Families torn apart
In February 2000, we travelled to the Maoist heartland of Rolpa, Rukum and Jajarkot. Along the way, we noticed police sentry posts located on treetops for safety. The policemen were playing carom with guns slung on their shoulders. We knew we were entering a war zone. In Libang, we visited Maoist prisoners in the Rolpa district jail. They spoke about being innocent, framed and tortured by the police. We interviewed a Maoist leader, Lokendra Bista. He told us the revolution was actually in response to state violence, but he said the resolution of the conflict was only possible through dialogue, not through violence.
In Khalanga of Rukum, there was also a lot of fear. Many who had been driven out or tortured by the Maoists had fled to the district headquarters for safety. We came across children cooking by themselves. One 11-year-old was kneading dough, but he wept as he told us: “The police killed our father and mother, I feel like drinking the blood from their hearts.”
Four years later, we went to eastern Nepal. By this time, the army had joined the war and Maoist influence had spread throughout the country. One indelible memory of that time was the farewell of a distraught father in Chisapani of Khotang for his ninth grader student son, Kiran Bista.
In the video, the father clutches the boy’s legs and does not want to let go. The boy tries to placate his father: “Don’t do this, Dad. My friends all have fathers. We are all going to war, please don’t do this.”
A confident speaker, Kiran later told us later on camera: “I am joining out of my own free will because I have understood that we have to fight for our country.”
When we got to Mugu, local Maoists detained us for 22 hours. But it was not till we got to Mudbara of Doti that we found out just how badly the war had affected children. The army had attacked a school in September 2004 after they found out the Maoists had gone there to recruit. Six of the Maoists were killed, but so were four students.
“I didn’t even know I had been hit, I was unconscious when they took me to hospital,” said one student Dharma Bhurtel. Her mother, Krishna Maya, broke down as she told us of the pain at seeing her only daughter wounded.
Bishnu Prasad was hiding inside a classroom with other students, when soldiers kicked the door in and started shooting. He was hit, and paralysed. “I like to go to school, but I cannot walk now.”
Teachers were on the frontlines of the war, and nearly 220 of them were killed by both sides. “After the war started, we were caught in the crossfire. Whichever side fires the guns it is us teachers who get killed,” Ram Bahadur Raut principal of the Chisapani Secondary School in Khotang told us then.