Dispatches: Report from the People's War in Nepal
Part 1: Meeting the People's Army
By Li Onesto
Revolutionary Worker #1014, July 18, 1999
For an hour and forty-five minutes I stare out the window of the plane, completely transfixed. Up above the clouds, level with our flight path, lies the immense and amazing Himalayan Range. The white peaks, rising up beyond scattered clouds, look unreal and I feel like I've suddenly been transported to another planet. The pushed-up earth soars skyward and onward with unbroken continuity and wholeness--while each individual mountain has a unique shape and character, some jutting up alone, others clumped together, some white-capped with snow, others wind-swept steel gray. They went on and on and on.
This was my entry to the "roof of the world." Nepal--famous for Mount Everest, Gurkha soldiers and Sherpa mountain people--a country revered and raved about by tourists as a great place to hike, take in beautiful scenery and relax. As for myself, I was planning on hiking and seeing a lot of the countryside. But I wasn't planning on doing any relaxing. I was on my way to hook up with the Maoist People's War. I was on my way to trek with armed guerrillas. I was on my way to witness, first-hand, an earth-shaking revolution going on in the "foothills" of the Himalayas.
For three years I had been reading about the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) leading a protracted people's war in the countryside, aimed at eventually surrounding the cities, seizing nationwide power and establishing a new democratic republic. I had read that Maoists were organizing in just about every part of the country and that more than 600 guerrillas and villagers had been killed by the government since the war started in 1996. It seemed clear that the government had launched huge and murderous campaigns against the people and carried out horrendous violations of the people's rights. Yet most people around the world had heard little if anything about this conflict.
I knew this was a struggle of much significance and interest to revolutionaries around the world--and to anyone who supports the struggle against oppression. But information about this revolution was hard to come by. The little news we could get was precious and intriguing. This was an event on earth that required some in-depth, face-to-face, live-with-the-people kind of reporting.
When I arrived in Kathmandu, things were very intense in the city. The parliamentary elections, scheduled for May 1999, were shaping up to be a focal point of struggle between Nepal's reactionary rulers and the People's War. The government wanted to use the elections to project an image of strength, stability and democracy. And they were hoping to consolidate a new parliament more firmly behind its efforts to crush the People's War. But the CPN (Maoist) had called for a countrywide boycott of the elections. In the countryside, guerrilla attacks on police and politicians were on the rise and there had been actions by the revolutionaries in the capital city as well. Almost every day when I picked up the Kathmandu Post there was some news article or editorial about the People's War. There were news reports about guerrillas being killed by the police. But there were also reports about police being ambushed and killed. I was anxious to get out into the countryside, into the heart of the People's War.
One morning I finally get the word that arrangements have been made for my first trip to the countryside. We're going to the Eastern Region, to an area where the People's War is strong. I get only a couple of hours notice and am told to pack a small bag since we'll be leaving the city on motorcycle.
In the afternoon I meet up with Shiva, my guide and translator, and we hook up with the two comrades who will take us east. Riding by motorcycle on the road out of Kathmandu is only the first of many death-defying experiences I will have in Nepal! As a pedestrian I was already quite familiar with the hectic and dangerous city traffic. But now, after many days of dodging taxis and motorcycles on crowded streets, I was on the other side of the collision equation--zig-zagging in and out between people, brushing up against other zooming vehicles, and dodging lumbering cows and skittish goats.
As we leave the Kathmandu valley, I start to see, for the first time, what the eastern countryside looks like. Soon three- and four-story buildings disappear and give way to smaller brick structures along an increasingly winding and ascending road. In the dusk I see the outlines of irregular green steps wrapped around steepness--amazing terracing done by farmers up and down the mountainside.
The temperature is very pleasant and even with the wind whipping around us on the motorcycle I only need a light windbreaker. It's quickly getting dark but there are still people out working in the fields and many people walking along the road. We pass several groups of people celebrating and the colorful clothing of special occasions whizzes through my peripheral vision and my ears catch a few seconds of lively music. The comrade at the helm of the motorcycle tells me there's lots of wedding celebrations going on now because this is the traditional month in Nepal for people to get married.
