At a time when everyone is returning to their villagers for Dasain, 65-year-old Cheuki Buda from Birat in Jumla left her home to protest against forced Maoist recruitment. She took a bold step in leaving the village, defying the Maoist rebels. Her courage has inspired fellow villagers to join her, walking uphill until they reach Gamgadi, the Mugu district headquarters at an altitude of 11,000 feet.
"Now we may never return to our village," says 60-year-old Mankail Buda, who also protested against the Maoist call to join their party. Almost 400 villagers, including pregnant women, left their homes in Birat, Kankasundari and Dhapa of Jumla and walked for over two days to Gamgadi. Many walked on an empty stomach and some even broke their legs during the journey. Several suffered from pneumonia and dehydration. Many prefer to die of starvation and carry on the hard trek rather than work for the Maoists. "The Ranas met with their own end for forcing people against their wishes," Gorakh Buda says, indicating that the Maoists would meet with a similar fate.
Many villagers were forced to abandon their homes because of the Maoists' exorbitant demands for donations. The Maoists had threatened to prohibit celebrations or any Hindu rituals if they failed to pay. "They don't allow the women to wear any golden ornaments and jewellery. Even the married women are prohibited from wearing bangles and necklaces," says Bhim Buda, who fled his village with eight family members. "It is bad politics when you fight a cause with arms," he adds.
The local militants leaders have devised a strategy to expose locals who flee to other districts. They take them to Maoist programs and take their pictures, falsely identifying them as their party workers. "The Maoists have written names of many villagers as their party members," says 70-year-old Dhan Bahadur Malla of Mugu, who the Maoists have marked as a member of their agricultural unit. The Maoists are confident that the villagers would not leave once their names were made public.
Realising that the villages are emptying, the local Maoist representatives are calling upon the people to return home and have promised to take action against those harassing the villagers. But none of the villagers are willing to believe the Maoists.