At least four boys from my neighborhood in Duragaun whom I know very well have died in the conflict and my meeting with a family member of one of those boys was emotionally dominated. This is the story of Tanka Poudel, my childhood buddy, who at the age of 23 died as a Maoist soldier and his elder brother Pabitra (pic by Wagle) who is equally hated by both the Army and Maoists these days.
By Dinesh Wagle in Duragaun (Ramechhap)
Wagle Street Journal
Pabitra Poudel, 36, is no new face to me. I had known this man from Duragaun village from my childhood. I still remember his father taking one of my loose teeth out forcefully with his homemade equipment. That was terrible, I still feel the pain, but was damn necessary as new tooth had started coming out from the same place. Two teeth coming out from the same place would have made my look even more horrible, I know. Pabitra’s brother Tanka Poudel was a year younger than myself and I vividly I remember playing dandibiewos with him and other pals in the village. This evening, I was meeting Pabitra nearly after seven years and many things have changed in his life. His job is under threat and his brother Tanka is no more. He died nearly four years ago as a Maoist solider in a ‘clash’ with the government soldiers.
A physically strong boy with white complexion, Tanka (many called him Tanku) was an average student in the class (several batches junior me). He didn’t attend school regularly and one day he decided to abandon the classes. “He went to Kathmandu and started working in Nara Shumsher’s hosue,” Pabitra, 36, said. “He was staying in Jawalakhel (Lalitpur) and talked about being transferred to Nara Shumsher’s bungalow in Deharadoon (India). One day he suddenly left the job and came back to village.”
After returning village, Tanka had gone to his maternal uncle’s house in another village and there he met the Maoist cadres. “When he returned from mama ghar,” Pabitra said. “He started talking differently. He used to say that he met those people who were talking about fighting and were requesting him to join. He was definitely lured by the opportunity to play with guns and travel from one village to another.”
One day Tanka left the house to join the Maoist army. Pabitra tired hard to bring his brother back to home and send him Kathmandu. No, the brother wouldn’t listen to him and within eight months of joining the party, Tanka, at the age of 23, died in a shootout that took place in another village several miles away from his home in Duragaun.
“That all happened in ward no. 1 of a village called Chuchure,” Pabitra said. “What I have heard is from sources in the Maoist party. They were taking bath in a fountain and suddenly patrolling soldiers reached there. My brother was guarding his comrades who were taking shower. They were able to flee but brother had a clash with a soldier. My brother was a strong man and he fought to till the last moment. They say that he tried to snatch a gun that the soldier was carrying but at last he died because another soldier fried at him.”
That was in 7 Chaitra, 2059 (nearly three and a half years ago).
Barely three days after that incident, Pabitra faced yet another misfortune. Maoists destroyed the Post Office located near the school where he used to work (and still works) as a Postman. “They didn’t want any representation of the regime that they were fighting with,” said Pabitra. “They came and throw away all the material from the post office.” More than seven staffs were ordered not to attend the office and they all went back to the district office of the Post Office in Manthali, the district headquarters. One of Pabitra’s colleagues in the office managed to get himself transferred to Kathmandu’s central office. “Since then,” Pabitra said. “I am the only one working here and continuing the existence of the Post Office in the village.”
Yes, he is continuing the existence of Post Office in Duragaun village but villagers are now facing difficulties in posting letters. Pabitra is not allowed to sell stamps and without stamps how can people post letters. “I collect money and letters from the villagers,” Pabitra said. “Then I take them to Dhobi and from there the letters reach the district headquarters and posted from there.” Quite a long process, huh? As the process is not formal and secure, there is no guarantee that those letters would be posted from the district headquarters. “Some people are already complaining that their letters haven’t been delivered at the destination,” Pabitra said. “But what can I do? I am trying my best to help the villagers. That’s not my job really. My job is to carry the post bag from Dhobi to Duragaun and vice versa. I am not even authorized to distribute those letters. But I am doing so because I want to help villagers.”
Pabitra has been working at the Post Office as a permanent employee of Nepal Government for the last 10 years. (He started the job 12 years ago and was made permanent within two years.)
Yes, Maoists don’t appreciate Pabitra’s work at Post Office but then he doesn’t like them either. “I am critical of the Maoists from the very beginning,” he says. “I am critical of the army as well. They both are doing harm to people and are equal to me.” Because of his critical views towards the party, Pabitra complained that Maoists were giving him “mental torture directly or indirectly even after the death of my brother.” He always asks the rebels why his brother was killed and who should be held responsible for that untimely death. Not being able to provide satisfactory answers, rebels resort to bullying to keep him quiet.
In addition to his clash with the Maoists, Pabitra has faced constant harassment from patrolling soldiers while his brother was in Maoist party. Once they came to his house, held him at gunpoint, kicked him on his face, and used abusive language. As his brother was a Maoist, soldiers thought that Pabitra was also a Maoist sympathizer. They wanted the whereabouts of his brother. “How do I know where he was sent by the party?” Pabitra said. “But once I knew that he was going to take part in a big meeting in a village called Daduwa. I went there walking two days hoping to bring him back.” No he couldn’t. Never.
Next: Story of a Poudel family who were kicked out from their home by the Maoist because their son worked in the army. When Maoists opened his house saying that their policy was changed, Kailash had already left the army.