Nepali Times
Guest Column
How can we forget?


The pain of violence, its psychological impact and its effect on society persist for a long time after a war is over.

Today, 'terrorists' and the 'class enemies' are both in government and we are headed for elections after which they have agreed to turn Nepal into a federal democratic republic. They share seats in an interim parliament and in the cabinet. Yet, despite this and the crisis in the Madhes, their level of mutual mistrust is high.

The uncertainty about elections and the instability of this extended political transition has prolonged the agony of those families whose relatives suffered brutal killings and disappearances. The result is that nearly two years after the People's Movement and after two postponements, elections are still uncertain.

In this period, we who were bereaved during the conflict have neither got justice, nor have we been told about whether our near and dear ones are dead or alive. The internally displaced are still uprooted. The wounds of those who were hurt may have healed, but many are still disabled and the psychological trauma of the war persist.

These feelings bubbled to the surface as I looked at the photographs in the photo exhibition, A People War, in Besisahar this week. My personal memories became intertwined with what my family and society had to go through. I became worried that our country hasn't learnt its lesson from this war.

Others in my town looked at the photographs with a combination of memory, grief and outrage. I shared my tears with those who suffered. In Lamjung alone, there are at least 26 families of disappeared.

My father, Tej Bahadur Bhandari, was taken away from the street in broad daylight six years ago. He was severely tortured in detention by the army, and has not been seen since. The local administration is mute, the political parties don't understand. The activists move in high circles in Kathmandu. It is clear that for the victims of conflict, and families of the disappeared, the lonely struggle for justice goes on.

The question from the pictures to the state and the former rebels is that they should engage in some self-analysis about the effect of all that brutality. The answer must necessarily be that the use of violence was counterproductive and was not worth it in terms of the cost to human life and the damage to the country. It is in the Nepali character to try to forget the past and move on. But if we forget what happened to us, there is a danger the atrocities will be repeated.

The photographs make us realise that the cruelty we see in them should never be repeated. For that, we must remember our history, and we must seek justice for those who suffered loss. Only then will the country be saved from further violence, counter-violence and revenge.

But if we continue with our current political drift and ignore the sacrifices of those who laid down their lives, not only will the peace process be fragile, but there is a real danger that the victims of war will rise up again. Their war is not over.

Ramkumar Bhandari is the station manager of Marsyangdi FM in Besisahar, and also the convener of the Committee for Social Justice in Lamjung which brings together the families of 26 disappeared people in Lamjung.

A People War photo exhibition concludes its 30-district tour with a final show on 29 February and 1 March at the Art Council Hall in Babar Mahal. The exhibition includes an extended section with comments from people all over Nepal.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)