Looking at the number of comments under 'Walled in'(#506), it is obvious Mr. Brown struck a sore spot for many people. It is a gutsy article and his questions are valid.
Indoctrination runs deep indeed. It goes far beyond 'I' or 'We' or any rhetorical arguments. Yes, the Maoists caused unimaginable damage and suffering and a murder remains a murder regardless of motivation. However, they are still in Nepal, there are many of them and it seems in reality nobody is doing anything practical about it.
In the pictures, the ex-combatants look like strong young men and women, maybe in their late twenties. Simple calculation suggests that since they have been in the cantonments for four years and the fighting went on for ten years, many of them would have been recruited when they were very young. No wonder the brainwashing goes deep. They were not trained to think, they were trained to obey orders. They came from powerless positions, were given boots and fatigues and guns, which all propelled them into positions of power. They have no concept of decision making or their own wishes or responsibility for their own future. The thinking was done for them.
I once asked my friend Purna about his long term plans for his future. "Didi, an average poor Nepali gets up in the morning and hopes he will have breakfast and a supper," he said. "If he gets lunch too, it was a good day." And Purna is not even a brainwashed Maoist, he is a mountain guide with a better perspective on life than many poor Nepalis. When the poor fellows in the camp were asked about their individual plans for the future, the thought had probably never entered their minds. How would they answer the question?
Why have these people been left rotting there? A lot could have been changed in four years. Is there anything being done to actively de-program them? If there is to be any hope for a re-integration into society, certain steps have to be taken first. Why are there still pictures of old relics such as Stalin and Karl Marx and Mao on the walls? Why is the hammer and the sickle there? Why are they armed and standing on guard guarding absolutely nothing ?
Has anybody explained to them that the communist doctrine was a Utopia which never successfully functioned anywhere, doesn't exist now and never will exist in the future? They are strong young men and women wasting away with nothing to do. I don't exactly know how the UN finances these camps, but if they could feed them and house them until now, they most certainly could have found some money to educate them and teach them some life skills. By now they could have been motorcycle or bicycle mechanics, welders, carpenters, chicken farmers or even manufacturers, anything to support themselves in the future. Only then does a question about future plans make sense.
Deprogramming someone's mind is no simple task. No one likes being told that all he knew in his young adult life was a lie. Some might not be re-programmable any more. Maybe all they can do is live in communes. That in itself is not a new or bad idea. The Russians created collective farms called Kolchoz and Sovchoz. They were poorly run, but at least they produced their own food. The main difference is that these communes were not military camps, they were family compounds. For some this might be the only viable option, as they might never be able to function in a free will society.
The ex-combatants were told they were freedom fighters but they never knew what freedom meant. One of the first things it represents is a freedom of choice. But they don't know what that means.
We can hate them for the suffering they caused, but that would be ill-directed. They suffer too, not least from delusions, broken promises and the loss of time. It's a depressing picture, but there is lots of room for compassion for these young men and women. Empower them not with guns, but with skills and opportunities to turn their lives around. To break the cycle of suffering, apply wisdom, not hate.