Nepali Times
Red alert in Simikot


Humla mother whose two sons were marched away by Maoists last month.

The freezing winds have brought down the temperature to minus three and for people in this besieged headquarters of Humla district this is good news.

This means it may be too cold for the Maoists to launch their threatened attack on the town.

"Let's pray there will be more snow soon, that is our only defence," says a senior civil servant posted to this district on Nepal's remote northwestern tip. The official is shivering inside his freezing office: there is no money for kerosene and firewood is scarce. Electricity is solar-powered and the batteries last only two hours.

The Maoists have threatened to attack Simikot, and even though past warnings did not materialise, the locals seem to take it seriously. "We shouldn't take it lightly," says the official, who has recieved intimidating phone calls from the local Maoist commander. Last month, the Maoists staged simultaneous attacks on Gamgadi in Mugu and Jumla Bajar. Locals who have fled their villages for fear of forced recruitment say thousands of people have been seen being led by about 200 Maoists near the Bajura border to the south.

The official says the Maoists are not bluffing and has relayed the message to the capital but Kathmandu isn't listening. The security force here is only 200-strong and is vulnerable to Maoist human wave attacks. "They can easily take over Simikot," explains a local politician pointing out the strategic passes on a map from where police have withdrawn. Government presence is seen only in seven wards of Simikot, state power is non-existent in the other 27 VDCs.

The Maoists are on a recruitment spree and in the past three months launched a campaign with the slogan: 'Wear your shoes, take up arms and prepare for war.' The rebels leave a shoe overnight outside the house as a sign that one member from that household has to join the rebels.

In Jaira VDC, a three-day walk from here, about 80 young men and women were recruited in October to be 'whole time' cadres and taken to training camps. Some returned to spread 'revolutionary education', while 18-20 year olds were taken away for militia training.

They say the revolution has reached its final phase and are confident they can take over Simikot whenever they want," adds a political activist who recently visited his home village. There he met Comrade Balbir, the Maoist secretary of Humla, and local commanders.

In villages like Badagaun, the Maoists announced the names of 100 young men and women on 24 October and asked families to keep their sons and daughters ready when they returned on 16 November to pick them up.
Parents watched quietly as the Maoists took away 116 children.

"We performed a funeral ceremony as if we would never see our children again," recounts 55-year-old Sima Lama from Limatang who let the Maoists take her two young sons, "I have been praying and crying every day. Only God can save our children."

Parents comply out of fear. Last month, the rebels set an example by killing the mother of a girl who ran away to Simikot. None of the parents want help from the security forces fearing they will be interrogated and detained for allowing their children to join the Maoists.

Rani Shahi, 17, also escaped from the Maoist recruitment camp in Khampey four months ago and fled to Simikot. "The army won't be able to find them even if it tries," she told us, "By the time they reach our village, the Maoists will have left." Twelve-year-old Sendup Lama from Thehe was also listed for Maoist recruitment. On the day he was taken, he cried so much Sendup's 14-year-old sister offered herself in his place, and the rebels let Sendup go. "I was scared that is why I cried," says Sendup who feels guilty and anxious about his sister.

Since the Maoist recruitment intensified, most Lama parents here have started sending off their daughters instead of their sons to become Maoists. As in the rest of patriarchal Nepal, sons are regarded as more precious. A local activist explains: "The daughters are angry at their parents and some of them have vowed never to return. The Lama community pampers its boys." He estimates up to 60 percent of the Maoist recruits in Humla are girls.

As the 16 November deadline approached, more than 3,000 mothers and 300 teachers from outlying villages came to Simikot to pressure the local officials to start peace talks. "They thought we had come to beg for food and insulted us, actually we came to beg for peace," recalls 35-year-old Hima Pariyar from Baragaun. Hima has brought her son, Sundar, whose name is on the Maoist list. "I'm not going back," Sundar tells us defiantly.

As the number of displaced people grows, food is running out in Simikot. The district administration distributes five kgs of rice per family three times a week, and officials are worried the food will run out. The UN's World Food Programme has stopped its Food For Work program due to the Maoist blockade in Simikot.

There is a new Maoist commander in Humla who has stopped recruitment for now, and one human rights activist here explains: "The comrades may have realised their new regime will be worthless without the people's support."

But the villagers are skeptical. The Maoists recently lifted their blockade of Simikot so villagers could attend a health camp organised by the Nepal Trust, but warned them to return to their villages otherwise they could be killed when Simikot is attacked soon.

(All names have been changed to protect identity)
(See also: 'Cold war', #124)


Monks not Maoists

As Maoists intensify their campaign to forcibly recruit one member from each family many Lama families from Humla are sending children away to Dharmashala to become nuns and monks. In the first week of November, just before the deadline for Maoist recruitment, 28 children went to India from Badagaun and Torpa.

"I don't want to throw my 13-year-old daughter to the Maoists," says 40-year-old Siba Lama. "She would have a better life as a nun." The tradition of sending children to monasteries had been dying out in Humla but was revived again because of the Maoist threat. Forty-year-old Chandra Lama sent his 12-year-old daughter to India too and says she insisted on it. "She said she'd rather be a nun than a Maoist," he says. But some, like Hari Lama, are worried about what the Maoists will do if they find out he has sent his son away to a monastery.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)