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After the war, Rolpa fights neglect


KIYOKO OGURA


PICS: KIYOKO OGURA

Back in March 2003 when I first visited Thabang, this cradle of the Maoist revolution embodied Nepal's ethnic diversity in a microcosm. There were not just the local Magars, but Tharus, Bahuns, Chhetris, Dalits.

They were Maoist guerrillas from all over Nepal, and they walked around openly with their weapons. Scenes of collective life were everywhere: a Maoist cultural group would sing revolutionary songs early in the morning, the militia would do morning exercises, in the evening young Maoists played volleyball while the girls cooked food for comrades in huge pots.

The house in Thawang bajar that had silhousettes of Marx,Stalin and Mao has now been painted.
It was clear that Thabang was the centre of the Maoist revolution, protected by its isolation in a remote part of already-remote Rolpa. Major Maoist military campaigns, such as the attack on Beni, were planned in Thabang. Top leaders like Mohan Baidya and Ram Bahadur Thapa were here regularly for meetings and the locals willingly gave the Maoists shelter.

Today, nearly three years after the ceasefire, parts of the town demolished in helicopter raids have been rebuilt, many villagers have electricity and there is no load shedding. In Phuntibang where 95 members of Maoist central committee including Pushpa Kamal Dahal assembled in August 2004, electricity poles have gone up. There are neat stone pavements laid with government support. The bajar has a jewellery shop, which always has throngs of women. But shops opened by members of the Maoists commune are closed.

A neighbourhood of the town destroyed in the war has been re-vamped with new cobble stones and electric poles.
The most dramatic transformation is in the people. There are outsiders, but this time they aren't guerrillas but government health workers, school teachers, NGO activists and even police officers. Access to Thabang is much easier with the half-finished motorable road from Sulichaur. Thabang can now be reached from the nearest road-head within a day of fast walking.

Although locals in Thabang are experiencing peace and development after years of conflict, most still carry physical and psychological scars of the war. A 53-year-old woman in Phuntibang whose only son is a Maoist recalls the night in January 2006 when she heard about an army patrol approaching. She took her daughter-in-law and a newly-born baby into the jungle in deep snow. "We spent days in the forest, often I felt we would die," she recalls.

Fifty-year-old former teacher Indra Bahadur Buda Magar is one of the oldest party activists in Rolpa since the Panchayat. He helped establish the party in other districts of western Nepal. He was injured during the Beni attack, and still has shrapnel in his body. There are many like him who haven't recieved proper medical treatment. It's not only the government but also their own party that is filig to take care of them.

The majority of Maoists here do not openly blame the party for forgetting Rolpa, but there is a growing murmur of discontent against the comrades in faraway Kathmandu. A father of a student who studies in Thabang's model school that the Maoists set up four years ago dared to say: "During the war leaders used to stay in Thabang and we used to look after them. But after the war ended, our party is in power in Kathmandu but they don't care for us. They have never come back."

The Maoist model school, where half the students are children of martyrs, has been trying in vain to register as a government school, but has not succeeded. All the seven teachers work voluntarily and the students have no text books.

An elderly Maoist supporter in Mijhing VDC has no place to live since both of his houses had been burnt down by the security forces. He expresses his distrust of the party: "Seeing the behaviour of our leaders in power, I just lose hope. I am afraid that we have to suffer again, just like during the conflict."

SEE ALSO
Children of the revolution ISSUE #439



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