at each entry.

Shashi Bhandary, the secretary of Nepal Association of Travel Agents said the KMC’s approach to earn money out of the historic monument before providing any facilities to them is neither practical nor scientific.

"We can’t stop KMC from levying money. But it should understand how we suffer from that beggar-like approach to draw some more coins from our guests, whom we call idiomatically gods."

But mayor of Kathmandu metropolis, Keshav Sthapit said the project is a step to uplift the monument zone and the Core City as a whole.

"The money we collect from this zone will be spent on conservation of the area itself and to provide basic facilities for the tourists visiting the area," he added.

However, the conservation experts said that KMC has no rights to conserve the area even if it wants to for the ownership of the temples and other monuments located around the area since it has been shared by the Narayanhiti Royal Palace, Department of Archaeology and Guthi Sansthan.

Dr Chundar Bajracharya of Tribhuwan Universty said, "The responsibility of renovation is shared among the institutions that lack co-ordination. KMC sells dream of renovating the temples that are beyond the reach of common institutions."
[Kathmandu Saturday August 18, 2001 Bhadra 02, 2058.]

Sunday, August 12, 2001

Census figures throw up errors

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Aug 11[2001] - Even after the preliminary results of the Census 2001 have been made public, allegations of wrong data abound.

The latest claim of misrepresentation of data comes from the villagers of Satungal, the ancient settlement about 12 km west of the Capital. And the "culprit," according to them, is the headmaster of a local school.

The locals allege that the enumerator, Ram Sharan Karki, recorded the religion of all the residents of the Newar village as Hindus and mother tongue as Nepali at random.

Karki has been working as the headmaster of Sri Nandi Ganesh High School for the last nine years and was also a supervisor during the 1991 Census.

Executive Member of Women Environment Preservation Committee (WEPCO), Yamuna Shrestha, a resident of Satungal, accused the enumerator of coding the mother tongue of all the people as Nepali and religion as Hindu. "If this is the situation in the Capital, what would it be in remote villages?", she questioned.

Though what the enumerators write in their collection-book is not disclosed, it remained no more secret in the densely populated village the data the headmaster was taking away three weeks ago was "far away from the truth".

Karki was made to revise the data four times. In his first report, he made some basic technical mistakes so he was asked to repeat the data collection.

In the second time, he indicated all the hundred over families of Shrestha, Maharjan, as well as temporary residents like Magar, Rai, Lama, Tamang, Chaudhari, Syangtan, Mahato and others as Hindus and their mother tongue as Nepali, the locals alleged.

In the third round, he corrected the religion and mother languages of the Newars, but left the data of other ethnic groups as belonging to Hindu religion and speaking Nepali as mother tongue.

The area supervisor Yogendra Rajkarnikar, pacified the agitated villagers by rejecting the data and ordered Karki to "revise" it.

At Karki’s fourth attempt, the locals followed him to each doorstep to see what he actually wrote in the data collection book.

"We followed the headmaster all day and found he was trying to misguide the citizens even in our presence" said a local youth Nhuchhe Bahadur Maharjan. The fourth data is now on the supervisor’s table and waiting for the sanction.

Rajkarnikar said, "What he did is that particular village can not be called merely a mistake," he said, but he refused to give the details of what kind of report Karki had presented previously, saying that " It is illegal."

However, the headmaster Karki defended himself saying that there were only "a few mistakes" on his report but the officers at Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) forced him to re-collect the data from all 240 families repeatedly.

"I bet, such mistakes can be found in all the 114 enumerators of the Kathmandu Kha district, but only I was victimised," Karki claimed.

He has not yet received his allowance though he has already submitted the fourth report on July 22 . Deputy Director-General of Central Bureau of Statistics(CBS) Radhakrishna GC said that "a teacher collected wrong information in Satungal and the process is on to correct it".

Sociologist, Dr Krishna Bhattachan said what happened in Satungal was just an example of the "concerted attempt" to produce fake statistics of Nepal, misusing the ten-year event of Census.

"That was not at all a mistake. Even in my home the enumerator tried to miscode the data of our family. When my family members objected, it was corrected using white fluids," he said.

CBS has already published its preliminary reports of the census that was held deputing over 25000 enumerators nationwide.