We stop along the road and even though by now, the sun has completely surrendered behind the mountains, some kids are climbing and playing on the steep paths leading up the hillside. We wait for a while, anxiously. But for some reason we've missed the people we're supposed to hook up with. It's dark by now and we'll have to wait until the morning to try and reconnect. So we decide to go to a small nearby inn for the night. After a standard Nepali meal of dal baht (lentils and rice) we retire to little cubby-hole rooms. I'm pretty tired. But I'm also wired from the anticipation and excitement of being on my way to meet the people's army and I can't fall asleep.
It's 9:30 p.m., but outside, across the street, a small workshop is still open and a man is busily banging metal into water jugs. The steady rhythm of steel against steel goes on late into the night, mixing with sounds of people talking and walking on the street. We are near a major road with constant traffic, and throughout the night the noisy honking of buses and trucks intrudes on my restless slumber.
Early in the morning I wake up to the lilt of a man with a beautiful voice singing as he walks down the street. Soon after this, the metal worker across the street starts up again with his rhythmic banging--and it's barely after 6:00 a.m. When I walk out to the back balcony of the inn, I see that we are right next to a big river. All around me are immense mountains stretching into the distance. And while I savor the scenery and sip some traditional Nepali milk-tea, I think about the adventure--and danger--ahead of me. The comrades have warned me that because of the elections this is an especially dangerous time to travel in areas where the people's war is going on. We will travel carefully, but there are no guarantees we won't encounter the police. And they tell me that if the enemy somehow finds out that Maoists are in the villages we are visiting, they might encircle the area and launch an attack.
Into Guerrilla Territory
We have to enter the guerrilla zone after dark, so we arrange to rendezvous with our contacts in the early evening. We are met several miles up the river from the inn, just as the sun is setting. From here on, we will be on foot and we have a couple of hours of uphill climbing. Some daylight is still hanging around when we stop to rest along the way and some village kids quickly surround us. Their faces are full of curiosity.
We arrive at a village where support for the People's War is strong--the party has designated this as an area to be developed now towards becoming a base area for the revolution. People proudly tell me that the police are afraid to come into this area for fear they will be killed. Guerrilla sentries protect the area--if the police come anywhere near, people wanted by the police and people working underground are notified and will leave. The comrades knew we were coming and made sure things were secure for our arrival.
It's very dark by the time we get to the house where we'll be staying and meeting with people. We immediately go inside and are warmly greeted by two local party leaders. One of them is a teacher and we will be staying at his house. The other is a young man who looks to be in his early 20s. We sit down and over milk-tea they tell me something about themselves and the revolutionary work in this village. Someone brings in a kerosene lamp so I can write in my notebook. I notice there is wiring on the walls for electricity and even sockets for light bulbs. Apparently the house was built with hope that someday soon, power lines would reach this area. But this village, like 90 percent of Nepal, still has no electricity.
The young party leader tells me that people in this village are dependent on farming and grow mainly corn and millet. Most of the peasants have very small plots of land which yield small harvests, so they are only able to grow enough food to feed their families for three or four months. The rest of the year they have to find some other means of income to survive. Some have small gardens where they grow things like tomatoes which can be sold in the cities. And many of the men are forced to leave their families for many months to go find work somewhere else.
The young party leader is the son of a carpenter. Two of his brothers have gone to live and work in Kathmandu, and two of his sisters have joined the revolution. After finishing high school he went to Kathmandu to study law, got involved in the revolutionary student movement and joined the party in 1994. He tells me, "Then the party wanted me to do work in the countryside, and at the same time, government repression forced me to leave the city and go underground."
The other party leader has been a teacher for 20 years. He used to teach in the city, but more than 10 years ago he returned to the village. He proudly tells me his wife is also involved in the revolution. He has six brothers--one is in India working as an oil worker and one drives a truck in the city. His mother and father live in this house with his wife and children.
