DAHABAN (ROLPA), Sept 9: Early in the morning at the cantonment at Dahaban in Rolpa, former members of the People´s Liberation Army (PLA) scattered in small groups discuss the crucial turning point in their lives: Whether to take voluntary retirement and bag half a million rupees or join the Nepal Army and start a new career.
As time was running out, some struggled with their cell phones that disconnect time and again, to seek advice from comrades and seniors, while other carefully weigh the two options.
As the whisperings in frequently changing tones continue in and outside the tattered tents pitched six years ago to house the Maoist warriors, grim-faced former PLA company commander Nabin Lochan Magar of Pachhabang, Rolpa, who perceives the entire integration as the height of humiliation, slowly gets up and takes a deep breath to announce his decision.
"I have finally decided to opt for voluntary retirement," says Magar and explained his decision. I do have some physical problems and don´t see a future for myself in the Nepal Army (NA).
Asked about his plans, he quickly grins and says proudly that he will restart his career in journalism, something he was doing during the decade-long Maoist insurgency. Magar used to work at the training department of the PLA and produced a number of programs for community radio run by the underground Maoists.
As the day advances and the time for the crucial decision nears, the number of those deciding on a ´no to NA´ rises quickly among the 523 former combatants at the cantonment. For a majority, the financial reason is the deciding factor.
If you opt for voluntary retirement, you immediately get half a million rupees that you can either put in the bank or use to start a small business, and, importantly, the returns will be greater than a pension after retirement from the NA, says Ras Bahadur Budha Magar, former battalion vice-commander.
"If I joined Nepal Army, I will retire after one or two years and that will mean much less financial benefit than I a get for voluntary retirement," he says.
The reasons for choosing voluntary retirement are more or less the same for another former battalion vice-commander, Janak Budha Magar. Says he, "I can deposit the money in the bank and I´m even thinking of investing in a business; either way the returns will be far more than from opting for integration," Magar said.
Along with the financial reason, lower educational level is another key reason for shying away from integration. The ex-PLA quickly blame their leaders, who persuaded them to denounce bourgeois education and leave school when they were teenagers studying at grade 8 or 9.
"Yesterday, they instructed us to leave school, assuring us that we would get certificates more valuable than Ph.Ds. Now, in agreeing to honor our earlier educational levels, the leaders have betrayed us," said one Hark Bahadur Pun, aka Sagar.
There is one more reason for growing disenchantment with integration in the NA. They fear discrimination by their former foes. Former combatants who opted to join the NA are not free of this fear. "I have deep suspicions of mistreatment due to past bitterness," says a 21-year-old former PLA who preferred not to be named for fear of retribution after joining the NA.