30 August-5 September #671

Frozen grief

Not having a missing relative present is ever-present pain for families of the thousands who were disappeared during the conflict

Some wars just go on and on, others simmer as low- intensity conflicts, there are wars where one side wins, and there are wars in which everyone loses.

Afghanistan hasn’t enjoyed peace since the 1970s. The Philippines has the world’s longest running Maoist insurgency. In Sri Lanka, there was a clear victor and vanquished after the Tamil Tigers were defeated in May 2009. Nepal’s decade-long conflict ended in 2006, both sides won, and they are now the government. One could say the king lost and the Nepali people suffered great loss, but the former enemies are now comfortably ensconced in positions of power and influence.

The most striking symbol of this was the investiture ceremony this week of the 70 Maoist guerrillas who were inducted as officers of the Nepal Army. There was the Commander in Chief of the Nepal Army sitting alongside the commander of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army watching a smart parade by the new cadets at Kharipati.

There was a price that the nation paid for the assimilation of the armies and it isn’t just the Rs 20 billion in mostly taxpayers’ money that the demobilisation of the Maoists has cost so far.

We continue to pay the price of impunity. Most of the 17,000 killed, 1,500 disappeared, and tens of thousands injured and displaced were civilians, and for many of the survivors the war never ended.

However, as far as the former rebels and the security forces are concerned, the conflict is over and done with. The politicians and the Maoists in the four-party cartel running this country are too engrossed in sharing the spoils of power to care much about the victims of conflict and their relatives. In fact, there is a blatant and deliberate attempt by the warring sides to sweep conflict-era atrocities under the carpet. Examples abound and the most recent is the shameful treatment, by the state, of the parents of Krishna Adhikari who was murdered in Chitwan.

The previous Maoist government actively colluded with state security to hide the dirty business of each other’s past. The death squads that ran the Bhairabnath facility have been promoted and the perpetrators of the summary execution of 18 captured Maoists at Doramba exactly 10 years ago were never punished. In the case of enforced disappearances, even when the guilty are known by name and complaints have been filed against them, governments have tried to pass the buck to the as yet non-existent  commissions on truth and reconciliation and disappearances.

As the world marks the International Day of the Disappeared on 30 August, relatives of those who were disappeared in the Nepal conflict are pressing for truth, justice, and compensation.

Not having a missing relative present continues to be an ever-present pain. This burden of ambiguous loss is multiplied among thousands of families across the country who need recognition of their suffering, information on the fate of the missing relative, and support to get on with their lives. Because it was mainly men who were disappeared, it is the women who need help because of the added burden of social stigma.

In Bardiya, the district where the highest number of people were disappeared during the conflict, Laxmi Devi Khadka and Devisara Oli have set up a network of mothers and wives of the disappeared. Khadka’s husband was disappeared by the Maoists and Oli’s by the police. If these two women can come together out of shared grief to work together, what a shame that the so-called leaders of this country who caused that pain are conspiring to prolong it for the families of the disappeared.

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