Wednesday, January 30, 2013



Subodh Rana

As a kid it was always difficult for me to ascertain whether they were heroes or villains, some minor players in a Shakespearean tragedy or the main act itself. But one thing is for sure which is that I was always uncomfortable whenever this topic came up. Even before school I knew about those four as Nimbu Didi would tell me in hushed tones how they were executed. She lived near Shova Bhagabati so she was present thereabouts when Ganga Lal was shot. She would dramatically rip at her bosoms and say that Ganga Lal yelled while tearing his shirt apart baring his chest, "Shoot, shoot your own father, shoot" before the bullets made his body go limp. There is an apocryphal story circulating that one top Rana general himself snatched the rifle from the hands of a wavering soldier and shot Ganga Lal.

Martyr Ganga Lal

Coming from a line of Rana rulers of Nepal I, like many fellow Ranas of my generation in similar position, carry the burden of historic guilt for the martyrdom of those four. The Panchayat System of governance for Nepal concocted by King Mahendra from the socio-political ethos of ancient rural India, heaped blame on the 104 years of dictatorial Rana regime for all prevailing ill while conveniently arresting the growth of nascent democracy. We were taught at school that the Ranas had made the four youthful proponents of revolutionary change martyrs. The fact that it happened when my own grandfather was Prime Minister of the country did not help. I used to cringe at class whenever the subject came up at history lessons. The four heroes had lost their lives trying to help Nepal emerge from darkness. They had been murdered so that an exploitative political and social order would perpetuate. There was at least one redeeming factor that stood out in favour of Maharajah Juddha my grandfather I reasoned: he had spared the life of the fifth because he was a Brahmin. At least he had a good heart I consoled myself; he was God fearing so he must have been a good man I reassured myself.

Ganga Lal Shrestha was the youngest of the martyrs. Born in 1918 he was one of the three founding members of Praja Parishad, the underground movement launched in 1939 to press for political space for common Nepalese. He was caught by the authorities distributing pamphlets in Asan Tole advocating human rights and tried and found guilty of sedition. 

Martyr Dashrath Chand

Praja Parishad had been the brainchild of Dashrath Chand Thakur of the Kshetriya clan of Nepalgunj who had the opportunity of studying in nearby Indian districts of Almora, Kumaon and Nainital and closely monitoring the burgeoning Indian democracy movement there. He was convinced that he had to start a similar movement in Nepal and found Tanka Prashad Acharya, a Brahmin, as the perfect complement of brain to his brawn.

Martyr Dharma Bhakta

Dharma Bhakta Mathema was another founding member. He was a body builder himself and was given the task of instructing King Tribhuvan in physical fitness. He also became the conduit between the unhappy and politically powerless king and the underground movement, the reason for his eventual arrest. Shukra Raj Joshi was the oldest of the martyrs. More famous as Shukra Raj "Shastri" having received a degree in Sanskrit, he taught at Allahabad University in India and was the most learned of the martyrs. He came in contact with the leading political figures of the time that were agitating for Indian independence including Mahatma Gandhi.

Martyr Shukra Raj

In the turbulent times of the forties when the world was at war and who was right and who was wrong hanged in balance for the victor to pronounce, retribution came quickly. In October 1941 Ganga Lal and Dashrath Chand were shot dead at Shova Bhagabati. A few months later Dharma Bhakta Mathema was hanged at Sifal and Shukra Raj Shastri was hanged at Pachali Bhairab. Tanka Prashad Acharya got a life sentence. I am now beginning to wonder if future generations will even remember them: there have been so many martyrs since. Martyrs are raining thick and fast in this land. Even victims of traffic accidents get this elevated status as the state pays monetary compensation to their families. We are besmirching our collective memory of the sacrifice of the first four.

On a personal note my father is much more associated with the democratic changes of 1951 which brought political power to the people rather than the ancien régime. He was elevated to the post of Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Nepalese army following that epochal event. Lalit Chand, the younger brother of the martyr Dashrath Chand, gave his daughter in marriage to my eldest brother. Lalit Chand served as the Chairman of the Rashtriya Panchayat and he was a great friend of my father. I like to think that the Shakespearean tragedy ended in a reconciliatory note for us and animus buried forever.

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