While My Village Gently Weeps: Story of an Internally Displaced Citizen of Nepal

By Dinesh Wagle in Duragaun (Ramechhap)
Wagle Street Journal

[This is the extended version of Wagle’s reporting that was originally published on the front page of Kantipur daily on Sunday June 25. Kantipur wrote editorial on the same topic the next day.]

From the unlocking ceremony of Internally Displaced Citizen Toyanath Poudel house
Toyanath Poudel inspects the lock put up by the Maoists on his house All pics by Wagle

As the Nepalese government and the Maoist rebels are observing mutual ceasefire and holding peace parleys aiming to end a decade long bloody war in the country, thousands of general Nepali citizens have started returning to their villages to claim their homes and lands that are locked and captured by the rebels for years. Last week, I was in my home village Duragaun (where I was born and raised for about a decade) for the first time in the last seven years and witnessed a rare scene: Maoists were organizing an “unlocking ceremony” in a house of a displaced citizen.

Toyanath Poudel, 68, couldn’t stop his tears flowing over the cheeks as he entered inside his rugged home draped under the web of spiders in Duragaun village that was locked by the Maoist rebels for months. He first tried to open the lock with the key that he had when he left the house some 14 months ago for treatment in Kathmandu. That key didn’t work as the rebels had broken into the house as he left the village and locked the door with their key. After watching Toyanath unsuccessfully trying to unlock the door, a smiling Maoist District Committee Member and a local from the same village Ramchandra Sunuwar took out a key from his left pocket of the shirt. He handed that key to Shanti Bahadur Raut, the ward chairman of the Maoist Peoples’ Government’s in the village and directed him to unlock the door. “Okay, you come back,” Sunuwar directed Toyanath Poudel. “Your key is not working. Let [Raut] open the door.” After the Maoist ward chairman opened the door in the presence of his neighbors and about a dozen other villagers, Toyanath finally got a chance to go inside the house that was apparently looted.

From the unlocking ceremony of Internally Displaced Citizen Toyanath Poudel house

Poudel tries to find out the ‘correct’ key.

From the unlocking ceremony of Internally Displaced Citizen Toyanath Poudel house

Toyanath Poudel tries to open the lock as visiting American freelance photojournalist Jonathan captures the scene.

From the unlocking ceremony of Internally Displaced Citizen Toyanath Poudel house

Local Maoist leader Ramkrishna Sunuwar throws a sarcastic smile after watching Poudel unsuccessfully trying to unlock the door.

From the unlocking ceremony of Internally Displaced Citizen Toyanath Poudel house

Okay, nice try, here is the key that will open the lock: Maoist leader Ramkrishna takes out the key from his pocket.

Toyanath Poudel house
Poudel watches as local Maoist official Shanti Bahadur Raut opens the lock.

Maoists locked the house and captured the land immediately after the resident of Duragaun-7, Ramechhap departed to Kathmandu. Poudel’s three sons out of total four are in Nepali Army and families having their members in the government army are selectively targeted by the rebels. Maoists had given Poudel’s land to a villager to till on a condition: Tiller could take two thirds of the crops produced in the land while the rest would go to the party to operate the Peoples’ War.

Duragaun is a typical Nepali village with no road link, electricity and telephone and is clearly isolated from the city life. It takes a day of driving (about 7 hours in a distance of about 250 kilometers as the road is narrow and in a few places bumpy) and another day of trekking uphill and downhill (about 8 hours) to reach the village. No violent clash has ever taken place in the village between government soldiers and the rebels but the effects of war could be felt immensely. One can find many innocent villagers who have been either beaten by the patrolling soldiers or by the local wild Maoist cadres. A dozen families have been displaced and seven have been killed as members of the Maoist army in a village with about five hundred households.

After the peace process got momentum with the Seven Party Alliance came to power, the government has been releasing all the Maoist from jail where as Maoists have promised to let the Internally Displaced People (IDP) to return back to villages. But there are some problems on the Maoist side. Maoists are having problems in taking the central level decisions quickly to the cadres at grassroots level. And local leadership of the Maoist party (who are kind of ruling the villages) isn’t clear about their role and responsibility after the peace is reestablished in the villages. They are more worried about their future and suffering from what-will-happen-to- me-if –I-can’t-rule-like-this-again kind of syndrome. These two things are creating hindrances to IDPs to go back and claim their legal ownership of houses and lands captured by the Maoists.

