996: Maharani Raj Rajeshwari Devi
Queen Regent & Consort of Nepal
Birth Date Unknown, Kingdom of Nepal (Present-day Nepal)
Died: 5 May 1806 AD, Kingdom of Nepal (Present-day Sankhu, Nepal)
Raj is most remembered today because she was forced to commit sati (the cultural belief in a wife burning to death on her husband’s funeral pyre). While Sati is technically considered voluntary, research has shown most women do not go to their fiery graves through their own free will.
Unfortunately, most of the sources for Raj easily available on the internet have next to no actual information about her. Therefore, I feel it is fair to warn you ahead of time that my main sources for this entry are the book listed below (Bad Days in History) and a Wikipedia article.
After becoming regent for her son (Raj’s husband had abdicated the throne) she went into exile with her husband. At the time, Raj was one of three wives to her husband, and so one of the other two wives took over as regent after Raj, her husband, and son went away. In 1801, Raj returned and became regent again. With the other wife ousted from power, Raj retook her power as regent by having a political rival assassinated and the other wife put under house arrest.
Then her husband also returned to Nepal and resumed power himself in 1804.
Two years later Raj’s husband was murdered by his brother. Ten days after his death, Raj was forced to commit sati despite his two other wives not being forced to. The other two wives instead were allowed to continue ruling as regents.
Sati is a Hindu ritual, and while technically illegal in countries like India and Nepal (the latter of which actually celebrated 100 years of banning Sati in 2020), activists note that the ritual may still be taking place in rural parts of Hindu-majority countries. Despite Sati itself being banned, Nepal does still suffer from incredibly high abuse statistics in the country. A report from the United Nations Population Fund found forty-eight percent of Nepali women have suffered some form of violence or abuse in their lifetimes; with twenty-seven percent of women admitting to having suffered from physical violence. These numbers are even more telling when compounded with another report that estimates sixty-one percent of Nepalese women do not report whenever they are faced with domestic abuse situations.
Sadly because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of reports of violence against women and girls in the small country has steadily increased throughout 2020. According to Spotlight Nepal, “According to a report by a human rights NGO Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC), during the 54 days lockdown period, there were 269 reported cases of domestic violence in Nepal and 23 women have been killed by their own family members. On 5th of April, there was a news report from one online media about a man from Inaruwa, Sunsari trying to kill his wife and two minor daughters by setting fire on them. As per the police, the man had sprinkled kerosene, set fire on them and ran away and further investigation was being carried out by the police on the incident.”
Rape cases are also on the rise in the country. Women and girls are being attacked in the streets, on municipal trains, and even in quarantine facilities staffed by volunteers. To learn more, I will link the article from Spotlight Nepal below under this articles “Sources” tab.
So, while celebrating the fact that Sati “officially” ended in Nepal one hundred years ago is a good thing, its important to remember Nepal still has a long way to go to repair the damage being done to its female population. Sati may be gone, but the legal system still punishes widows in other ways. As of 2020, if a widow remarries in Nepal, there is no legal protection for her to keep an inheritance she received from her deceased spouse. Instead, the legal system of Nepal decrees that should a widow remarry, she must return her inheritance to her husband’s estate. On the flip side, a widower can remarry and take a new wife without any legal repercussions or threat of losing inheritance.
Maharani Raj Rajeshwari Devi was put to death over two hundred years ago, and today, the plight of women in her country staggers on. The best way for those of us in the Western world to help put an end to the violence faced by our Nepalese sisters is to spread the word and get involved. By staying silent, we allow this to continue happening. Stop Violence against Women and Girls. Its not complicated. Use your voice and tell the rest of the world this is unacceptable. Speak up for the victims who cannot speak for themselves.
To my Nepalese sisters, I dedicate this article to you. I want you to know I hear you and stand with you. Together, we can stop the violence and change the culture. Together, we can build a better world.
Find a Grave Marked
Located In My Personal Library:
Bad Days in History by Michael Farquhar
Bad Days in History by Michael Farquhar
Spotlight Nepal Article: https://www.spotlightnepal.com/2020/07/15/100-years-abolition-sati-practice-and-still-huge-surge-gender-based-violence/