A Nepal reporter describes the unexpected odyssey that nearly took his life when he was abducted recently by the Maoists in the western boarder region of Kalapani, Nepali land that is under Indian encroached for decades.
By Bikram Giri
Charung (Darchula)– I left for Kalapani on June 1. As people mostly use the Indian route to reach the area, many know little about the Nepali route. Local people – basically the Sauka tribe who are in majority here – use the Indian route to cross the Mahakali River. For this, they are required to take permission from both the Nepalese and the Indian authorities.
Captured in Kalapani
Earlier in my career, I had done several reports on the Indian police’s prohibition, and at times arrests, of travellers along the route. However, I was determined to reach Kalipani via my own land.
Indian police at the border appeared extra cautious in the aftermath of the reports of an agreement between India and China. Air patrols were going on every day while movement of people from both sides of the border had been strictly forbidden.
Crossing 37km road from Dharchula, an Indian town, I crossed the bridge over Mahakali River and arrived in the Nepali part from where I had to cross 45 kilometres. I was the only soul along the way. There was no bridge over the rivulet and a landslide had swept away the road.
It was already 7 p.m. and darkness was creeping in fast. There was no arrangement whatsoever for the night’s food and shelter. With the snow still melting, it was very cold. Just as I was looking for a cave, I came across a group of sheepherders and spent the night with them.
So far as the road is concerned, there are only narrow trails on both sides of the border; though one on the Indian side is far better and there are facilities of food and lodging along the way. Only the Maoists use the trail on the Nepal side. Indian policemen could be seen riding horses and mules but their porters were Nepalese. When I was capturing the scenes across the river with my camera, I saw a barrel from across the border being pointed at me. Luckily, I found a bush and huddled inside it for a cover. Later on, the shepherds told me that the Indian army men used such gimmicks to tease the Maoists in this side of the border.
Next morning, I set out for Chharung, the last village of Darchula. People stay in the village from April to November and during the winter they throng the district headquarters in order to avoid the cold. Only elderly people were seen in the village while the rest had gone to collect Yarsagumba.
The elderly men suggested me to return back. Indian army has prevented movement in areas around Kalapani for the last 3-4 years. There were ambushes all around. To reach Kalapani, one has to pass through 10-km jungle area. Until s few years back, local people used to go to the jungle with their cattle but later on the area was sealed off [for the citizens of Nepal and India] following a border dispute between the two countries.
“To be there is to be in a death trap,” warned Nandan Singh, 60. I then headed off for Sitapul where armed Maoists had barred human mobility last year. Right next to Sitapul is Gunji village situated between the two rivers – Kuti flowing from the Limpiyadhuran off the village and the Lipu River. From there, I could see Indian security men strolling around. Locals had told me that the military men watch the activities through binoculars and are likely to open fire should they see anybody at close range
At 2 p.m., 200 meters upside, I came across a group of Maoists. I introduced myself. Responding to my query about Kalapani, the Maoist cadre said he knew nothing about the issue as he was new in the areas and offered me a meeting with his commander. The Maoists then huddled aside for a secret meeting upon which I was taken to the commander who scanned my ID card minutely. “We don’t care if you are a journalist. We handover strangers to our leaders,” said the commander. By then, I was already in Maoist captivity.
Before dinner, one Maoist guerrilla said, “I am the one who had kidnapped Sibani Singh Tharu [a TV program host].” Another added, “You must have known about Dekendra Thapa and Gyanendra Khadka.” (Both of these were brutally murdered by the Maoists) They were repeatedly harping at me: “Why doesn’t Kantipur Daily write in favour of us?”
After meal, armed Maoists took me to Chharung. They even quizzed the villagers whom I had talked to. The Maoists decided to present me before a ‘responsible’ district leader; they dispatched me with three armed Maoists for the night’s halt. I went to bed with a bag-full of socket bombs next to my pillow. I could not sleep the whole night fearing that the socket bomb might go off.
At 5 a.m. on June 03, they made me leave the place with them. Despite the abduction, I was still hoping to reach Kalapani. At tea, I requested the commander to help me reach Kalapani. He simply laughed out at my request.
I stopped for a moment when we arrived near the confluence of Tinkar Khola and Kali River. I searched my pocket for a pen but could not find it: it had already been ‘hijacked’. After clicking a few shots from a distance, of course with the permission for the commander, I walked with the Maoists throughout the day.