For instance, Toyanath Poudel had to first go to Manthali, the district headquarter, and visit the contact office of the Maoist party. He finally got a letter on a plain piece of paper from a Maoist leader called Bigul who instructed the ‘secretary comrade’ in the village to look into [Poudel and other two IDPs’] matter, ‘fix up the issue and move ahead’ accordingly. The letter, without party’s stamp on it, was too ambiguous and also not effective enough for Toyanath to get his home and land back. He came to village with the letter and spent at least three days looking for the Maoist leaders in the village to hand over the letter.

From the unlocking ceremony of Internally Displaced Citizen Toyanath Poudel house

After the door is opened, Poudel stands outside and peeks into his house.

From the unlocking ceremony of Internally Displaced Citizen Toyanath Poudel house

Poudel enters inside his house and inspects

From the unlocking ceremony of Internally Displaced Citizen Toyanath Poudel house

Poudel finds an empty box inside near the fireplace

From the unlocking ceremony of Internally Displaced Citizen Toyanath Poudel house

Toyanath Poudel couldn’t stop tears flowing over his cheek as he entered his house

From the unlocking ceremony of Internally Displaced Citizen Toyanath Poudel house

Neighbors and other locals gather in front of Poudel’s house. (above and below)

From the unlocking ceremony of Internally Displaced Citizen Toyanath Poudel house

One among the other two mentioned in the letter has been alleged by the Maoist as being spy. “We will not return his home and land immediately,” said Uddhav Poudel who, eyewitness say, miraculously escaped from Army custody (and subsequent firing) three years ago when soldiers were patrolling in the village. “He spied for the army and endangered many Maoist cadres who were taking shelter in a nearby village. In the middle of the night those Maoists had to move out of the home they were staying in because of his act.” [Uddhav managed to escape from the village and went to a Gulf country. He returned Nepal last year and now actively involved in Maoist activities. He used to teach in Tripureshwor Secondary School, Duragaun at that time.]

“But,” Uddhav said, “I wouldn’t have let Toyanath’s house to be looted if I were in the Peoples’ Government.”

From the unlocking ceremony of Internally Displaced Citizen Toyanath Poudel house

Poudel’s locked house

From the unlocking ceremony of Internally Displaced Citizen Toyanath Poudel house

Poudel’s relative (left), local Maoist peoples’ government ward chairman Raut and
Maoist district committee member Ramkrishna Sunuwar in the ‘unlocking ceremony’.

A local teacher said that it was a matter of surprise that Maoists were creating obstacles for IDPs to return village at a time when the government is releasing all Maoist prisoners who were charged with serious cases like murder. “Those Maoist cadres who have been habituated to do whatever they liked to do and eat free lunch in the name of the party are feeling insecure about the peace process,” he said. This teacher didn’t want to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the equation that he had to accept if he wished to live in the village. [Maoists have called for a meeting in the village to decide about the land and homes of other IDPs this Thursday (June 29).]

When Toyanath Poudel entered inside house, he found an abandoned box, half open, near the fireplace. He opened that in the dim light coming in from the main gate of the building that it seemed was about to crumble. After inspecting the empty box for about a minute, he wiped his tears and went on inspecting the first floor. Then he reached the conclusion, the house is not the same.

He got out, took out a piece of paper from his waistcoat and tried to hand that over to Ramchandra Sunuwar, the DCM of the Maoist party. “You keep that yourself for now,” Sunuwar replied defensively. “I don’t take that.”

“Why don’t you take it?” asked Poudel as he was inspecting the paper that listed things that were in the house when he left for Kathmandu. “There is nothing inside. Not even those copper buckets to spades.”

A few minutes ago Maoists had explained that the crop they got from Poudel’s land was used in the Peoples’ War. Now a local wanted to how those buckets and spades were used in the war. “If they were used in the war,” he demanded. “Give us the details.” And another man said, “Also tell us where are the clothes like Saris (a dress worn primarily by Hindu women) went from this house? Did your guerillas wear Sari to fight the war?”

