Why Revolution Is Good for the Children of Nepal

by Li Onesto

Revolutionary Worker #1185, February 2, 2003, posted at http://rwor.org

In recent months there has been a concerted effort in the press to attack the People's War in Nepal for so-called "human rights violations against children." Nepalese officials, newspapers in Nepal and internationally, and various human rights organizations claim the insurgency is responsible for the deaths of many children in Nepal and accuse the Maoists of "recruiting child soldiers" and using children as "human shields." There have also been widespread reports that thousands of youth have been fleeing their homes in the countryside allegedly to avoid being "press ganged" into the People's Liberation Army.

A report by the Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Center (CWIN), widely cited in the press, asserts that: "the death toll for children under 16 has reached 96 as a consequence of the war between the Maoists and the government" and "nearly 3,000 children have been displaced from their homes and at least 1,500 have been orphaned following the conflict."

The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has been waging armed struggle against the reactionary Nepalese government since 1996 and has gained mass, popular support throughout the country. The government admits the Maoists now control huge areas of the countryside. And in the revolutionary base areas where the Maoists have control, poor peasants are administering a "new people's power" which carries out land reform and gives women, minorities and lower castes equal rights.

This is a genuine struggle for liberation. But the government has tried to paint the Maoists in Nepal as "terrorists." And in the name of "fighting the worldwide war on terrorism," a number of countries, including the U.S., UK, India, China, Russia and Belgium, have given Nepal's government political and military support for its fight against the Maoists. With such international backing, the Royal Nepal Army has stepped up its "search and destroy" campaigns in the countryside and thousands of people have been killed, arrested, tortured and jailed. All kinds of constitutional rights have been suspended. And the government has instituted widespread censorship of the press and a massive disinformation campaign. The recent spate of reports about "Maoists abusing children" must be seen as part of such dishonest efforts aimed at slandering and discrediting the People's War.

Who is Killing the Children in Nepal?

"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."

Young woman guerrilla interviewed in
Dispatches:Report from the People's War in Nepal

Along the paths in the guerrilla zones there are many memorials built to revolutionary martyrs who have been killed by the police. We stop to rest at one small stone monument under a tree dedicated to Dilbahadur Ramtel. A district party leader had told me about how this young boy had died:

"The repression was very heavy in the weeks after the initiation and people had to stay hidden in supporters' houses. Up to the end of February, no one was killed. But about three dozen people had been arrested. Then on February 27, the police went to arrest the headmaster in one village. The students opposed this and Dilbahadur Ramtel, an 11-year-old, lower caste boy was killed. He was in the fourth grade when he died and became the first martyr of the People's War."

From Dispatches: Report from the People's War in Nepal


When I read the news articles about "children being killed and orphaned" by the Maoist insurgency, I can't help but remember the stories I heard when I traveled into the guerrilla zones in 1996. I interviewed many young members of the people's army who told me how they had taken up arms against the government after witnessing their fathers, uncles, mothers and brothers killed, tortured and taken away by the police. And the numbers of people murdered and brutalized by government forces has grown by leaps and bounds in the years since my trip.

Recent articles about "children being harmed by the Maoists" assert statistics like: "168 children have been killed in the Maoist insurrection."

Such reports don't actually say these children have been killed by the Maoists. In fact, it is the Nepalese government that has been killing thousands of people in Nepal, including many children. And this has been even more so since November 2001, when the Royal Nepal Army was fully unleashed against the People's War.

It has been widely reported that by December 2002, more than 7,000 people had died in the conflict between government forces and Maoist guerrillas--and that over 4,000 of these deaths have occurred since November 2002. The vast majority of these deaths have been at the hand of the police and RNA soldiers. Government sources say that of the 4,366 people killed since November 2002, 4,050 were Maoists. But as many human rights groups have pointed out, most of these victims were civilians targeted for their real or perceived support for the Maoists. Human Rights Watch reported that in the first few months after a State of Emergency was declared in November 2001, over 1,300 "suspected Maoists," including "civilians once associated with Maoists as well as those possessing Maoist literature," had been killed by government security forces.

In other words, more people have been killed by the police and RNA in the last year than the total number killed in the first five years of the insurgency.

Those making the argument that the "Maoists are killing children" conveniently fail to mention that even those human rights groups who are reporting that "168 children have been killed in the Maoist insurgency" also report that government forces have unjustly killed many people, including children, using the pretest of "skirmishes" or "encounters" with rebel forces.

