26 April-2 May 2013 #653

Telling each other’s stories

Nepalis on both sides of the conflict step into each other’s shoes in a unique reconciliation effort

Now that the peace process has been officially declared over and Maoist combatants have either been demobilised, disarmed or assimilated into the national army, there is a need to address some of the underlying dissatisfaction among ex-combatants who have been resettled.

There have often been problems between the ex-guerrillas and members of local communities who have lost relatives to Maoist violence during the conflict. In areas where large numbers of them are settled, there is a need to help them integrate into the communities. One unique effort is underway in Chitwan to assist communities with mediation and dialogue so that the assimilation process is smooth.

There are three sessions of five days each in with 20 participants selected by their communities in Dang, Surkhet, Kailali, and Chitwan. They include men and women from local community and from the ranks of the ex-combatants. A fifth person from a community group also takes part. And the fifth works in each district for dialogue and peace-building.

“The sessions were really useful,” says Anju (pic, left) a participant from a local community, “the old and new communities bonded well together by sharing their pain and their feelings of anger, fear, resentment, pain or grief.” As part of their reconciliation exercise, participants are asked to put themselves in the shoes of the other community and assess their situation. Ex-guerrillas see themselves from the perspective of local community members who feel unsafe because of the memories of war. And local families see the difficulties that the ex-combatants face in being treated like outsiders.

The Support of Measures to Strengthen the Peace Process project is supported by the German aid group, GIZ, and the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction. For Dirk Splinter from Inmedio Berlin who conducted some of the sessions, it was more than a training. It was an encounter for many villagers who had never met former Maoist guerrillas before.

“We feel that sustainable trust building is only possible if people talk about past experiences to overcome resentment,” Splinter explained. “We worked on skills and methods, but also on attitudes to be able to change perspectives, to be able to feel like the other person.”

In smaller groups, Bishna from Kailali shares a story of how she felt the Maoists were giving villagers like her a lot of trouble. But after the session, she told the story of Anil, a participant who is an ex-combatant. “He got tangled in barbed wire during a blast. Then, a friend helped him get to the hospital. But his group thought he had died and told his family. Once out of hospital, he arrived home to find funerals happening for him and for his grandfather who had died on hearing of his death,” Bishna said, recounting Anil’s story.

Anil listens and then adds quietly: “It was very difficult and I felt so bad that my grandfather had died due to wrong information.” Anil then tells Bishna’s story, about how her brother who was a soldier in the army was home on leave. She was seven and one day while walking to the market a bomb went off and killed her brother. She found her brother’s body beside the road.

Anil continued: “I felt the pain that we caused to each other and after we shared our stories we felt relieved.” Bishna added: “I realise they were fighting because they really believed they could change the country.”

Frances Klatzel