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Making war on the day of love

Monday, February 16th, 2015

“How can one human being kill another?”

From the Nepali Press

Mohan Mainali

It is a strange coincidence that the Maoists launched their so-called ‘people’s war’ exactly 19 years ago today, on Valentine’s Day. This is the day dedicated to love, yet in Nepal it reminds us of the brutality of war.

At just past midnight on 14 February 1996, the Maoists launched simultaneous attacks across the country in Rolpa, Rukum, Gorkha, Sindhuli and Kathmandu on police stations, rural banks, and even the Pepsi Cola factory.

The Maoists had given a two-week ultimatum to the government to meet their list of 40 demands, but they did not have the patience to wait for a response and launched their violent attacks choosing the auspicious day of love.  The war lasted a little over 10 years, by the end of it more than 13,500 Nepalis had been killed by fellow-Nepalis.  More than 1,500 were taken away from their families and are still disappeared. More than 800 had their bones crushed.

This wasn’t a brief outburst of violence perpetrated by misguided people, it was premeditated and pre-planned. The attacker lay in wait to slash, thrash, pound their victims. They were proud that they had been indoctrinated to carry out these acts. The legacy of that violence is still with us. We see it in some news reports and occasionally on the Facebook status of victims.

One such post last year on Facebook was by Maoist guerrilla Yadav Devkota who lost his close comrade, Aita Bahadur of Dhading who was in the Maoist Fourth Division, and disqualified by UNMIN. His father and sister had been killed during the war, and his mother committed suicide by jumping into the Trisuli. All collateral damage of a war fought in the name of the people.

While reporting the war and the post-conflict period, my experience has been  that there are a lot of people who still suffer from post-traumatic stress and carry on with their every day lives carrying the burden of their memories. Those who started the war, thought they could end it. But for those who suffered from the violence, the war never ended.

The disappeared suffer their bereavement every day. In Bardiya, where the most number of people were disappeared, I once came across a march by families of victims. Among them was Jagat Kumari Basnet, whose son Keshar Bahadur, who used to run a nursing home in Bhuri Gaun, was detained by the army in 2002 and never seen again.

When the march reached the main crossroad, the victims’ families were allowed to speak. Jagat Kumari got up, and despite her age, mustered the energy to climb up on stage. “I went kicking and screaming to the barrack to ask for my son, they told me he would be returned in a few weeks, but he never came back. I am wounded inside,” she said, “I will probably never find his body, I just wish I could perform his last rites.”

A few weeks later, I was at another end of the country in Dhankuta where I ran into Sahabir BK. As soon as he found out I was a journalist, he took out a wallet from his back pocket and picked out a small photograph. “ My youngest son,” he said simply, “I cannot forget him. I always have his picture with me.”

Sahabir’s son, Santosh, was only 14 when he was taken away by the Maoists in July 2002. Thirteen days later, the radio announced that Santosh had been killed. Sahabir never got his son’s body, he never found out why he was killed. When we visited him, Sahabir was doing his blacksmith work at the charcoal fire, forging sickles and axes. His granddaughter accompanied Sahabir when he went out with his plough to his field.

As we left, Sahabir took out the picture of his son once more from his wallet, and said: “I wonder how big he would be now, what he would be doing?”

The violence of war feeds on the brutality that lurks within the human psyche. It suppresses reason and compassion. People can be cruel to each other at other times, too, but it usually manifests itself briefly and is gone. The rest of the time, people are generally compassionate and peace-loving. However, during war, inhumanity is unleashed, cruelty stays and persists. During most wars, people find it hard to believe that human beings are capable of such inhuman cruelty.

Sankh Bahadur Gurung’s two sons were killed in Kalikot in 2002. Sankh Bahadur received the news, but he did not believe it. His contractor told him to take his son’s salary and funeral expenses. He didn’t believe his son was dead, and he still doesn’t. I asked him why he doesn’t accept the fact that his son is dead. His answer: “How can one human being kill another?” Sankh Bahadur still had not understood that this is what people do in wars: they kill each other.

In far-western Nepal’s Bajura district, at least one person had understood the reality of war. “It is a time when people have to be afraid of people,” he explained to me.  But what of people who are trained to wage war and kill?

Maoist Brigade Commander Suresh Pahadi has written this in a book about his guerrilla training: ‘There was  a sign on the stage that read Down With Indian Expansionism. Suddenly an anger rose within me against the Nepali state and its king Gyanendra for selling out the motherland. I wished to see the day when he would be beheaded.’

Soon after this book came out, Suresh’s supreme commander told a Maoist conference in Hetauda that India was not expansionist after all. Suresh and his comrades gave the red salute and agreed with it. Nothing had changed in Nepal’s relations with India, but the former guerrillas had been brainwashed to forget their wartime indoctrination.

The effects of war leave a scar on society for generations.  Prithvi Narayan Shah’s cruel punishment of the people of Kirtipur is still remembered 250 years later. An average Nepali has at least 10 close relatives, which means the war has affected hundreds of thousands of people directly. They are not going to forget.

One cannot get away by simply saying that war brutalises society. When discrimination, inequality, and injustice prevail there will inevitably be violent conflict. That is why it is important not to forget a war that was started 19 years ago on a day dedicated to love.

For the Nepali original of this article:

Watch video of documentary by Mohan Mainali

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One Response to “Making war on the day of love”

  1. arjun on Says:

    Yadav devkota was never a Maoist leader. He is duplicate Maoist. He is famous because he write as if he is a Maoist. Many of the Maoist leader and other people said that he was not a Maoist. If you don’t believe, u can check. You have loose your reputation saying that Yadhav devkota is a Maoist.

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