After some of those who were present in the ‘unlocking ceremony’ said that the belongings of the house were looted by the local Maoist cadres who had personal enmity with Poudel, Sunuwar assured them of compensation if that was proved. “This years crop will be divided between you and the tiller,” Sunuwar gave the verdict. “From next year, it’s up to you to decide if you want to cultivate the land yourself or contact it to others.”

Toyanath Poudel, while quietly listening to the verdict, kept watching his house but not focusing at any particular point.

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21 thoughts on “While My Village Gently Weeps: Story of an Internally Displaced Citizen of Nepal”

  1. very good reporting of the “real” issue facing IDPs in the country…

    in the face of these injustices (and i’m sure case like this is just the tip of the iceberg), how can the leaders at the top have a few summits in posh hotels in the capital, agree on some X-point declarations and take credit for bringing peace and solving the problem of the people like Toyanath? Unless both sides try to solve the problems at the grassroots, OR at least transmit the decisions made at the top to the grassroots and make their cadres abide by those decisions, people will continue to suffer no matter how “successful” these summits turn out to be.

    Like

  2. Clap! Clap!! Clap!!!

    Damn good reporting Wagle ji!

    Though it reminds mew a nightmare of violence; but it also represents a (dim) picture of hope/peace. Its really nice to see Toyanath Baaje’s house being handed back to him, but there are several such houses in each and every village.

    The culprits even if they return his belongings, they cant payback the price of Toyanath Baaje’s tears. Hope, they learn something good out of it and give up robbing poor villagers!

    Let us pray for everlasting peace!!

    Like

  3. Thats a really messed up house to cry over. Hey guy, do u still think one can live in that house? Check out the (suppose to be)roof!!! There are green plants growing on the roof!! Just couple plucks!!! I wonder if Toynath ever spends time maintaining his “house”. But his personal hygene is good which is good. I mean clean clothes, fit body and short hair. I think he should spend some time to fix his house. If i had to move to that house the first thing i would do was to get some fresh hay to cover that roof. I wonder if he has electricity in his house because its all dark in there.
    Its really true that for some people there is no limit for suffering. And that would be the outside valleys (hillibilly)nepalese. They have nothing to work on to raise their living standard but just earn their living. It really sucks to be a common Nepali.

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  4. The last ten years have been nothing but a great tragedy. I hope we Nepalis learn from what our people and country have been through and grab the opportunity for peace. If peace does come I hope we all work hard to make this country a better place to live in. We should never let our guard down again.

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  5. Peace is a state of mind. With that beaten hut to live in and nothing to do…. how can one find peace? To bring peace in Nepal it is must to satisfy people like Toynath’s need. The tag of democracy and secularism might calm down the streets of vallies for a while in the name of Peace but what about the hillibillies? They are the majority that need to be taken care of to bring in peace. It is them who give birth to the population that move to valleys and protest. So my personal notion is to provide some physical relieves, some practical programs to that majority of nepali.
    Peace comes free with prosperity.

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  6. very intelligent mate. You say peace is a state of mind and then say peace is not possible because of the physical state of the hut. Peace comes free with prosperity-good line but can prosperity come without peace?

    Like

  7. Now that the swashbuckling Maoist leaders are moving around Kathmandu as if they conquered it, I hope they’ll convince their foot soldiers to relax a little.

    Prachanda says that he doesn’t want Mao style Maoism. I’ll take him at his word and assume he doesn’t want to destroy the country more than he’s already done.

    And Huh has a point, however crudely made. If you don’t want more protests in the city, make the life of the villagers better. That, of course, depends on how our beloved SPA see the situation.

    Actually, prosperity can come without peace, as long as the war is being fought far away.

    Like

  8. Good job! Write some thing similar on the famalies devastated by the state with the help of the people like Mr Poudyal!!

    Like

  9. Why Nepalese journalists hesitate writing on
    Mahakali, Kalapani, Koshi, Pashupatinagar, Susta and others?
    Is it just for a monthly Samosa+ Ketchup, Chye, rasgulla? Anything else Mr Wagle?
    I know he won’t reply.

