Nepali Times Asian Paints
Amrit Medhasi


Since Homer, stories have been written about the life, loves and courage of soldiers like Captain Amrit Medhasi. The media in the United States, tough critics of the Iraq war, nevertheless publish stories that give a human face to the soldiers that have served and fallen in combat.

Our media and some human rights group's coverage of a soldier's bravery comes with caveats like 'if only the rest of the RNA were like this man' or the obligatory coupling of Maoist atrocities with 'both sides are massively violating human rights' as if hundreds of summary executions, systematic political killings, drilling holes in pregnant women, and their crackpot vision of a communist State are equivalent to the army's mission whose aim is to restore conditions for a return to democracy.

The Army has had its share of troubling human rights violations but has never embraced a policy encouraging torture and indiscriminate killings. The work of fine soldiers during a war not of their making have been obliterated by relentless ankle-biting and the self-serving agendas of shrill activists and, even worse, our own confused political leadership who slur these soldiers even as they shamelessly crave to command them.

Amrit Medhasi was a soldier's soldier. In World War II, he might have been an outnumbered Gurkha beating back a Japanese onslaught but perhaps more appropriately he might have been the tragic platoon leader fighting a brutal house-to-house campaign in Vietnam, only to be portrayed by activists and the media in his own country as a drug-crazed baby-killer.

He probably had the same reasons for joining the army as most young men: the attraction of genuine camaraderie, an opportunity to tour the world, to challenge one's physical limits and pursue a relatively decent career track.

Born in Parbat district in 1980, Amrit Medhasi came from a military family. I never had the pleasure of meeting him personally but from a brief encounter with his father, one can extrapolate that he must have been similar in character: the characteristic military bearing, the frugality of words and the steady confidence about his identity.

He excelled in academics and was a natural leader, nominated as an outstanding student and also a school captain. Blessed with a sinewy and lanky frame, he was an excellent athlete. With these attributes, a comfortable career probably awaited him in civilian life but he joined the army despite objections from his family.

After receiving his commission, he was assigned to an infantry battalion in the east followed by duty in the west. Unlike most soldiers in other countries that have the luxury of being rotated back home after a year or so of duty, most Nepali soldiers move from one trouble spot to another. Many soldiers have gone years without visiting families due to Maoist threats in their own villages.

Several successful missions followed where he earned the respect of his men by using the only credible method in combat, by directly engaging the enemy and demonstrating results. On 9 December during an offensive operation, his platoon was ambushed while clearing a pass in Mathura Danda in Argakhanchi. He was injured in the initial firefight and despite continuing to draw fire, he had the presence of mind to order a tactical withdrawal, securing his men's safety but perhaps slowed by injuries, he was eventually overwhelmed and died instantly in a second hail of gunfire. Less than four years into a promising career, his body lay broken on that mountain pass.

Thanks only and only to soldiers like Amrit, there is still a semblance of a country remaining where our politicians can even today indulge their self-importance at the expense of their constituency and our activists pen therapeutic elegies.

Yes, this conflict has had tragic consequences for all Nepalis-not just for soldiers and their families. But when we think of soldiers like Amrit Medhasi, let us not patronise them by casually calling them martyrs, slur their work or view them from the reductionist lens of leftist intellectuals, unprincipled activists, the creepy Maoist leadership and some in the media, as a band of monarchy-grovelling rapists that need to be locked up.

Let us remember such men as professional soldiers that lived their life tragically and practically amidst the pathologies created by others. To honour them, let us remember their mission is not the moral equivalent of the empirically discredited ideologies of their enemies.

The souls of good soldiers like Captain Medhasi will fight again in another lonely mountain pass, a windy desert or jungle as they always have through history. Let's try to understand, respect and celebrate this spirit.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)