Nepal Supreme Court Landmark Ruling on Kumari ‘Goddess’ Rights
Author: Womens UN Report Network
Date: August 18, 2008
Nepal Supreme Court
Landmark Ruling on Kumari ‘Goddess’ Rights
Nepalese Lving Goddess Kumari
KATHMANDU (AFP) — A Nepali tradition of locking a young virgin girl in a
palace and worshipping her as a “living goddess” has been dealt a
blow with the country’s Supreme Court ruling she has the right to go to school.
The court said there was no justification for the specially chosen
pre-pubescent girl, known as the Kumari, to be subjected to a practice that
dates back centuries.
The current Kumari is nine-year-old Preeti Shakya.
The ruling comes barely three months after Nepali lawmakers abolished the
country’s 240-year-old Hindu monarchy, who received annual blessings from the Kumari
in a ceremony designed to underpin the legitimacy of the royals.
The court’s verdict was prompted by a complaint from local lawyers that
keeping a young girl cooped up in an ornate but decrepit palace in Kathmandu’s
medieval quarter was a violation of her rights.
“The Supreme Court came up with a verdict… asking the government to
take action to protect the rights of the Kumari,” Supreme Court spokesman
Hemanta Rawal told AFP.
“The court ruled there were no historic or religious documents that
state the child should be denied the rights of education, movement etc. She
should not be denied these things just because she is the Kumari.”
Furthermore, the “living goddess” concept is facing redundancy
given that Nepal is now officially a secular republic run by ultra-leftist
ex-rebel Maoists keen to do away with the country’s “feudal”
But it was not immediately clear whether the court’s decision would herald
the end of the tradition, given that the Kumari’s aura is to a large part
dependent on her total separation from the outside world.
The people in charge of looking after her said they took orders from the
heavens — and not the Supreme Court.
“This is not good news. In any case, she is a goddess so how can court
rulings apply?” asserted Rajan Maharajan, the vice president of the
committee that looks after the Kumari and her palace.
He also said the girl’s rights were not being violated because “her
teacher comes to the Kumari Palace every day, and she has three hours a day
when she can meet people.”
“We do not keep her prisoner,” he said of the current Kumari.
“We will ask the goddess if she wants to go outside more, and if she
wants, she can go, but I don’t think she feels comfortable leaving the
The Kumari is chosen as a three or four-year-old girl from a Buddhist caste,
and remains in the position until she starts menstruating, when the process to
choose a new goddess begins anew.
There are two other Kumaris in Kathmandu valley, but the young girls
worshipped in the towns of Bhaktapur and Patan have more freedom and are not
confined to palaces.
The Kumari in Bhaktapur, a beautifully preserved medieval town 15 kilometres
(nine miles) west of Kathmandu, caused controversy last year after she made a
trip to the United States.
Traditionalists said she had polluted her divine status.
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