Nepali Times
From The Nepali Press
Strategic question mark

Kishore Nepal in Himal Khabarpatrika, 1-15 December

NAUMULE, Dailekh-For the Maoists, Dailekh's Kalika Forest is a strategic corridor joining their training grounds from Achham, Bajura, Kalikot to the north and Jajarkot, Rukum and Rolpa to the east. Naumule is the only place where Maoist violence and killings have been so prevalent in Dailekh. Naumule is a critical buffer zone between the district headquarters and Kalika, which is why they concentrated their actions ever since destroying the police post here in 2001. Even till a year ago, the Maoists were solely in control of Naumule. Now, because of their own excesses, the rebel presence here grew steadily weaker and they undermined themselves. They banned religious activities, didn't allow the local people to worship in temples, play traditional music during festivals or allow children to go to school. Dailekh has some of the most-revered Hindu shrines in the region including temples where natural gas seeping out of the earth have created eternal flames that have been worshipped for centuries. If only there were better roads, these shrines would be popular pilgrimage destinations. Most of the priests who attended these temples have been chased away and recently Maoists cut off the legs of the 72-year-old priest Bhagwan Nath Yogi. The people of Dailekh had accepted these atrocities because they feared retribution from the rebels. But the Maoists began putting too much pressure on the local people and the last straw was the requirement that every household provide one person as a 'whole timer' to the rebel force.

It culminated on 24 November when the women of Dailekh spontaneously came together to protest. There were around 5,000 people shouting anti-Maoist and pro-peace slogans. Social worker Krishna Shahi (pictured here on magazine cover) who rallied the women of the13 surrounding VDCs emerged as the informal coordinator of the protests. "We have set an example for the people of Dailekh and for the rest of Nepal, let's hope all the victims of Maoism hear our call," Shahi says. Other women warned political parties from trying to take credit for the protests, saying the demonstrations were non-partisan and an eruption of anger and desperation.

After the protests, the army has decided to move a base to guard Dullu against Maoist revenge attacks. The security forces also want to capitalise on these spontaneous protests by the people. During the Dullu demonstrations, 27 Maoists surrendered to the security forces and 73 others have given up with documents, small arms as well as the money they had extorted from the local people. Taking its cue from Dullu, the resistance spread to Naumule and Salleri. The people here were angry at the Maoists for their campaign to 'join the movement, leave the village or live with broken limbs'. Since October, locals have been taking Maoist recruiters, tying them up and handing them over to the security forces. Fearing that the resistance would spread, the Maoists attacked Naumule and Salleri on 16 November and shot dead 61-year-old ex-serviceman Balbir Gurung, his eight-year-old grandson Ashok Gurung and farmer Durga Bahadur Khadka. There are now 2,000 refugees from Salleri and Naumule living in schools in Dullu and they haven't gone back even though the security forces have taken over their village. Ashok's mother, Aitram Gurung left her son's body on his bed at home and says she is too terrorised to go back. The Rs 30 million that Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba announced as relief to the refugees is not going to go far, even if it is distributed to the genuinely needy.

Even though the Dailekh uprising was spontaneous and unprecedented, it is not going to be easy for the government to take advantage of it. Government presence is nil in many parts of the country and it first needs to show that it is a viable alternative that reflects and acts on the citizen's concerns. Given the disarray and disunity of the political parties, it is unlikely that Dailekh's brave resistance can be replicated nationwide.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)