Many human rights groups, either consciously or not, help spread disinformation and confusion about the situation in Nepal by "evenly" criticizing the government and the Maoists for "human rights violations"--even though by their own statistics, the overwhelming majority of those killed have been at the hands of government forces. But these groups do cite and chronicle many cases in which the state has killed children accused of supporting the Maoists. And they have also reported on the abuse of children held in jails on suspicion of being rebel soldiers.

One RNA officer admitted that in the heat of battle, government soldiers rarely distinguish between men, women or children. One army captain told a reporter, "Anyone with a gun is an enemy."

A Killer System

"I heard one story where a man had been working as a bonded laborer for 50 years. He had been stolen from his family when he was only 9 years old and was sold to the landlord for 20 kilograms of millet. The party led nearly 1,000 people to go to the landlord and hold a mass meeting. The mass revolutionary organizations exposed the kind of exploitation done by this landlord and called on the people to take mass action. The people demanded that the landlord either pay the man for 50 years of labor or give him property as if he were his son. The landlord accepted the second proposal and was forced to give up 0.8 hectares of land and about 400,000 rupees."

From Dispatches: Report from the People's War in Nepal

If people want to talk about the plight of children in Nepal--they need to look at the whole semi-feudal and capitalistic system under which millions of children live in deep poverty and brutal servitude.

Take this one example: In Nepal, there are 32,000 child laborers working in 1,600 stone quarries. Almost half of these children fall ill soon after starting to work and regularly suffer from coughs, backache, fever, visual impairment, and joint and muscle pain. Almost all of them have had accidents and injuries while working to excavate and extract stones and boulders from quarries, or loading goods on trucks or while crushing boulders into gravel.

One news article recounted the story of a 13-year-old boy who goes to school in the morning and on the way home stops at a quarry site and starts crushing stones for hours. He earns between 20 and 30 rupees a day (less than 50 cents), which he says helps his family of five survive.

A nationwide study by Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu reported that more than 27% of the children in Nepal--some 2.6 million children--work as child laborers and that 60% of these children are between 6 and 14 years old. Almost one million are working without pay and many are working as bonded laborers (forced to work for an employer for a specific period of time, without any rights).

Deep poverty is also responsible for the suffering of millions of children in Nepal. It is estimated that 50% of the children in Nepal are afflicted by malnutrition. And because of the lack of clean water, sanitary conditions, and health care in the countryside, many children die of common curable diseases.

When I traveled through Rolpa in the Western Region of Nepal there was a major flu epidemic that had struck over 10,000 people and killed more than 400. If you got this kind of flu in the U.S., it might mean a few days off from work or school. But in Nepal the common flu means death for many older people and young children.

These conditions of poverty and exploitation are rooted in the semi-feudal, capitalist system in Nepal--the whole setup the Maoist revolution is aimed at overthrowing.

Schools of Warfare

The vision and program of the Maoists has appealed to millions of youth in Nepal, who face deep poverty and unemployment. And the People's Liberation Army has attracted thousands of young people who are looking for a way to change society.

I met many young women who fled arranged marriages and oppressive feudal traditions to join the people's army. And I met many party leaders and members of the people's army who first got involved as students. Many times they had worked as student organizers in the city. But after they were targeted by the government and forced to go underground, they went to the countryside and joined the people's army. I also met many fighters in the People's War who were teachers.

Contrary to the view that the Maoist revolution in Nepal is "depriving children of an education," the truth is that the People's War has mobilized millions of students to fight not only for a better education--but a better society for all the people.

The Maoist student group, the All Nepal National Independent Students' Union-Revolutionary (ANNISU-R), has put forward these demands: that the government provide free and relevant education for the masses of poor children, that schools stop forcing kids to learn the old, arcane Sanskrit language, that private schools slash their fees by 50% or close, and that the government abolish the "commercialization and privatization" of education. ANNISU-R has led many mass strikes around these demands, closing schools around the country for weeks.

When I was in Nepal, I heard stories of how corrupt and irresponsible teachers were "supervised" by the new people's power. Teachers who were collecting pay but not teaching were ordered to either show up and teach the students or forfeit their pay to the revolution.