These are two of the comrades leading the party's work in this area of about 2,000 people. The party has been organizing here for 10 years, and before the initiation of the People's War in 1996 there were already established party cells (units of party members) and revolutionary mass organizations in this area. In Nepal there are a number of revisionist parties--they call themselves revolutionary but are totally reformist and in many cases openly reactionary. And the revisionist United Nepal Communist Party (Marxist Leninist) [usually referred to as UML], which actually headed the reactionary government for nine months in 1994-95, used to do a lot of political organizing here. But now, I'm told, people in this area who have been UML members and supporters in the past either support the People's War, are neutral, or have moved away. The older area party leader fills in this picture with some of his own experience with the UML. He says:
"I joined UML when I was a student in 1980 and was involved in the student movement, following the politics of UML. I dreamed that UML would do something for poor people and the oppressed class. But it did not--they followed the capitalist road. After the 1996 initiation of the People's War, I came in contact with the CPN (Maoist) and we discussed and interacted and I came to know the real way of communism. UML used to say they were for Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. But after the establishment of the multi-party system they didn't put this into practice and they actually dropped the title of Maoist from how they describe themselves."
The younger comrade then talks about what happened here after the start of armed struggle:
"There was a big change after the initiation of the People's War. Before, the organizations were all legal and the work was mainly propaganda. Then the initiation really gave hope and belief to the people. The teams of the people's army and the party exposed and attacked bad elements and threatened snitches. There was coercion as well as struggle. They struggled with spies to stop their bad ways. But if they did not stop, force became necessary. People were changed in this way.
"Now it is increasingly necessary to do organizing in an underground way and there is a need for constant security. After the initiation there were mass arrests and killings in this area and many people were forced to go underground. Now our organization has to be more systematic--we have to find ways to use individuals in the best way, according to their skills and capacity. Organizing of different mass organizations has continued--like the farmers association, women's group, and youth organization. The party is now underground and the mass organizations have been forced to operate semi-underground."
Before 1990 there was a one-party monarchical system of government called Panchayat, which oppressed the people. Then in 1990, a mass anti-Panchayat movement forced the government to institute a multi-party, parliamentary system. The young comrade goes on to explain:
"After 1990 the multi-party system was instituted and people thought they would now have a better life and opportunities. But this didn't happen and the gap between the haves and the have-nots only got bigger. There was a great crisis in the country, with Nepal being the second poorest nation in the world. This is one reason I was attracted to the revolution and saw the need for class struggle in order to achieve equality. Another reason is that I saw that all the political leaders in the government had become corrupted and did not represent the people. This situation made me dispirited, like a lot of other youth. I saw that these politicians have no love of the nation and they became servants of imperialism and Indian expansionism. As a lover of the nation there was no other way for me to go than to join the revolution. And what I have come to know is that the main source of corruption and repression and problems in society is because of the reactionary state power and system. And unless we get rid of it we cannot have any of our dreams come true."
Before we finish this brief session, the older comrade says he wants to give me a greeting to take back to the United States. He says: "My message to the oppressed and revolutionaries in the U.S. is, I would like to express our solidarity and urge them to unite to get free from the handcuffs of imperialism. Our movement is an international movement. We hope to become successful as one part of the world revolution. And we are working to build solidarity with all the oppressed people and the revolutionary communists in America."
Rifles in Silhouette
The comrades tell me a people's army cultural squad will be holding a political and cultural program for the masses tonight and they are trying to figure out how to arrange for me to meet and talk with them. For security reasons the squad will be arriving in the dark, right before the program, which will last two to three hours. And then, soon after this, they will have to leave in the dark of night to travel two hours before they bed down for the night. This means we won't be able to meet with the squad until very late. But after months of planning and anticipation I hardly mind that I'll have to wait just a few more hours before my first face-to-face interviews with members of the people's army.
The teacher's mother has prepared a meal for us and in the traditional Nepali way, we sit on the floor and eat with our hands. The food is very good and the mother keeps trying to get everyone to eat more. They tease me about my ignorance of Nepali eating customs, like the way to wash your hands after a meal. You're supposed to pour the water over your hands, letting the water spill onto your empty plate. But when someone hands me a vessel of water, I stick my fingers into it and everyone laughs. I won't make this mistake again.
