27 June - 3 July 2014 #713

The ghosts of war

Kantipur, 21 June

Former Battalion Commander in the Maoist militia, Mohan Adhikari, still has nightmares. He screams in his sleep remembering comrades falling in battle.

Adhikari used to be assigned to party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s security detail, and his entire family from Pyuthan had joined the Maoists. Today, after choosing the golden handshake, he feels betrayed by the party.

“I don’t know if it is post-traumatic stress or a mental disorder,” he says, “I think it is the ghost of the people’s war that’s come back to haunt me for the rest of my life.”

Adhikari bought some land in Dang with his Rs 600,000 lump sum and settled there with his wife Pabitra, who was a platoon commander, and their two sons. The money is now finished, and like others who opted for voluntary retirement the former guerrilla feels abandoned.

NEW LIVES (L-R): Ex-combatant Mohan Adhikari, former guerrilla Bharat BK with his son at his shop, Karna Bahadur BK with wife Om Kumari Nepali (both ex-combatants) at their eatery in Ghorahi, Ubi Lal Gharti and his wife set up a lokta paper and nettle fabric which they export.

“The party has forgotten its slogans of revolution, liberation, end of discrimination, the leaders have become selfish and left us to ourselves,” says Adhikari.

Another former guerrilla Bharat BK of Rukum also feels the conflict ruined his life. He opened a small eatery with the Rs 500,000 retirement benefit, but he is finding it difficult to run a business. “We commanded a certain respect during the war, now the customers order us around, and it feels awkward,” he says, “and they have a negative attitude towards us.”

BK joined the guerrillas when he was 13, and hasn’t known a life outside the party. Today, his money has run out, the business is not doing well, life in the town is difficult and he can’t go back to his village because of stigma.

Platoon Commander Karna Bahadur BK also chose retirement with his wife, former guerrilla Om Kumari Nepali. They also found it difficult to go back to their village, but it is even harder to run the small lodge.

“When we ask people to lend us money, they say ask your party,” Karna Bahadur says, “the party has forgotten us and so has the state. And the people treat us like murderers.”

Karna Bahadur joined the Maoists when he was in Grade Seven, and he still hasn’t been able to explain to his mother why he enlisted. Comrades wounded during the war are disabled, others have migrated overseas, many have become alcoholics, some have taken to crime.

Not all stories are so sorrowful. Ubilal and Radhika Gharti of Jajarkot invested their retirement package to set up a traditional lokta paper and nettles fabric business and make a clean profit of Rs 50,000 a month. Not only are they not looking for a job, they provide income to hundreds of villagers who supply them with raw material.

Ex-Company Commander Dhan Bahadur BK and his wife Babita invested their joint Rs 1.6 million retirement benefit in a printing press in Khalanga of Jajarkot. Deputy Brigade Commander Krishna Raj BK put his money into a provision store and is doing well. Lalit Gharti moved down to Nepalganj and runs a tractor business. Deputy Company Commader Sarparaj Basnet has a lodge in Chhinchu of Surkhet.

Bal Bahadur Malla used to be a Platoon Commander, and he is now a contractor. “We fought for a cause, but we couldn’t bring the changes the country needed,” he says, “now we have to run a business to survive.” Other ex-guerrillas have started poultry farms, auto repair garages, mobile repair shops, or farm vegetable.

Gopal KC returned to his ancestral village of Thawang to start a poultry farm after not getting any help from his party. Last year he earned Rs 200,000 from his business.

He says, “It is much more fulfilling to work independently than taking orders from the party, and in a small way I am contributing to society.”

Durgalal KC, Harihar Singh Rathour, Bhim Bahadur Singh, Krishna Prasad Gautam

Integrating well

Former guerrillas who chose to join the Nepal Army seem to be doing much better than those who opted for retirement. Chitraman Roka of Rukum (pictured) says he feels for comrades who left, and have run out of money.

“In contrast, we get a regular salary, life is good and it turned out well for us,” Roka, who is posted in Sundarijal says. “Our political life is over, we don’t discuss politics in the barracks.”

But Roka does reminisce about past battles with his former enemies in the army, and they share joys and sorrows. Roka’s wife, Kamala, is also a former guerrilla and lives in Dang with their five-year-old son.

“If I had taken retirement, my 6 lakhs would be finished by now. In the village they respect me because I am a soldier,” Roka said during a furlough in Dang.