Nepali Times Asian Paints
Cry, beloved country


It has been three weeks but the women of Somani in Parsa district are inconsolable. The terror is vivid, the pain of loss of loved ones still searing. They are unable to sleep, eat or speak.

It was two days after the Nepali new year on 16 April and the villagers of this hamlet 20 km southeast of Butwal were getting ready to go to bed. At about 10PM, the Maoists arrived in hundreds. They dragged everyone out of the houses, singled out the men aged 15-39 and executed them without mercy. After that they went on a rampage bombing four houses and burning another 10. They set fire to tractors, to this year's wheat harvest that was piled up for threshing, to cowsheds in which livestock were burnt alive.

Weeks later, there are only charred skeletons of houses, ashes strewn about, a singed cow lingers listlessly near what used to be its shed and the dread on the faces of the surviving women and children bear mute testimony to what happened here that night.

The Maoists accused the villagers of forming a pratikar samiti to resist them. Although there are hundreds of registered NGOs here, the CDO says only a few came to help. The only real response was from the local branch of the FNCCI which distributed relief supplies. The CDO agreed reluctantly to allow us to travel to Somani after we convinced him we were trying to help.

Once we got there, we ran into a grandmother who had lost three grandsons aged 15, 16, and 18. We met a mother whose two adult sons were killed, leaving her with a small daughter. An elderly father had lost his only son. As he broke down and wept, he told us how broad shouldered, handsome, strong he was and how well he worked the fields. Women stepping out of their ravaged homes, were still speechless with shock.

The neighbours said they had exhausted their tears and couldn't cry anymore. "We can't eat, we can't sleep, we can't cry," says one survivor, barely able to get his words out. None of them have slept in the village since that night, preferring to go to adjoining hamlets. Many have fled to India or to the safety of towns. Few have come to offer comfort, let alone support and relief. And due to news restrictions, reporters have gone back printing the intial army press release. Even in Butwal, we met many who hadn't heard of what happened here. And after a while, it seems the news of slaughter all merge into one in a faraway, uncaring capital.

A security base was set up in a nearby school for the protection of Somani's survivors. Yet, as darkness fell the forces left and we were also told to leave for our own safety. By day, there is an effort to resume classes but we wondered what the children would learn in a school that was a military base.

We found out that an anti-Maoist resistance committee had indeed been set up in the village by two powerful men whose sons had been killed by the Maoists earlier. The committee had been supported by the state. But as far as we could tell the young men killed by the Maoists in Somani were all innocent unarmed villagers. The real vigilantes weren't even here that night.

Chance brought us to Somani. But many other villages like it in Nepal cry out to be heard.

The voice of one mother haunts us. She talked about this incident as if she was talking about somebody else: "I saw my boy lying in a pool of blood and was trying to touch him. His hands and feet were limp. I thought he would speak again but he was dead. Normally, I could not have lifted him but seeing his corpse, I just picked him up and carried him outside."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)