Nima Dorje Lama was in bed when a security patrol banged on his door in Ryale of Kabhre district on the night of 4 November 2003.
Thinking they could be Maoists, he didn't go to open the door right away. When he did, the soldiers arrested him on suspicion of being a Maoist. They found a pressure cooker in his kitchen and some wires. That was all the evidence they needed.
Lama, 38, was taken to a security camp in Malpi and Rosi Khola and then to Singha Nath Gan in Bhaktapur. He was stripped naked and beaten mercilessly. He was ordered to admit that he had a role in the murder of the Ryale VDC Chairman Krishna Prasad Sapkota three years ago. "They put a gun to my head, stood me before a hole in the ground and told me to admit that I had committed Sapkota's murder," he recalls. Both his ankles were severely injured as a result of the torture and Nima Dorje was taken to the Birendra Sainik Hospital in Chhauni where he spent 45 days recuperating.
Nima Dorje was lucky he survived to tell the tale. He was lucky his father was a former pradhan pancha of Ryale and the head lama of the village monastery, he was lucky his community rallied behind him and moved his case to the Supreme Court. Not many innocents detained on suspicion of being Maoist in Nepal these days are so lucky. Nima Dorje was finally released two weeks ago after the Supreme Court found him not guilty.
Dorje's father Ram Bahadur Lama approached the Tamang Ghedung, an organisation that looks after the welfare of the Tamang community, which contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It was able to get Nima's messages to his family. After he returned from hospital to the army barrack he was kept in isolation until 2 March 2004 and then secretly transferred to Central Bhadragol Jail. But his family members had no idea of his whereabouts.
"Even the CDO said he didn't know where my son was being kept," says Ram Bahadur. The ICRC looked for Nima in Nakkhu and Dilli Bajar and finally found him in Bhadragol where he was able to meet his father and family members- his wife and three children.
The Tamang Ghedung with the help of Amnesty International took Nima's case to the courts and he was released due to lack of evidence. "I was innocent. They tortured me to the point where I was contemplating suicide," says a subdued Nima Dorje, "financial compensation is meaningless, they have to admit they made a mistake and apologise."
Nima Dorje once worked in the army as a porter in the RNA's lowest rung but quit in 1999 to open a shop in his village. Till the murder of its VDC chairman, Ryale hadn't seen any rebel activity. A majority of the villagers in this dairy-farming region are Tamangs and most are either employed in Kathmandu or working in India. The only sign of any rebellion here is graffiti painted on the walls of the local health centre. It now looks like non-Tamang residents who had an axe to grind against Ram Bahadur told the army that Nima was a Maoist.
Nima Dorje says he owes his survival in solitary confinement to his faith, he spent his time reading and helping renovate a gumba inside the prison. Ram Bahadur used to travel from Ryale to Central Jail twice a week with food for his son and these visits kept Nima's morale up.
For someone who suffered injustice at the hands of the very force he once served, there is in Nima Dorje a surprising lack of bitterness. He also disagrees with the Maoist's path of violence and says: "Both sides are wrong, they should solve this without violence and keep ordinary people like us out of it."