Revolution in South Asia

An Internationalist Info Project

Ben Peterson: Eyewitness Report from Maoist Army Camp

Posted by Mike E on March 27, 2009

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Maoist women fighters with their weapons. Click for full picture

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.

Ben’s pieces will appear on Kasama’s South Asian Revolution site, and also on his ownblog Lal Salam. (Earlier reports: first impressions and interview with gay activist.)

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:

* * * * *

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.

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click for full picture

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)

2_maoist_soldier_housing_peoples_liberation_army_nepal

3_fighter_peoples_liberation_army_nepal

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.

4_meeting_fighters_peoples_liberation_army_nepal1

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.

Ben writes: "Women with guns. Enough said." Click for full picture

Ben writes: "Women with guns. Enough said." Click for full picture

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.

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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.

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Comrade Sedanta again. He was shot by the Army while tending to wounded. That’s his scar.

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Comrade Sunil. 23 years old. click for full picture

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.

Sriganna, vice-battalion commander

Sriganna, vice-battalion commander

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.

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8 Responses to “Ben Peterson: Eyewitness Report from Maoist Army Camp”

  1. Green Red said

    Vow, if these are the wild Maoist terrorists in west’s eyes, I’m already recruited!!!!

    More than thanks Ben. Maybe if friends in the US (and the Europe) could do a bit of funding, otherwise helping would you mind doing a tour with your find outs, videos and personal experiences?

    (friends and comrades, please endorse this!)

  2. Stefandav said

    I had a chat with Ben Peterson last night as we are Facebook friends.

    Ben told me “Well i was just an activist in Australia, and my first introduction to Nepal was the Jana Andolan, that propped up on the news for a couple of days when i was first getting active in politics. and i just started reading more and more, and basically came to the conclusion that this was something with amazing potential- which leftists should be paying more attention too”

    So Ben is a vanguard element in this set. He’s a bright young guy with a very engaging writing style and method of investigation. As an old soldier, I look forward to meeting him in Nepal soon. So what am I writing about here. I am pretty sure it has to do with the need and desire for communists outside Nepal to exit their armchairs, or at least take indirect action in the Nepal arena. I liked Tell No Lies comment at the Kasama discussion where I think he got to the point:

    “Actually, I think that we need a whole bunch of people to follow Peterson’s example. We need a whole layer of people with some genuine on the ground experience in Nepal to ground our discussions. We need to organize two-week delegations, encourage students to spend a semester or a summer studying what is happening there, and support individuals who are willing to relocate there on a more long-term basis. We need people who can write and go on speaking tours to inform people and build solidarity.”

    Well, let’s go for it. In the conversation with Ben there were a couple of key points. I expressed my desire to interview some leaders that may be accessible – particularly C.P Gajurel as he is the international relations guy. Ben is already on that track and may be seeing him within a couple of weeks. My idea is to get ready for that with some of the key questions being aired at Kasama by Mike Ely and others. Perhaps Ben is open to some leads in this direction.

    The other key point has to do with establishing infrastructure. What I said to Ben is “I think to explore the infrastructural possibilities with you and others and possible assistance from Gajurel is best.” Ben said: “When I talk to him, I have to talk to him about some other stuff, but I will bridge the idea with him also.” What I have in mind should be presented transparently. I would hope for some support from the Maoist international relations department. Ben thinks it would be a way for foreign socialists etc. to coordinate solidarity efforts. I think they could provide volunteers, especially for translation and interpreting. Another key element would be a visa support system for expats. C.P. Gajurel is key as he heads the international department. It would be a labor of love but proceed as a mutual aid concept. To establish a base a matching funds method should be employed. I would put up a few thousand USD and maybe others would too and this could be a beginning for an international activist setting.

  3. Green Red;

    Sure i would love too- although i am pretty strapped for cash so funding would have to come via other means to get me over there.

    but it could be of more value to get one of the maobadi’s over there. Tour a “terrorist”? if thats something you woudl be interested in then i could see if i could help facilitate that?

    email me at ben.peterson.fl@gmail.com

  4. Green Red said

    Thanks for the suggestion Ka Ben but, i cannot.

    I am rather in favor of being led to do something to do fundraising to bring you over. But let’s see what the Kasama associates can think about our wishes if it is feasable, is it a good timing (considering the fact that some others are presenting their own viewpoints in bookstores of theirs)or, beside all that , could it be a founding step toward forming a solidarity/support group with the Nepalese revolutionaries (in the US and, also in Europe if it is doable).

    So I am awaiting Kasama comrades’ responses.

  5. naffees said

    good image

  6. milan bhujel said

    dear frn first of all thanks alot .i think it is very gr8 positive message in the world readers who is intresting to know about peoples libearation of nepal . this is your great job so that i hope in future you also including pla thought & their idology also . i like ur image quality because that is real voice of nepalease fathers mothers sons who is great red army.

  7. Hello!
    My organisation in Sweden is interested in using the photo at the top featuring the female soldiers at our web site, if it’s possible? We can pay a small ammount. Please contact me.

    Yours Sincerely

    Eleonor Bredlöv,
    Operation 1325, Sweden

  8. Mike E said

    Eleonor:

    This photo was taken by Ben Peterson, and you can reach him for permission. His email is posted on his blog.

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