Those Left Behind: Nepali Stories of Conflict

The teacher’s family was particularly anguished that the people who killed the teacher were actually his own students, and while in the aftermath, the children have left Lamjung, the killers roam freely there. “Killing your own teacher for an idea so vague and so wrong is like patricide at the most unimaginable state” my friend said.

By Ram Bahadur Chhetri
[This is not a real name. The writer is a Nepali scholar in the West Coast (the United States).]

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In the last few years, I have talked to a lot of Nepali who have suffered in this senseless civil war. The army and the Maoists have competed with each other in brutality, and made attempts to silence the population in the hope that their brutality never transpires outside the tall, impassable and impregnable mountains on whose steep chest our villagers live, and die. However, I have also discovered that their attempt to silence the population is so hollow, so ineffective, and that it is not possible to scare people by beating them, or by showing them the blood of other people. People speak; all you have to do is ask. When you ask slowly, the sluice gate of emotion opens up, and you slowly discover the trauma within them. I have talked to different people, and this has consistently been my experience.

I wanted to visit the house of a high school student who was beaten to death by the Maoists in Sindhupalchouk in this summer. The idea obviously was to chronicle the grief, and see the surviving family with my own eyes, rather than let it be forgotten as just another story in this long unending saga of bereavement in modern Nepal. I never made it to Sindhupalchouk owing to the limited time. However, I met people who have lost a child in a much lesser cruel circumstance, but were living with the scar of it. It is my hope that it will help us extrapolate how people live in the memory of their loved ones.

The father of a young Rajendra, who died when he was 11 years old, was a man who had comfortably retired recently. He was slightly above fifty, but had an enormous girth. I had suspected beer as an influence, but he denied so, saying all the male members in his extended family were like that. It turned out to be true, as male members of his family often died early, plagued with several diseases and that there were 11 widows in their extended family in Chipledhunga area of Pokhara. He had a house in Chipledhunga, almost a palatial one, and he had rented the house to a host of companies: a bank, a cloth seller, a cybercafé, a retailer, and so on. Rejendra was their only son when he died about thirteen years ago, and perhaps grief was slowly healing, even though it appeared to me that he rarely talked with anybody about his son.

I asked whether he ever saw Rajendra in his dream in this last decade. I couched my question in a hypothetical context. I told him that I used to love a girl very much, and when she married another guy, I was grief stricken. Since then, I often see her in my dream, and almost always, I see her as an unmarried girl, as if the whole thing never happened. I then asked him whether similar thing happened to him, whether he ever saw his son coming back in his dream, only to realize that the dream was just a dream in the next morning. I asked this question at the time when we had just finished a lavish lunch at his house where he and his wife had invited me. Among a variety of vegetables, a local asparagus had attracted my attention, since it was very tasty. His teeth seemed to have a problem with the asparagus, and while replying my query, he repeatedly used toothpick to remove the ripe and recalcitrant asparagus still hanging around.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t remember seeing him in my dream after about one year (of the incidence).” He told me. “But something very significant happened one day. I was in Baglung, and sitting in front of a restaurant. I saw a group of young kids, and there was a boy strikingly similar to him.” He didn’t refer Rajendra by name; he always said ‘him’ or ‘babu’. “ I looked at him, mesmerized, nonplussed, the more I looked at him, the more I found similarities. And then I had to leave Baglung, as my vehicle arrived.”

“After coming to Pokhara, I felt obsessed with the boy. He repeatedly came to my mind, and he had the same kind of leadership quality that [Rajendra] had. My son, I always remembered him as a man who led others, who often wanted to convince me that he had once seen a tiger in the mountain of Pakha, and here that boy, who at least once looked at my eyes, reminded me him a lot.”

Rajendra’s death had occurred in the most unusual circumstance. He and a friend of him had gone to swim in a nearby small lake, but apparently at a place not too deep. And as Rajendra sank and was not seen, the friend rushed to his house, and army jawaans were immediately mobilized for rescue effort. The jawaans tried to find the body of Rajendra, they searched for hours, and yet were not able to find the body. Where could Rajendra be? The delay in finding the body of Rajendra suddenly aroused hope in his father. Could it be that he had gone somewhere and that this friend simply didn’t notice? Could he still be alive? That was all his father was thinking, when a jawaan discovered a body very close from where he was about to jump. The body was so close to the edge of the lake that a lot of jawaans were stepping on his body before they plunged into the lake. Hence the death of Rajendra was confirmed.