Soon after we finish eating it's time to go to the program. We step out into the darkness and take off on the path, single file. I need to use a flashlight, but, somehow, the others are able to climb the steep, rocky trail without any illumination. Effortlessly, they zip up the terrain. But this is all unfamiliar and new for me and I find myself having to concentrate, shinning my light so I can see, with each step, where I'm putting my foot. In the complete darkness, my flashlight beam cuts a hole of light just big enough for me to travel through. And as fast as I can, I move through this small tent of light. Even though I can't see anything around me my rapid breathing tells me we're going higher and higher up the mountain.
After a while we reach a plateau where people have started gathering for the program. With only two lanterns dimly lighting the area it's hard to see what's going on. But I can make out the dark outlines of what looks to be about 100 people sitting on the ground. Other villagers are still coming up the hill. Shiva and I sit down a short distance away from where the masses are gathered and within a few minutes someone comes with a mat for us to sit on.
We have to wait for quite a while. But I enjoy the cool, crisp night and take in the atmosphere of anticipation which wafts over from the growing assembly of villagers. It appears the squad hasn't fully arrived yet, although it is really too dark for me to distinguish the different figures constantly moving about. I'm squinting into the darkness trying to get a better look at who's around me. Then suddenly, an image appears right in front of me, someone close enough to reach out and touch. It is my first glimpse at a member of the people's army --in silhouette, the figure of a young woman in a uniform and cap, carrying a rifle on her shoulder. Soon I start to notice more figures who have entered the area, in uniform, armed with rifles. One is standing on the periphery, right behind us, guarding the area. Others are busy getting things ready for the program. People from the village are still coming up the steep path. And as they arrive, one guerrilla has been assigned to shine his light on the path to help people with the last few steps to the top.
Villagers are still arriving when the program starts about 9:30 p.m. It's hard to estimate in the dark but it looks like about 200 people are now gathered to hear and see this people's army cultural squad.
The young party leader I talked with earlier opens the program with a short introduction. Then he calls for a minute of silence for all the martyrs and everyone stands and bows their head in honor of the comrades who have been killed in the People's War. After this one of the first speakers is a young woman whose husband was killed by the police. She is an area party secretary and explains the goals of the People's War and appeals especially to the women to join the revolution.
Next the people's army platoon leader gives a speech about the importance of armed struggle. He explains how it's necessary to pick up the gun in order to defeat the enemy. But he also says that the most important thing in defeating the enemy is the masses. Interspersed between the speeches, the cultural squad performs songs and poems, accompanied by lively rhythms tapped out on a small, traditional Nepali drum. This is very exciting--my first time hearing the new revolutionary culture being developed by the People's War. The first song they sing is one that talks about how the "blood of the martyrs must strengthen the people."
A number of speakers emphasize how the masses need to join and support the People's War. One comrade tells the people, "The army will protect the people and the people must protect the army." There is also battle news--of police and bad elements being killed, but also of recent casualties by the people's army. One man tells the crowd, "They are killing us in groups--but we are starting to kill them in groups too." Shiva whispers to me that this is a reference to a recent incident in the western part of the country, where several policemen were killed by the people's army. Other incidents are also cited in which the police have suffered defeat.
Another speech talks about how the masses need to exercise new people's power--by taking things into their own hands, settling disputes, solving community problems and administering justice. And the party also asks the masses to boycott the upcoming elections--and to be vigilant against increasing attacks from the government. One speaker tells people, "Reactionaries may cause bloodshed in this village and you must be prepared."
The program is still going strong when we leave around 11:00 p.m. The trip back down the mountain is a little easier on my cardiovascular system, but I have to take a bit more care going down, so I won't stumble on the rocks and fall. Again, I have to concentrate, shining my flashlight so I can see each step, and I try to keep up with the other comrades who are practically running downhill with total ease in the dark. We get back to the house, go inside and lie down. Surprisingly I fall right to sleep.
