Returning to Dullu in Dailekh after last month's women-led revolt, it is clear anti-Maoist feelings are still running high.
The spontaneous outrage has spread even to outlying VDCs and the rebels have either been chased out or caught and handed over to the army. The Maoist western command in-charge, Diwakar, has been in damage-control mode after issuing a self-critical statement. But his district-level leaders have taken the uprising as an affront to their prestige and retaliated against unarmed civilians wherever they could.
In the latest incident on Sunday, a group of armed Maoists surrounded the village of Khadkawada, beat up locals and abducted four of the women leaders who had been leading the anti-Maoist movement. Earlier, on 7 December, when villagers had gathered at nearby Chhiudi to discuss the recovery of property that the rebels had looted, a local Maoist cadre threw a socket bomb at the group. Khadga Bahadur Khadka, a farmer, died and 16 others including a woman and a child, were injured. In two previous incidents, Maoists have killed five Dailekh resisters. In Chhiudi itself, Maoists hurled a socket bomb at a group of women who had led the anti-Maoist movement two weeks ago. Luckily, the bomb didn't explode.
It is clear that the local comrades are defying Diwakar's direct orders. Diwakar had announced the formation of a Maoist internal investigation committee to probe the causes that led the locals to rise up. The results of that investigation have not been made public but since the revenge attacks against unarmed villagers have not stopped there are fresh doubts that Diwakar's statement may have just been for public consumption. In August, rebel leaders promised to punish the killers of journalist Dekendra Raj Thapa but they were just transferred to another district.
The security force's response was to set up a temporary military base in Dullu on 25 November. The villagers have handed over more than 100 Maoists to the army and another 200 have been caught and transferred to military custody in Dailekh's headquarters. Villagers have persuaded other Maoists to surrender and apologise for their past brutality.
Locals who had handed over the Maoists to the army are now vulnerable to rebel retribution because it has been learnt that some of the rebels have been summarily executed. Maoist area in-charge, Rabindranath Yogi (Comrade Surya) was caught by locals in Paduka VDC and handed over to soldiers at the military base in Dullu. The locals say that the army took him with two other rebels from Bhabani Baksh Batallion and killed them on 7 December. The army later claimed the three had been killed while trying to escape.
The executions could have been the military's way of undermining the Maoist morale hoping that it would bolster the people's revolt. But it may only serve to infuriate the rebels and further tarnish the army's human rights record. The killings will also strengthen the Maoists' argument that the Dailekh uprisings are not spontaneous but orchestrated by the state. In addition, unarmed villagers who had mustered the courage to rise up against the rebels are now exposed to even more vicious Maoist revenge.
One month after the mothers of Dailekh rose up, the revolt has got much national and international coverage. How spontaneous it was has been debated and experts in Kathmandu have tried to analyse why it took place in Dailekh and not elsewhere. Villagers here are glad their courage has received recognition but they fear for their safety. They also warn that although feelings against the Maoists are running high, this does not translate into support for the government.
"All we need is peace, tell them that," says Nar Bahadur Shahi of Chhiudi. He strongly advises the government and the security forces not to try to instigate the villagers because it may escalate the violence. "Thousands may be killed and this people's uprising will fizzle out," Nar Bahadur adds. What the villagers do want is protection from the army against Maoists bent on settling scores.
Nearly 2,000 families have moved to Dullu from outlying VDCs. Many are living in tents here. "We will do what we can to maximise patrolling and establish security," says Dailekh CDO Rishikesh Niraula who confirmed that military bases were being established in Salleri and Naumule.
But the presence of the soldiers doesn't make villagers feel safer because there now is more danger that a clash might erupt. There are no political parties here who could have given the uprising a civilian character. Leaderless, the movement is in danger of drifting and the locals of Dullu feel they have been left to fend for themselves.