Friday, April 5, 2013
Postcard from Hetauda
I look back where we were headed, and look where I am now! Did the dreams of the martyrs, the injured and our comrades really come true? I constantly ask myself,” says Prabina Gole a.k.a. Namuna, of Lalitpur, turning her eyes away from her comrades’ photos.
These were the photos of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in combat dress that had been enlarged and lined up outside the main session hall. The eyes of Maoist representatives were scanning the photos of former combatants as they entered the hall.
The scene was of February 3 at a textile factory at Hetauda where the UCPN (Maoist) were organizing the closed-door session of their 7th general convention.
“You see the comrades smiling in the photos even though we were in a very dangerous situation when death could have come calling any moment. But we endured it all with the dream of establishing a New Nepal. Those dreams kept us smiling,” Namuna added, her eyes still riveted to the photos on the wall.
Some of the comrades in the photos were killed during the war; some joined the Kiran Baidya-led CPN-Maoist; but many other were absent from the general convention. Even those present at the convention were finding it hard to recognize one another; formally, they were always in uniforms, now everyone was in civilian dress.
“I’ve met some of the comrades whom you see smiling happily in the photos. Now they’re really unhappy and frustrated,” said Namuna. Almost all of her unhappy comrades, she said, were about to fly to Saudi Arabia and Malaysia after failing to make their ends meet in the country.”I never thought I would live to see such a day,” Namuna adds.
It’s been very difficult for the Maoists who lost their spouses or family members in the war. Difficulties are also mounting for those who lost their limbs.
Namuna recalls how she had joined the people’s war for equality and justice for all Nepalis. She was given to believe that the war would end all kinds of discriminations in Nepal.
“Our leaders and commanders assured us that the war was for equality. Look at the same leaders now! They live in luxurious mansions while common cadres face hand-to-mouth problems. Yesterday, although we lived in huts, we were all together. But now the party has split and the former unity has been shattered. This makes me question: What was the war for?”
Namuna lost one of her hands in Thokarpa, Sindhupalchwak, in a helicopter raid by Nepal Army. She was just 15.
She had happily left her school to join the ‘People’s War,’ believing wholeheartedly it would help her achieve all her colorful dreams. She was really excited when she had carried her rucksack filled with supplies and weapons as a soldier. She even came to relish the arduous task of navigating the dense forests at night, playing hide and seek with the police and army.”I want to forget everything from those days,” Namuna now says.
Sometimes Namuna searches for her fallen comrades in the photos. One of them was Goma BK a.k.a. Rita.
Namuna narrated how Rita had to grow up in her mamaghar at Kamidanda in Kavre after her mother was kicked out of her husband’s home. Rita couldn’t recall her father’s face, nor could she tell where her father’s home was. All she remembered is that she left her mamaghar when she was in grade six, unable to bear witness to the great humiliation that her mother was facing there.
“I miss her. My eyes scan the wall for her photo,” Namuna said of her fallen comrade, and remembered how they used to share their feelings in Tamang language.
While we were sitting there looking at the photos, Purna Pun, a.k.a. Kushal Raksha of Rolpa came over to shake hands with Namuna. Her eyes too started scanning the PLA photos. One of them was taken when the PLA was en route to attack a police station in Beni in 2004. Kushal Raksha couldn’t look at it for long. She had lost her husband in the same attack.
“I can’t express how I feel looking at this photo,” says Kushal. After the end of the war, she remarried a fellow comrade who had also lost his spouse in the insurgency.
Many leaders and cadres walked past the photos outside the closed session hall. Some stood in front of them in silence. Some completely avoided them, while others photographed the photos. Those who had lost their loved ones during the insurgency welled up.
“What good is standing in front of the photos and statues of our fallen comrades when our dreams have been dashed?” said Kshitij Magar, a.k.a. Rayan, of Rolpa, a former PLA battalion commander. “How do we forget our bitter past? Even the photos hurt us.”
The Maoist cadres were whispering among themselves, asking why the leaders had kept those photos outside the closed-door session hall. Apparently, it was to remind the cadres that the party had not abandoned its revolutionary zeal and had not forgotten the dreams of the people it set out to secure. If so, they wondered, why did the party call for a national congress to declare itself a parliamentary party?
“I have no strength to watch the photos. If I come near them, I won’t be able to stop my tears,” says Kamala Naharki a.k.a. Sapana, of Gorkha.
Comrades in wheelchairs and on crutches examine the photos up close. They look at the photos and then at their mutilated bodies, as if to confirm the person on the wall is the same one in front of it.
“I took my amputated hand as a mark of honor from the war. It was a matter of pride to be injured in the People’s War. Now, I’m not so sure,” said Namuna, looking at her left arm covered in shawl.
Meanwhile, her eyes shifted from the photos to her comrades. Some had simple digital cameras while other leaders trotted about with their ipads, iphone and SLR cameras. Namuna was having a hard time deciding whether they were her comrades or masters. Some comrades could be heard begging not to have their photos taken. The photos hurt them.
Surul Pun a.k.a. Ajayashakti, of Rukum, who was injured in a Maoist attack in Salleri, was also looking at the suited-booted comrades and leaders and gazing intently at the colorful hall and podium bedecked with a sea of flags and banners.
“Instead of wasting all the money painting the whole town red with flags and banners, they could’ve extended some help to the families of the martyrs and injured,” added Ajayashakti.
Looking at the grandiose lifestyles of their leaders, some of the cadres at the general convention recalled the famous lines of George Orwell from ”Animal Farm”: All animals are equal but some are more equal.
When the closed-door session ended, leaders started to file out and soon the whole place was empty. Only the photos remained behind.