Nepali Times
"Have you met ay maoists?"

"Have you met any Maoists?" This was the question often posed to me by other westerners while I was in Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer. Of course I had. Living three days from the nearest road in an area that was to become the Maoist's eastern stronghold, I had seen firsthand the evolution of the Maoist insurgency. The momentum of rebellion, the dreams of reform, had swept east after far west areas of Nepal were purged of landowners, policemen, and government officials who were deemed to have abused their power. Disillusionment followed not far behind.

During the two years I lived in Khandbari the area became increasingly sympathetic to the Maoists. Everywhere in Nepal poor people have had land taken from them unrightfully. Officials have siphoned off funds from community projects. Police have been egregiously drunk, salacious, violent, or all three. The rhetoric of fairness and intolerance for corruption gave hope to people who were looking for change-not only the poor. Even the intellectuals of my village, who could see the growing injustice and class disparity, were swayed briefly by the promise of egalitarianism.

We all knew people whose lives were unbearably unfair: One woman's husband had abandoned her and their child in favour of another wife. By law the abandoned wife is unable to own land, she has been shamed in front of her community, and she has no way to support her child while her husband is one of the wealthiest members of the same village. The Maoists came at night and "convinced" him to begin paying child support; her life changed radically in an evening. A whole village was in debt to a moneylender who was gradually acquiring everyone's land. At an interest rate of about 60 percent, it's hard to ever get out of debt. The Maoists "convinced" the lender to forgive some of the debt and lower his rates, effectively saving the village.

Living there, it was hard to view these as the actions of subversive terrorists, although they also bombed police posts and executed community leaders. I may not have agreed with the tactics, but I could understand the frustration that galvanised people to such action. I was overwhelmed by the inequities of life in Nepal, and I had only been there two years. People who have been surrounded by social injustice and corruption for their entire life are easily incited by visions of a new social order, elusive though it may be.

The Maoists were everyday people in the community, driven to take action. After all, it's not strangers from another district who can walk hours on a trail in complete darkness to ambush police details or visit homes in the dead of night. It's the man who owns the corner bookstore, the man who owns the cloth shop, the young girl whose mother has suffered from her illegitimate birth, the farmer's son who doesn't want to break his back on someone else's land. I know each of them, and I'm sure they are Maoists. I know a dozen others I just suspect. They are all, or were once, just regular everyday people in my village, having tea, lamenting the plight of the poor, and listening for a voice of change.

Have you met any Maoists? Of course you have.

Deana Zabaldo,

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)