The shirt belonging to Ajay Shahi of Kirtipur. He was disappeared by the army from his rented room in Bauddha in 2004.(left) Ram Ratan Chaudhary poses with the plow that the Maoists had used to attack hi in 2001, near his home in Baijapur in Banke, recently(right). Photo Courtesy: Bikkil Sthapit.
KATHMANDU, Oct 8: The evening of February 14, 2001, Maoist insurgents cordoned off the house of Ram Ratan Chaudhary immediately after he returned from his office. Some 10 Maoists in black masks then started attacking Chaudhary with a wooden plow.
The Maoists had been demanding donations from Chaudhary, an assistant technician at Phattepur Village Development Committee in Banke district. They beat him up without giving him a chance to respond to their charge of “not supporting the war”.
After beating him mercilessly for hours they left him for dead a few kilometers from his house at Baijapur. When family members came to his rescue, he was unable to get a grip on his senses. His legs were broken below the knees but he survived after receiving emergency treatment at a local hospital and then in Kathmandu.
The Maoists didn't leave his family alone. They came back to their house a few days later and beat up Ram Ratan's father Hiramani Tharu on the charge of helping in his son's treatment. The Maoists killed Ram Ratan's brother-in-law, Kashiram Tharu, and the father also died of his own injuries.
“I still can't walk around my courtyard,” said Ram Ratan, adding, " I can't forgot those days and I have preserved the plow they beat me up with.”
The plow reminds him of his ordeal and he feels the anger . “I have sent the plow to Kathmandu for inclusion in an exhibition intended to remind the powers that be of the savagery of the Maoist armed insurgency,” said Ram Ratan over the phone from his village in Banke district.
The plow is now at the Nepal Art Council, where dozens of mementos belonging to those disappeared during the 10-year Maoist insurgency are on a week-long exhibition.
Like the kin of other conflict victims, Bijay Shahi of Kirtipur becomes emotional when he sees a checked shirt belonging to his brother Ajay, who was disappeared by the army. Immediately after his arrested by army personnel from his rented room at Boudhha, Kathmandu on July 19, 2004, the family registered applications at various rights bodies including the NHRC and ICRC, requesting them to find his whereabouts. But they couldn't subject the army to repeated inquiries, fearing that other members of the Shahi family might be tortured as well.
“Fourteen years on, we still don't known his whereabouts but the shirt which he bought himself after getting his first salary is safe with us. It's the only memento of my missing brother,” Bijay told Republica.
As many as 17,000 people were killed and over 1,300 disappeared in the decade-long armed insurgency . Family members of the disappeared still have no information about the whereabouts of their loved ones .
Many of the families now lament not clinging to the belongings of their disappeared. They say they were deterred from doing so by threats from both the Maoists and state security forces making inquiries about the missing.
“My family struggled to hang on to my sister's shawl but in vain. We could have treasured it as her memento ,” said Sharmila Chaudhary, younger sister of Ramkali, who is one of the missing.
After Ramkali was arrested, her relatives, who were arrested along with her, returned home with her shawl. But they could not keep the shawl safely due to frequent search operations at the house by security personnel.
“The belongings of the disappeared help keep their memory alive. Such mementos also raise questions over the lack of due diligence on the part of those responsible for ensuring justice for the victims,” said Ram Kumar Bhandari, who has kept a scarf, a SEIKO watch and a sweater belonging to his disappeared father, Tej Bahadur.
Tej Bahadur, a retired school teacher, was arrested by police while he was in Beshi Sahar, district headquarters of Lamjung, for alleged involvement in the Maoist insurgency.
Since then, his family has been waiting for justice and they only have those few mementos to cling on to. The transitional justice mechanisms—Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons—have turned idle since the last three years, allegedly for lack of funds and the necessary legal mechanisms.
In a bid to pressure the authorities, a group of rights activists led by Bhandari collected items belonging to over 100 disappeared persons. Family members have preserved items of clothing, household weapons, books, letters and other belongings of the disappeared.
The exhibition titled 'Memory, Truth and Justice' will continue for a week. The items will then be returned to the respective families.
“When the government's mechanisms turn dysfunctional such things remind them of the plight of the conflict victims and create some pressure ,” said Bhandari, “We will keep collecting such mementos in the coming days also so that the authorities will listen .”