Distressed and disheartened, Maoist fighters rejected during the integration process are still waiting for supportIf there’s one argument that troubles Shova Parajuli the most, it is the claim that the army integration, one of the crucial tasks of the peace process following the Maoist insurgency, has been completed successfully.
If there’s one argument that troubles Shova Parajuli the most, it is the claim that the army integration, one of the crucial tasks of the peace process following the Maoist insurgency, has been completed successfully.
Parajuli was 12 when local Maoist leaders persuaded her to join the party. Born in the rural Jyambdi village, Kavrepalanchok, she had seen the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. The Maoist slogans that called for an equal society by ending the bourgeoisie system fascinated Parajuli even before she could comprehend their actual meaning.
Within a month of joining the party in early 2003, Parajuli went through guerilla training, an essential requisite to qualify her to join the now disbanded People’s Liberation Army. During a training camp that lasted 19 days, Parajuli received instructions on firing bullets and learned basic defence techniques. A year later, she was part of the rebel group that attacked the temporary Armed Police Force barracks at Jhurjhure in Makwanpur district. The Maoists failed to overcome the security forces that day.
Parajuli built on her skills, as the Maoists walked from one village to another in Makwanpur, Sindhupalchok, Kavre and Sindhuli, expanding their base and adding cadres to their fighting force. When there were no plans for attacks, rebel fighters were taught Maoist ideology, communist philosophy, and the party’s aim to establish “naya janabadi byawastha” (new people’s democratic system) in the country.
“Every speech would fill me with rage,” Parajuli recalled in a recent interview with the Post. “I could have easily sacrificed my life anytime if I had to.”
The Maoists, during their decade-long insurgency, recruited thousands of people irrespective of their age or sex, convincing them that their contribution would create an equal society by dismantling the socio-cultural hierarchies, ending poverty and removing inequality. They assured them of respectful lives once they came to power.
However, hundreds of ex-combatants continue to live miserable lives.
During the verification process by the United Nations Mission in Nepal in 2007, thousands of Maoist fighters like Parajuli were disqualified for being minors. That meant her prospects to get integrated into the national army ended. Among the 4,008 combatants who were rejected during the integration process, 2,973 were minors, while 1,035 were disqualified as they were recruited after the first ceasefire of May 26, 2006—six months before the peace deal was signed.
Today, 12 years since the Maoists joined mainstream politics, there still is no support package for the disqualified combatants like Parajauli except for some training. A majority of those who received training haven’t been able to use their skills because of a lack of funds.
Manju Jaisi has similar experiences. In a phone interview with the Post, the 27-year-old former Maoist combatant said she regrets having ruined her career by joining the armed conflict.
“Our leaders managed to get the top state positions using us. But now they have completely abandoned us,” she said. Jaisi says even after being tagged ‘disqualified’, she had a hope that her leaders would come up with some ways to support them once they came to power. Despite leading the government and key ministries time and again, the Maoist leadership did nothing other than amassing power and money for themselves, she said.
As an underground combatant for four years, Parajuli had a close encounter with death—twice. In early 2006, while she was attending a training session with then Maoist politburo member Agni Prasad Sapkota at Thokarpa in Sindhupalchok, Nepal Army helicopters started dropping bombs. Many of her friends were killed and others, including Sapkota, sustained shrapnel injuries. Parajuli, accompanied by a friend, ran from the scene towards the forest for five hours to save their lives. The incident is etched in her memories.
In April that year, the Maoists attacked an army base guarding a telecom tower in Chautara, the district headquarters of Sindhupalchok. Parajuli, who had then been promoted to a section commander, was leading the section of the combatants in the attack. Though hundreds of Maoist fighters were deployed for the attack, they couldn’t succeed. After the battle that lasted five to six hours and resulted in the death of many rebel fighters, the Maoists retreated. Parajuli was wounded by a bullet in her leg before she could escape.
“I was lucky the bullet hit my leg. It was painful; but it was a small pain compared to the larger goal we had in mind—to liberate the poor people,” she said. The Chautara battle would be the last attack against state security forces as then-king Gyanendra announced restoration of parliament the very next day, opening the door for the Maoists to join mainstream politics.
Following the historic 2006 peace accord, Parajuli’s paramilitary section was transferred to Jutpani, a satellite cantonment, in Chitwan. From the early days inside the cantonment, what Parajuli was told started to jolt her. “The leaders used to say we were going to establish a new democratic system so we did not need an education. But then, they started telling us our education would be taken into consideration during integration,” she said.
The same leaders who had barred thousands of children from joining schools and colleges and called for boycotting ‘bourgeoisie’ education started evaluating combatants based on their education. This led her to rejoin school five years later in the eighth grade. Parajuli completed her secondary schooling while she was still in the cantonment.
“I had hoped that I would secure a better position during integration if my education was better,” she said. But her dreams were short-lived.
Parajuli was one of the 1,217 women fighters disqualified for being minors during the verification process by the United Nations. In the end, the combatants who were disqualified were handed about Rs6,000 and a pair of clothes and forced out of the cantonments.
“That was the most humiliating incident in my life,” she said. “It’s hard to describe the situation I faced and the reaction people had when I returned home empty-handed.”
Jaisi said she was devastated to learn that the same leaders whose one order would be enough for her to sacrifice her life stand accused of corruption in the cantonments and embezzling money allocated by the government for them.
During their stay in cantonments, Jaisi and her colleagues received Rs500 a month to buy inner wears, toothpaste, brush and soap. She said she only found out later that the government had been releasing Rs18,000 a month for each former combatant—none of which came to her and others like her.
Both Parajuli and Jaisi are living separated from their husbands with a huge responsibility to raise and teach their children.
Parajuli owns a small spice shop in Phutung on the outskirts of Kathmandu which her father helped start. The earning from the shop is not enough to provide for her and her 10-year-old son, a fifth grader at a local school. Even more miserable is Jaisi’s life, who said she depended on a monthly stipend from her husband, who lives in Syangja.
“I have no education. There’s no money or land which could be used as collateral for a loan to run the business. On top of that, there’s no family support,” said Jaisi as she broke down and wept during the phone interview with the Post. “The Maoist insurgency devastated my life,” Jaisi, who currently lives in Dhangadhi, told the Post, not wanting to talk in detail about her personal life.
Both Parajuli and Jaisi are looking for support from the government to ensure their rights to food, clothes and shelter and education of their children.
The government provided from Rs500,000 to Rs800,000 for combatants who chose voluntary retirement but for fighters like Parajuli and Jaisi, there was nothing—except the tag “disqualified”.
They say the government should either ensure them a job commensurate with their qualification or provide some vocational training and give them funds to start their own venture. “Those who joined the party to establish an egalitarian society themselves are facing injustice. It’s stressful to see a majority of our friends struggling to make both ends meet,” Lenin Bista, president of the Discharged People’s Liberation Army Struggle Committee, an organisation of former child soldiers, told the Post. Bista said their requests to the government and the political leaders have been unheeded.
The committee launched protests in the Capital several times, along with picketing the Maoist party headquarters at Koteshwor to build pressure for getting their concerns addressed, to no avail.
“We are raising our voices peacefully so far. But, if this injustice continues, this would sow the seed for another conflict in Nepal,” Parajuli warned. “Those calling integration a success either don’t know our plight or they are undermining us.