Ben Peterson: Eyewitness Report from Maoist Army Camp
Posted by Mike E on March 27, 2009
Ben Petersen, a friend of the Kasama site from Australia, has traveled to Nepal to report directly about the revolutionary events there. He has made a special point of interviewing a wide range of people — to give a real sense of the impact of the Maoist revolution, and also the intense contradictions at this particular moment.
Most recently, Ben went to one of the so-called “cantonments” — bases where the Peoples Liberation Army fighters are gathered. Ben recently wrote:
“I just spent a week with the PLA… i can guarantee you that … they are still very much the political force they were a few years ago. I can say from the experience of being there that there was no sell out.”
Here is Ben’s report:
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Pictures & Thoughts From the PLA
By Ben Peterson
For the last week I have been with the JanaMukti Sena, the Peoples Liberation Army. Mostly with the 3rd Division, Kalyan/Anish Memorial brigade.
This is the Peoples/Military hospital. Set up by the peoples army, it now serves both them and the public. It has many facilities, including a pharmacy, operating room for minor surgeries, a pre and post natal care facility and a female ward. It was built by the PLA, and runs at next to no cost for the people of the area. ( i also fell ill at the camp, and it cost me 10 rupees, about 20 Australian cents, which included my medication)
These were two married comrades (please forgive, I only briefly met them and didn’t record their names). He was tending to their child while she was studying for her School Leaving Certificate. They are representative of many in the camp. Many of the people i spoke to were studying. As Many members left school to fight and join the PLA, many of them are now not qualified. Alternatively, many others just simply didn’t have access to any real sort of schooling.The PLA is now like a university- everywhere peoples are studying something.
This is also a common scene in that the men often spend allot of time tending to the children. In fact in my time there i saw no division of labour based on sex, women could often be seen axes and saws in hand to go off and cut wood while the men stayed back to cook, clean and care for the children.
From left to right Comrade Rakess, Com. Sasila, myself and Com. Agragg. All aged in their early 20’s, from the 6th battalion. Rakess left his wife and family in the village in order to fight. Agragg has recently had his first child with his wife, who is an activist with the All Nepal Women’s Organisation (Revolutionary). Sasila came from a relatively wealthy background, however rebelled against it to join the fight against the caste system and injustice in her country.
Their interview of me went for at least as long as my interview with them. Once they found out i was a progressive journalist they were full of questions about Australia, the struggle here, how strong the socialists are, our government, our governments relations with Nepal and with America, the nature of imperialism, and what the conditions for people in Australia. Many journalists come to these camps and here political talk from people who were previously peasants and write it off as brainwashing by some evil party. These people are often uneducated, but they are not stupid. They know exactly what they are doing and why. They are thinking things through, and they crave information. People who want to write off the “simple” people of Nepal- do so at your own peril.
I will add that in this brigade it was made up of a little over 20% women, which is below the average for the PLA. But while women were a minority, and are still underrepresented in the higher ranks, they were in my experience much more serious as a general rule. Some of the male comrades were sometimes a little hazy, but the women were often the most political and well read. Men on guard duty would often talk to me if i asked, while on duty the women would direct me on to someone else.
L-R: Com. Sedanta, (Name unknown) and Com. Krishna. Sedanta was a medic in the rebel army, but was wounded himself. All three are currently studying, the books in the foreground are test papers for the upcoming exams. The middle comrade is a Bhutanese refugee. Almost 20 years ago Bhutan violently expelled a 6th of its population who were ethnic Nepalis. His dream is that after helping the struggle here in Nepal, he will be able to return to his homeland and help the struggle against the violent and racist monarchy there.
Comrade Sedanta again. He was shot by the Army while tending to wounded. That’s his scar.
Sunil is a vice- battalion commander. He is engaged to be Married in a couple of months. He is from a poor farming family in the north of Nepal. His dream is just that Nepal will be developed his family wont be impoverished and everyone will be treated with respect.
The picture is that of his older brother. His brother shared this simple and reasonable hope for something better, and he died for it. He was killed by the military during the war.
This is Sriganna. She is an inspiration. She is the vice-battalion commander, highest ranked woman in the brigade. He room is packed full of political books and magazines, and is clear on her politics, she can always be seen talking to people around the camp, especially the other women.
She has lost both a sister and a brother during the war to the repressions by the army. Now due to a complicated political issue i wont go into at present her husband is in jail. Still she is always smiling.
She and all the people here are just happy with what they have already achieved. They can now be optimistic about what the future of their people has in store.