Building the Future
Part 2 of Report from Liberated Area in Nepal by the First International Road Building Brigade
Revolution #037, March 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). In November 2005, the first international road building brigade, consisting of seven volunteers from Australia, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Germany, and Norway went 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." This is the second of two parts. See revcom.us for part 1.)
Wherever we went, the start of work was marked by a collective gathering. Flags were raised, drums began to beat, and 100 road builders set off on the day’s work. On our second day we saw a young mother who’d strapped her toddler to her back, carrying a pick-axe in her hands, putting it down only occasionally to nurse her infant. At a work break, the leader explained to the Nepalese that the road brigade had come from around the world to join their efforts. Though conversation was very difficult because of language problems, people came up to the brigaders with huge smiles and raised clenched fists in solidarity. We did manage to have brief discussions with a number of people and learned that many of them had lost a loved one in the course of the revolutionary war, usually at the hands of the RNA (Royal Nepalese Army).
During one session the brigaders spoke with an older man of the Magar nationality, Lila Darpun, 65, from Corshavan. When we asked why he had come, he said, "We’ve come here for ourselves. We feel good about what we’re doing. It will help us. Even though I’m very old, if I can just lift a few stones, I’ll be very happy. As a young man I worked so hard, but this work is different, it’s special."
Though the work was indeed physically demanding, many women took part too. When asked the same question, Ima Kumari, a 43-year-old mother of three, explained, "I’m still illiterate. I don’t know much about books. But I know that the road is a good thing. We’re building a new country. It used to take days to get salt and clothes, but with the new road we can do it in hours."
The monarchy and some of the media have tried to slander the road-building effort as "forced labor." They make lurid comparisons with the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia and generally play on "anti-totalitarian" stereotypes. But it was clear from watching and talking with the people who’d come to do their share that there was nothing at all "forced" about the inimitable combination of good humor and serious dedication with which they went about their work. Perhaps those whose whole lives have been devoted to clawing their way to the top and "looking out for no. 1" either find it impossible to imagine the people they rule over, oppress, and despise joining together in a broader collective effort—or if they can imagine it, they are determined to nip it in the bud.
In any case, the effort to carve this road through this difficult terrain has struck a deep chord among the people here. Government after government had promised it would be built—but somehow the money never came through, or if it did, it just disappeared into the deep pockets of corrupt politicians. After all, who would benefit? Just some peasants in the hinterland—and that was hardly sufficient motivation for the Kathmandu elite to act. So what no Western-backed government ever managed to do, despite their hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid, now the people, mobilized by their new leaders, are doing themselves.
The team was asked constantly about the situation in our own countries, especially about the woman question, and people took notes of what we said. The local people were also very eager to show us other new projects they were working on. There was a "model commune" and two "model schools" "not far away"—but "not far away" in the Nepalese countryside meant hours of walking, making a visit impossible in our short stay. They had also launched a big fish-breeding farm, a new thing in this part of the country, which was created with help from people living in a liberated area in another region where this was a more common activity. We were very happy to be able to benefit from it quite directly—one brigader said it was "the best fish I’ve ever tasted," to the contentment of the new fish farmers.
We saw other new things that had been impossible under the old regime. When one of the brigaders fell pretty ill one evening, our hosts travelled through the darkness to find a "barefoot doctor," a young village man who had been trained under the new regime in the basics of medicine. He came at four in the morning, gave the sick brigader a drip feed, and stayed by his side till the next day when he was better. Under the old system, many, perhaps most, of Nepal’s doctors choose to live in Kathmandu, where life is easier, and attend to the middle classes. But the new revolutionary regime has drawn on the experience of China under Mao to develop new health care policies aimed at serving the majority of Nepal’s people, the peasants in the countryside, and relies on mobilizing them to solve their own needs.
The brigade members looked back on all this and felt a heightened sense of responsibility to strengthen solidarity with the struggle in Nepal—a revolution suddenly moved off the news pages and acquired faces, names, and voices. Those from the imperialist countries shuddered at the thought of what it means when their own governments, like Britain, provide weapons to the RNA. Were cluster bombs and bunker busters the next weapons to be used against the people we’d been with—for the "crime" of taking their destiny in their own hands and building up their own self-reliant economy and society? This took on bitter meaning not long after the brigade left, when we learned that Comrade Sunyil, the PLA commander of the region where the road is being built, was killed by a bomb dropped from a helicopter supplied by the West. Only a couple of weeks earlier, Comrade Sunyil had enthusiastically welcomed the brigaders at the initial reception, and none of us had failed to notice the warmth and camaraderie that greeted him wherever he went among the villagers, and the easygoing but deep respect that he commanded. The news of his death hit hard—and it fuelled our determination to step up the battle to spread the news of what the Nepalese masses were accomplishing and to stop the big powers from continuing to aid the fascist Gyanendra regime.
We also thought a lot about the potential for future groups of young people to go. Despite the portrayal of youth in the West as simply into "live for the moment" hedonism, many of them, for example in the anti-globalization movement, are very concerned for their brothers and sisters in the oppressed countries. The countries of the world are divided into two, into a handful of rich countries and a great mass of countries that are kept enshackled in poverty and dependence on the wealthy imperial powers, which have a whole range of so-called solutions for third world development. The problem is that none of these actually work for the masses of people. Some of us had attended the G8 protests in Edinburgh, and were only too aware that in Africa for instance the suffering and impoverishment seemed to mount almost in direct proportion to the amount of so-called development aid. Yet what we were witnessing working on the road here was a completely different path: some of the poorest people on earth were breaking with age-old traditions and the established way of doing things and relying on their own efforts to forge their future. We had become part of that—and could see the potential for many others to want to do the same. Quite a few young people who had considered going on the trip had been held back by attending school—yet here was an education that you’d never get from any teacher we’d ever known!