Nepali Times
War during peace



In Nepal today we are closer than ever to real peace with the seven-point deal reached on 1 November on integration and rehabilitation. At a time when we are thinking about the future, it is important to analyze our feelings that war is somehow 'special' and peace is somehow 'normal'. In fact, what happens during peacetime often makes possible the next conflict, the next war, and the next atrocity.

As a student of politics and human rights I have come across the work of anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes, who argues that one way to understand the violence of war is to look at the hidden violence that goes on during peacetime. The everyday violence of 'normal' times goes unnoticed and is accepted by society at large, often in the name of 'security'.

November 2006 was a big turning point in Nepal's history. Ten years of conflict officially came to an end as the government and the Maoists signed a Comprehensive Peace Accord. Yet many of us were uncertain about whether this ceasefire would hold. The first unsuccessful ceasefire with the Maoists four years earlier ended dramatically with attacks in 42 districts and the king's declaration of emergency that followed.

I remember that ceasefire well. On 7 September 2001 I was forced to join the Maoists in my home district of Mugu as a 'motivator'. I was chosen in part because I was young (only 14 then) and had completed Grade 8. The Maoists used the ceasefire to mobilise their forces and they were expanding their presence in Mugu. For two weeks in the Maoist camp I had to attend classes to learn how to 'motivate' and train for self-defense. There were hundreds of other young boys and girls with me, some had been forced, and others were volunteers. Together we listened to instructors discuss Mao, Marx and Lenin.

We were taught how to go into villages at night and form committees to advocate social equality, to work to end caste, class, and gender-based discrimination. We walked for hours and hours, sometimes for 22 hours straight. I went with a group of ten Maoists one day, and watched as they took food saved for the winter from an elderly woman's house. She was crying as they left.

Fifteen days later I told them I had become a true Maoist, but I wanted to go home one last time and say goodbye to my father. Instead, I left the district and went into hiding in India and later within Nepal as the war started again. For many, the ceasefire was about preparing for war, not peace.

Maoist violence was being countered by the state. The Armed Police Force (APF) was established during that ceasefire period because Nepal Police was proving inadequate to fight the insurgents and the king refused to use the Royal Nepal Army to fight the guerrillas.

The APF was officially set up on 24 October 2001, and many young people who had suffered under the Maoists joined the newly formed paramilitary force. The APF's stated mission was to control 'acts of terrorism and the associated trend of organized crime'. The Maoists were officially declared 'terrorists' around this time.

Just as I was sent to mobilise villagers by the Maoists, the APF was sent out to 'protect' citizens from 'terrorists' during the ceasefire. For both the government and the Maoists, a ceasefire was a time to take a breather, to consolidate, re-mobilise, rest and prepare for the war to start again. It was a tactical break to enable a longer war.

The current ceasefire has lasted five years. But we are still trying to sort out the legacy of the conflict and it even seems like the Nepal Army, the APF and the Maoist army are warily circling each other. The new deal may create an integrated Nepal Army, but there is a lot of uncertainty about how it will go. A ceasefire is a time to build peace, not prepare for another war.

Today " even if we are lucky " we will have three security forces (NA, APF, and NP). Yet some would say that even one professional army is too many for a republic.

Dhana Laxmi Hamal is a senior at Bard College in New York.

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1. Sujan
Really heart-touching piece by Ms Dhana on her war expirence. therea re many thousands of young men and women like her all over Nepal. I am one of them. Thanku.

2. KiranL
What is the "compensation" for people like Dhana Laxmi Hamal for the psychological trauma? The Maoist is government is rewarding its cadre for killing and torturing people. What about the victims?

3. Santosh C.
Its great writing my Dhana. very real story of Nepal and very heart touching. Keep it up.. wish you all the best for all your great effort.

4. DG
 Our Maoists versus The Maoists of Pr of China.
"they took the food saved for the winter from the elderly women's house.
She was crying as they left."-
For the benefit of our young boys; including our friend Arthur,the King.
Refer Vol 4th. Collected Works Of Mao Tse-Tung.-Foreign Language Press, Pekin.
Page 155.
On the reissue of the three main Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points for attention -Instruction of
THE GEneral Headquarters of
The Chinese People's Liberation Army.
-Oct.10 ,1947.
!. ....'you will take this version as a standard one for thorough education and strict enforcement....    ... ...
2.The Three Main Rules of Discipline are as follows:
(1.)Obey orders in all your actions.
(2).Dont't take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses.
(3.)Turn in everything captured.
#. The Eight Points for Attention are as  follows:
(1) Speak politely.
(2) Pay fair for what you buy.
(3)Return everything you borrow.
(4) Pay for any thing you damage.
(5)Don.t hit or swear at people.
(6) Don,t damage crops.
(7) Don't take libeies with women.
(8) Don't ill treat captives.
In 1928 Mao had set other rules also,a bit different.
To quote a few :

(1) Put back the doors you have taken down asfor bedding:as bed
 etc etc


5. Arthur
DG #4, your quotation of Mao's rules for discipline and points of attention is correct and certainly opposed to the behavior the article describes (taking food saved for winter from an elderly woman).

Such incidents are possible. That is why it is necessary to issue rules for discipline and points of attention. Even with rules, people do break them.

But how credible is the story of this "senior at Bard College in New York"?

One can imagine somebody "forced" to work as a porter. But its hard to believe a claim to have been forced to work as a motivator. It just isn't the sort of task anybody COULD be "forced" to do.

The article seems to be exactly designed to cater to the prejudices of Nepali Times readers.

But if Maoists really did behave like that, instead of following Mao's rules of discipline, they would never have become the largest party in Nepal.

6. C

This is a direct response to Arthur:

I do not agree with your argument. First, your comment that these "incidents are possible" is undermining the 10 year war and the devastating effects it has had. Comments like this deter people from sharing their experiences.

Your comment suggests that: the war has happened, these incidents "are possible" and lets not talk about it! Just because someone is "a senior at bard college" does not make the story any less credible. Instead, I would take this as a person overcoming the struggles and continuing her studies, which has made possible to share an experience like this. 

Second, just because the Maoists are the largest party in Nepal, should we ignore history? Should we not talk about what happened? Should we not talk about the stories of 2 million people who have been affected by the war?

Third, I do not think you are understanding the point of the article. Dhana is one of the many people who have similar stories (not to say that her experience is any less grave) but many people in Nepal have been affected. But the overall point of the article is that, peacetime allows for planning of a greater war and also, questions the necessity of even one professional army in a republic country.

Nepali Times is a public space where people can have conversations and this comment is not only questioning the credibility of someone's personal incidence but also shutting down the validity of an argument. I encourage people like Dhana Laxmi to share their stories. 

7. Kamala G.
Beautiful article Dhana. You constantly inspire me.

8. PeterS
Who is this Arthur, a Khmer Rouge apologist?

9. Andrea
Nicely put, Dhana. You are absolutely right that the relationships and logics of rule established during times of 'peace' are the building blocks of further conflict. I have also been disturbed by what I've observed of 'peace' over the past five years as it seems to have consolidated patronage politics, violence and contests for political power. While there have been some advances made with people working creatively both formally and informally to build equity, justice and reconciliation, you are right to bring our attention to the various factions of the 'security' forces. What contributions are they making to peace building? We don't hear much about that, only about how they might be integrated and whether they have really given up their arms.

10. Farah

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)