Rajendra’s mother was a woman of about fifty, who had a sad face despite her wealth. She had served food to us while we were talking, and yet, she wasn’t listening to our discussion. I also noted that her husband was exercising caution not to let her hear. She spoke in classic Kaskeli tone, I noted that she said ‘bhyaana’ to ‘bihaana’ (morning), and was overall a cheerful woman. A few months before I met the couple, a group of the Maoists had called them and asked for a donation of Rs 3 Lakh. The husband had told them that he would give only fifty thousands and argued in a great length about how business was slow, how he was still paying the debt, and how he was supporting the children of his married daughters. However, when the husband was away from Pokhara, the Maoists called the woman, addressing her as bhaauju, and politely explaining why three lakhs was absolutely nonnegotiable, and in the process they told that some of their friends were pretty intransigent and violent people who had earlier killed a famous teacher of Prithvi Narayan Campus which had been a subject of national news. She shuddered and implored her husband to pay off as he came back.

Five years after Rajendra’s death, several of the couple’s relatives explained to Rajendra’s father that the mother might have been unbalanced. They told him that they had seen her speaking to herself, to some apparition perhaps, and often, she would look at the open door and behave as if she had seen Rajendra. “She would look at the door, and say something that would not make sense to anybody. Eventhough I myself never saw that happening, a lot of people vowed that they saw her in such a state. When I asked her, she assured me that nothing has happened to her, and that she was fine.” When the situation exacerbated, the husband in deed decided to take her to a psychiatrist, who declared her fit. “It happens to almost every mother. The weight of a dead son is too much to bear for some. It can last years.”

Perhaps time has healed her. Perhaps not. I wish I could learn more about the bereaved parents and see how they live. Every child is born as a beautiful baby boy or girl, a hope of family, and yet, one day the news that he was beaten to death mercilessly by a group of fanatic reaches to the same people who had already found their own life too heavy a burden to support. I wonder how the parents of the Sindhupalchouk boy are doing. They must be going through the situation at least as similar as that of Rajendra’s parents. To know that the killers are roaming around freely is perhaps even more painful.

I later met a lady in Chitwan whose four children, out of ten, perished of petty diseases before they reached one. I asked her if she remembered the birth months of the babies. She remembered birth months of alive ones, and could only tell me that those who died were all born during the summer(Jyestha-Ashar-Shrawan). It struck me that she had taken the death of almost half of her children quite philosophically. I compared her with the mother of Rajendra, and wondered, I am sure politically incorrectly, if a poor behaves differently than a rich when losing children.

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I met a friend of mine who had married to a family member of the teacher who was killed in Lamjung and whose death at the time was national news, and I asked if he would volunteer to tell me something about the life those left behind are living. I also asked whether the sons, who in the immediate aftermath of the murder of their father had muttered something against Babu Ram Bhattarai in the national media, were wondering how the mass of Kathmandu could suddenly rise to felicitate Mr Babu Ram Bhattarai and Prachanda. He told me that often the Maoist victims are taken as a parasite, trying to live off the donations or goodwill in cities. The willingness to talk in length and hear in length is slowly evaporating among both the sufferer and their city dwelling brethren.

The teacher’s family was particularly anguished that the people who killed the teacher were actually his own students, and while in the aftermath, the children have left Lamjung, the killers roam freely there. “Killing your own teacher for an idea so vague and so wrong is like patricide at the most unimaginable state” my friend said. ”The family definitely has suffered a lot , specially when people who never lost a family member, who never were forced to flee the village, make a grand pronouncement about how things should be forgotten, how people should be forgiven and let go home. Who has the right to forgive? The journos, the human righters, the leaders, the city dwellers, who hasn’t lost anything but a small amount of their income, perhaps? Or only those who suffered have the right to forgive? And you forgive only after the criminal apologizes in no conditional term.”

About a week ago, the Maoists killed a man, Santa Bi Ka, from a dalit family. He had a seventy years old mother, a twenty two years old wife, and two small babies. He was the sole bread winner of the family. We all saw the tear soaked cheeks of the family in the internet, and it was a heartbreaking picture. The teacher’s family was way better off: the kids had grown up, and he wasn’t the only one supporting the family. This Dalit family is bound to suffer a lot. The state doesn’t have the right to say it would forgive the killers, and criminals.

What is the state, anyway? The inception of current day government traces back to the old Turkey where the first seed of agricultural life of humanity was planted. It frequently occurred that a band with spears and strong men would raid the farmers for the food, there were too many of such bands and when the strongest band offered the proposition, that his band would offer protection in exchange of the right to get a part of the food, the farmers agreed. In its most primitive form, the government, thus, is a protector of lives in exchange of the tax money it gets. The government takes our money and pledges to mete out justice to us. In Nepal, however, it is not clear the leaders know their responsibility. They should go back to the basics of governance. With the authority comes the responsibility, and politics is not just an expediency.

