A Revolutionary Woman of Nepal: The Story of Uma Bhujel
Posted by hetty7 on March 7, 2011
“On December 26th 2000, Uma and four other women Maoists discussed about the way how to break out of prison while basking in the sun in a courtyard of Gorkha jail. It was 111th anniversary of Mao Tse-tung’s birthday.
“On this special day the five women reached a conclusion that they would by any means escape from there by making a tunnel connecting to outside of the wall, which was the only way left for them after two failed trials of escaping.”
Uma Bhujel was born on October 21, 1979, in Hansapur VDC of Gorkha district. She is now a member of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Vice President of the Young Communist League, Former Brigade Commissar of the People’s Liberation Army.
This is the story of the life of her life.
The story begins during the People’s War in Nepal in December 2000. Uma and four Maoist women are discussing how to break out of the Gorkha prison.
March 8th is International Women’s Day, the worldwide celebration of women’s struggle for emancipation. As part of our participation in International Women’s Day, this website will be featuring the inspiring contributions of women.
This account is from the website managed by Working Women Journalists (WWJ), an organization of professional women journalists in Nepal.
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by Kiyoko Ogura.
On December 26th 2000, Uma and four other women Maoists discussed about the way how to break out of prison while basking in the sun in a courtyard of Gorkha jail. It was 111th anniversary of Mao Tse-tung’s birthday. On this special day the five women reached a conclusion that they would by any means escape from there by making a tunnel connecting to outside of the wall, which was the only way left for them after two failed trials of escaping.
From the next day the life began for Uma and her comrades to make all their daily activities concentrate on digging a tunnel for the day to free from prisoner’s life. Uma had been in detention for more than a year since she was arrested by the police in November 1999 while she and other Maoists were taking shelters in a village in Gorkha. Uma was both physically and mentally tortured by police officers while she was detained in the police station.
In a women prison there were five women Maoists. Uma took an initiative to make a plan to escape from there. She said, “I got a strong will to break jail. I rather wanted to die than to stay inside a jail surrounded by tall walls. I wanted to work in an open sky and I wanted to be with the people.” With the purpose to achieve her aim Uma and other women Maoists tried to establish a good relationship with jailors. They cautiously carried forward their plan. As they didn’t have any tool to dig a tunnel they used grating of window. In order to divert attention of jailors they began to give regular classes to other two non-Maoist female prisoners while making a tunnel in a courtyard. They even sang songs every night after they were put in a room for their ‘decisive day’.
Three months after they started their works, the decisive day finally came. A tunnel which was about seven feet in depth and seven feet in length was completed on March 30th. Kamala Narki who got a responsibility to make a tunnel took out the last stone covering the exit. The same day at 0.45 a.m. Uma, taking the lead, with five women Maoists (one joined them only some days before that day) left their room from the window and successfully got out from a prison compound through a tunnel.
It took more 45 minutes for them to have reached outside of the main gate as they had to cautiously crawl for not being caught by eyes of guards. Although a guard police in a main gate noticed them and fired on them Uma was brave enough to shout, “Be cautious! We have already surrounded you. Give your weapon and surrender!”, pretending to come to raid a jail. Immediately, they began to run away as fast as possible and as far as possible. In this way Uma and other five women successfully broke prison.
Uma was born in a mountainous village of Gorkha District in 1979. She was the smallest child of seven of poor peasant parents who belong to a minority ethnic group called ‘Bhujel’. Her parents used to work in ‘sahu’s (landlords) field as they didn’t have enough to feed their family. As a member of a minority ethnic group she said she used to feel that her family was socially and economically discriminated.
Gorkha is known as a district that had yielded several prominent leaders of Maoists such as Baburam Bhattarai and Suresh Wagle. Through a local communist leader Uma’s father and elder brothers became communists. Her family became her first teachers of politics. Uma became a member of a cultural team in her village when she was in fifth or sixth grade and sang communist songs in party programs. When she was in ninth grade she became an area committee member of the student organization of the United People’s Front Nepal, the former body of CPN (Maoist). After having joined Gorkha Education Campus and being elected as a member of Free Student Union, Uma began to spend most of her time for party activities. She got a party membership of the CPN (Maoist) at the age of fifteen, the previous year when Maoists launched the People’s War.
