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Postcard from the House of Gorkha

NIRJANA SHARMA

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A furious group of youths bashed in the main gate to enter the Gorkha Museum and headed towards the Prithvi block and violently started banging at the statue of the unifier of Nepal. In May 2007, in Gorkha, the historical realm of the former King Prithvi Narayan Shah, the incident occurred because youths wanted to expunge the remnants of our history.

The group, the cadres of the then CPN (Maoist) hit the statue countless times until it broke and fell. But that did not calm them. The dragged it, tying rope on the head of the metallic idol and started hauling it towards the street. They kicked the statue with their legs as they drew it into the Mashane Khola, to dispose it in the river where the locals used to dispose dead animals.

The incident that took place eight years ago, a year after democracy was restored in the country as per the aspiration of the People’s Movement but the armed group was yet to sign the peace deal with the government.

“The episode was the result of negative interpretation of the armed group against the historical personality for a decade,” said Chiran Thapa, 73, a witness to the 2007 incident in Gorkha.

The then CPN -Maoist (now UCPN Maoist) had a rigid opinion regarding the Shah dynasty and King Prithvi Narayan Shah whom they considered expansionist and one who imposed and institutionalized the unitary state.

Now that the extremist line towards Shah has been softening among them, the people of Gorkha have started expressing their views. UCPN (Maoist)’s top leader Baburam Bhattarai and Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda have earlier stated that the role of Prithvi Narayan needs to be accepted as the one who built strong bond between the various castes and communities irrespective of discrimination.

Gorkha, the realm of King Prithvi Narayan in the 18th century from where he had began his unification, now accepts the history and his role in unifying Nepal. Many locals, once fearful of speaking out their mind regarding the issue now express that the state should recognize the powerful king of the Shah dynasty as a national gem.

To amend their past actions, a rebuilt statue was reinstated in the museum on the same pedestal on February 2 last year. This scribe talked with people from different ethnic communities to those who fought for the state and revolutionary side during the insurgency to know their views on this issue.

Now that eight years have passed since the incident, the people are of the opinion that the disrespect to the “unifier” is disheartening. They further wish for Prithvi Narayan Shah to be recognized as the one who opted for unity despite the diversity.

Fifty nine years old Mangal Gurung, a retired policeman who fought from the state side during the insurgency, had quietly witnessed the fall of the king, feels that things have drastically changed over the last seven years. People who, either in fear or in confusion, stayed quiet at that time, have now started speaking out their mind.

The CPN-Maoist Chairperson of Gorkha, Niran Adhikari who also took part in the armed conflict from the revolutionary side now says, “The government’s decision to reinstate the statue was backed by locals as recognition of a history that cannot be changed, whether we accept it or not.”

A resident of Khoplang Village, Sagar Giri who is a graduate from Amar Jyoti School in Luitel Village from where the UCPN (Maoist) Vice Chairperson Baburam Bhattarai gave his SLC exams, has difficulty in shaping his students’ concept. He thinks that the role of the historical personality should be remembered, but people have to critically interpret the good and bad aspects.

School textbooks still praise the king which raises obvious questions over the credibility of history and the textbooks as well.

“The teachers are confused about how to make the students think in a balanced way. Critical interpretation does not match the contents in the textbook,” said Giri.

Children and youth can be seen in front of the reinstated statue in Gorkha trying to copy the pose and take a selfie but they are yet to learn about the good and bad aspects of our political history and cultivate their own viewpoints. Meanwhile, the statue of the unifier of modern Nepal stands on the pedestal with his finger raised as a symbol of national unity – “anekatama ekata” – reminding people that we are united by our shared past.

“I’ve heard the name, but have never met him (Naam ta suneko chuu lekin mileko chhaina)”

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Democracy was already restored but the Maoist insurgency was yet to be concluded when Naseer Mohammad, 30, came to Gorkha in search of work eight years ago.

The Madhesi-Muslim youth of Sarlahi had one aim in life: to earn money and free his family from poverty. Though he had no idea about what do to, he joined the same line of work being done by most of his fellowmen, the chana chatpate business.

Now he earns Rs 35,000 per month and is well settled with his wife and their four children. While the country has seen a huge transformation in politics over the eight years he has been in Gorkha, Naseer is just focused on looking after his chatpate business and visiting the mosque once a week.

When asked what he learnt about Prithvi Narayan Shah during his stay in Gorkha, Naseer had a blunt yet thought-provoking answer: “I’ve heard the name, but have never met him (Naam ta suneko chuu lekin mileko chhaina).”

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About nirjanasharma

Journalist.

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