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Children of the revolution


CHONG ZI LIANG in CHITWAN


PICS: CHONG ZI LIANG
BABY BOOM: Ex-guerrilla Sabitri Shah, 27, has two children at Shaktikhor in Chitwan. Since the ceasefire nearly three years ago, 1,000 female fighters have given birth in camps.
While the war was going on in the jungles of Nawalparasi four years ago, Sabitri Shah was fighting a battle of her own. The 24-year-old was pregnant and despite the lack of medical facilities, gave birth to a daughter just as the war ended.

In the Shaktikhor camp last year, Shah gave birth to a second child, a son. She named him Jang. "I gave him that name hoping he will grow up to be a brave warrior," she says.

It was difficult raising her first child in the battlefield and she was malnourished, but she says that things are much better in the cantonment. Marriages between PLA combatants after permission from the party is becoming increasingly common.

Section commander Phulmaya Syangtan, 27, is another ex-guerrilla with a young son. Young James Pun (named after the British scientist James Watt and not the fictional British spy, we are told) was born last year in the camp. PLA parents like 22-year-old Sushma Devkota say they have no problems with bringing up children in the environment of a military camp.

However, the camp commanders are getting worried that a military base is getting to look like a feeding centre and have decided to give a five-month maternity leave to the estimated 1,000 young mothers in the seven main cantonments and 21 sub-cantonments all over the country.

Where possible, the young mothers live in a village near the camp renting a room with the Rs 3,000 maternity allowance they recieve from the cantonment. Growing up within the Maoist army is not new for many of the ex-guerrillas. Ram Kumar Moktan was only 15 when he dropped out of school and joined the revolution. Now 22, he is part of the public relations team for the PLA third division.

Moktan speaks in Maoist jargon and his sentences are a series of slogans against the injustices of capitalism, and the communist victories in China and Vietnam. He seems oblivious that these two countries have switched to market reforms and have experienced rapid economic growth.

Nirmala Nepal joined the Maoists when she was 17. She is now a company vice commander and a mother of one-year-old Ishan. Nirmala married fellow soldier Arjun Karki after a fierce week-long battle in which three of their comrades were killed. The couple's goal now is to join the national army.

"We fought for the party and now we will fight for the nation," says Nirmala, "our ability is proven and there is no logic in putting us into another profession." She says her son's future will depend on the integration process.

It is clear the children of the Maoist revolution face an uncertain future. Asked about what her hopes for her son James are, Phulmaya Syangtan says, "I can't even say what the future holds for my country. How can I say anything about my son?

With additional reporting by Ekal Silwal and Kiran Panday

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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