Two hours later, a bit before 1:00 a.m., I awaken to someone's voice saying, "Comrades, get up, they are here."
I sit up immediately and see that members of the people's army squad are coming into the room. It is completely dark, except for two small candles--one set up on a table in front of me so I can write in my notebook. The comrades file in and put their rifles up against the wall. The room is very small and with about a dozen guerrillas, plus a couple of local people and the two party leaders from the area, it's very crowded.
Some of the young women guerrillas come and sit right next to me on the bed. Now I can see how young they are. They are beautiful and strong and look to be about 15 to 20 years old. They are proudly wearing their people's army uniforms--military green pants with many big roomy pockets and matching jackets. The caps are sort of squared off on the top with a full brim--a big, bright red star declares from the front. Across from me sits the leader of the squad, a handsome young man who I guess to be about 25. He looks very tired but welcomes me with a big smile.
For the next couple of hours members of this cultural squad tell me about themselves and their revolutionary passion. Almost all of them come from poor peasant families. The women are the first to speak up and talk about the tremendous repression in their villages and how they came to join the people's army. At first the women guerrillas seem shy and hesitant. But as each one takes her turn to speak I am impressed by the strength and determination in their calm manner. They have a character about them that is common to teenage girls around the world--the way they sit next to each other, whisper some secret or fix one another's hair. But there is also a communal and disciplined way about them that comes from living and fighting together as a military unit. And I am struck by how seriously they are dedicated to the revolutionary cause.
The poor conditions of peasant life, the way feudal society oppressed women, and heavy government repression have driven these women into the revolutionary ranks. The first young woman to speak tells me:
"When I was 16, 17 years old I thought, why are we so oppressed, economically and socially? I used to think, how can we solve all these problems in our families and in society? Around that time, in 1995, the CPN (Maoist) conducted a boycott of the elections and parliament and a cultural team of the party came to our village. I came to know the way to solve all our problems and get free from repression. I got involved in the cultural team and then joined the party. At that time my parents had forbidden me to join the party's cultural team, but I did anyway. In 1997 bad elements forced me into a situation where I had to go underground and now I am working in this cultural squad of the people's army."
Other squad members were also first attracted to the people's army because of the party's cultural work. And while some of the women had to rebel against their families to join the people's army, there were also stories of relatives who encouraged them to join the revolution. And almost everyone had a story about how the police had brutalized and arrested members of their families. One 15-year-old woman whose father is underground told me:
"In January of 1996 I was reading in class 9 and the police came to my village to arrest those who were doing a cultural program in our school. Our teachers were arrested and my father and my uncle had already joined the party and had gone underground. 500 police raided our village and arrested just about everyone--even the children and old people. My mother was arrested and I was also arrested and kept in custody. There was so much repression by the police, so I joined the cultural team of the party. And because of the exploitation and oppression of the poor masses, and especially that suffered by women, I was inspired to find a way to free the masses from such a situation. I found this was being done by the CPN (Maoist) so I joined the party."
The government hopes that people will become afraid and retreat in the face of arrests, torture and murder. But I am beginning to see how heavy repression is mainly having the opposite effect--making people even more dedicated and determined to fight. One older comrade had been working with the party for 12 years at the time of the initiation. He was arrested and put in jail for 26 months and when he got out he immediately joined the people's army. Another 15-year-old woman guerrilla told me how her father is in jail and her uncle, aunt and brother have all been arrested. She said, "There was no other way except to take part in the People's War. So that's why I picked up the gun."
The last woman guerrilla to speak is a 16-year-old, sitting right next to me on the bed. She starts off by saying that there was a lot of support for the People's War in her village and that her father has been underground since 1995. Then she recounts how heavy police repression destroyed her village. She tells me: "The police came to our home and terrorized us. They raped women and arrested many people in the village. In 1997 there was an incident of great repression by the police and now in this village of about 26 houses, there is no one left. Everyone has been forced to leave and go underground."
