This article was published on Himal Southasian.
View from the cantonment
By: Kiyoko Ogura
The talk drags on in Kathmandu about integration, rehabilitation and the future of the Maoist combatants.
The main cantonment housing the combatants of the Fifth Division of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is built along a ridgeline in Dahabang, in Nepal’s Rolpa District, a longtime Maoist stronghold. The first week of February saw a ceremony in Rolpa as the last of nearly 3000 minors and other ‘disqualified’ combatants were finally discharged from the cantonments, which observers hailed as a major victory.
Yet even as these individuals now look to figure out how to re-integrate back into Nepali society, life for the 19,000-odd other combatants in the cantonments continues at its slow pace. As the ceremony was taking place in the Dahabang cantonment, for instance, other combatants were busy constructing a two-storey building to be used as a residence by their commanders. Indeed, since 21 November 2006, when Nepal’s former Maoist guerrillas began their stay in the seven main and 21 satellite cantonments set up in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), one of the cadres’ main jobs has been to construct their own living spaces. For most, there has been little else to do but wait – a process that now looks set to continue, as discussion over the combatants’ futures remains mired in political infighting in Kathmandu.
Company Commander Panchama Roka Magar (aka ‘Shrijana’) says she takes part in the construction activities when she is not involved in military and political training or sentry duty. Her official responsibility is to distribute foodstuffs to the more than 150 comrades in her cantonment – significant duties, which have made her camp life unusually busy and, to a certain extent, satisfying for the past few years. Yet coming after the end of the decade-long war, Shrijana’s life too has been turned upside-down.
Originally from northern Rolpa, she is now 33 years old, and says that she has been involved in the insurgency since the Maoists began their ‘people’s war’ in February 1996. Her husband, who was also a Maoist fighter, was killed in a military action against a police station in Takasera of Rukum District in 2000, ten months after they got married. Three years later, she formally joined the PLA and participated in several major actions, including the massive raid on an army base in Beni, the capital of central Myagdi District. Now, her only family member is her 10-year-old daughter Nisana, who goes to a public school close to the cantonment during the daytime and stays with her mother at night.
Shrijana, like the thousands of other former Maoist combatants, is wondering what she will do once the cantonments are, eventually, shut down. Due to the conflict, she, like many other cadres, never had a chance to engage in proper study. As such, Shrijana says that the only hope that she has for her future is to work in the national army – a due that she feels she now deserves. It is a future for which she says she is willing, again, to fight. “I want to work for the country,” she said. “We have been staying in cantonments for more than three years, expecting that we will be integrated into the national army. If we are not, another war may start.” Read the rest of this entry »