In many cases, in areas where the Maoists have gained control, reactionary teachers have fled, causing government schools to close. And because of this, the Maoists are accused of "closing down schools" and "depriving children of an education." But the real deal is that the Maoists are uniting millions of youth to rebel against the inadequate, irrelevant and unequal educational system. And in the revolutionary base areas, new schools are being built and the Maoist youth are putting into practice their vision of a new revolutionary education that "serves the people."

I had the opportunity to interview Krishna Duoj Khadka, who at the time I was in Nepal, was the President of ANNISU-R. He explained the aims of his group and why they support the People's War:

"The educational system is a feudal system of education and is not productive, not useful to the people. Many people are not getting an education--which is expensive, privatized, and inaccessible to common children. There is unequal education but equal competition. Good education is accessible only to the elite and ruling classes and the educational system reflects a feudal and imperialist culture... We can't solve the people's problems through reforms and need drastic, total change, which can only be solved in a new democratic system. For that, we support the people's war. In the long term we see establishing a new people's educational system where there is opportunity for everyone.

"Education should be compulsory, scientific and accessible. People should be able to get jobs. Education should have a good link with the production system; there should be no foreign intervention in the educational system and it should be oriented in such a way that students come to know the world and the people of the world. Education should not be a commodity, it is a right of the people. Education should be free and compulsory. It should be oriented to different nationalities and should promote feelings of love for the nation. Policies should be made with and for the needs of the people. There should be freedom in different academic careers and freedom of speech. Students should have physical labor as well... Feudal traditions prevail. Most parents don't send daughters to school--there is over 40% illiteracy in the countryside. A revolutionary program for education will have a regional balance in education and facilities for education for indigenous children and women."

Revolutionary Hopeof the Youth

"The youth were looking for a revolutionary party--looking to see which one will lead the way to solve the people's problems. And the party analyzed this situation and gave a revolutionary program to the young generation. The common interests were joined between the party and the rebellious generation."

Member of the party's Central Committee and Politbureau talking about
the start of the People's War
From Dispatches: Report from the People's War in Nepal

"Eight-year-old Tanka sang two songs for us. The first he wrote himself. It tells of how his father, Tirtha Gautam, was killed in the raid on the Bethan police post... The second song is sung to the tune of a Nepali folk song, but Tanka has inserted new lyrics. He sings about the police and the repression the people face and then declares that the people's answer to all this is, `Give us the gun of Gautam,' referring to his martyred father."

From Dispatches: Report from the People's War in Nepal


In Nepal, over 90% of the people live in the countryside as poor peasants. Out of the country's 23 million people, almost 11 million are children under 16 years old. Many of these children have witnessed the brutal actions of the government. They have seen the police and RNA soldiers come into their villages, round people up, rape the women, take off their fathers, uncles and brothers. They have seen men and women in the village shot in cold blood, accused of being "Maoist sympathizers."

Millions of people in the countryside actively support the People's War and even very young children have a basic understanding that this revolution is fighting against those who are killing and torturing the people--and many of them can't wait to join the People's Liberation Army.

The official policy of the CPN (Maoist) is that no one under the age of 18 is allowed to join the People's Liberation Army. And thousands of minors who have responded to recruitment calls have been told they cannot yet join the PLA and people's militias.

At the same time, the CPN (Maoist) organize youth under 18 to support the People's War in many other ways. An article in The Worker (an official publication of the CPN [Maoist]), says: "While they have been strictly forbidden to join people's armed force, they [minors] have been organized under `Akhil Bal Sangathan' a children's organization which takes care of the overall development of children, including their right to express their solidarity to what they consider is good, including the People's War..."

The present economic and political system in Nepal offers no real future to the youth. Millions of kids live in poverty and malnutrition, trying to eke out a living with their parents on small plots of land. Many end up working in sweatshops in Kathmandu or India for almost nothing. Young women face arranged marriages and gross inequality--many end up sold to brothels in India.

The People's War is offering another future to the youth of Nepal--to participate in the fight to overthrow an oppressive system and build a new and liberating society. This vision is guiding the People's Army and the mass organizations of peasants, students, women and children. And in huge areas of Nepal's countryside where the Maoists have base areas, this vision is already being put into practice as the masses form and begin to run new revolutionary governments.

The People's War in Nepal is a popular revolution that has the support of the masses of people, including millions of children and youth. This revolution cannot help but fire the imagination of millions of children and teenagers. And the chances of this revolution winning are certainly strengthened by the courage and energy of the next generation of revolutionary fighters.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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