Lives in the Crossfire
- Lives in the Crossfire
The conflict between the government and Maoists rebels has victimised innocent villagers in remote areas of Nepal who care little about the ideological struggle, writes SUPARA JANCHITFAH
Kori Beekai was deep in thought when asked if she could forgive those who took away her son. PREEDA TONGCHUMNUM
Kori Beekai's plastic-rimmed eyeglasses are inches-thick, evidently well worn from years of use. But it is the only pair this old lady has, and the pair she will keep wearing in hopes of seeing her son return one day to her embrace. Six years ago, Kori's son, Prem Bahadur B.K., was snatched away right from his dinner plate, allegedly by Nepalese army officers.
"I am still waiting for him, I don't know why they took him away," said Kori, a resident of Masurikhet village of Banke district, a remote outpost almost 600 kilometres from Nepal's capital city of Kathmandu.
And Kori is not alone. Many other mothers in the village of Masurikhet share a similar tale, having lost their sons to abductions, allegedly by the Nepalese army. According to the Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC), a human rights agency, 89 people went missing in Banke district of Nepalganj alone, and 441 persons went missing in the mid-western region of Nepal from 1996 to December 2005.
Six mothers in the village, whose seven sons went missing almost at the same time, all said that the army might have suspected their sons were Maoist sympathisers. Most of them were taken in broad daylight, with many in the village witnessing the incidents.
After six years of waiting for her son, early this year Kori made her first visit to Kathmandu. Plucking up their courage, she and the other mothers made the 13-hour bus journey from Nepalganj to the capital city of Nepal.
"It was my first time in Kathmandu, and I was full of hope that state agencies and the United Nations would look into our troubles," said Kori. But to her dismay, the gate before the National Human Rights Commission office was locked and they were not allowed to enter.
These desperate mothers want the new Seven Party Alliance government to look into their predicament and help to find their missing loved ones, but so far all their attempts seem to be in vain.
"What can I do, I can only wait for my son to come home. I still have hope," she said, with the other mothers making the Nepalese gesture of agreement.
Ordinary Nepalese have been living in the crossfire between the two hostile parties. While many were taken by state agencies, many also were killed by Maoists.
Ramkoli Raskoti is only 23 years old, a mother of three. She continues to try breast-feeding her youngest daughter even though she is already two years old. There is not enough food for Ramkoli and her children.
Two years ago her husband went to the district office to get the birth certificate for her daughter, but he was killed by the Maoists, apparently by accident.
Upon learning their mistake, the Maoists compensated Ramkoli by building a small new house for her.
"That was all they gave me, no other money or anything else," she said calmly and without complaint. The house has two small rooms, and it is made of brick instead of small logs and straw like most houses in the area, but it has no door and no toilet.
Ramkoli tries to grow some vegetables and rice, and she collects firewood, which can be sold for 40 rupees for a big bunch, less than half a US dollar.
Losing her husband and the breadwinner of the family is painful for a young woman with three small children. She cannot provide them with adequate meals, let alone an education. The eldest son is six years old and he has never held a pencil in his hand.
Apart from working the hot and barren fields, she faces a new problem trying to make a living from the land - elephants come to eat her vegetables and other crops. She admits that the land that she is cultivating might have been part of the forest not long ago. Other farmers encounter the same problem.
Ramkoli wants national and international agencies to help her out of her destitute situation. "I don't know anyone, I don't know if anyone can help me," she lamented. She and others who have lost loved ones in violence live in grief. Norita Chad cannot hold back her feelings of anguish even four years after her husband was killed by Maoists.
"They came to our house and asked for my husband, then they shot him dead. I couldn't count how many of them, but you could not see the road," she said while pointing out the road some eight to ten metres away from the door of her house. She estimated that there must have been around a thousand of the well-armed Maoists. After they killed her husband they moved on to other houses, and killed two more people in the village on the same day.
Even though there is now a ceasefire in effect, she is very concerned for her son, a teenager who hangs around with Maoists in India (Nepalganj is only about six kilometres from the border). She is caught in a dilemma. If she tells her son not to associate with the Maoists he might be killed. At the same time, however, if he does associate with them the authorities may take him away from her.
"He does not know that the Maoists killed his father," said Norita. "I want a foreign agency to take my son and give him an education, otherwise he will end up in difficulty."
People who have lost family members, either killed or abducted, strongly yearn for justice. Until their cases are resolved, forgiveness may be impossible. Norita believes in her husband's innocence.
For the families of the missing, the unanswered questions often prevent the healing process from beginning. Mothers whose sons went missing all want to know why, and they all cling to the hope that their sons will come back one day.
Every so often Kori looks at the empty field and the uneven road that leads to her home, and sees no shadow of her son. Asked if she could forgive the person who took him away, Kori turned thoughtfully silent, unable to give any answer.