PICS: DAMBAR KRISHNA SHRESTHA
Durga Dhakal and his wife Kamala Dahal, from Dang, put their lives at stake during the ten years of conflict. Now attending the combatant handover program at Shaktikhor with their two-year-old daughter, their only wish is that the country does not go back to war, and that they do not have to wait any longer. Durga and Kamala were married five years ago, and fought in over 15 battles.
Shabnam Parajuli of Kavre and Usha Lamichhane of Gorkha, both ex-fighters, watch their husbands parade during the ceremonies. Their children watch with them. "Since having a child, the idea of going to battle scares me," Usha says. Dipendra Buda Magar and Bipana live near the camp in Shaktikhor with their son. Bipana hopes that in the future, her family will be able to earn more than the Rs 4,000 a month that her husband has been receiving from the cantonment. There are 200 women with children like Bipana in Shaktikhor.
The signing of the agreement letter on combatant handover to the Special Committee by Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal may have seemed historic. But many ex-combatants expressed skepticism, even if those with families appeared keen to believe it would lead to something.
Yangji Sherpa, 23, who joined the Maoists with her uncle when she was just 13, is not so sure that anything will come out of the agreement. "The handover took place but I doubt integration will be as easy," she says. Yangji spent all her youth fighting, participating in over 15 battles, and lost her uncle to the war. She adds, "It is hard to say with the way politics is moving, but I hope things turn out well. Hope is all we have."
Sabina Ghimire of Sindhupalchok, 23 and Nirmala Thapa of Makwanpur, 30, say that the coming together of party leaders has sparked hope, but they are not entirely convinced. Camp commander Ganesh Mahar (Gurans) says that they have sacrificed a lot for the sake of peace, and that it is now the government's and parties' responsibility to look after the combatants. Brigade Commander Bishnu Kumar Limbu says however that the handover is more of a political gesture than an actual step towards integration and rehabilitation. "They should formally ask us to join the national army or go back home. Then we would either carry guns or tend fields. We would at least be free from the uncertainty inside the camp."
While some combatants declined to speak to the media, others were more vocal. A battalion commander went as far as to label the program a 'fine drama'. He vented his ire on his leaders, saying that they did not do anything for the combatants when the party was in power, deliberately delayed constitution-writing, and only plotted to get the post of prime minister. Another battalion commander lamented that all the talk of fighting for change felt like sheer nonsense and foolishness during the four years in the camp. "The party better stop hoping for anything from those in the camps if they are planning another revolution," he said.
Power sharing, post-handover, MADHAV KUMAR NEPAL