Dukha Ram Chaudhary of Ghorahi in Dang, who turned 75 this year, remembers the day during the Nepal civil war (1996-2006) when the Maoists came and showed the future of change. They used to say, “This fight is not for us, it is for the people. All kinds of discrimination like caste untouchability, and class discrimination will end. Our lives will change.”
At the beginning of the conflict, Chaudhary also thought that after the tough days of the civil war, inequality, discrimination, poverty and oppression would all end for real. “We thought our sorrows would end, happy days would come and our lives would change.”
Meanwhile, his second eldest daughter Sita was shot dead by the army in the forest near her house on June 22, 2002. Despite the pain of losing his daughter, even with a heavy price to pay for the conflict, he still had hope of change in his heart. He thought, “Her blood will not be wasted.”
Today, after 27 years, he does not feel the same. Because the armed conflict that started with sharing the dream of changing the standard of living of the people could not bring any change in the life of a common citizen like him. Instead, he had to bear the loss of her daughter. “The civil war gave us nothing. All I can do now is cry remembering my daughter.”
There has been no change in his life. Chaudhary used to farm all day. His life was difficult yesterday; even after working all year round, he was not able to eat properly. His children too struggled with poverty and suffering. They could not read and write well. And, his children are now working as wage labourers.
Expectation vs reality
On February 13, 1996, the then-rebel Maoists party started an armed conflict by attacking the police station of Holeri in Rolpa, Aathbiskot Rukum and Sindhuligadhi in Sindhuli on the same day. The civil war that started from here and spread throughout the country changed the political system with a new democratic revolution.
But the suffering of the residents of Rukum, Rolpa, Dang, Salyan, Jajarkot, Bardiya and other districts who suffered excessively in the war did not change. Although the 10-year civil war brought social awareness among the citizens, it did not bring about a change in their living standards.
The 55-year-old Daman Nepali from Ghorahi of Dang is a survivor of the conflict. He experienced all kinds of scenarios of conflict, first-hand, and still remembers the early days of the conflict very well.
At that time, caste discrimination and untouchability were deeply rooted in society. Dalits were banned from performing prayers in temples and going near water ponds. They were not even allowed to drink water in the house of those from the “upper caste”. He says, “In the name of caste discrimination, I had to suffer many kinds of insults and contempt.”
To end that oppression, Maoists launched a campaign against caste untouchability during the civil war. “The war taught us to speak against injustice, gave us the confidence to fight for rights,” he says, with the confidence he got from the war to speak openly against discrimination.
The endless crisis
The civil war has largely destroyed many such social differences and worked to bring social awareness and awakening among people. But it could not bring transformation to their lives. “Some things did change after the war, but not our lives; it is the same today, living amid scarcity.”
Rolpa and Rukum, the origin of the conflict, suffered heavy losses including the lives of 1,600 people who were killed–965 from Rolpa and 663 from Rukum. Apart from that, there was a series of violent killings and disappearances as well as many abuses and tortures inflicted upon the villagers.
Khem Budha, a civil society leader of Rolpa, also says that living in the district, he could not feel the promised change.
As a result of the civil war, the country achieved the establishment of a republic, with an inclusive proportional representation in all tiers of government, and people writing their constitution through their representatives. But none of the changes uplifted the living condition of the people. “But the war did make the citizens aware, gave them confidence and brought awareness,” he says, “It did not change the living standards. The rural economy should have changed as an achievement of the war, but nothing happened.”
On the contrary, he says, agricultural production and rural income have further decreased. “The youth population has turned to foreign employment.”
Problems getting worse
While many things remained the same even after the civil war, some things changed–for the worse. Tirtha Acharya, the president of the National Alliance of Women’s Human Rights Defenders (Rolpa), says that although the conflict has brought awareness about gender equality, there has been no change in behaviour. “Many women here are still under the grip of violence while child marriage is increasing. And there is a lack of investment in education and health.”
The condition of the Maoist fighters, who entered the armed conflict with the dream of change, is even more painful. They have not been able to feel the change which they fought so hard to bring. Those who carried the wounded in the civil war have not even received good treatment today.
Lal Bahadur Oli and Sita KC a couple of Tulsipur-17 in Dang, are an example of this. Both were former Maoist fighters who were wounded in the conflict.
The duo walked in the path to change, but KC is left with a bullet in her body and Oli has lost his sight. Both of them are not happy with the changes brought about by fighting the decade-long civil war. “We got wounded bodies as a gift of fighting a war. The same gave power to the leaders, and we were left alone.”
The duo have not received proper treatment and are spending more on medicine and treatment, month after month. Both of them are unable to work and it is difficult for them to manage their household affairs. The couple do not have big demands; they just want the government to acknowledge them as war survivors and give them free treatment.
The civil war gave nothing to the people like them. “We gave our blood and that changed the country, but our days have not changed,” KC says, adding, “The irony is that their commander is in power today, yet they are forgotten. That’s why I have no hope now. Our leaders do not see our tears today.”
This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.