At 70, Hari Prasad Gautam had to flee from his home in Lohanpur, Ramechhap, because of Maoist attacks.
Living in a one-room run down house in the Valley, Gautam (pic) is forced even at his age to work as a wage labourer at a kiln carrying bricks on his back. He is weak and his health is deteriorating.
"I don't know how long I will live," says Gautam, looking worriedly at his wife, Bed Maya. Until last year, the elderly couple were receiving a monthly allowance of Rs 2,500 from the government but now that has stopped. When Gautam runs out of cash, he and his wife go door-to-door begging for food and clothes.
After he was unable to pay the Rs 50,000 extortion demand two years ago he was shot and attacked with swords by Maoists and left for dead in his village. His fault: the inability to pay Rs 50,000 as demanded by the rebels. They killed all his cattle, burned down his house and attacked him at night.
The police saved his life by arranging a rescue flight to Kathmandu where he was in hospital for almost six months. "It still hurts a lot," says Gautam , showing the scars on his chest and legs.
Nepal's internally displaced (IDPs) need no introduction: homeless and penniless, sick and hungry in their own country (see: 'Jumla's refugees wait it out in Surkhet', #242). Ever since 1 February, even reporting on the refugees has dried up. The curbs on media have stopped stories on Maoist atrocities because reporters are not allowed to file independent stories on the security situation from the field.
There is now hope that help is on the way. A high-level team led by the representative of the UN secretary general, Walter Kalin is in Nepal this week on a fact-finding mission. Kalin's recommendations will be presented at the 62nd session of the Commission on Human Rights and to the Secretary General.
"Most the families are living like beggars and starving," said Gopal Tamauli of the Maoist Victims' Association. The group is staging a 'refugee camp' at Tundikhel this week to highlight the plight of IDPs.
The government did establish the Victims of Conflict Fund under which the IDP families were entitled to nearly Rs 85 per day but many failed to provide evidence that they were IDPs and were excluded from state support. In 2004, the government announced that it had disbursed Rs 70 million to IDP families but the fund was so haphazardly distributed that the truly needy never got any of it. "As far as I know, less than 50 people received about Rs 1,500," Tamauli recalls. The government finally formed a task force to provide relief to IDPs after a 20-day hunger strike earlier this year, but again nothing happened. A study by the Community Study and Welfare Centre (CSWC) estimates that the Maoists are responsible for the displacement of between 300,000-400,000 Nepalis.
While a majority of IDPs have migrated to India, over 60,000 villagers like Gautam and Bed Maya are taking refuge in the capital. Most survive on meagre earnings working as menial labourers. Because of their desperation, they are cruelly exploited and most are willing to work just for food. CSWC says it is the young women and girls who are most vulnerable.
"It was a mistake to come to Kathmandu, there is nothing here for us," says 52-year old Buddhi Singh Bista who fled Debasthal village in Salyan with 13 family members after the Maoists seized all his property and house worth Rs 5 million. When he couldn't pay the Rs 200,000 the Maoists demanded, he had to flee for his life.
Buddhi's family members are now scattered all over the country. He lives in Kathmandu with his wife and two teenage daughters all of whom have started to sleep at the bus park.
"We were living in a rented house but now we've run out cash. I have sold all my wife's jewelry, there is nothing left now," said Bista who came to the capital hoping to get the promised compensation for Maoist victims. He did not get a paisa. Only a few families with political links ever received any compensation.
"The IDPs face a humanitarian crisis and now there is hope the international community will offer some support," feels Dilli Ram Dhakal of CSWC, "the time to just talk about it is gone, we have to provide actual help."
One of the key obstacles for the international relief agencies to support the IDPs in Nepal is the lack of an accurate picture or estimate of their number. Their population keeps fluctuating as most IDPs migrate to India. Few relief agencies like World Food Program (WFP) and the Red Cross are helping provide interim relief like food and clothes for displaced families sheltered in the camps set up by the government in Nepalganj and Surkhet in west Nepal where the largest numbers of IDPs live.
A 2004 report by the Norwegian Refugee Council had sharply criticised international relief organisations for not providing enough support to IDPs in Nepal. It said: 'Many UN agencies and international NGOs have been in Nepal for numerous years providing development-oriented assistance but almost none provide humanitarian relief or target their assistance to IDPs."