The Maoist ceasefire will not bring back Saleha Fakir's husband but she believes it is one way to prevent more Nepali women from becoming widows. "The only justice for the death of my husband is peace and no more guns in our village," she says.
Last year, when Maoists shot her husband Namdan and his two brothers in cold blood in Masina VDC, 20 km from the birthplace of the Buddha, hundreds of Muslims and Hindus from surrounding villages fled across the border to India leaving behind their wives, children and elderly parents.
Since then, Saleha and two of her sisters-in-law have been looking after 29 family members. "We eat rice and salt. The government didn't give us any support even after the police came and saw our miserable state," she tells us.
But one month after the ceasefire, the men are trickling back from Uttar Pradesh border, including a son of the murdered Fakir brothers, 12-year old Kamrauddin. The boy had dropped out of Grade Seven in Mahadiyama to go all the way to Mumbai to work in a ration shop, earning Rs 1,000 a month to support his family. "I thought it was safe now and came to check on my family," says Kamrauddin, who intends to go back to Mumbai.
Returnees are now confident their lives will not be at risk from the Maoists, who had been on a witchhunt against members of the notorious Krishnanagar vigilante group of Kapilbastu. The Fakir brothers were the first victims, killed to make the point that no one should dare challenge the rebels.
"Our fears have subsided for now, the ceasefire has lifted our hopes," says Ram Naresh Lodh in Jituwapur, who returned home a few weeks ago. Most of the rebels who used to visit this village regularly, have themselves fled to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to evade security dragnets- yet another reason for locals to feel insecure.
On Monday morning, the army arrested three young men near here. None of the villagers know why. "Dasain is coming, I don't know if I will ever see them again," says the mother of one of the arrested men.
Security was scaled up on the eve of King Gyanendra's visit to Rupendehi district last month. While his tour was all the buzz in Butwal and Bhairawa, not many in the villages know about it. Their main concern has been peace.
Adds villager Rajendra Yadab, "there is no reason to hide and run. Now the government has to make a positive move as well by declaring a ceasefire."
At the Sunauli border crossing near Bhairawa, hundreds of Nepali families are returning every day from New Delhi, Mumbai and other cities after many years. "My mother finally called me home. She is now certain that the rebels will not cause any harm," says Ramesh BK as he gets on a bus to Butwal, from where he will walk five hours to reach Argakhanchi.
"At last we can celebrate Dasain with the whole family," says 50-year-old Uttam BK from Gulmi, who had come to fetch his young sons and said the situation was much better in his village after the ceasefire.