Dispatches: Report from the People's War in Nepal
Part 2: Villages of Resistance
By Li Onesto
Revolutionary Worker #1015, July 25, 1999
Part 1 of this series
In the countryside of Nepal, it's hard to sleep past 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. Roosters start crowing and the rustle of those already up invades your sleep. In that world of semi-consciousness before waking, I hear the women stoking the new day's fire, the men getting ready to face the fields. Someone brings me a cup of hot milk-tea. I sit on the edge of the bed sipping and thinking about how only three hours ago, members of the people's army had been sitting here next to me, telling me about their lives.
About 7:00 a.m. several women appear at the doorway and we motion them to come on in. They are from the village and eager to talk with me.
From the time they were very young, these women have worked in the fields, hauled water and cut grass to feed animals. All of them talked with bitterness of how girls are usually not allowed to go to school. All of them spoke with optimism of how the People's War is giving them new opportunities--not only to get an education but also to make a contribution to the revolution. One woman said:
"We are illiterate. Due to our traditional customs, we did not learn to read and write, because it is said daughters should not be educated. But now we are beginning a new people's education. Before we only passed the time working in the fields, bringing food and grass to the cattle, and doing other household work. The main thing we have come to know is that all the oppression we are facing today is due to the reactionary state power. We have come to this conclusion and what we are doing here has made us more clear about the exploitative nature of the reactionary government. Today we, the oppressed women, who are deprived of reading and writing, should also struggle hard and help the ongoing People's War so that we can overthrow this reactionary state force soon."
The women tell me that according to feudal tradition, parents arrange most marriages--so the young people have no say in who will be their husband or wife. In general, the women say, traditional customs discriminate against women. But now, with the spread of the people's war, things are beginning to change. One woman, who looks to be in her early 20's, explains how new ideas are beginning to take root:
"There is struggle in the family because sometimes there is uneven understanding. If the parents understand things, it is easy. But if not, it is difficult for a woman to take part in the People's War. But today in this village, everyone is taking part. There are only two or three houses that are not participating. We became active in the revolution with the conclusion that everyone should be equal and united for the welfare of the people. Husbands are also now beginning to do jobs they never did before like cooking, washing dishes and taking care of children."
I ask the women if they will let me take their pictures. At first they seem a little shy at the idea, but then give me big smiles and say yes.
As I take their pictures I can't help thinking how beautiful these women are--their faces and their whole way of moving through the world. I have been in Nepal long enough to see many other poor women, first in the city, but then also as we traveled through the countryside. My camera had captured images of vendors squatting beside piles of vegetables or tourist trinkets. I had given rupees to women begging in the streets with their kids. In the countryside, I crossed paths with peasant women hauling heavy loads up mountain trails. I saw the tired faces of women stoking fires as the sun began its next ascent.
The women in this village are no doubt just as poor and experiencing as much, perhaps even more, hardship and poverty than the people I've seen outside this guerrilla zone. But the faces of these women have a very different expression. Outside the guerrilla zones the women looked back at me with tired eyes. Here, the women hold their heads in a confident, proud manner; their body movements seem less heavy. They look happy and at the same time, deadly serious. And above all, they radiate a real sense of hope. Their optimism and vision of a whole new future comes through in the edge to their words. Their hatred for the enemy informs the hard look in their eyes. Their faith in the revolution gives them a physical confidence in how they move about. It's the same human presence and quality I have felt when meeting party comrades and guerrillas from the people's army.
A Community of Women and Children
We arrive at another village late in the day and are taken to a house that's nestled on the mountain in between dense forests and terraced farm fields. We go inside to a second floor room that's catching the day's last rays of sun. Several people have already gathered and a young supporter of the People's War begins telling me about this village. He is only 18 years old, and unlike most of the people I will meet in the countryside, speaks very good English. He informs us that he's studying to be a doctor so he can serve the people in the countryside. The first thing he tells me about are some of the martyrs who have been killed in this area.
"Rawati Sapkot was 25 years old, married with a son and a daughter, at the time of his death in 1998. He had been in the people's army a year and a half before being killed by a police commander in a sudden encounter in the forest. Four guerrillas were attacked by about a dozen police and Rawati and one other squad member were killed.
"Bhim Brsed Ssarma was 20 years old and had just graduated from high school and gotten married when he was killed--in another sudden encounter with the police. In this incident, 11 guerrillas were attacked by more than 100 police and all but Ssarma were able to escape. He had been in the people's army only three months at the time of his death.
"Sabida Sapkot was 21 years old when she became a martyr and had just graduated from high school. She had to rebel against her family to join the people's army and after she went underground she didn't see her family anymore because they would not support what she was doing.
"Binda Sharma, a 25 year old woman, killed in 1998, also had to rebel to join the people's army. Her husband didn't--and still doesn't--support the People's War and in fact, now works as a police detective in Kathmandu. For over six years, Sharma had been in this arranged married. But then one day, after she began working with the local party, she ran off and joined the people's army."