Since the beginning Uma was in the center of the insurgency. On February 13th 1996, the first day of the People’s War, about 25-persons’ group of Maoists attacked a branch office of Small Peasant Bank in Gorkha and burnt documents. Uma and Kausila Gurung were the only women in the group. They were members of Swayamsevak Dai (Volunteer Force) which was formed to carry out various actions including giving physical punishment to their enemies and military raids on the police.
In the beginning stage of the insurgency there were very few women in the military front of Maoists. According to Uma, when selected Maoists in the central region were given the first military training by Pasang aka Nanda Kishor Pun, one of the main Maoists who have organized their military organization, only three or four women attended.
One and a half years after the Maoists launched their insurgency the party transferred Uma to her neighboring district Tanahun, where she became a squad commander as the first woman commander in Maoist military front and led about twenty male members until she was arrested in Gorkha in 1999.
When the Maoists formed a Special Task Force in Central Region from selected members of squads to carry out bigger scale military actions Uma along with Kausila were selected as the only two women members. The two women participated in the first military action in the Central Region on Jaubari police station in Gorkha as well as in some raids and ambush on the police forces.
The most important action for Uma in the beginning stage of their insurgency was a raid on Kalikathar police station in Tanahun District in March1998. She described her experience, “It was in March of 1998. I and another woman Maoist Bina Thapa got a responsibility to collect information about the police station. For that purpose we two went there at night time. We kept our watching movement of the police for the whole night to know how many police were there and where their weapons were. The next day, according to information we collected, about 25-member of our team led by commander Shishil raided the police station at 9:45 P.M. Three women were in this team. We could have successfully captured six .303 rifles and alot of bullets and explosives. One of the twelve policemen and one of our comrades were killed during this action.”
As soon as having succeeded in breaking prison, Uma went to contact with her party and became a commander of one of two platoons that worked in Gorkha and Lamjung districts. Soon after she became a platoon commander and her team together with other platoons carried out three raids on police stations in Gulmi, Arhgalhanchi and Parbat districts. She participated in Wamitaksar police post attack as an assistant commander. As soon as the emergency was declared to deploy the Royal Nepal Army against the Maoists Uma led her team to ambush the forces of RNA in Gorkha. Her team waited for the security forces to come on the road and exploded three mines, killing four and injured three.
She for the first time worked in the party organization in 2002, becoming a member of the Rapti Regional Bureau. A couple of months after Uma was transferred to Arghakhanchi district as a District Committee Secretary of the party the forces of the People’s Liberation Army which was officially formed the previous year attacked on Arghakhachi district headquarters, killing more than y70 security personals and having lost 64 lives on their side.
In this action Uma got a responsibility to prepare and arrange for the attack in the district. In 2003 Uma became a member of the Central Committee and got a responsibility to look after party organizations in two districts of Arghakhanchi and Kapilbastu. After the Central Committee meeting in October 2005 held in Chunbang of Rukum district she returned to the military front. She was appointed as a political commissar of Paribartan Smriti Brigade of the Fourth Division of the PLA, which was the highest position as a woman in the PLA. At that time three women, Uma Bhujel, Amrita Thapa Magar and Kamala Roka Magar, became brigade commissars. All of them became members of the Constituent Assembly.
Around four months before the second Jana-Andolan (People’s Movement) started on April 6th 2006. PLA forces of eight brigades from central and western Nepal launched four-month-long military campaign called the ‘Gandaki Abhiyan’. With the purpose to weaken the monarchy and its security forces, Maoists began to carry out intensive military actions in Gandaki region, including raids on district headquarters and ambushes in the highway connecting to the capital. Uma participated in this largest and the last military campaign of the Maoists since the beginning. She was in the forces that had raided on Tansen, Palpa district headquarters and Taurihawa, Kapilbastu district headquarters.
In her personal life she married Bhimsen Pokhrel in 1997, who was killed by the police in August the following year. Like many women Maoists whose husbands were killed by the state side, she remarried with another Maoist in 2001.
After the government and the CPN (Maoist) signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and all the PLA forces began to stay in cantonments under the superintendence of the United Nations’ Mission in Nepal, Uma was appointed as a vice-president of the Young Communist League, most of whose central committee members are former PLA commissars and commanders.
She was also elected as a member of the Constituent Assembly from the proportional representative system.
Through her long time experiences in the military front in their insurgency she claims that women are physically weaker than men but mentally stronger. She believes that women can have stronger will than men. She said “During the ten-year-long People’s War women worked more honestly than men. Even though many of them were raped and tortured women worked very hard. I am still willing to work in the army: however, I will follow the party decision and will do the work given by my party.”