Some of the young guerrillas first got involved with the party through the revolutionary student organizations. And many of them had been forced to go underground after being arrested and targeted by the government. One young man says:
"I began getting into revolutionary politics as a student and became the district secretary of the revolutionary student union. I got involved with the people's army cultural team with the understanding that this is the only way--through the People's War--to get rid of exploitation. In 1998 the reactionaries filed a case against me, charging me with treason. At the same time the party provided me with a chance to join the party and now I am with the people's army. I am committed to this political line and believe that the multi-party, parliamentary system, as Lenin said, is the place where they show you the head of a goat and sell you the meat of a dog. And so the People's War is the only way to free the exploited masses, to free them from the chains of slavery. This is why I joined the people's army. And we are hopeful and we have full confidence that we will be successful."
Another young man adds: "I got involved in the Student Union and came to know of the party's program through a cultural program in the school. I began to work part-time with the party in an open, legal way. But then the government filed a case against me. I was arrested and put in custody for 15 days. The reactionaries accused me of many things. Now I am underground, after joining the squad and have been in this platoon for six months."
This cultural squad travels in the Eastern Region, holding cultural programs for the masses. But they are given military assignments as well. One of them explained, "The members of the cultural squad also participate in armed actions against the reactionaries. We find out about and target bad elements like police or spies. And whenever the party instructs us to do this, we survey the situation and figure out the problems we have to encounter in order to carry out the task. When there is no enemy present we can work openly. Sometimes the squad also works in the fields with the people. And sometimes we help to solve the problems of the people that come up in the village, for example, settling disputes, getting justice when someone has been wronged, etc."
After each guerrilla has taken their turn talking, an area party secretary tells me how she came to join the People's War. She says:
"I was involved in the student movement and I got married in 1994. After the initiation my husband got involved in the People's War and in May 1997, he was killed, leaving me and our three-year-old son. After I got married, I worked as the president of the women's association in the district. Last May I was arrested and put in jail. When my husband was killed, I vowed to be a follower of his way and I swore I would pick up the gun which had fallen from his arms. Now the authorities are always searching for me and I have been forced to go underground."
At the cultural program she had called on women, especially, to join the People's War. And when I asked her why she feels so strongly about the role of women in the revolution, she answered:
"It is said in this society that women should work according to the wishes of their fathers, their husbands, and their sons. This is how society treats women. Capitalism exploits women and gives them no equal rights in property and in other aspects of society. This problem is not due to certain men or groups of people, but the root cause is the reactionary government, working with the expansionists and imperialists. It is clear, we cannot get success in our struggle, solve our problems, and get rid of all kinds of exploitation and oppression as long as this reactionary government and system exists. We can only overthrow it by using guns and this is why we have to wage people's war. Then we can have new forms of people's power where women can get equal rights."
It is almost time for the squad to leave and another area party secretary, a young man, says some final words: "On behalf of the party and the people involved in fighting the people's war, I give you our heartfelt thanks for coming from such a long distance to learn about our struggle. We express our solidarity with the goals of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA and hope the message of our struggle will become known to people all over the world."
It is 3:00 a.m. by now and the squad still has a two-hour trip through the countryside, climbing in total darkness. Before they leave, the squad leader says they would like to present me with a gift. The guerrillas get up, pick up their rifles and line up in the small area of the room next to the beds. Someone gives a command and they snap to attention, holding their rifles to their sides, eyes front. The leader of the squad steps forward and I jump off the bed and take two steps toward him. He extends his arms and I see that he is holding a Khukhuri--the razor sharp, curved-bladed knife of the peasants in Nepal. It is now being used by the guerrillas against enemies of the people. He hands it to me and says, "We would like to present this to you, it is our symbol of war." I am very moved, but I manage to take it and say a few words about the solidarity between the oppressed masses and revolutionaries in the U.S. and the masses of people waging people's war in Nepal. We will not be able to travel with this weapon so someone takes it from me, with the promise that it will make it back to Kathmandu where I can retrieve it.
