Life outside the cantonments is no walk in the park. Disqualified combatants as well as those compelled to leave for other reasons are finding that the new Nepal they were promised looks very similar to the one they left behind when they joined the Maoist Party.
Nabina and Samjhana, who live in a village close to Ghorahi bajar in Dang district, have a few things in common. Both are originally from Pyuthan district and joined the Maoists' armed forces at almost the same time. When the two joined the district-level squad, they were the only female members. They spent most of the insurgency as part of the military front, participating in many military actions together. Both had husbands who were killed in the insurgency, and both remarried other comrades.† Samjhana has a six-month-old daughter and Nabina has a two-year-old son (pic).
Nabina aka Horika K.C. is now brigade vice-commander of the Fifth Division. She is the eldest child of Deepak K.C., an elected Maoist member of the Constituent Assembly. She was convinced to join the party by a senior Maoist who used to visit her house and became a whole-time worker after she passed the SLC examination. After working in the cultural front for six months, she joined a squad in April 2000, where she met Samjhana. Soon, she fell in love with Bamdev Adhikari, a commander in her squad. The two married in 2001. But seven months later, Bamdev was killed in a raid on Shitalpati police station. "When we married I was prepared for the possibility of his being killed in battle. But I was deeply hurt and cried," Nabina remembers.
Samjhana aka Sheeta B.K. left home during Dasain in 1999, without informing her family, to become the first whole-time Maoist worker from her village. From the beginning, she had no illusions about her intention to work in the armed front, and asked to be part of a frontline assault group. "As a woman commander, I had to work harder than the men to earn trust. I was fit enough to do so, but there's no doubt women suffered more in the field," she says.
While her platoon was traveling in eastern Nepal to participate in a series of military raids, Samjhana became close to Hira Chaudhari, who was in her group. The two fought many battles together and married in 2004. But as with Nabina, her marriage was not to last. Hira was killed in a major raid on an army camp in Khara of Rukum district in April 2005. Both Samjhana and Hira had been leading their own assault groups. Despite her grief, she consoled herself with the reality that many of her comrades too had lost their loved ones.
When the Maoists entered the peace process, both Nabina and Samjhana were commanders in the Fifth Division of the PLA, quartered in cantonments in Rolpa. But when Samjhana was appointed a member of the Interim Legislature in January 2007 and left her cantonment the two began to walk different paths. Once the Interim Legislature was dissolved, Samjhana became the Pyuthan district in-charge of† the YCL. Nabina, however, had to leave Dahabang cantonment with her son after her division ruled last September that Maoist mothers had to live outside until their children reached the age of three. Nearly 250 women combatants, despite their protests, had to leave and many moved to neighbouring Dang district.
"I wanted to work in the army my whole life but it wasn't to be," Samjhana says. She and her husband have now decided to have another child. Nabina, however, is still hoping to be integrated into the Nepal Army and is waiting on the decision of the Special Committee. She is adamant: "All mother combatants should also be integrated into the national army." But she is not optimistic. "Seeing the present political situation, I don't believe that the integration of the two armies will happen."
KIYOKO OGURA in DANG
Krishna Rajbanshi from Gauradaha-1, Jhapa, was discharged from his PLA cantonment on 26 December. His sudden independence is a far cry from the rigid discipline he endured there. He has a family and must work odd-jobs to make ends meet. "Past is past. I have a family to look after now," he says.
Rajbanshi works as a labourer, earning Rs200 daily, in Gauradaha and Lakhanpur, and helps out on his in-laws' farm. He says, "After all, you should do what you know. When I was in the cantonments, I would do many different kinds of jobs. But most of the time I was in training."
As a disqualified combatant, he knows he is entitled to receive free vocational training. But he is reluctant: "I don't want any kind of training. I'm making a decent living as a daily-wage labourer." Rajbanshi has lost touch with his former cantonment since being discharged, although he has contacted the local Maoist party office. Rajbanshi would like to go abroad but doesn't have enough money.
Muna Dhakal of Baigundhara used to belong to the Pratham Division of the PLA. She returned home after being discharged from the Mukhyalam cantonment. Her husband Dharma, who is from Taplejung, is still there and is confident he'll be integrated into the army. After it was confirmed Muna would be discharged, they went to her parents' home, where they stayed for a few days. "We got married in the cantonment so he never got a chance to visit my parents before," Muna says.
Muna was in the cantonment for three years and now takes care of her parents and helps with farm work. She has a brother and sister, both of whom are in school. She wasn't aware that disqualified combatants are entitled to receive free vocational training. "My husband is in the cantonments. I don't know, he must be happy. If there's time, I'd still like to go to school."
KUMAR LUITEL in DAMAK, JHAPA
"I was disappointed when they took our weapons and uniforms. I was used to living in a group. I am feeling lonely but I am trying to get used to an ordinary lifestyle," laments 24-year-old Gobinda Ghimire aka Biswas. He was discharged from Chulachuli camp last month.
Before joining the PLA, Ghimire was a management student at Mahendra Morang Campus. He was involved in the Maoist party's student wing and went underground in 2004 without completing his studies. He left student politics and joined the PLA in 2006. However, he was disqualified by UNMIN. "I don't know why I am disqualified," he says, "I am good at using weapons."†
Ghimire is not currently affiliated with any Maoist organisation and lives with his family. He aspires to resume his studies but the government has only offered support for education up to
grade 12. Ghimire says, "The government should give support for education up to a master's degree. I don't care about vocational education."
He thinks the disqualified PLA have been tolerant of the government's indifference so far, but warns that this may not last. "It is not time for the government to relax. Instead, it should be worried about the possible negative consequences especially after having kicked people out of the PLA. If we are ignored, we might even launch a revolt."
Ghimire is upset that he has been asked to leave the PLA despite having devoted his youth to its cause. "I never thought things would come to this, not even in my wildest dreams," he says. However, he says he doesn't bear a grudge against the party.
Ghimire would have graduated by now. He quit his studies, calling it a 'bourgeois education'. But without marketable skills, he's now facing the toughest fight of his life.
SITA MADEMBA in DHARAN