29 November-5 December 2013 #683

Forget us not

The people of Jumla are waiting for post-war justice and for their men to return home
Jan Møller Hansen

Nepal is a country of contradictions. The stunning Himalayan landscape, among the most fascinating and beautiful on the planet, stands out in sharp contrast to the widespread poverty and a lingering sense of hopelessness among the tens and thousands of Nepalis who live at the margins of society.

Like most other districts in the mid-west, the men of Jumla have migrated to bordering Indian towns for seasonal employment and there are only women, the elderly, and children to be seen. One cannot avoid thinking about the future of these children. Where will they go and what will they be doing in a few years? Will the boys follow in the footsteps of their fathers? The women, on the other hand, get up just before sunrise and toil in the fields and in their homes until late in the evening. How long will they carry on for?

GONE: Hari Sunwar shows a photo of his father (standing in the centre) who was was mistaken for a Maoist and shot by the Army in Jumla Bajar in 2003.

Hari Sunar was my trekking guide 20 years ago when I first walked around Lake Rara. I met him again during my most recent trip. Hari and his family are Dalits and traditional goldsmiths by profession. In 2003 at the height of the insurgency, Hari’s father went out for a morning walk not realising what was going on in Jumla Bajar. He was mistaken for a Maoist and shot dead by the Army. Another local, who arranged our trekking this time round, recalls how he was forced to feed Maoist combatants for 10 years just so that his neighbours would be spared the bullets.

During the dark years of war, the people of Jumla were witness to numerous atrocities and human rights violations. Hundreds were tortured, raped, disappeared, and killed in the district by both the state and the rebel forces. Like other families across Nepal, Hari and his friends in Jumla await the truth.

Lalit Jung Shahi of the Nepali Congress won in the direct ballot in Jumla-1 last week. But promises of a new constitution, of new ways of governance do not make much sense to the people here. Shahi and the 600 members of the future CA would do well to heed to Jumlis’ plea for closure.

www.janmoellerhansen.smugmug.com

Jan Møller Hansen is a photographer working with social documentary. He lived in Nepal from 1991-1995 and is back in the country working at the Embassy of Denmark in Kathmandu.

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