They had not dropped a hint as to where I was being taken. They were watchful even when I turned to pay the nature’s call. It was the third consecutive day I had been walking with them but there was no sign of the destination yet. My feet and hands were swollen up by then and my shoes had torn apart. I estimate that they made me walk 60-70 kilometres a day without timely meal or rest. All along the way, I was allowed to talk to no one. Reports of my abduction went around only after a local who came from Chharung told Kantipur Daily’s Mahendranagar correspondent about the incident.
Usually, Latinath is a six days walk from the area but they brought me in just three days. The Maoist cadres guarding mere were terribly afraid of losing my track. That would be a gross violation of the commander’s strict order.
The Maoists had scattered – before they took me to Latinath – as soon as they heard that the security forces were after them. One of the guerrillas who had been accompanying me decided to present me before district in-charge Pravin. He went away to meet the district in-charge, leaving me with his guerrilla friend. I was so tired that I dozed off on a bench at the teashop.
After a four-hour-long wait, the guerrilla returned back and told me to meet local Maoist leader called ‘Smile’ while mentioning nothing about the district in-charge. In the evening, they took me to the area in-charge. It was only after I met ‘Smile’ that hopes of a safe return back home occurred to me. He said there was no restriction for journalists and human rights activists in their area and there was no need for any permission. After the five-day ordeal I left the hinterland, of course with the ‘return letter’ handed by Comrade ‘Smile’. By the time I reached home, I was completely exhausted. I could hardly stir my body.
Many journalists have quit their profession in the wake of February 1 but I was determined not to give in. I was already used to hurrying down to Mahendranagar and Kathmandu, as there were no means available in my area to file the news and photographs.
Victimisation of journalists by Maoists
- Naba Raj Sharma, Kalikot, murdered on 25 Jastha 2059 B.S after abduction
- Ambika Timilsina, Sunsari, murdered on 25 Mangsir 2059 B.S
- Dhan Bahadur Rika, Surkhet, murdered after abduction on 16 Magh 2059 B.S.
- Gyanendra Khadka, Sindhupalchowk, on 21 Bhadra 2060 B.S
- Dekendra Thapa, Dailekh, murdered after abduction on 27 Shrawan 2061 B.S
- Kashi Ram Dangi, Sudhir Sharma, Rajaram Gautam, Nischal Chapagain, from Rolpa, on 24 Bhadra 2058
- Demling Lama, from Sindfhupalchowk, on 3 Chaitra 2058
- Deepak Bahadur Thapa, from Achham, Mangsir 2059
- Rekhraj Dahal, Sindhuli, Poush 2059
- Tulsi Thapa, Paanchtar, 19 Mangsir 2061
- Durga Thapa, Suekhet, Asar 2061
- Krishna Adhikari, 31 Shrawan 2061
- Basanta Maharjan, 31 Shrawan 2061
- Anup Gurung 13 Bhadra 2061
- Shakti Kumar Pun, 28 Bhadra 2061
- J Pandey, Mangsir 2061
- Bin Sant Prado and Netra K.C, manhandled in captivity in Rukum, 15
- Som Sharma, still in captivity, abducted on 31 Baisakh 2062
This article was first published in Nepali on the front page of Kantipur daily newspaper dated 16 June as the lead news. Mohan Babu Khadka of Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) translated this into English.
3 Comments »
1. “Kala Pani Muni Mabobadi kabja”
The title is misleading, and is intended to creat sensation and hence boost sales of the newspaper, esp after the reports that India’s taking of Kalapani had been recognized by China.Looking at the title, at first I was wondering if the Maoists had captured the land below Kalapani.The title should have been sth like ” Kalapani Muni Maobadi KamjaMA.” Bibhakti chhutyo.
Comment by raute — 6/19/2005 @ 12:01 am
2. Well, Grammar Master Raute jee,
I think the headline is not wrong at all. It says Maoists have captured the land just below the Kalapani area. There is no Nepal government presence in the area. That is captured by the Maoists as the reporters diary clearly states in the story. Look, from whom the reporter had to take permission to go to the Kalapani area via Nepali land. The Maoists.
Lets not try to hide the problem under the carpet. Lets face it. Maoists have spread their terror thought the country…from Mechi to Mahakali to Kalapani. State is not there. Sad but true.
So, lets not accuse a newspaper but create pressure on both warring sides to stop this shameless game of abduction, detentions, kidnappings and killings. Thank god, they didn’t kill the reporter this time.
Comment by Chepang — 6/19/2005 @ 12:12 am
3. Kalapani is ours. The Maoists are doing a good thing trying to boot the Indian Army post from our territory. This royal government will not want to irk India. THe Maoists should forcibly take the Indians out of our legal territory. This is a good news that at least they are thinking of this.
Comment by Jeevan Bhattarai — 6/19/2005 @ 10:16 am