The squad must leave now and they all line up to say good-bye to Shiva and me. Each guerrilla takes their turn and steps forward to give me a revolutionary red salute--"lal salaam." First they raise their right hand in a strong fist, then extend both fists down in front of them, then reach out with both hands to give me a firm handshake. Like all the comrades I have met so far, they take my two hands with their two hands in a solid grasp that exudes confidence, strength and utter seriousness. I am reminded, as each one of these young fighters says farewell, that everyday they are risking their young lives in the people's war. They are so fearless and confident in the justness of their cause and that it will be victorious.
The squad files out of the room very quickly and I can't even hear them as they go outside and quietly leave the village. All of a sudden, the room is empty, now darker with only one small flame near our beds. I blink my eyes a few times, peering at the empty space which had, only minutes earlier, been crowded with the sight of green uniforms. I tell myself--yes, it really did happen, you spent the last few hours talking with the people's army.
It is after 3:00 a.m. now and we will have to leave the village early in the morning, so we blow out the last flickering flame, lie down and try to get some sleep.
3/21 - Sunday
Yesterday a front page article in the Kathmandu Post carried the headline, "7 Maoists killed in encounter." According to the brief article, the incident happened in Banepa. I read the following, keeping in mind that many news reports of the people's war are not that reliable: "The Maoists were burned to death as the bomb they hurled at the police exploded among themselves after striking against the wall of the house they were staying in. The Maoist reportedly threw the bomb after they were told to surrender by the police. According to police, the cross-firing continued for two hours..."
Since I've been in Nepal, there have been reports of Maoists being killed by the police at least a couple times a week, as well as reports of police or bad elements being killed or injured by Maoists. Each time I read these news items I am interested in knowing where they happen. So on this morning I got my map out and looked to see where Banepa is. In fact it is right along the road that we had traveled on from Kathmandu to the Eastern Region. I didn't think about this too much more during the day--although each time I read of brave comrades being killed, the thought of them occupies a corner of my mind all day. And when I walk past newsstands and re-read the headlines, there is always a recurring ache in my heart for these martyrs.
In the evening a friend comes by who had been with us on our trip to the east. He had been back there since and talked with people about the Banepa incident. He tells us that the people killed in the incident were from the cultural squad we met.
I am stunned by the news and I immediately close my eyes and try to remember their faces. Late, in the middle of the night, we had crowded onto the bed together, our legs crossed, knees touching. In the candle-lit room, their shadows had loomed large on the walls. I concentrate on remembering the faces of the young women guerrillas--the 15- and 16-year-olds who had left their villages after seeing their families and friends arrested, beaten, raped by the police--their fathers, uncles, mothers forced to go underground before them. Only a short time ago they had shared their war stories with me. Now seven of them--four men and three women--were dead after refusing to surrender to the police. In a deeper way the question of the martyrs hits me, both politically and emotionally. And I recall what one peasant woman told me, that "The killing of our comrades cannot stop the People's War...the blood of the martyrs is the fuel of the revolution."
3/25 - Thursday
Today I learned a little bit more about the incident in Banepa where the seven guerrillas from the first squad we met were killed. The Kathmandu Post had reported they had died after they threw a bomb at the police. But this is a lie. Friends tell me they were surrounded and refused to surrender and there was shooting back and forth. Then the police set the house on fire. And when the comrades were forced to run out of the burning house they were shot in cold blood. My friends explain that the murder of these comrades was due to the spying and informing of a UML person who is running for office in the elections. Apparently, this is typical of the treacherous role the UML is playing these days, directly helping the government to target and murder revolutionaries.
This afternoon someone brought me photos of the martyrs killed at Banepa. One of them was the young 15-year-old woman, the one with a sweet face who had been sitting right next to me on the bed that night. Her eyes had shone bright, even in the dim flicker of candlelight. I had heard my first notes of a revolutionary song in Nepal from these youth. They had been the first to teach me how to "lal salaam." They had given me my first face-to-face conversation with members of the people's army. These young comrades lived such short lives, but gave so much to the people. And now, I know they will be remembered and cherished in the hearts and minds of the masses. I will certainly never forget them.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary