Life has not changed one bit for the people of the Arun Valley a month after the Maoists declared their ceasefire on 3 September. The locals are now asking why it was called in the first place.
The Maoists continue to collect taxes, abduct locals, force others into indoctrination programmes and restrict people's movements from villages to the district headquarters. The attacks on the army may have stopped, but the attacks on the civilians continue.
The situation is especially bad for teachers and young students for whom the ceasefire announcement has meant being force-marched to attend Maoist indoctrinations and training. Last week, 150 students and teachers in the Jaljala and Barabise areas were abducted and forced to walk to Maoist areas. This week another 300 students and teachers were marched off in Panchthar. "Many students stay in class with fear as we don't know what's going to happen next," says Dinesh Katwal from Mamling Higher Secondary School.
The Maoists have stopped many villagers from travelling to the market to sell their livestock and other goods in the runup to Dasain. "They won't let us sell anything. Instead, they eat our food and meat," said local trader Rajan Sakya. Villagers are getting poorer by the day as each of them has to pay Rs 5,000 every month to the rebels as tax. Families whose relatives work abroad reportedly have to hand over half of their monthly salaries.
Those who have fled their homes live miserable lives in district headquarters Khandbari. "Only Kathmandu seems to be safe," says Palpasa Gurung who fled from her village in Sidhapokahri VDC fearing forced recruitment by the rebels.
The government has totally withdrawn from the villages. VDC secretaries and development offices health workers are all in Khandbari with no work to do. "All the VDC buildings have been destroyed and the Maoists have not called us, so how can we go back?" asked former DDC Chairman Tulsi Prasad Neupane. A senior UML leader, Neupane says the rapprochment between the parties and the Maoists has had no impact on the ground. Police officer Yagya Prasad Shibakoti says the Maoists are simply exploiting the vacuum left by the parties in the villages but the police don't venture out to the villages either.
Business and trade are in shambles. In Chainpur, a third of the shops are locked and the owners have left, says trader Ashish Sakya. Besides lack of customers, the rebels' demand for money has taken its toll. "Until now the business community has been very patiently waiting for peace to return so that business will pick up," says hotelier Madhab Karmacharya who runs a lodge in Khandbari. He remembers a time when 300 tourists stayed at his hotel every season but only three of the 40 lodges here are now open.
WEB EXCLUSIVE | PHOTO FEATURE
Photographs by DAMBAR SHRESTHA
Potters at Sankhuwashava on Mamling-Chinpura
Students from Saradha Primary School,
Crossing Piluwa Khola, Sankhuwashava.
Armed Police Camp, Chinpur.