Nepali Times
Peacetime in a war zone

CELEBRATION TIME: The Jaljala festival at Thabang.

The scenic little town of Thabang is where the Maoist insurgency began in 1996, and its inhabitants are proud of their role in spearheading the movement which eventually led to the declaration of a federal republic in Nepal last week.

The villages of Rolpa found themselves the target of the police's Operation Kilo Sierra 2 and Operation Romeo in 1997-99, intended to root out the budding Maoist movement. But the brutal crackdowns actually increased the Maoists' support here.

The war had a profound effect on the village. Many students dropped out of school, either to join the PLA or simply to flee. "We had to go to Libang for our SLC exams, and if we met the police they would capture and torture us," recalls Dhan Bahadur Roka who escaped the chaos by going to Saudi Arabia. Now he is home again and runs a telephone booth.

The people of Thabang are now working to rebuild the destruction, and there are a number of youth organisations working to set up services and infrastructure in the remote VDC.

Youth groups have built both a library and a computer centre in Thabang. The library is named after the first villagers to be killed in the war, Dil Man Roka and Lali Roka. "We are not on the power grid here, but we can run the computers with a diesel generator," says Mahesh Budha Magar.

A new learning centre has also recently opened, and 100 children have already enrolled. Lakab Bahadur Magar says, "It was difficult to start this centre because we have so few resources. But our youth groups put in a lot of time and labour for free." Lakab Bahadur hopes to electrify the village next year by building a hydroplant.

The locals are also hoping to market their village as a tourist destination. The first Jaljala Festival was celebrated this year on 20-22 May. Anera Roka hopes that the festival can become a crowd-puller for tourists and thus create more job opportunities for local youth, many of whom are still unemployed or underemployed. Maoist leader Santosh Budha Magar credits village youth with thinking up the festival and helping organise it.

The youth of Thabang are as relieved as anyone that the war is over. Now they hope for political stability and an environment in which they can earn a living for themselves and build a future for their children. "We suffered so much in the war. I hope our children will never have to experience that," says Tilak BK.

Facilities and opportunities in the village are slowly increasing. There is now a higher secondary school in the village so children can study up to class 12.

But after education people also need jobs. Many end up going to the Gulf to work. Those who remain are hoping for some investment from the government or the NGOs.

The Maoists state that they are amenable to working with donor agencies, but they are adamant that all programs should be community-based.

Thabang is typical of much of rural Nepal, the local population is eager to contribute to building infrastructure and services, but hindered by lack of resources. Villages like Thabang now look to the new government for help so they can get a new start in life.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)