Nepali Times
Red star over Mt Everest?


The massacres of police in Rukumkot and Dailekh seem to have sent many in Kathmandu (especially expats) into an uncontrolled tailspin. Even those who earlier used to clearly state that in view of the corruption, nepotism and inefficiency in every corner of government, there was no alternative to the Maoists, are now mumbling about democracy, unconstitutional opposition to a democratically elected prime minister and so forth.

The PM is being described as exuberant and self-confident, although his blast at Kantipur while in Biratnagar indicates the contrary. Clearly, the shocking pictorial coverage on TV and in the press of the slain policemen and their grieving wives and relatives gave a brutally human dimension to what has tended
to be reported simply as a
body count.

The joint statement shortly afterwards of the EU backed by the US, seems to have tilted the opinion of Kathmandu's elite back towards more predictable thoughts and utterances. A Congresswallah who obviously believes the current wisdom that I am a CIA agent told me how much he and the Congress Party had appreciated US Ambassador Ralph Frank's intervention. He said Frank had helped the Congress Party a lot, and would I be able to help get green cards for his sons who are studying in America. It never ceases to amaze me how so many people interpret history according to their own personal interests, and how few people, until very recently, have any understanding of the roots causes or the ramifications of the "People's War". It was simply
too far from most comfortable Kathmandu lives. It was being waged by people whose aspirations elicited little
interest or sympathy from the Kathmandu elite.

The other night we watched a documentary film, made for Australian television three years ago, The Maoist Problem in Nepal. It gave a balanced view of the situation then, which is similar to the situation today, except that today it is all over the country. Nevertheless, this three-year-old film shocked intellectuals and politicians. One ex-foreign ministry VIP said: "I had no idea the problem was so serious." If this film had been shown on Nepal Television and as a trailer in local cinema houses three years ago, it might have created the awareness and the clamour for peace which have finally been hearing in Kathmandu over the last few weeks.

The film was shot while the infamous Operation Kilo Sierra II was in full swing, and human rights abuses were at their height. It is an intelligent documentary that tries its best to be impartial. It shows the tragedies endured by ordinary people from both sides, and the audience was shocked at how serious the situation already was at the time the film was made.

Had the Nepali public participated in spirited media discussions and analyses of the content and points of view, valuable public opinion might have been created for early dialogue to resolve the economic and social problems at the root of the Maoist problem. This columnist had tried to write about the situation so graphically described in the Australian film, and was kicked back to India for her efforts. Gopal Siwakoti Chintan tried to create public awareness of the problems with his Sunday Forum and was thrown in jail for two weeks. We have seen what an effect TV coverage of the recent massacres of young police had on the Nepali public. Children all over Kathmandu saw the piles of dead bodies on prime time television. These days when children misbehave, their parents threaten them with: "We'll send the Maoists after you."

If we are to have peace, understanding and a meaningful dialogue with these young warriors who call themselves Maoist, we first have to demystify, and de-demonise the history of the "People's War". We have to analyse and understand the problems which led idealistic young teachers and work-hardened farmers to risk their lives and the lives of their family and friends, to take up arms and choose the risky path of revolution. We have to understand the movement's roots, its deviations its justification and compulsions, and the horror, the pain and also the humanity involved in the process of bringing change to the lives of the suffering masses.

This modest Australian documentary, which introduces its subject as "Red Star Over Mount Everest" would even today be worth showing in small clubs and cinemas in Kathmandu. Like recent TV coverage of Rukumkot and Dailekh it would portray human suffering, but of both sides. It would show there are two Nepals: the Nepal of glistening mountains and temples and wide-eyed tourists, and the Nepal that has never seen a doctor never known a full stomach. The Nepal that has never got to drink a glass of clean water. We must keep this other Nepal firmly in mind when we so easily condemn the Maoists.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)