We have received the following eyewitness report from Ben Peterson who has been traveling through Nepal. Ben’s reports are gathered on his own blog Lal Salam. Kasama posts this because it is of interest. As always, posting does not apply an agreement with the analysis. All photos are credited to Ben Peterson. Part 2 is posted here.
In Their Own Words- The People of Rolpa (part 1)
Interviews conducted by Ben Peterson
[Saturday, April 25, 2009] I recently spent a week living with and talking to the the people of Rolpa. Rolpa is a very underdeveloped hilly district in Nepal’s mid-western region where the Maoists launched their People’s War in 1996- which went on to change Nepal in almost every aspect of its politics and culture. Because of this, however, Rolpa was also the scene for some of the worst police/army repression and violence. These are their stories in their own words.
The Martyrs Gate welcomes people as they cross into Rolpa. It was built by the Maoists during the Peoples War period.
Liwang- The District Capitol of Rolpa
I met Swedah Dukesi (no picture-sorry!) on the side of the road waiting for a bus. He was a 53 year old man who was actually from Rukkum which was the next district north of Rolpa, however it too was the Maoist base area, and had many similar experiences to Rolpa. He had a badge of a red communist flag on his shirt.
Lal Salam Blog: I see that badge, are you a Maoist?
Mr Dukesi: No I am with the UML. The Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist).
LSB: Did that mean you had a hard time during the People’s War? Did you have many troubles from the Maoists?
Mr Dukesi: It was a dangerous time. The Maoists would come into the village and ask for food and shelter, and talk politics and leave. The Army however would come- then beat us, abuse us, accuse us all of being Maoists. The Army would kill people. In comparison the Army and the police where always far worse then the Maoists…
The Divisional headquarters of the Peoples Liberation Army- 5th Division the day after the by-elections. In the foreground a UML flag flies. The UML and other political parties repeatedly have claimed that the Maoists do not allow them to operate in Maoist strongholds. Across the road from the UML flag there is a local UML family- and proudly and vocally so, and much of the village was plastered by UML posters and stickers (they still lost the election). If 50 meters from a PLA the UML can operate very publicly without feeling threatened, i find these allegations hard to believe (especially seeing as all the local UML members denied them).
Terrace farming in Rolpa.
This Man- A dalit- lived in a small village in Rolpa. He missed most of the brutal times during the Peoples War as he was working in India. It is common for people in rural Nepal to leave Nepal for employment, particularly to India, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Malaysia due to lack of opportunities at home.
LSB: So are you hopeful for the future?
Man: We are from a Dalit family, so there have already been many changes. Before the peoples war we faced many problems and discrimination. We would be humiliated for being Dalits, but since the Maoist movement, things have changed here. Attitudes are different.
LSB: Do you support the Maoists?
Man: Yes, we support the Maoists. They are doing good things, they are bringing change.
What was said was backed up, as while we were interviewing this man; other locals of other castes were in his home, and eating and drinking with him, behavior that simply would not have been possible just a few years ago.
The Martyrs’ Road in Rolpa. The road was constructed by the Maoists during the People’s War. The Party organised local communities and the peoples army to build the road. As well some locals who had been found of various crimes were sentenced by the “People’s Courts” to work a set hour of time on the road as punishment. There was even “international brigades” of foreign Maoists supporters who came to work on the road. It seems like a very simple and basic thing, but this rocky and rough dirt track made a real difference to peoples lives and made the movement of goods and people much quicker and easier for many people.
This is Nongna- a 26 year old woman who currently lives in the village of Tila. She was in Rolpa throughout the Peoples War. She is a new mother. Rolpa- particularly near the PLA cantonments, has many children as the peace process and the end of the war has created an atmosphere where raising children has become possible again.
LSB: Was it dangerous to be in Rolpa during the Peoples War?
Nongna: Well, when the Maoists would come they would just ask for food and shelter, but when the army would come they would kill and torture people. This would happen every day. So for this reason I joined the Maoists. The village was very difficult, there were always many problems with the police and the army. But I didn’t just join because of this, the Maoists had visions for the future, and for liberation.
LSB: What did you do for the party?
N: I used to go to peoples homes and explain to people the politics of the Maoists and try to convince others to support and join the Maoist movement.
LSB: What is it like from women in Nepal?
N: Well if I was a man I would not have so many of the problems I have had. Every household has issues, but as a maobadi these issues are not as profound.
LSB: So the Maoists are good for women?
N: Yes, very much. In the party it is much more equal between men and women, and women are able to participate freely.
LSB:And is this changing all of society?
N:Yes, there have been changes in broader society. People have seen the benefits of not having this divide and discrimination and people are learning.
(It is worth nothing that you can physically see a difference between Maoist women and women who have not joined the Maoists. The Maoist women stand straight and tall, are much more confident, will look a man in the eye and confidently interact with men in the life of the village. Women who have not yet become a Maoist or in Areas that are less Maoist affected will tend to be quiet, reclusive and be hidden and smothered by the men in the Village.)
This is Kahldi Magar Pun, who is an old man who has lived in Rolpa all his life. He is currently living in the village of Tila. He is staunch UML.
LSB: Do you support a political party?
KMP: Yes I support the UML. But I support them because I have family connect[ions] with the UML, not for any political reasons.
LSB: Was it difficult to be a UML supporter during the Peoples War?
KMP: At that time there was no police or army in my village, and when the Maoists came they would just want to talk and have some food and shelter, so for me it was easy.
LSB: So never any problems with the Maoists?
KMP: No, the Maoists would have cultural programs and shows, and all the people would come and enjoy. They were good, I enjoyed the Maoists’ programs.
LSB: So you like the Maoists?
KMP: I support the UML…
LSB: So what do you think of the UML’s actions in government?
KMP: The politicians just come here for votes, and then go to Kathmandu. It doesnt matter what we think. All the same the NC, UML the maobadi…
LSB: Do you think the Maoists are the same as the other parties?
KMP:Well the Maoists have done well, facilities have improved here, there are roads and electricity and we didn’t have that before.
LSB: So do you have high hopes for the New Nepal and the new Constitution?
KMP: UML governments in the past have done nothing, but in the same amount of time in government the Maoists have done a little bit, so we think that the new Constitution and the new Constitution will do good things for us.
This is what a “Terrorist” looks like…
Her name is Diti Thapa. She is 28 years old. In her own words this is why she joined the Maoists:
Diti Thapa:“… One day the Army came to my village. My family were not Maoists, we were not such a political family, but the army accused us of being Maoists anyway. They accused us of being Maoists and they were abusing us, and then they took my brother, my husband and my father, and they shot them. And then they raped me….I just hate those people who have done this to me. Because of them I have many problems, mental problems. It always comes back what happened. The killing of my father, and brother and husband, and the rest, it is always coming back. I am always crying…”
Some say that these aren’t political reasons for joining the movement, but nothing could be further from the truth. This was the true politics about the old Nepal- it was a bureaucratic order, that just didn’t give a fuck about its people, and had no limits to the brutality that it showed to its opponents.
It is also worth nothing that the guns that killed her family where likely supplied by the US. The soldiers that raped her likewise were likely trained by the USA. But because she had the strength to resist this brutality- she is a terrorist.
If fighting against this kind of brutality- that is just incomprehensible to any reasonable person- means that your are on the side of terrorism- I know where I stand.
Part 2 is posted here.