Dispatches: Report from the People's War in Nepal, Part 19
Camping with the People's Army
by Li Onesto
Revolutionary Worker #1037, January 9, 2000
The moon here in western Nepal is rising after midnight now, so it is better to travel early in the evening, before it's really dark--or in the early morning hours. Tonight we leave just after the sunset and travel for about two hours, then stop at a peasant's house for a late meal. We sleep for a few hours, and by 4 a.m. we are back on the trail.
We reach our next shelter around 8 a.m., and we are able to rest there the whole day. Then, in the evening, we leave for a hard, two-hour steep climb. We make our way through thick brush, in total darkness some of the time. And the guerrillas have to use their flashlights--flicking them on for a short time in order to see where we're going--then it's back to groping our way in the dark.
It is late at night when we reach a campsite where many other people are gathering. The squad members fix up a little sleeping area under some trees and we quickly settle down to sleep. I am tired but excited, and I can't fall asleep right away.
The party's Central Committee has organized a special group of guerrillas to carry out military actions during the election boycott campaign. This "task force" is bigger than the platoons, which have about 27 members. With more than 50 members, it is more like a company--which is the next higher military unit.
During the night, members of this task force will be arriving at this camp. And tomorrow I will meet these most steeled and experienced fighters.
I wake up very early in the morning and the camp is already buzzing with activity. I can now see that we are at the top of a big mountain, on a plateau. There are dozens of guerrillas, dressed in army fatigues, walking around. A tall pole has been put up in a large open area--and at the top, a bright red hammer-and-sickle flag waves in the early morning breeze. A group of comrades are busy putting up banners and setting up for a program.
Some task force members come over and introduce themselves. They proudly show me some of the weapons they have recently captured. There is a shiny Smith & Wesson .38 revolver, taken from a police inspector who was killed in a recent mining action. There is a walkie-talkie--which the guerrillas have been using to listen in on police conversations. And there is a high-powered rifle with a telescope, which was captured from a tourist who was hunting. In fact I had read about this incident in the Kathmandu Post, about how the guerrillas demanded that the tourist turn over his weapon and then let him go unharmed.
One comrade is walking around with a big smile, wearing a "new hat." He explains to me that just the other day, it was taken from an election official, after an ambush/explosion set off by the task force. The comrade guesses that the official might not be alive anymore--the hat has two big holes in the front from shrapnel.
Twenty-four-year-old Platoon Commander Sundar is one of the task force members who comes over to talk. He has a very sweet face--in sharp contrast to the seriousness of his military responsibilities. He has come to this camp fresh from recent military actions during the elections. When I interview him he starts off by telling me a little about the history of the platoon he commands:
"Our platoon is under the command of the regional bureau. There are 24 members including the political commissar and platoon commander and platoon vice commander. The platoon is also divided into sections, with section commanders. The members of our platoon are from 18 to 32 years old, with the majority 20 to 24 years old."
"Our platoon was formed in September 1998. We centralized the work of the platoon for a major campaign and at that time the military work was to do sabotage- type raids.
"The platoon chose the target for the sabotage/raid and went to the police post. But the police knew of our plan. The platoon was taking shelter and the police went there. The platoon left and met the police who were on their way. There was an encounter, with shooting back and forth. A District Committee member was killed by the police in this encounter, and some police were possibly injured. The police ran away and the platoon left safely.
"In the local elections in 1998 the platoon decentralized to give political classes to the masses to build the campaign to boycott the elections. Also, we prepared to ambush the police during this time, but the police did not come into our area.
"During this time, one of the platoon section vice commanders was killed by the police. He went to one village to prepare an ambush--he wanted to survey the area. He was taking shelter in a house, and the police found out about his presence and came there and killed him. This was martyr Chain Buda, `Andhi.'
"The people of this area were frightened after this and the platoon could not get shelter and carry out a military action there right away. The platoon decentralized and had political discussions with people in the area and raised people's political consciousness. The platoon also made a monument to martyrs in the area--a martyr platform under a tree and a small pond for the peasants' cattle."
Next, Commander Sundar tells me about what the task force has accomplished:
"The commander of this task force was selected by the sub-regional bureau. There is also a vice-commander selected for this team and the political commissar of the task force is a Central Committee member.
"The task force is temporary, formed to carry out a particular action or campaign. Our platoon sent a number of members to such a task force. The main job of such task forces are raids and secondarily ambushes.
"Recently, the task force carried out two raids--on the Dang, Chiraghat police post and on the Rolpa Jalwang police post. In Chiraghat there was a one-and-a-half-hour encounter. Seven police were killed and one task force member was killed. The task force got six rifles and one revolver (made in China), 224 bullets and other equipment from the police post. All the police who were at the post were killed.
"In Jalwang there are two police posts--regular and commando. The task force raided the commando police post. There were 16 police there. There are other police posts nearby, within a half hour. So the task force made a plan to raid the regular police post at the same time--to prevent them from coming to the commando police post.
