Ram Kumari Jhakri held the blazing effigy of King Gyanendra aloft as she led the protesting students through the streets of Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, and into Ratna Park. The royal palace was nearby. She knew it was only a matter of time before she would be beaten and arrested again. 'We knew that the king's true intention was to form a puppet parliament and pass a bill to restore absolute monarchy in Nepal. Every day, we planned protest programmes. We discussed how we could protest without being arrested,' she recalled. It was April 2004. Jhakri, now 31, was at the forefront of the people's uprising that ultimately led to the fall of Nepal's monarchy. The mass public rallies against royal rule were not tolerated. Massive deployments of soldiers and armed police officers were waiting. The police with lathis (bamboo sticks) beat the protesters. Jhakri was not spared. 'I felt warm liquid flowing over my face. At first I thought it was water thrown by the police, but then I realised it was blood coming from a wound on my head ... I was not frightened. We were angry with the king for his step,' she added. Jhakri slipped into unconsciousness and was taken to hospital suffering from serious head wounds. After two weeks she was discharged, and despite medical advice telling her to rest for a month, she resumed protesting. As a member of the All Nepal National Free Student Union, the student wing of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), Jhakri was among thousands of opposition activists detained by order of the Nepalese monarchy. She was arrested and imprisoned dozens of times between 2002 and 2006, she said, spending around six months in police detention centres. An estimated 2,812 political leaders and activists were detained for their opposition to royal rule between 2005 and 2006, research by the Nepalese rights group INSEC revealed. They were among thousands of people who were arbitrarily detained, beaten and tortured for opposing the king. Many more disappeared, some killed by security forces loyal to the monarch. Half a decade on, Nepal's political landscape has undergone seismic changes. The 2004 protests gathered pace and forced Gyanendra to relinquish the throne in 2006, marking the end of 239 years of royal rule. The government and rebel Maoists signed a peace agreement later that year, and the Maoists disarmed and joined the political mainstream. This spelled the end of the decade-long guerilla war they had fought against the state that claimed the lives of around 13,000 people. Systematic state-sponsored violence against civilians also stopped. As the country revelled in its status as a fledgling democracy, all Nepal's political prisoners, including Jhakri - who later made Nepalese history by becoming the first female president of the students' union last year - were freed. After opposing the government, many opposition activists joined it. But growing political instability is now eating away at the progress made in recent years. When thousands of former Maoist rebels last month demonstrated in the capital against the country's governing coalition, armed police with tear gas and batons were ready to disperse protesters. The Maoists were demonstrating after President Ram Baran Yadav overruled their decision to sack the army chief earlier this year. His decision led to the collapse of the government in May, when the Maoist leader Prachanda resigned as prime minister in protest. With the Maoists threatening more protests unless parliament debates the extent of presidential powers, and the coalition government refusing to do so, the fissures in Nepal's partisan political landscape are deepening. Last month's protests were the latest in a flurry of demonstrations, symptoms of growing division between Nepal's main political parties. The fractious ruling coalition has been unable to create a stable forum for consensual politics. Since the former Maoist rebels won constituent assembly elections in April last year, animosity between the coalition partners has grown. Though the withdrawal of the former rebels from the government in May did not lead to a resumption of widespread violence as was feared, Nepal is no closer to achieving stability, and the government is in danger of missing a May deadline to complete the new constitution. Meanwhile, a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate past rights violations, promised as part of the country's new democracy, has also failed to materialise. Investigations into human rights violations committed during royal rule continue to remain elusive as they are way down the list of political priorities. In short, the current instability guarantees victims of past rights violations will never see justice. Dr Ajai Sahni, executive director of the New Delhi based think tank the Institute for Conflict Management, believes political parties could hijack human rights issues to gain a political edge. 'The real conflict is in power sharing and in other measures of the peace agreement, such as the absorption of the Maoist cadre into the army. These are the real roadblocks,' he said. 'The government collapsed on those issues, not because of the issue of past crimes.' No member of the armed police, army, former government or the former Maoist rebels has been prosecuted in civilian courts for human rights abuses, according to legal experts. 'All the political parties ... have put pressure on the police not to investigate certain cases in order to protect their members. Institutions long opposed to accountability - most notably the Nepal Army - have dug in their heels and steadfastly refused to co-operate with the ongoing police investigations,' Human Rights Watch said in a report released in October. Nepal's National Human Rights Commission has also said the army and many politicians ignore the rights agency's recommendations to investigate violations. The army and the government, however, dispute such claims. Nepal's transition from autocratic royal rule and insurgency to nascent democracy was never going to be an easy ride. But the instability overshadowing the political arena today is far more than a temporary blip. The brittle ruling coalition has paralysed the country's political process and guaranteed human rights issues look unlikely to make it onto the political radar. Sahni added: 'I have very little hope for the future of Nepal for a long time. They don't have the institutional strength. It's a circular argument: for democracy you need better politics, but you need democracy before you get better politics.' Recent events show that the struggle to step out of the shadow of more than two centuries of royal rule, a decade of civil war and a culture of impunity will be slow. But until it does so, Nepal has little chance of moving forward.