19-25 August 2016 #822

A battered future

Amrit Gurung’s striking photograph of two Kailali boys has come to represent the kind of Nepal we are handing over to the next generation
Smriti Basnet

Amrit Gurung
LIFE SO FAR: Aman Nath and Hemanta Bista were six years old when singer Amrit Gurung took his symbolic picture of them among the ruins of a police station in Motipur of Kailali in 2005. Even a decade after the ceasefire, the legacy of the violence still haunts child survivors of the conflict. Bista is now a 20-year-old business student, and says the Maoists should help rebuild what they destroyed.

Gopen Rai

Children in Motipur of Kailali used to avoid going near the ruins of a police station near their school. Six policemen had been killed in a raid on the post, and the students thought the place was haunted.

One day in 2005, a van stopped on the highway and a familiar-looking person with a camera slung over his shoulder stepped out, taking pictures as he entered the police post. Curiosity overcame fear, and six-year-old Hemanta Bista and his classmate Aman Nath followed the man cautiously inside.

Well-known folk-rock singer Amrit Gurung was on a peace concert tour of western Nepal headed towards Dhangadi, and had stopped with his crew in Motipur. An avid photographer, Gurung was snapping pictures of the ruined building with his Nikon which was loaded with a roll of Kodachrome slides.

Just then, he saw the two boys looking out through a hole in the wall of the police station made by a mortar bomb explosion, and he took a few shots. It used to take weeks to get the film rolls developed, and when he finally held the slides up to the light, Gurung remembers being emotionally moved.

“That image of Hemanta and Aman reminded me what our generation had done to this country,” Gurung said, “we have left our children a ruined land.”

Rajesh Kc
Amrit Gurung presenting a copy of the book A People War to Hemanta Bista in Motipur of Kailali in 2008, at the same spot where he had taken the photograph four years previously.

The photograph was chosen as the cover image of A People War, a picture book of the conflict curated by Kunda Dixit and published in 2007 — and came to be symbolic of the waste of war. Twenty years since the start of the conflict in 1996 and 10 years after it ended in 2006, Amrit Gurung’s photograph is still a haunting representation of the legacy of a brutal war on the next generation of Nepalis.

Eleven years after the photograph was taken, Bista, now 20, still remembers the day he followed Amrit Gurung into the destroyed police station. He also remembers the night the post was attacked by the Maoists: the terrifying gunfire and explosions, helicopters landing the next morning, and the bodies of the dead.

“We were really afraid, even at the mention of the word ‘Maoists’,” Bista recalls. His father was a policeman stationed in Motipur, and had to crawl through paddy fields to escape after hearing that the Maoists were coming after him.

Pics: Kunda Dixit
Amrit Gurung’s cover image being displayed amidst the ruins of the Sindhupalchok District Hospital in 2007.

The wrecked police station has long been rebuilt, and Bista moved to Kathmandu six years ago for higher studies. His friend Nath was taken away to India by his father, when his mother died. The horrors of war seem like a fading memory, but for Bista the scars remain.

“Maybe I would have done better in studies if the Maoists had not shut our schools in Kailali,” Bista said. He had to change schools after the Maoists ordered all English-medium schools in the district closed. Bista only realised how far behind he was academically when he struggled with the subjects taught in English while enrolled in college in Kathmandu.

But Bista is determined to move on. He feels strongly that he should do something for his hometown, where he says little has changed for the better since the war. There are more schools in Motipur because of remittance money, and the community installed a drinking water supply recently, but there are no jobs and most young men are leaving for overseas jobs or to the cities for education.

Baburam Bhattarai at A People War photo exhibition tour in 2008 in Gorkha.

“The Maoists are now in government again, they fought a war and have seen the difficulties in the villages with their own eyes, they should at least help rebuild what they destroyed,” he said.

Bista’s father is now retired, and works as a bank security guard in Motipur, struggling to pay for his two sons’ education. “It has been a challenge,” said Bista, who walks with a limp because of a rare bone disease that the family cannot afford medical treatment for.

Now in the eighth semester of his BBA program, Bista hopes to get an MBA degree and dreams of someday running a business of his own to support his family.

Read also:

People in war, John S Shilshi

Children of the revolution, Rubeena Mahato

After a people’s war, Bihari K Shrestha

A people’s war, Kanak Mani Dixit