Building the Future
First International Road Building Brigade Reports Back from Liberated Area in Nepal
Revolution #33, February 5, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Tens of thousands of people of Rolpa in Nepal are building a 57-mile road to be known as Sahid Marg (Martyrs Highway). Rolpa is at the center of the People's War led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). Recently an international group of volunteers traveled to this liberated area to help work on the road. These excerpts are from their "Provisional Report of the First International Road Building Brigade to the Magarat Autonomous Republic of Nepal" (sent out by A World to Win News Service). This is the first of two parts.
In November 2005, the first international road-building brigade, consisting of seven volunteers from Australia, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Germany, and Norway arrived in the liberated Rolpa district in mid-western Nepal. We had travelled many thousands of miles to work side by side with the people there to build a road as part of the efforts of the new revolutionary power there to forge a self-reliant economy, free of the chains of imperialist domination.
The brigade members were well aware that the regime of King Gyanendra, who dissolved parliament last year and centralized power in the hands of the feudal monarchy, was waging a vicious counter-insurgency war and that we would have to cross army checkpoints to reach our destination. The regime has "distinguished" itself by compiling one of the worst records in the world for disappearances, extra-judicial executions, and other types of bloody repression. We also had some idea of the fierce determination of the Nepalese people to forge a new future, and were eager to see what they had achieved, and to work alongside them on this crucial project for the all-sided development of the autonomous region.
So we set off for the liberated area with a mixture of nervousness and excitement...
While the Himalayas are never all that far away in Nepal, this is not a journey made by many tourists. Anyone travelling into the liberated areas needs to cross a series of roving military checkpoints, where almost anything can happen. Buses into the area are stopped, young soldiers carrying machine guns come inside, and the passengers are forced out where their baggage is searched. Any Nepalese identified by the soldiers as Maoist--or a "suspected Maoist"--are taken away to prison or sometimes just marched off into the countryside and executed on the spot. The soldiers stationed on the approaches to the liberated areas are the elite of the RNA, battle-hardened, crack troops equipped with the army's best weaponry. You can tell their elite character just from the way they look: not only meaner and more arrogant, but bigger and better fed than the average soldiers. They also bear more than their share of responsibility for the horrors for which the regime has been repeatedly denounced by human rights groups around the world.
Despite the ever-present atmosphere of war throughout this area, there is at the same time an almost surreal normalcy to the to-and-fro between the areas under the control of the rising new [revolutionary] regime and those under the control of the dying old monarchy. More or less regular trade is conducted, as peasants from the higher villages go down into the richer Dang valley and sell bags of ghee, honey, goat meat, and medicinal plants, and return with salt, batteries, oil and other items they cannot produce themselves. After the traffic passes the last army checkpoints, it even runs for a time along the new road still under construction by the Magarat AR (Autonomous Region), the road we had come to work on.
We felt a feeling of tremendous release when we finally came into sight of the wooden gateway framing the road as we arrived in the first town in the liberated area, Tilla Bazaar. A red flag on one side and the flag of the Magarat AR on the other told us everything we needed to know: we had made it! But our elation soon subsided a bit--this was a poor village, almost no one spoke English, and it was difficult at first to make ourselves understood. The townspeople had grown a bit circumspect about foreigners showing up, since many turned out to be Western journalists, some of them searching hard for any angle that might show the people's struggle in an unflattering light.
Once it became clear that we were a very different type of foreigner--young people who'd come to work side by side with the peasants themselves, to share weal and woe--one of the team members described it as being like a fountain of joy just got turned on. Complete strangers walked over with grins spread across their faces and gave us big hugs. A reception sprang into place. Six or seven English-language banners were put up, and a young English interpreter was produced, who proved to be an energetic and enthusiastic aide throughout our stay. 150 people gathered to hear more about the brigade members, and to express their enthusiasm for our arrival, and the brigaders told the attentive crowd what had motivated us to come so far. As we bedded down for our first night, we all shared a feeling that we were in for an experience unlike any we'd ever known before.
The area the brigade visited is part of the Magarat Autonomous Republic, which was declared in 2003 after the Royal Nepalese Army was driven out by the forces of the Peoples Liberation Army, led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). The Magars are one of a number of oppressed national minorities in Nepal. The founding of their new regional republic in one of the most advanced revolutionary base areas in Nepal is widely viewed in the country as a momentous event marking the end of centuries-long injustice suffered by the people there, and we saw many expressions of pride in this achievement.
We were awoken with the sun. Life begins early in the liberated areas. The PLA members got up every morning at 4 a.m. to begin their day, which really impressed especially the younger members of the brigade. PLA members, almost half of whom are women, would patrol the perimeter (2 km or so), then exercise and eat a breakfast consisting mainly of "chai," Nepalese tea. They also put on occasional theater in the evening.
A work schedule was drawn up with the road organizers. It basically set out which sections of the road we were to work on and when, and with which group of people--families of people who'd fallen in the revolutionary war, local peasants, PLA members, etc. Time was also set aside for some discussion with the different groups. It was explained to the brigade members that the road building was not going on at full speed at that very moment, because it was harvest time. Completing the harvest successfully was crucial to people's livelihoods, especially over the coming winter months, so this had to be taken into account when mobilizing volunteers. This was also why the revolutionary government requested each family to try to provide only one volunteer, so as to ensure the livelihood of the family as a whole.
We were happy that even though building wasn't going on at the usual rate, we would still get to take part in the work. But setting down to work proved to be a little different than we'd anticipated. For one thing, it was sometimes more than an hour's walk each way, with a lot of up and down through steep hills, just to get to the part of the road where we were to work. So muscles had been put through some effort even before we lifted a tool. The techniques used were like nothing we had ever seen. Upon reaching the road, some hundred people were hard at work. We first noticed gangs of young men hugging the hillsides with long steel crowbars laboring to remove large rocks to clear a passageway for the road. At first we were a bit skeptical: the rocks appeared much too large to yield to the youths' exertions. But the young men had had a lot of practice, and soon cries of joy rang out as a giant rock was tumbled out of its ages-old resting place.
Similar techniques were used to deal with big trees: large teams were assembled to literally dig them up. When the tree finally came down and the team could throw it over the cliff, a huge cry of joy invariably went up.
Some work techniques were particularly difficult. For example, one person didn't work a shovel, but two. A rope was tied just above the blade of the shovel, and just as the first person shoved the shovel deeply into the ground, the other person would lift on the rope to get the maximum amount of dirt out. It was very hard to get the timing right--if the person holding the rope jerked too soon, the person with the shovel got a little dirt hurled into their face (which brought more giggles), and if they didn't jerk soon enough the shovel wouldnt come out. At the end of our trip, we were asked to show our hands--some of the team members were a bit embarrassed, because they thought their calluses and blisters were not all that impressive, but the hosts beamed with pride at what had been accomplished.
Next week: Part 2