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Dateline: Rolpa

Today, there is peace. But it is a peace of acquiescence.

-Ramyata Limbu in Madichaur, Rolpa

Out here in the remote hills of mid-Western Nepal, it is difficult to imagine we are in the middle of a war zone. This is an idyllic land: the clear, cool Madi River flowing past ripening fields of wheat; cabbage

plots watered by sprinklers; goats and cattle being herded to pasture; village women carrying gagris of water from the spring; children returning from school. It could be anywhere in Nepal. But this is

Madichaur in Ward No 1 of the Junkot Village Development Committee, and it is under complete control of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

It wasn’t always this peaceful here. Till two years ago, the villagers were getting caught in the crossfire between the guerrillas and the police, and the valleys reverberated with the sound of gunfire and

explosions. The Maoists had started systematically attacking the remote police posts, killing enough of them for the police to withdraw to their fortified district headquarters in Libang, three hours’ walk away.

Today, there is peace. But it is a peace of acquiescence. No one actively in disagreement with the Maoists can survive here.

So the women cook and clean, collect water. The elderly stay at home taking care of the grandchildren. There is a marked absence of young men. They used to traditionally migrate to "Kalapar" (India) from here for seasonal work—there was never enough food to get by on what the arid fields produced. But since the fighting started five years ago, there has been an even bigger exodus of young men. Afraid of being victimised by the police or recruited by the Maoists, most able-bodied men have stayed away. Along the village trails, the children go to school clutching copy-books under their arms past the tiny bazaar with its pasal, a tailor shop and branch offices of the district agricultural office and the government veterinarian.

"Since the police chowki pulled out a year-and-half ago, life has been peaceful," says Mansaram Pun, the pasal-owner. "We used to be caught between the Maoists and police. We were constantly in fear of

our lives and police harassment. We couldn’t go anywhere." Today, Mansaram and his wife are left alone as long as they pay their "tax" of Rs 100 a month to the Maoists, feed them, put them up, attend Maoist

gatherings and work occasionally on small bridge-building and road-repair brigades.

"Everyone in the village extends support in cash or kind. You can’t be different. There’s fear. They have the guns," says Mansaram. The Madhichaur police post is abandoned, its wooden beams used to dry

clothes. No longer threatened by government security forces, members of the Maoist militia are relaxed. Civilians in sarongs, young women with .303s slung over their shoulders watch a volleyball game between

Maoist cadre and village youth in the local school grounds. Members of the militia swagger around in camouflage uniforms and captured police boots and belts, they smile, shake hands with villagers and talk.

"We were never underground from the people," says 27-year-old Comrade Bidrohi as he raises his fist to a passing group of schoolgirls in the widely acknowledged communist greeting, lal salaam. "We are

underground only from reactionary forces." His comrades are high school drop-outs, semi-literate farmers, disillusioned Nepali Congress and left parties supporters. They patrol the rugged terrain that

surrounds the village. If there is any suspicious movement of police, they are ones who lay ambushes along the village trails. It is also their job to interrogate strangers, and collect levies from villagers,

businesses, teachers, and government officials.

"When we’re not on duty, we often lay down our guns to help on community farms, with construction projects and give the peasants a helping hand when they need it," says Comrade Sujhav, as he

prepares bamboo stakes with his khukuri to repair the roof of a villager’s house. It is hard to believe that this soft-spoken farmer leads an 11-member squad that has been trained to kill with his khukuri in

the name of the People’s War.

At the entrance to the village, local cadre are marking Martyr’s Day with the inauguration of a memorial gate. Even the Maoists have not been able to resist the Nepali penchant for building ceremonial gates at

every opportunity. This one is a tribute to the 41 Maoists who have died in Rolpa in the five years of Peoples’ War. "The blood of the martyrs has not been shed in vain," says 22-year-old Man Kumari Pun, a

member of the Maoist Mahila Sagathan (women’s organisation). "I mourn the loss of my husband, but this is not a time for sentiment. It’s a time to transform sorrow into strength." Man Kumari has a five-year

old son, and she is self-confident and forceful: "If the need arises, I can pick up a gun. My husband died but there are thousands to take his place. We shall continue the war against dictatorship. We are fighting

the nokarshahi pujipati barga, pratikiryabadi kukurharu." That is the party-line for "bureaucratic capitalist class and reactionary dogs".

Man Kumari is one of hundreds of local women in the militia that is 20 percent women. Many other women are active in the Mahila Sangathan. Comrade Barsha is one of them. "I don’t have to carry a

gun," she tells us. Seated amidst a group of women, who shade themselves against the hot afternoon sun with towels, Comrade Barsha and her colleagues wait for others to arrive for the opening of a

memorial gate. "We used to be restricted to the household, the revolution has made women aware of our rights to education, property, to equal treatment.’’ The Nepal Human Development Report ranks

mid-Western districts like Rolpa as the least gender-sensitive in the country. Talking to women like Comrade Barsha, it is obvious this will now change.