The young man then goes on to talk about how the People's War has been developing in this area. He says:
"There are 60 to 70 families in this village and about 80 percent here support the People's War. Two weeks before the initiation a police was killed and then the police arrested 70 people. The whole village was raided by more than 150 special force police. One policeman was killed and the day after, this house we're sitting in was raided. The police fired six times into the air and the local people started to rebel. The police attacked many people with sticks and two people in the house were arrested. Five days later they raided the whole village. They went house-to-house at 1:00 a.m. Children only 9 or 10 years old, up to older people over 70 years old were arrested. The police would come in and grab people and take them to the local police post. Male police were grabbing at the women. In all, about 60 to 70 people were taken into custody and all of them were charged with killing the one police. Actually, at the time, this cop was only `missing'--only later was he found dead. This happened over three years ago and 15 people from this incident are still in jail, without any trial.
"All this really affected people in the village and made them very supportive of armed struggle against the police. So when the People's War started there was a lot of activity here--including wall postering, distribution of the communique from the party, and torchlight processions. Fifteen to 20 people went underground and some were caught by the police in the first week. Now there are about 15 people from this village who are still underground, including my father.
"In the three years of People's War there has been continuous revolutionary activity in this village and things have advanced. There have been actions against bad elements, many processions and a lot of postering and wall paintings. The party has held condolence meetings for the martyrs and many mass meetings to explain the goals of the People's War and to build support for the revolution. People have joined the party and the people's army and, in response, the police have carried out many raids and arrested many people. This house has been raided five times."
More and more villagers have been coming into the room and the floor space is now packed with people scrunched together. Others, jam-packed at the doorway, are craning their necks to catch the conversation. They are curious and interested to meet a revolutionary from the U.S.--and eager to talk about the People's War in Nepal. One woman who has just arrived says she has some questions for me. So for the next hour or so I am the one being interviewed. She asks me a few things about myself--how old am I, how many children do I have, etc. But then she quickly gets down to what's really on her mind: "How is the revolution progressing in the United States?" I tell her about the work of revolutionaries in the U.S. and different struggles being waged by the masses. And she is extremely interested to know what the prospects are for waging armed struggle in the United States. When I describe the way U.S. cops brutalize and murder people the woman immediately asks, "Have any actions been organized against the police?"
By now the room has gotten even smaller with the arrival of more villagers, and we decide to take a dinner break and then re-convene in a larger room upstairs. We have a big meal of dal baht, fish stew and curry potatoes. Then everyone goes into what looks to be a room for storing grains. We sit on mats that have been set up next to stacks of harvested corn. I look around at the gathering of about 50 people and notice that it's mostly women, along with their kids (who all look to be younger than 12), and a few old men. The same woman who had peppered me with questions about the U.S. starts off by saying:
"We would like to thank you for coming and we express our solidarity. We face many kinds of repression. The reason why it is mainly women here at this meeting is because all of the men are underground so they could not come tonight. And because of the police we could not have this meeting in the daytime. We have been raped and beaten in custody. We have no way but to fight back with the party, which is fighting against this oppression. We women have to work on our own small plots of land and because of the repression from the reactionaries, we are having a very hard life.
"They have killed a small child of only five years old and an old man of 90. They have raped a 10-year-old girl and a 70-year-old woman. They have looted our property. They have taken the property of even the old people. They have raided homes and put people in jail. There are so many cases of those who are fighting for justice being targeted by the police. In the elections they force us to go out and vote, even though we don't want to. There are massive violations of human rights. Men who speak out, demanding the government act according to the law and Constitution, are being hunted down. And women are also being forced to go underground. Sometimes the men are separated from their wives for one or two months and then the police come and interrogate and rape the wife.
"Because of this terrible situation created by the reactionary government we have come to know, and it is our compulsion to understand, the need to pick up arms and fight them and wage a successful people's war and build new forms of people's power. We can't be free from this inhuman treatment and repression until we get rid of this reactionary government. And this is the reason we support and have joined the People's War. One way we support the People's War is by collecting crops and money, according to people's capacity, and sending it to those who are underground, who are away from our village.
"Even though they are killing our people, at the same time, the people's army is fighting and we are hopeful that they will increase their capacity to fight even more. We really believe that the murder of our comrades by the police cannot stop the People's War. The blood of the martyrs is the fuel of the revolution. Understanding this, we are united and our unity is sure to defeat the enemy. We strongly believe the People's War will be victorious. On behalf of the women's association and the farmers' association, we would like to say welcome and thank you for coming so far to learn about our lives. We have been inspired by you."
Some other villagers also get up to speak, but the meeting has to end after only about an hour because people have a long walk back to their houses and for security reasons, must travel without any light. They pledge to keep the secrecy of the meeting so the enemy won't find out about it. And then people line up to shake my hand. I am especially moved when some young girls--who look to be about 9 or 10 years old--purposefully elbow their way past the adults. Instead of giving me the more traditional Nepali "namaste" greeting, which is with your hands held together like in prayer, they hold their fist up in a "lal salaam," red salute, and then clasp my hands very tightly and firmly with their little hands.
To be continued
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