Disqualified Maoist combatants preparing to return home from a Dang-based barracks after UNMIN verification in this file photo.
DANG, Feb 13: They had arms in their hands but beautiful dreams in their minds when they readied themselves for ‘the People’s War’ 22 years ago. They were ready to kill and get killed for the ‘great cause of freeing the nation from the unfair system, emancipating the poor, and ending the gender- and caste-based discrimination and the centralized development’ and so on. The war started and continued for a decade. Thousands of Nepalis including government soldiers, Maoist combatants and innocent civilians were killed while thousands others were injured. Starting in 1996, the war ended in 2006 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord in Kathmandu.
Everything seemed to be going in the right direction till then, according to the combatants, despite immeasurable pain and sufferings the country went through. However, what has followed after that hasn’t been impressive, according to the combatants.
The Maoist combatants were disappointed the most when many of them were termed ‘disqualified’ and sent back home from cantonments during their merger with the Nepal Army. They felt low and cheated though they were provided compensation. And now 22 years down the line, the ex-combatants are simply full of regret; the mess the country is in today makes them feel as if the war was nothing but a waste of time and energy. Strange but true, there was no celebration in Rolpa, the epicenter of the war, on the ‘Janayudhdha Diwas’!
“In the past, we would celebrate this day by smearing vermilion on our faces. Even when we lost the battles to our enemy, we would dance in joy for surviving their bullets,” said Rupesh Malla (name changed), a senior commander of the ex-People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Malla was not proud at all while narrating the incidents of those action-packed days. He became speechless several times during the conversation. The man who played an important role in the decade-long war says that looking back does not make him happy at all. “Bitterness is what is left. The country could not establish and institutionalize the changes we fought for,” he said.
He is,however, surprised to see the leaders celebrate the day. Even after failing to deliver on the promises they made and dragging the country to a deeper crisis, the leaders have not stopped celebrating, he observed.
“We have come to know that the party is just for them, not for us. Only what the leaders say counts. So, why do we need to be excited?” he questioned.
Malla is still associated with the party. That is why he hesitated to criticize the party openly and requested anonymity.
“I could not forsake the love for the party. In one or the other way, I am still working for it. Please do not mention my name,” he said.
Sanam Pun, another ex-combatant does not feel for the leaders once he treated like the Gods. He feels that they robbed many like him of their dreams. He feels so disconnected with the entire conflict that he had no idea that Sunday was the ‘Janayudhdha Diwas’. When reminded of it, he gave an unexciting look and said, “I do not want to go into the past.”
He was a teenager when he joined the PLA. Just like other combatants, he was always proud of himself for being ready to do and die for the much needed change in the country. “However, things did not turn out as expected,” he lamented.
Pun did not qualify for the national army. He is still haunted by this pain. “I did not have any other skill. I spent five years in the PLA. At home, I don’t have any ancestral property. Life became miserable after coming home,” he said, “When I look back, I feel that the leaders used us as a ladder to rise to power.”
There are around 2,500 ex-combatants in Dang. Celebrating the ‘Janayuddha Diwas’ no more makes sense to them. A majority of them have pitiable lives. Some have gone abroad for employment. Others are fully drowned in debt. According to Malla, worst is the condition of those who were badly injured in the conflict. “Neither the party, nor the state has taken their responsibility. When our own leaders turned irresponsible, what to say,” he said.