It is hard to tell, when there is so much revolutionary talk around, what the silent majority really thinks. There are those who just want to live quietly, and if any of them had dissident thoughts, you don’t hear

them. Hasta Muni Pun is 57, and as an ex-Gurkha soldier in the Indian Army, he has seen it all. He tells us: "I don’t want to die, so I do what they say."

Hasta Muni is a Nepali Congress supporter, and one of very few who returned to his home village from the safety of Libang after the Maoists spread the word that no one would be harmed. But the message is

clear—you won’t be harmed as long as you behave yourselves, so not too many have take up on the offer. Hasta Muni is keen to talk, and his suppressed feelings well out: "I have seen war. You can’t gain power

without war. There will be a war. People will die. Villagers will die. Both the police and the Maoists threaten, and subdue the people." Hasta Muni’s wife looks worried that her husband is talking too much and cautions him to keep quiet.

Most other Nepali Congress supporters haven’t dared return to their villages and are refugees in Libang, making a living breaking stones and working as porters. The district headquarters is secured by a

200-strong police force and an army battalion has been brought in as part of the government’s effort to increase security after the attack on Dunai in September. But even Libang is not safe enough for Bhim

Kumari Buda who is followed by police bodyguards wherever she goes. Bhim Kumari is in the Maoists’ most-wanted list in Rolpa, accused of being an informant blamed for the deaths of more that a dozen of their comrades. "It’s certain death if I return. But I refuse to surrender to them, or to pay them any insurance money," says Bhim Kumari. A staunch Nepali Congress supporter, she heads Jagriti, a women’s

empowerment programme ( reportedly) set up by the government to provide relief to displaced Nepali Congress supporters.

For Rolpa district judge Nilkantha Upadhyay, the surface calm is deceptive: "Hidden behind the peace, I think they are building up their strength. There’s a silent terror." Upadhyay, like many government

officials languishing in Libang, has time on his hands. His court doesn’t get too many cases after the formation of Maoist People’s Court and parallel government. The Peoples’ Court metes out stern justice for practices like polygamy which is prevalent in these districts. Alcoholics are punished, and Rolpa is nearly dry. Village drunkards have sobered up.

Health workers, water supply and agricultural technicians, however, still have jobs to do and are tolerated by the Maoists. Says Rishi Ram Bhandari, an agricultural expert who has worked in Rolpa for the past

12 years: "Farming hasn’t been affected. The people seek advice regarding farming, seeds and crops, even for their community farms," says Bhandari. Before the fighting began, Rolpa and the neighbouring

district of Rukum used to be known as the vegetable "seed banks" for the rest of Nepal, exporting up to Rs 20 million worth. That has been reduced to a trickle. Health is faring almost as badly. Even before the

insurgency flared, Rolpa ranked 60th out of Nepal’s 75 districts in human development with an average lifespan of 52, and an infant mortality rate of 130—much worse than the national average. Seeing

the need, the Maoists have allowed government health officials to work in Rolpa. "As long as they’re convinced that we’re not informers, they allow us to carry out our work," says health official Chitra Jung Shahi.

Even so, fighting has driven off many others, and only half the 200 health personnel posts are filled. Even before it began functioning, the district hospital in Reuwai, an hour’s walk from Libang is derelict and

abandoned, a symbol of corruption, mismanagement and neglect. The nearest hospital is in Dang, two days’ walk away. Women volunteers continue to carry out anti-polio vaccination, and Vitamin A

programmes. But the general health conditions haven’t seen any dramatic improvement.

The Maoist have also disbanded a women’s savings credit scheme by warning off local activists supported by foreign funds. Maoists looted the papers of the savings group and sent back development officers

with stern warnings. "It was a necessary step," says Comrade Ajay, a former school teacher and going by his bearings, a fairly senior district leader. "Such programmes, entirely foreign funded, undermine the

People’s War."

The Maoists may mete out free justice, support local households, and build bridges, but they acknowledge that it will need much more to address the people’s demand for development. Comrade Ajay

continues: "Development is necessary for the people here. But it has to encourage self-reliance and be free from foreign funding which encourages corruption and parasitic tendencies." He is critical of road

projects like the highway currently being built from Libang to Madichaur by the army. "This road is not being built with the people in mind. It will make it easier for the government to infiltrate into our stronghold," says Comrade Ajay. But so far, they have allowed the road to go ahead because they don’t want to risk taking on the army.

While some in Madichaur are wholly committed to the cause, others keep a low profile, and try to figure out which way the wind is blowing. At the moment it is blowing in the direction of revolution. Comrade Ajay and his colleagues are confident that the people are with them, and they will be patient about waiting for their fight to result in better living standards. He gives us a parting thought: "Every year the people’s trust is growing. If we continue to be honest and stick to our ideals, they will come over to our side. Yesterday, we didn’t have much. Today we’ve grown, we have an army, a system.
(It is taken from the Nepali Times)

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