"We also prepared to ambush a third police force if it came from the other nearby police post. The task force went to the police post according to plan. The action involved other platoon and squad members in addition to the task force. The task force raided the commando post. First we captured the sentry and killed him. The police were alerted to the attack and started shooting. The encounter lasted one hour and 15 minutes. The task force threw a grenade at the police post and burned it down. It's unclear how many police were able to escape. This happened the first week of April 1999. We captured one rifle from the sentry and one bullet-proof jacket and 23 bullets.
"On April 17, 1999, our platoon made a big ambush in Pokhara in Rukum. Five police were killed. The police of this post had killed many people in Rukum, and this action was to get revenge and was part of the election boycott campaign.
"After these actions the task force was decentralized. Now a small section of the task force is giving priority to doing ambushes."
One of the things that is different about a people's army--compared to a bourgeois army--is that the leadership relies most fundamentally on the political consciousness of the fighters. As Mao said, "Our principle is that the Party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the party."
I ask Commander Sundar how the guerrillas in his platoon are given military and political training. He says:
"Military training is given by the party's Central Committee and the platoon provides other training as necessary. There are two types of military training. One is physical training--jumping, running, crawling, etc. The other is technological training--how to use weapons. When the party makes a plan it gives political classes to the platoon to make clear the aim of the plan and how to fulfill it and the platoon is also given political classes in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. There is a military department of the Central Committee which gives classes to the platoon members, which includes the study of military strategy.
"Politically, the people's army has to do mass propaganda work among the people to counter the lies of the enemy. And militarily it has to break out of the encirclement by the enemy. We have synthesized bourgeois and revolutionary warfare. We can develop our own military warfare, learning from bourgeois and revolutionary theory. There is a history of different kinds of warfare, and the party leadership gives us this experience. We also use our own experience, but it is not enough. We are following the model of protracted war waged by Mao in China."
A People's Doctor
There is a huge shortage of doctors in Nepal, and most doctors are in the cities. So in the countryside, it is extremely difficult for the people to get medical care. When I was in Kathmandu I talked with a comrade who does political work among doctors. He told me there are many doctors who support the People's War, but at this point, it is still very difficult to get them to actually leave the city and go to the countryside to work in the guerrilla zones. So while the party continues to struggle to get professional medical care for masses in the war zones and wounded guerrillas, it also has a program to train people so that they can provide basic first aid and health care.
Twenty-five-year-old Gaule is in the people's army, serving as the medic for this task force. In the afternoon I sit down to interview him, and he tells me how he is learning and practicing medicine in order to serve the revolution. He says:
"I passed the Clinical Medical Auxiliary Exam to be an Auxiliary Health Worker. It is a one-year medical course. I completed the Intermediate Examination in education (teaching) and started bachelor level work but didn't complete this. I left to join the party's work. I worked in a government sub-health post in a village up until four months ago and then became a full-timer in the revolution.
"The party has different levels of health workers. Some have knowledge of medicine, others have none to start with. Recruits are given basic health training by those who have some knowledge. I was trained by doctors who are sympathizers in the city--with a one-month course along with others like myself. This was the first phase of training. There was training in how to treat bullet wounds in limbs and fractures and diseases like diarrhea, dysentery, influenza, and typhoid. The aim of the program is to develop doctors at a bachelor of medicine degree level in different phases. The party has completed the first phase of this.
"At this point, regular doctors are not coming to the battlefield, so we have to produce doctors from the battlefield. In the battlefield, for the guerrillas who are injured, I can provide first aid, like for bullet wounds and other injuries. And among the people I give free services, like treating various diseases. This is important because villagers are very poor. That is why they have so many health problems, so many diseases. These services also help to popularize the people's army among the people. As a member of the people's army I take political education classes, I get physical training and have general knowledge in weapons.
"To those doctors who are sympathizers--I say it is necessary at this time to support the People's War, and they should come to the villages to help the people. All physical and mental work is guided by ideology and we need to give more political education to doctors so they will be prepared to come to the battlefield.
"Before I came, the guerrillas had to treat their own bullet wounds and fractures themselves. They had to operate to take a bullet out by themselves. Sometimes they captured a doctor and demanded that he treat the wounded. There are also some sympathetic doctors who will agree to help on an irregular basis. And even some doctors who are sympathetic to other political parties are willing to help and will charge only 50 percent of their fees."
The formal welcome ceremony is held outside, under the red flag. There are beautiful red banners set up as a backdrop--one with Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao; another with photos of martyrs; and another made special for this gathering that says, "Meeting and Interaction with Fraternal Journalist." The task force members are all lined up in formation as we walk to the front of the area that has been set up for the program. There is a minute of silence for the martyrs and the singing of the Internationale.
