A school teacher whose hand was cut off by Maoists 20 years ago has another generation of students as pupils
A HELPING HAND: Narjit Basnet, 50 now, teaches at the same school where he was transferred to after his hand was chopped off by Maoists.
In February 1996, one week after Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba ignored an ultimatum by the Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai, a group of insurgents led by Barsha Man Pun raided a police post in Holeri of Rolpa with a vintage rifle and knives.
The Maoist tactics in the first years of the conflict was to terrorise the population into submission, attacking police posts and government offices to reduce the presence of the state. The Deuba government treated the violence as an ordinary law and order problem and underestimated the Maoists.
In the remote district of Rukum, which in those days was not connected by road, the Maoists decided to execute Deuchan Basnet, a VDC leader from the Nepali Congress. However, they mistook Narjit Basnet for his older brother Deuchan, and attacked him instead.
Narjit Basnet was a primary school teacher in the Pokhara VDC of Rukum, one hours walk from the district capital of Musikot. On 24 February 1996, he was returning home at dusk when Maoist guerrillas cornered him, and slashed him with khukuris. His left hand was chopped off at the wrist and he was dropped into the river and left to die.
The famous photograph of Basnet in class was taken 20 years ago
An hour later, villagers found him and took him to a local health post. They were not equipped to treat him. The following day, the Maoists stopped him and his rescuers, who were on their way to Musikot and fled when the police arrived. He was later airlifted to Kathmandu for months of treatment.
Meanwhile, back in Rukum, the Maoists did eventually get his brother Deuchan and hacked him to death. Narjit was uncomfortable to continue working in the same village, and was transferred to Sarswati Primary School in Musikot.
Twenty years after Basnet became one of the first victims of the conflict in Rukum, and 10 years since the ceasefire, Maoist Chair Prachanda who ordered the execution of political opponents is Prime Minister again. And ironically, the coalition is backed by his erstwhile mortal enemy Sher Bahadur Deuba.
Basnet in his classroom in a picture taken in 2006, the year conflict ended.
Meanwhile, Bhattarai who drafted the manifesto of the uprising has quit the Maoists and his party’s new manifesto doesn’t even have the word ‘communist’ in it. Pun who commanded the first Maoist attack in Holeri is a mainstream politician who masterminded the ouster of the former Prime Minister KP Oli two months ago.
Back in Rukum, Narjit Basnet still works as a teacher at a school that runs classes up to Grade 10. He is 50, but the severe injuries inflicted on him during the Maoist attack have begun to take its toll on his health.
He rests a book on the stub of his left hand while teaching, but cannot stand for long because both of his legs were injured and still bear the scars of deep khukuri wounds.
"I don't want to dwell on what happened to me," says Basnet. "But the pain makes forgetting that terrifying night difficult."
Basnet was a popular and smart teacher. Although a primary teacher, he used to take classes up to Grade 8, even after losing his left hand. But now, he only takes classes up to Grade 3. "The wounds have kept me from moving ahead,” he says.
One of Basnet's two sons has migrated to Saudi Arabia for work, and his daughter passed SLC exams last year, and he is struggling to pay for her higher education. He has not received financial assistance promised to war victims because he can walk, and is categorised as 'a partial victim'.
In Musikot, every now and then, Basnet bumps into local Maoist leaders who attacked him. He has never asked them why they tried to kill him. "But if I ever meet Prachanda, I will not let him go without an explanation," he says.
In faraway Kathmandu, the Maoists are back in power again, but Basnet says he has no hope from them: "They left me to die, how can they repay me for what they did to my life?”
After his left hand was hacked off by the Maoists at the start of the war in February 1996, Narjit Basnet was transferred to Saraswati Primary School in Musikot, the district capital of Rukum.
The students he was teaching when the now-famous photograph of him was taken 20 years ago may themselves be parents of the students he is teaching in the picture taken last week in the same classroom.
Saraswati School was upgraded from primary to lower secondary in 2001 and secondary in 2012. The school has since been renovated, the dilapidated furniture has been replaced and the students look smarter in skirts and ties. But the old classroom where Narjit Basnet was photographed twice in A People War trilogy has been replaced by a two-storey concrete building with another four-room structure completed last year. All together 339 students, including 189 girls, from Musikot and nearby villages study there.
The school has an energetic principal, Khamba Singh Thapa, 38, who aims to upgrade the school to 10+2. "If we improve our infrastructure, our students will not have to go elsewhere after the tenth grade," he says.
As for Narjit Basnet, he is happy enough to be able to teach new students in a new classroom, cradling his textbook on the stub of his left arm.
The conflict's first victim, Dhanbir Dahal
Frontline teachers, Naresh Newar
What was it all for?, Om Astha Rai
They should have just killed me, Laxman KC