Even the Maoists have the responsibility to write a penal code of their own and publicize it. But if they do so, it would only shock the rest of us. Here is a real incidence a friend of mine currently living in Missouri told me. One day, his father gave Rs 4,000.00 to a Khaobadi in his village in Terathum. Later, the Maoists arrested the Khaobadi, and brought him in front of his father. They beat him brutally, so brutally that the father said, ‘Guys, this man took my money. I forgive him. So, just leave him.’ Of course, in Maoist state, an individual doesn’t have any right, and he is just a part of the monolithic state. The Maoist cadres wouldn’t listen to the father, and finally, they decided that they should punish the criminal so that there would be a sign with him for the rest of his life. They cut one of his fingers.

To provide a historical perspective, in Nepal, before Junga Bahadur’s penal code was introduced, punishment of mutilation was not infrequent. Cases of dissevering hands as a punishment were also not infrequent. People could also cut the head of the person who had an illicit relationship with their wife (and then cut the nose of the infidel wife, as women couldn’t be killed). However, Jung Bahadur thought it was uncivil to physically punish people for petty crimes. It was an irony of the history, a minimized Ashoka type conversion, that a man who came to power after the greatest bloodbath in the Nepali history would thus find blood so disagreeable. (His opposition also extended to sati system also). Slowly, however, his aversion became a popular habit, people too started to hate blood, and later Bhim Shamsher later almost abolished all kind of capital punishment except in a rare cases of treason. We definitely were becoming one of the most peaceful and blood-hating people in the world until this new political chaos started. There are, in deed, very few in the world who still believe in mutilation as a punishment in economic crimes. Perhaps Talibans still do, as they used to cut hands of the thieves. And it seems, the comrades who cut the finger for a petty fraud case too wholeheartedly agree with the Talibans.

7 thoughts on “Those Left Behind: Nepali Stories of Conflict

  1. Absolutely touching tales of our society. Where we have arrived at? Around 13 thousands died in this bloody conflict and hundred of thousands of Nepalese directly suffered. By now, every rural household has one story of suffering to tell. I read somewhere in a newspaper, in Kantipur I think, about story from Rolpa in which the writer had mentioned that villages are divided and hearts are broken. Killers and murderers are roaming around free and those who suffered the war are forced to smile at them. We have become so feeble, exhausted and tired. Situation is grim even after the restoration of democracy four and half months ago. Will peace come again? I can’t say for sure because murderers are having loud noise and they are bullying over helpless people. Yes, I am sounding pessimistic but look at those stories above. Are they optimistic?

  2. Who reads this blog? Maoists do not. If they could, they would not have been Maoists. Others who do they are not Maoists. Tragic deaths occur every day and the killer, God, is almighty. We never blame Him. Equally almighty are the Maoists who are sorry for past killings and are so for future killings too. Has any one found any Maoists defending their actions in this blog? None so far I know.

  3. Dear Ram Bahadur chhetri ji!

    Yo neutral huna naskane ‘rog’ tapaima pani rahechha. This rog (desease) has attracted to almost all political leaders, and of course, maoist are suffering from this. May be this is common desease of Nepali people. They can just see one side and blind to other as you see torture given by maoist but not by government. I know how difficult it is to loose a family member for ever whatever the reason it may be.

    If we can get rid of this rog, we will have better Nepal in future. I wish you recover soon from this desease.

  4. Mr. Mukti Aryal,

    Do not disrespect Nepalis by saying that they can not be neutral. The fact is no one can be neutral and effective at the same time. You would have to be a sadhu to be neutral.

  5. Well, I see no biasedness in the article above. Its long but was a good read. Actually, it talks about the harsh reality that our society is going through right now. Many people suffered this war and its high time that the state listened to them.

  6. Hi All:

    Thanks for your comment.

    I just want to say that I too oppose all kind of atrocities. But I can’t be neutral, I have to be on victim’s side.

    I don’t want to dilute this cause by saying the customary ‘maoist are bad, the army is also bad’ bla bla bla. To me, that is neutrality, that is inability to pinpoint at the criminals.

    It happened to be that the people I picked up in the above are victims of the Maoist torture. One reason is that I see very few innocent Nepali who were victims of extortion, and murder, and mutilation by Army. Perhaps I should have gone deeper in the bucolic villages, perhas i failed to hear their voice while they kept shouting loud for help, and I am guilty of that. But I am not guilty of any ‘rog’, because to me all victims are alike, their rights have been taken away, and they have only one side. May be one day I will write another article chronicling the victims of army too, when I meet those victims.

    Dineshji, thanks again for posting my article.

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