"They didn't bury the bodies properly," a local from Thulo Sirubari said, exasperated. The whole area was reeking with the stench of the decaying bodies of insurgents killed in the recent fight with the security forces. It's normal for villagers to be curious about strangers visiting their village. The man said he'd heard about our arrival and wanted to meet us.
Thulo Sirubari has been deserted since six residents were killed in a recent confrontation with security forces. I imagine all the villages that have been savaged by death and terror share the same fate. Security forces claim to kill terrorists, but locals are not convinced. They are not ready to accept that their neighbours were ever involved in terrorist activities.
The country has turned into a battleground. Earlier, a day was noted for 10 or 20 deaths, now 500 or 600 is becoming the norm. We are harvesting death-some die like mountains, others die like dogs. Every death is different from the other-some might be taunting those who died of diarrhoea, others might feel lives being are wasted for the romance of revolution.
Dead bodies are scattered all over-bodies brutalised by guns and ammunition, bodies gashed with khukuris, bodies bastardised. We are the brave race, we cultivate death, as poet Bhupi Sherchan wrote: we are stupid, for we are brave/ we are brave, that is why we are stupid/ a Nepali is born not to live, but to die/ either he dies in a battlefield, or he dies in a forest.
Death is common and usual for a Nepali, because there is death in our blood. Life in the hills is difficult, and this commonplace difficulty might well have prepared us to kill and to be killed. The British must have sensed our fighting prowess and created conditions for us to join their army. Nepalis have battled as part of the British army, as part of the Indian army and in the national army. Nepalis have died in Kosovo and Kargil, and they have died in Lisne Lek and Sangranti Bazar. Death has become common and usual for us.
Death is inevitable in a war, so the death of a Nepali soldier fighting for a foreign army was easily accepted. It has become common sense in our minds that one can be killed fighting a war. The Maoist war has deepened this, and after the imposition of the state of emergency, every Nepali has learnt that death can happen anytime, anywhere.
The fresh graves of Shiva Hari Gautam and Tika Datta Dulal in Thulo Sirubari are reflected in the faces of the villagers, in fearful expressions. What will one Shiva Hari gain out of this even if they win the war, other than this untimely and unjustified death? Every village has been victimised.
Biswesora Dahal, widow of Ram Nath Dahal, who died in the Jhapa Andolan, once said that those who die are the losers, that the winners are always those who live. Those who died were erased from memory, but their comrades in the Jhapa Andolan reached the summit of power. What would those who died in Thulo Sirubari and Lisne Lek gain from the death they took on?
The 67-year-old father of Shiva Hari is devastated that he is mourning his young son. An unimaginable situation has arisen-aged fathers are mourning the deaths of their young sons and awaiting their own deaths in desperation.
Until a year ago, terror was not so prevalent in Thulo Sirubari. The people there were making a garden, they had just completed a drinking water project. Rastriya Prajatantra Party worker Tika Dutta Dulal, 70, was much respected by the villagers, and was leading the project. Dulal, who was later pressurised by the Maoists to become a member of the Jana Sarkar ("People's Government") , used to address the Maoist cadres as "comrades". He slipped up once and also called the RNA soldiers comrades. This innocent mistake cost him his life.
An incompetent political leadership is creating an environment in which more innocent villagers will fall for the Maoists' idealism. Tika Dutta was full of zeal for social work. The fear of death did not linger on his face. Despite the government appeals that people like him surrender, he remained in the village, probably under the pressure of the Maoists. He probably never imagined that such a death lay in store for him.
When the government and the Maoist leadership were having their rounds of talks at posh hotels and resorts, the Maoists were actively declaring Jana Sarkar in villages. The simple-minded villagers probably thought the Maoists had already won the war, and willingly participated in the local Jana Sarkar. The reality is that villagers belong to nobody, they belong to whoever is in power. When the government was strong, they belonged to either the Nepali Congress or to the CPN-UML. As the major political parties became less active, the villagers came under influence of the Maoists. To break the spell of Maoists, those political parties that are aboveground should intensify their activities.
As the mainstream political parties abandoned their activities, villagers probably had the impression that Maoists had already won the war, so they accepted the Maoist leadership under pressure and fear. Isn't it true that "every Nepali was a Pancha, and every Pancha was a Nepali" when the panchayat system was in place? Instead of hunting for terrorists by looking at the faces of the villagers, political parties should work to change the politics in villages.