I am introduced to the commander of the task force. He takes me down the lines of guerrillas and introduces them to me, one-by-one. Each one tells me his name and gives me a "lal salaam" (red salute), fist in the air, and a firm handshake. Several of them make a big effort to speak a few words of English to greet me.
The comrades tell me it is not a good idea to have such a big gathering for very long on the top of this mountain where it could be seen by a police helicopter flying by. So the program is short.
About 100 people have gathered here at this camp and it is a big job to feed everyone. A group of comrades have been keeping a steady fire going--providing tea for everyone first thing in the morning and cooking up big pots of food. The people's army, like the masses of peasants in the countryside, can't afford to eat meat hardly at all. But on this occasion, a buffalo has been slaughtered to feed everyone at this camp for a couple of days. At lunch time we go down to the "communal kitchen"--a short walk down the mountain.
Everything is well organized. Some comrades are dishing out the food. Others are eating in shifts, sitting on the side of the mountain. And there are also some people washing dishes. There is so much discipline as well as friendly camaraderie here in this camp--and I get a real sense of the fighting unity that is being forged among these guerrillas.
Willing to Die for the People
After our mid-day meal, some family members of martyrs come to talk with me.
One of them is 23-year-old Chandra Bahadur Khadka. His 54-year-old father, Madhu Khadka, was killed in 1998. Chandra tells me:
"I came home after being away for two months and stayed in the house one night. I was leaving the area again so I came home to say goodbye to my family. We talked at night for a long time about politics and the People's War. At 11 p.m. the police knocked on the door. I knew that it was the police. My father opened the door and one of the police ordered another one to shoot. They shot my father. First the bullet passed through his arm and my father said, `You are all dogs of the reactionary government. Why are you killing me? What's my crime?' The police fired a second bullet in his chest and my father fell down on the ground.
"I was upstairs and trying to figure out how I could break out of the encirclement of the police. I climbed up on the roof from inside. The police saw me on the roof and shot me in my leg and throat. I roared the slogan, `Long live CPN (Maoist). Long live People's War!' After this the police stopped shooting and I jumped down off the roof. The police ran away--there were 24 police in all--and I was able to escape. In the morning the police went back to my family's house and took away my father's body. I went to a safe place and the party helped me get treatment for my wounds."
Sixty-four-year-old Hari Prasad has also come to talk. His son, Daulat Ram Gharti, was a squad commander in the people's army when he was killed in 1997. Daulat's brother, Chadga Bahadur Gharti, and his sister, Tulasa Gharti, also come to be interviewed. Hari Prasad tells me:
"When Daulat was 15 years old he started working in the revolutionary student organization. He joined the party when he was 18 years old. After eight years he became a full-timer. In 1989 he was District Chairman of the All Nepal Youth Association (Rukum). In 1994 he became a party District Committee Member. He was alternate Secretariat of the District Committee. After the initiation he became a squad senior commander. In 1997 he participated in a raid on a police post on the border of Rukum and Dolpa and he was killed there. He was a very social type of man and popular among the masses. He was very militant, from the military point of view. He always said that the success of our actions depends on our pre-planning and survey of the target. He was very dedicated to the party and worked hard to follow the party line and guidance. He was very clear in his ideological and political line. And he had a lot of organizational experience.
"After my son's death the People's War continued to advance. My son lost his life but thousands of other sons have been involved in the People's War and are sacrificing to advance the war. My message to other martyr families is that even though we have lost a member of our family for the people, to liberate the oppressed people of the world--we are not sad, we always look forward to take revenge and to advance the People's War. We should be proud to be families of martyrs. I am ready, if the police shoot me. When you are born into the world, it is sure you will die some day. But a death for the people and the nation is very glorious. I hear the rumor that the police are going to kill the families of martyrs. I don't believe this. But if they do, there will be thousands of other families to go forward. My son was killed in the battlefield but other sons have not retreated and are going forward."
Before coming to Nepal, I had seen very few photos of the people's army here. And I have been anxious to catch the image of these guerrillas on film. I want to capture the reality of this revolution in a way that people around the world can see the "face of this revolution."
Today, I get this opportunity. The task force has spent the afternoon making red bandanas for all the guerrillas so that their identities will protected. It takes quite a while for them to rustle up some material and cut the cloth into pieces, and by the late afternoon I'm starting to get worried that the sun will be too low in the sky for good photos. By the time the task force is ready I calculate that I've got about 45 minutes of good light left, so I have to work fast.
The task force goes through their exercises, one by one, and I snap away. At one point they disappear into the trees and in a bit, re-appear, camouflaged with tree branches and paint on their faces. When they are finished, one comrade brings me a people's army uniform to put on and, for a while, I become an "honorary task force member."
In the evening, members of the task force and other comrades put on a cultural program--performing under the red flag that is still flying over this camp. The skits and songs take on a new meaning and reality for me, sitting amongst these comrades who are on the frontlines.
To be continued.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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