Sunday, September 14, 2003

The Maoists in Nepal

"They kill only the men. That is why I had to run away from there." He silently looked into the fire, and then moved a bit closer to warm himself, spreading out his hands over the flames. I just was not able to figure out how he was sustaining this cold - the temperatures had gone down below zero because the stream nearby was completely frozen, but this guy was happily smiling away in his single pullover, while we were all shivering despite our heavy jackets and the fire close by.

"But what do the terrorists want? I mean, what are they fighting for?" I asked.

"They say that the shops should be owned by everybody, and the fields too. That anybody born rich should not be allowed to inherit all the wealth. And the factories should produce enough clothes --"

"Oh - the Maoists - same socialism stuff. So, do you agree with what they say?" Somebody remarked.

"It doesn't matter at all to us. We are happy as we are. But we cannot figure out whether to side with the police or with the terrorists. The Maoists kill the men whenever somebody sides with the police."

Oh yes, yes - I know all that. Now you will tell us that these Maoists stole your money and captured your fields and the police did not help you out and you could not do anything about it. Come on dude - it's all you local people who are to be blamed. If you decide to face these terrorists and stop supporting them, then that will be the end of it all. It is the same thing as the Kashmiri Pundits blaming the Indian army for their woes. I think that it is all because of a lack of awareness and all the rampant illiteracy that you people have acquired such a constricted outlook to life.

"So, did you go to school back in Nepal?" I questioned.

"Yes, I was studying, but then the school closed down. They killed the mathematics teacher, and then all the other teachers also left because of the threat."

"But why did they kill the teacher?"

"The teacher was a good man, but he used to help the police by informing them about the terrorists. That is why the Maoists killed him."

Of course, that would happen because you people were not united at all. Most of you are indifferent and unaware as to what goes on around you, and what is right and what is wrong. On top of this, add all the rampant corruption in the legal and defense system among the local police and the army there.

"So, how did you come about with the decision of leaving your family?"

"My brother used to help the Maoists sometimes with delivering food and weapons, and the police got to know of that. So, one day they beat up my brother so badly that he died. And in anger, I went out and beat up a policeman, and all the police people got after me because of that. Somebody from the terrorists' group told me that if I came along with them, then they could save me from the police because they knew a lot of officers and everybody. But when I refused to side with them, even they started threatening me with death. And so I decided to run away for good."

Well, I don't know - I don't think that I would be justified in blaming you for your fate in particular, because all this becomes too complicated when we start getting into micro level details. But maybe nothing can be done about it because sacrifices must be made in order to achieve unity and a universal goal. This is what successfully managed to take place in India when we gained independence - people convinced themselves to forget about their own personal wants and worries, and to instead look at the issues with a completely impersonal and unemotional attitude. Maybe, even out there in Nepal, somebody will bring along a revolution sometime, and educate all the people for fighting for the common good, instead of their own personal desires. It is only when the whole group of people achieves a common group focus, that some substantial progress will take place. Until then, the Maoists will continue with their activities just like now.

"So, what did you do after you ran away, and how did you end up here in Garhwal as a porter?"

"Well, I first went straight to Bombay. But I didn't have any money, and I didn't eat for almost three days. One day, when I was sitting outside a temple, I found another person from my village, and he took me to his place. He even got me a job as a night watchman at a big residence. I stayed for almost six months in Bombay, until I came upon another person from my village. He informed me that even my father had fled to India and was working in Nainital now. I immediately came to Nainital myself and stayed there for a few days while working here and there, but my father had left for some other place by then. The good thing was that I always managed to find out his trail from some fellow Nepali, and I tracked him from Nainital to Karn Prayag, Debal, Almora, Gwaldam, and then I finally found him at Lohajung. And now both of stay there together."

Gosh - this sounds just like a story from a Hindi movie! If you are really telling us the truth boy, then, well, this is just amazing. I am really sorry to hear how all this terrorism completely changed your life, and I hope that it will all become good for you really soon.

"Don't you want to go back home now? And do you write letters to your family in Nepal - I mean, how do you know that everything is fine back there?" One of us asked.

"We don't know anything about our family. We can only hope that everything would be fine because the Maoists only kill the men and leave the women alone. There is no postal system left over now, and so there is no way in which we can write letters to our family or anything. But we are saving money so that we can go back and start some small business or something."

"So, how much have you managed to save so far?"

"Well, I have around 5000 Indian rupees, and which will become almost 7500 Nepali rupees. My father has 6000 more, and around 10000 more with the Rana, but the Rana says that he will give us our money only next year."

"But you will not be able to do anything in your village because of the Maoists - right?"

"Yes. We will most probably set up a shop or something in the city, and then bring our family over as well. When things get fine later on, then we can go back to the village and start with our regular farming as before."

There was a brief silence among all of us. None of us knew what to say - whether to sympathize with him, or encourage him, or suggest him an alternative objective. There was not much unhappiness perceptible on his countenance, and he was speaking so simply and in such a detached manner, that everything seemed mechanistic and totally devoid of emotions. The eyes are supposed to be most eloquent in such circumstances, but it was too dark to make out anything in his.

"Do you miss your mother and sisters and your brother who are still there?"

"I do." He answered, wiping a tiny wet drop away from his eyes. "A lot..."

Dreams... Is this what keeps all of us moving forward in life? Maoists... Terrorism... Murder... Brutality... Everything is immaterial... What matters is hope...

This is Robin's story - our porter - of what he told us on our trek in the Garhwal region of the Himalayas. How he left Nepal and came to India, and how he got to Bombay, and back from there to the mountains when he heard that his father was here as well, and how he moved across so many cities of Uttaranchal and finally managed to find his father... He definitely seems like a hero to all of us, but does he too feel like a hero? I do not think so, because he is so absorbed in chasing his dreams and living his hopes, that these accomplishments just seem to him like essential stepping-stones that had to be anyway met. I hope that it all goes well for him...