Nepali Times
"We want to go home"


Last week we travelled to Chingar in western Nepal, hoping to interview some Maoists who control the area. As we walked on jungle trails outside the village of Dasrathpur, we spotted a girl in a blue and white school uniform who approached to tell us she was hiding from Maoists. It was clearly a cry for help and she was not alone, a boy and a girl in the same uniform were standing some distance away.

The three were among some 300 students who were abducted from their school on Thursday 29 September and taken on a long march into the jungle for what the rebels called The 16th District-Level Gathering Program.

Despite the ceasefire, this was just the latest report of abductions of teachers and students coming in from all over Nepal in the past month.

One of the girls, Ganga, is 16 and in Grade Ten. She told us nine unarmed rebels arrived at Satakhane School on Thursday, exam day, ordering the class to follow them to the district meeting. No other explanation was offered. Some students fled, many were recaptured, beaten with sticks and forced to march. The children said the teachers offered no resistance and some even encouraged students to go with the rebels.

"I am so worried. My parents don't know where I am. I thought they would take us away and kill us," said Ganga, wiping tears from her eyes with her white shawl. The other girl, Shoba Thapa, also 16, seemed worried in equal measure about her exams and her life. "I thought about my exams and I thought they may kill us," she said sitting on a rock. Shoba said she knew nothing about Maoism, she just wanted to go home. "We were really scared, they beat up those who ran away," said the boy, Khum Chapai.

The Maoists had marched the students into the jungle. They walked the entire day before Ganga and her friends took a chance and just peeled off from the rest when no one was looking. They had no money, they did not know where they were and had nowhere to stay. Overnight, the students stayed in the village with a family who gave them shelter but they left first thing in the morning without having eaten. When we met them, they were looking for a way home.

We decided to change our own plans and take the children home. But already a number of villagers had gathered around us and we felt there could be Maoist sympathisers among them. We had to move quickly or we could lose the children to the rebels. We started walking back through the jungle towards a bridgehead to take a shaky tween across the Bheri. But alas, we had not moved quickly enough.

A young woman in a pink salwar kamij appeared from nowhere to corner the students. Before we noticed, she was in deep discussion telling them to follow her. The Woman in Pink claimed to be a cousin of two of the students. She insisted she would take them to their parents through a shortcut. I couldn't tell what was being said and whether her claim to be a relative was true.

After about 20 minutes of arguing, two of the students decided they wouldn't accompany us after all. But they were certainly not happy about it judging from the miserable looks on their faces. There was nothing we could do, we couldn't force them. But Ganga remained unflinching during the arguments with the Woman in Pink. She wanted to go with us and she had no doubts.

Fearing more rebels would arrive to prevent us from leaving with the girl, we took the first cart-lift across the river, the bridge having been long since blown up by the Maoists. Across, we stopped at an open village caf?, where Ganga had her first meal of the day. As we headed back to Chinchu, we gave the girl some money and put her on a bus home. She was in tears as she left.

Kasra Naji is a tv journalist who also works for CNN.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)