In April 2005, just a day after the Nepali New Year, the Maoists stormed into a village in central Tarai, bombing houses of local landlords and slaughtering villagers, including children.
The bloodshed in Bargdawa was splattered across national media the next morning. It was the result of bad blood between local zamindars and landless Dalits in which 11 people were killed. During the Maoist war, the two sides sought help from the state and the rebels, and a minor land dispute could escalate into a bloody feud.
Golahi Chamar, a Dalit, had bought half an acre of land from Nanda Kumar Chaudhari, a village landlord. But the transaction was not registered at the local land revenue office. After Chaudhari's death, his sons tried to evict the Chamar family from the disputed land.
The Maoists exerted pressure on the Chaudharis to return the disputed property to the Chamar family. But the Chaudharis sought help from a local Retaliation Committee instead. This was a vigilante group formed by the Army to hunt down insurgents.
Pics: Deepak Gyawali
SATAN TO SAINT: Murali Kuswaha, a dreaded vigilante, posed (above) for this picture with his shotgun and bandolier in 2001 in Kapilvastu where he was hired by the Army to hunt down Maoists. After the war, he became a sadhu (below) and now seeks solace in god and has a horse (bottom) as his friend .
The Maoists abducted and killed a Chaudhari. The vigilantes countered by killing a Chamar. That tragic summer night, it was the Maoists' turn to respond, and by dawn they fled the village leaving a pile of corpses and burning homesteads.
A day after the Bargdawa massacre when reporters reached the village, Murari Kushwaha, a dreaded vigilante, was guarding the village. He was carrying a gun and wearing a bandolier.
Kushwaha pointed his gun at me and the other reporters, threatening to kill us all. Once we convinced him that we were journalsits, he was ready to talk and be photographed.
His photo appeared on the cover of Samaya newsmagazine, and unmasked the face of vigilantes mobilised by the state against its rebels. The photo was also a solid proof that the state was actively inciting the people to rise up against the Maoists. It had started training unemployed youth, including convicted criminals from India, to fight the rebels with shotguns and rifles.
Kushwaha was one of the first to be trained and armed by the Army in Nawalparasi district. He was reportedly fleeing prosecution for crimes in India, but already had Nepali citizenship. Kushwaha quickly expanded his reach beyond his village, and overtly supported the Chaudharis in Bargdawa. He boasted of having killed many rebels, and was on the Maoist hit list.
After the 2006 Peace Accord, Kushwaha disappeared from his village, and reappeared as a priest. I tracked him down, and my picture of him wearing a garland of rudraksha is included in Kunda Dixit’s People After War.
During the war, local landlords used to call Kushwaha for help when threatened by the Maoists. Today, people still seek help from him, but not to kill anyone. As a member of a local peace committee, he mediates land disputes, and persuades them to find a peaceful settlement.
Last week, when we caught up with him in his village near Buddha's birthplace of Lumbini, Kushwaha had just finished his morning prayers and was busy facilitating negotiations to settle a dispute affecting classes at a local school.
“I am happy that people now need me for peace, and not for war,” he told Nepali Times. “When I worship, I find inner peace – I do not want to remember the past.”
Most men in the Tarai either ride motorcycles or bicycles, but Kusawaha rides a horse around the village. “This is not just a horse, but a friend who keeps me company,” he says. “He cheers me up whenever I get upset thinking of my violent past.”
At a time when a Maoist faction is preparing to launch a new war against the state, Kushwaha urges Nepalis to never resort to violence again: “I have seen it all, and I know how it feels to live through a war, we don’t need another one.”
A future that didn't come true, Shreejana Shrestha
Bad blood, Kalpana Bhattarai
In the name of the people, From the Nepali Press
We won't forget, Kunda Dixit