16 years after Nepal’s crown prince stunned the world by gunning down nine family members; mystery still surrounds the massacre that plunged the monarchy into a crisis from which it never recovered.
Birendra was the first Nepali monarch to receive a formal education, studying abroad in India, the UK, Japan and even at Harvard University . Upon his return he married Aishwarya Rana and had three children: Prince Dipendra, Princess Shruti and Prince Nirajan. He ascended to the throne as an absolute monarch, inheriting a country with banned political parties, and ruling through the Panchayat system. In 1990, a series of strikes and pro-democracy riots broke out across Nepal, and due to this Birendra eventually agreed to become a constitutional monarch.
I’m not sure if we will ever really know what happened the night of June 1, 2001, when a drink- and drugs-fuelled prince Dipendra ran amok with an automatic weapon at a family dinner at the palace in the capital Kathmandu. The fact of the matter is—the Nepali Royal Massacre was the largest slaughter of a royal family.
Following an evening of heavy drinking, and still angry at his family, Dipendra was upset when he was scolded by his father for “misbehaving” at the gathering and told to leave the party. An hour later Dipendra showed up dressed in military fatigues with an MP5K and M16 and started shooting up the room, killing his father, sister, uncle, aunts, and a few other family members while wounding several others. His mother and brother escaped the room but confronted the prince in the garden, where he killed both of them and before any guards arrived Dipendra turned the gun on himself.
Prince Dipendra survived his suicide attempt for three days, and was proclaimed king while in a coma. He died on June 4, 2001. While Dipendra lie in his coma his uncle Gyanendra (remember, the one conveniently missing from the party?) maintained the deaths were an “accident” but once Dipendra had died full blame was placed on him.
I’d like to think that the official story is true, but as someone who was here during the massacre and who acutely felt the entire nation go into shock, it is very difficult to buy it. The conspiracies started immediately and the government officials did little to address them. The report that they released had multiple holes and the officials presenting the finding made a mockery of the whole process by pretending to shoot the guns.
Some of us suspect that Gyanendra was responsible for the massacre, and that Dipendra was blamed so that Gyanendra could take the throne. He was third in line to the throne (after Birendra, Dipendra and Prince Nirajan) and had been conveniently out of town during the party. It’s true that his son and wife were at the party and were wounded, but both survived (his son with only minor injuries). Feeding these rumors is the allegation that Dipendra was mortally wounded by a gunshot to the left side of his head, while he was right-handed, casting doubt on whether the injury was self-inflicted.
Paras Shah is the least-liked of Nepal’s royals. He has been involved in at least three hit-and-run cases.Under public pressure, the government was to open an inquiry against him, but later deferred the decision. Gyanendra proved an extremely unpopular king who later became quite authoritarian, and you have a ready recipe for a conspiracy. Gyanendra was the king until 2008 when he was forced to abdicate due to social pressure and rioting.
The country went through a period of national mourning—many people including my dad and brother—shaved their heads as a symbol of death in their family, since the king was the “father” of the nation and revered as a god. The country was already embroiled in a civil war, and now they were without a symbolic figurehead.
I guess the point is that the report is not conclusive enough to provide the kind of emotional truth that we Nepalese need. We don’t want to believe that the royal family was murdered by the Crown prince and in so brutal a fashion. Even now, after we’ve become republic and kicked the royal family to the curb, you raise this topic with any Nepali and I bet you they don’t buy the official line.
If you are interested in more information, the BBC had a documentary on the massacre, which you can watch on Youtube.
P.S. Manish Pandey : Thank you for unknowingly inspiring me to write this 😀