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Orissa's sons still revere king in Nepal

Today, while the maharaja and rajas of traditional Nepal are gone, in one corner of the former Himalayan kingdom one impoverished tribe whose ancestors came from India centuries ago has, however, still retained its king.

world Updated: Jan 19, 2009 02:11 IST

Nepal's powerful Shah dynasty of kings who had ruled the country for more than two centuries was abolished after a historic election last year. The scrapping of four principalities then followed the formal abolition of monarchy whose traditional kings were still receiving allowances from the state coffers.

Today, while the maharaja and rajas of traditional Nepal are gone, in one corner of the former Himalayan kingdom one impoverished tribe whose ancestors came from India centuries ago has, however, still retained its king.

Aided by two ministers, Khuya Kisan and Doman Kisan, "King" Bhawar Kisan still rules his subjects in Nepal's eastern Jhapa district, lying across the Indian border.

Bhawar Kisan, who is of uncertain age, is addressed as "raja" - meaning king - by his Kisan tribe, who number around 700 people.

"King" Bhawar Kisan, has his own little army, chooses his ministers and arbitrates over disputes in his clan in accordance with traditional customs.

Though ignored by the Nepal government and never given any state grants, the Kisan king, however, has managed to retain his domain while the other powerful and richer kingdoms are gone.

The Kisan tribe obtained its name from their ancient profession of farming. But on Sunday, like other ethnic tribes, they are fast becoming landless.

Originally known as Kuntams, the first Kisans were people of Dravidian origin who were brought from Orissa in east India to work as agricultural labourers in Nepal. The census of 2001 put the Kisan population of Nepal at 2,876.

However, the tribe is fast dying out on Sunday. Currently, there are only around 700 of them, living mainly in two areas in tea-garden district Jhapa.

Besides poverty, the tribe is also affected by a low literacy rate. Nearly 90 per cent of the community is illiterate. According to the Himalayan Times, the Kisans boast of only one postgraduate and two graduates with two students in high school.

Animists and nature worshippers, the tribe believes in ghosts and witches. In the past, the Kisans had the formidable reputation of killing their women members who were suspected of practising witchcraft.