It is a four-hour walk to Majhimtar Bazar for 60-year old Gun Bahadur Praja and Shankha Bahadur Gurung. They came to collect a donation-Rs 3,200 to each family that had lost a member a year ago at Kalikot airport when security forces killed labourers thinking they were Maoists. The money came from Nepalis living in the US and we were there to distribute it.
The two elderly men were among the first to gather at Majhimtar on the morning of 23 February. The crowd grew with parents who had lost their sons, fatherless children and widows. They came dressed in their best but some, like Gun Bahadur, wore threadbare clothes. Man Kumar BK and his brother Gyan Bahadur from remote Thansigh were the last to arrive. "Why do tears fall on all our meetings? Today I would like to greet you with a smile," Man Kumar says, although his eyes are moist with unshed tears.
It's been a long time since any of them have genuinely smiled. Perhaps it was after learning that the Radio Nepal report of 17 "terrorists" killed in Kalikot referred to their loved ones. All of them came to know the true circumstances 19 days later.
After the media made their story public, Nepalis and foreigners sent gifts of cash and kind to the bereaved families. They don't seem to have come to term with their loss. Many of them were closed off in their grief-only after repeatedly calling their names do they come forward to collect the money.
Many had not eaten since early morning so everyone was offered tea and biscuits at a nearby teashop. The biscuits arrived before the tea and some of them, hungry as they were, put the biscuits into their pockets or gave it to their wives for safekeeping. "The dead are gone, but the little ones at home will enjoy eating these biscuits," one of them says.
The teashop didn't have enough glasses for 26 people, so some people waited while the others sipped the hot tea. Dhan Maya, Bhim Bahadur Thapa's mother, says quietly, "I worked so hard ever since my son was a baby so that he would have enough to eat and now." There are no tears, but the sorrow in her voice is heartwrenching. They say great grief finds no solace in tears. Everyone seems to instinctively understand why Dhan Maya does not weep.
The death of a loved one is a tragedy for anyone but where bereavement to natural death will heal with time, unjust deaths sow the seeds of further injustice and revenge. If the families of those lost in Kalikot are not heard, their pain will one day erupt into anger. Their grief must be acknowledged, and their pain alleviated.