    Like

  10. Very heart touching and strong article… thanx Mr. Wagle for this.

    U pointed out the very two things, how maoist cadres will follow the central level decision and how the reintegration process would go on. The hate and feeling of revenge won’t go away. Nepal’s peace process is on track but would everyone be able to stay together as before????

    Lets see what will happen.

    Like

  11. This story really touched my heart.I dont know how Prachanda and co can deny everything,now soon he wont have guns and gorillas, how does he think we will respond when he denys everything.May be they know it better than we do thats why they are not putting down their weapons.But they have to at a point of time,then what? Can they still deny/deceive/lie and then muscle their way out of it? Dont they think we nepalese have even a short memory?

    Why did u wage this war Mr.Prachanda,if u had to be like UML? I have the answer,You saw that no democratic/peace loving nepali will ever vote you to power and you wanted it too bad.
    But Mr.Prachanda and co do u think we like you??? We hate you but we are just tolerating you because in this point in time,because of your weapons you seem to be the king pin.Lets go to polls without ur weapons Mr.Prachanda you wont even get 5-6 seats that u won earlier.
    Lastly Mr.Prachanda,YOU CAN FOOL SOME PPL FOR ALL THE TIME(your cadres)OR YOU CAN FOOL ALL THE PEOPLE FOR SOME TIME(ur doing it now) YOU CANNOT FOOL ALL THE PEOPLE ALL THE TIME.By the way let me end by saying,ur biggest enemies right now are ur own decipels,ARU LAI TOK NE KUKKUR LE KUNAI DIN AAFAI LAI TOKCHA…..dont worry anti Rabies vaccine is free in Nepal!!

    Like

  12. This is an extraordinarily vivid social history. Powerful writing that tossed emotion, yet enlightened the bleaker side of one man’s story. But everyone knows this is not a single case
    Maoist with their dubious repute(may i call it disrepute) have again and again excavated human sentiment and emotion (i am not mentioning their killings here).
    Peace process is going on but i fear will they ever metamorphose?

    Like

  13. Dinesh,
    Its really good move by the maoists though too late, though disaster has already been occured. But as you know there are lots of Toyanaths and Paudels have directly or indirectly been displaced due to Maoists in Duragaun and Saipu. What about them? Can they return the water flown through Chokte khola and likhu that is flown though the decade screaming…. never….

    Anyway Dinesh thanks for your impressive explanation, I felt as if i was there in Duragaun, teaching in tripureswor school….but i was lucky I got rid of those scenes.

    Subash
    (Originally from ramechhap)

    Like

  14. Those who accuse Mr. Wagle of bias from either side should stop after reading this article. He writes this article from Poudels point of view. It is obviously not pro-Maoist. But, what is nice about the article is that it includes the Maoist motivations.

    I believe a good majority of the reporting that has reached the U.S. via the internet focuses on the victim and stops there. Nothing is learned by such reports (other then the press has an agenda). While Poudel does indeed have a tail of woe here, what do the Maoists (and likely a good deal of villagers) think?

    Maoist perspective: This man had three sons in the army, then he offered information that nearly got us killed, So we threw him out of town and gave his land to a peasant. Whats the problem?

    Again, good reporting.

    Like

  15. The story of the old 68 year old Poudel ji is not his alone, there are hundreds of thousands of stories like this, who have suffered immensely in the hands of the maoists as well as the Royal army. In the ten year old war, the Maoists have broken all taboos, all nepali values which have the immense properties of our nation and given peace and meaning to people for thousands of years, such as respecting the elders, speaking with gentlity and care with people, respecting the women as mother, sister and daughter in the form of goddesses. Yes, there were corruptions and exploitations in the name of the same things but NOT THE FORM OF VIOLENCE the country has seen as in the recent years. And also we have already got rid of so many social evils in the last some decades, without the Maoists.

    I completely sympathize with Poudel, who is the age of our father but who has been intimidated by people much inferior in age, scholarship and understanding of life (including Prachand, whom I call ill-educated or half-educated). If this continues, “????? ?????????? ?? ????? ?????”

    [UWB: Please don’t post comments in Nepali. Sorry.]

    Like

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