“Then it was my turn after what they had already done to Ganeshman (Singh) just previously. They likewise bound me all around and bundled up my body in such a way that I was like an immoveable ball on the floor. My head was let free and my bare back was exposed for maximum beating with the “korra”
[whip and multi-pronged thong]. But when the official lasher was ready to rain his blows on my back, one of the officers walked over to Bahadur and Nara and whispered something into their ears.”
This is part of what Ram Hari Sharma—the “Living Martyr” of Nepal who passed away the other day at the ripe old age of 96—said to the interviewer while recording the dialogue at Radio Sagarmatha some years ago. I merely paraphrase what Sharma said while answering one of the questions. For full citation and other verifications, the FM station’s archives should be accessible to those interested in the topic. Perhaps the interview will be rebroadcast by Radio Sagarmatha in one of its memorial programs or in the “Uhile Bajeka Palama” slots.
Bahadur was Bahadur Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, and Nara Shumsher was his son. Bahadur was the oldest son of the absolute Rana Premier Juddha Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, the builder and occupant of the Singha Durbar. Since the Rana covenant was on brother-to-brother succession as Shree Tiin Maharaj to the Belaiti Baithk, the previous ruling and reigning rulers’ sons and their progeny had no chance to the autocratic Premiership, except by coups, fratricide, regicide and such bloodthirsty blitzkriegs. Each Rana prime minister ruled the Kingdom of Nepal in the name of the then hostage Shah King, and all the trump cards were dealt by the officiating Premier.
In Ram Hari Sharma’s case, dubbed treasonous and anti-national, it was the father-son duo of Bahadur and Nara who acted as the Rana regime’s police, judge, jury and hangmen. Sharma was one of the arrested citizens along with Tanka Prasad Acharya, Ganeshman Singh, Dharma Bhakta Mathema, Dashrath Chand, Thir Bam Malla, Shukra Raj Shastri and others on the grave charges of their agitations for unheard-of democracy in Nepal, actually meaning that their movement was against the one-century-old Ranarchy.
Bahadur and Nara took care of most of the culprits. Nara had Mathema, Shastri, Malla and Chand and other “martyrs” shot and hanged at Pachali, Bijeshwori and Siphal of Kathmandu. By the way, it must have been painful for the Ranas to sentence and condemn to death such fellow Hindu Thakuri and Chhetri ruling aristocrats as Malla and Chand but there was no hesitation in dispatching such Newars as Mathema and Shastri (the latter a Newar Joshi of Patan).
They failed to see, however, that it was an all-Nepal awakening for democracy for one and all, in place of the entrenched Ranas’ and their feudal fellows’ unilateral rule and anarchy, and many castes and classes of Nepalis threw themselves into the movement for political freedom and social justice and economic reforms, all long delayed.
There was one exception, though, and it had to do with the Bahuns accused of treasonous thoughts and actions against the ruling Ranas. This is where we come to the sentencing and punishment meted out, or not carried out, to Ram Hari Shama.
“It came to light,” Sharma continues in the Radio Sagarmatha interview, “that what the military officer exhaled into the ears of Bahadur and Nara was that since I was a Bahun, it was only correct to have another Bahun to lash me with the whip.
“‘Yes, yes, you’re right!’ Bahadur said. ‘Then find a Bahun in the barracks—quick!’
“But they found not a single Bahun soldier in the entire Nepal Army,” Sharma continues in the interview. “The army was the exclusive domain of Thakuris and Chettris and other Jats and peoples—but not for Bahuns.”
The arrested revolutionaries were tried by a military tribunal of the Ranas, and there were a profusion of military uniforms all around Sharma.
Ganeshman had been beaten black and blue just the other day, and he fainted after receiving some six hundred blows, as per an alleged legend. Apocryphal it may sound today, but it is believed that he did not make a single noise at the pain; he rather chose to faint—one of the feats that earned him the title of “Louha Purush”: Iron Man!
As for Sharma, it was time to have him unbound and not subject him to the “korra” treatments—simply because he was a member of the highest Nepali Hindu caste of Brahma and His Manush, the twice-born Nepali Bahun of South Asia’s Brahmans.
It was perhaps the only time Bahadur and Nara Shumsher felt defeated and had to give up on Messrs. Sharma and Tanka Prasad Acharya. “Brahman hatya,” according to Hindu Dharma, was the vilest of crimes, and they also did not perhaps wish to enact the Nepali production of Murder in the Cathedral. What, Bahadur and Nara could not even punish the Bahuns! After all, the Bahuns have comparatively been the most privileged, protected, patronized, pampered, promoted and power-charged community in Nepal.
But the father-and-son Rana executioners in Bahadur and Nara were not totally done with the “desh drohi” (read “Rana birodhi”) lot. Though spared from flogging, lynching or facing the firing squad, the Holy Cow Nepali Bahuns were at least subject to “jaat chyut” (shorn of one’s caste) by having their heads tonsured on four sides and made to carry and fondle piglets on their bosoms and taken out for a “nagar parikrama” before being dumped in the Bhadragol Sadar Jail.
While Nepal’s non-Bahun democratic revolutionaries were hanged and shot by the Ranas, others, including those birth-lucky Bahuns, survived their incarceration. Ganeshman made a huge difference by his successful jailbreak; Tanka Prasad Acharya went places, as did BP Koirala, and other leaders.
It is Ram Hari Sharma who baffles one. Three-fourth of his life was spent as tragic waste, sedentarily, in silence, quiet retirement, inaction and non-advocacy, save for rare appearances here and there and now and then—including the revelations he made in the abovementioned Radio Sagarmatha interview.
How to judge this Lucky Bahun, the longest-lasting “Living Martyr” of Nepal whose life spanned a century of Nepal’s recent history?
Perhaps Bahadur Bhawan—the residence of Bahadur Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, later turned into the Royal Hotel of the White Russian Boris Lissanevitch—is the edifice where the Chief Election Commission is housed. Perhaps Ram Hari Sharma’s aspirations for democracy in Nepal were fated to be enshrined in the very abode of his past tormentor.
The author is copy editor with The Week, Republica’s weekend edition