Nepali Times
"How long do we have to wait?"


Ratna Bahadur Shahi couldn't pay Rs 70,000 the Maoists wanted from him for the revolution, so they seized his property in Jumla and blew up his ancestral house.

He had to leave his village and the farm that supported 22 members of his extended family. Ratna Bahadur's brothers, parents and children are now scattered across Nepal and India.

It is for people like him that the government decided to compensate those directly affected by Maoist violence five years ago. But Ratna Bahadur's application form and other documents have been lying at the Home Ministry for a year now, and every time he goes there to enquire the officials ask him to get more documents from the police office in Jumla.

Ratna Bahadur has traveled five times to Jumla from Kathmandu and has run out of money. Now, the ministry tells him that the Finance Ministry hasn't sanctioned the money. "The Home Minister is never there when I go to see him. They make us travel all the way to Kathmandu and here they give us the run around," says Ratna Bahadur.

On the day when women soldiers were inducted into the Royal Nepali Army, three of them widows of soldiers killed in action, the civilian victims of Maoist violence decided they've had enough of red tape.

There are thousands of Nepalis like Ratna Bahadur who are waiting for compensation, and thousands of others who don't even know they are eligible for damages. The government had promised it would compensate families whose relatives were killed or had lost their property to the rebels so they could start a new life.

So far, the government has paid some families whose relatives have been killed Rs 150,000 for each person killed. As for the property damage, the compensation would be much higher. The government pays between 10-20 percent of the total property worth which could go up as high as Rs 200,000- 800,000 or more for each family. Those with connections in government have received full compensation. Most other genuine victims are still stuck in the bureaucracy. "Many of us will never see the money," says Ram Gopal Tamauli from the Association of Maoist Victims of Nepal.

According to the association, the Home Ministry owes compensation of up to Rs 70 million, and many bereaved and displaced families are losing patience. "The government pays more attention to the Bhutani refugees than to its own citizens who are homeless and living in misery," says Dharmaraj Neupane, chairman of the association. "Ex Maoists who surrender to the government get more welfare benefits than than the families they victimised," adds Neupane.

Most villagers have similar stories to Ratna Bahadur Shahi, and have to shuttle back and forth from Kathmandu to their hometowns for documents. Many have run out of money paying for travel and Kathmandu hotels, and have borrowed from relatives and friends.

Monita Shahi needs at least Rs 18,000 to travel to Kalikot to get her paperwork done. Travelling by road is not possible as she fears the rebels will find and kill her. She can only go by helicopter which will cost her Rs 8,600 roundtrip from Nepalganj. Monita has been living with her relatives for the past six months and she is not sure how long they will keep her. "I have five hundred rupees left and I have to keep it for when I end up on the street one day," she tells us. Monita is entitled to 20 percent of Rs 1.9 million compensation for her house, livestock and land. One year after she filed her application, the Home Ministry hasn't even started processing it.

Hari Prasad Gautam from Ramechhap shows the bullet wounds on his abdomen and a cut on his head. Four years ago, a group of Maoists attacked him and his 64-year-old wife, Bed Maya, when they couldn't pay the demanded Rs 25,000. They broke his wife's arm and seized all his cattle and 50 ropani of land.

"I am dying and I don't want all the money, if the government could only pay me something so I can take care of my family," Hari Prasad says, his voice trembling. Says Bed Maya: "How long can we wait? We don't have much time."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)