Feature News: Is one million enough to heal the wounds of conflict-hit women?

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KATHMANDU — Kapila Pathak of Chautara Sangachowkgadi-10, Sindhupalchowk was expecting her first baby when she had to gather her all courage to face ‘gloomy moments ‘ so far in her life. The day was September 12, 2003, and though it was already 5:30 pm, dusk was yet to fall down. A group of some people, she did not notice how many but still remembered some familiar faces there, appeared in the house yard, had some casual talks with her husband, were offered hospitality and with the last sip of tea, proposed him to go with them in private just for a brief time for personal talks.

But, he never came back. His slain body was found lying in a pool of blood in the early morning the next day in a rivulet not far from the house. “The heartless barbarians mercilessly took life of an innocent man for no reason at all,” Kapila burst into tears while recounting her horrific experiences. Eyewitnesses to the incident and villagers said Kapila’s husband, a retired Nepal Police personnel, was murdered by the then rebelling CPN (Maoist) cadres.

Kapila, 42, has, since been living with her daughter she had given birth after the departure of her better half, and his first wife who she called her sister. Her two half-daughters are already into their conjugal life. Though, her man was already married, Kapila’s marriage had taken place as per the consent of both families.

As all other conflict victims, Kapila and her sister received compensation of Rs one million (in installments) from the State.

Leela Tamang, 43, of Govindapur, Morang, has been taking the responsibility of her three children all alone since the forced disappearance of her husband, a Maoist cadre, by the State side on October 19, 2003. Leela had tied nuptial knot at the age of 14 with the man she chose by her heart with hope of spending wonderful years ahead, but was left single in her life’s journey. A woman who had never been in school is now the member with the Common Platform for Conflict Victims, the organization advocating for justice to the conflict victims.

As other many single and unemployed mothers, she gets scared when she thinks about her future or old age. It is very difficult to live in confusion. “One million rupees that the families of those killed and forced disappeared during the conflict get from the State could never compensate the blood of their dear ones. “

“I don’t know how long should I wait to know his status or (what happened to him). But my attempts to know about this will linger on till I die,” Tamang shares.

It was April 1, 2001. Ganga Shahi Thakuri of Humla was just 18 years old and it had been three years that her husband had joined the Nepal Police. The country was in the festive mood as it was celebrating the Chaite Dashain festival that day. Her husband, along with his 32 colleagues had gathered at a police beat based in Rukumkot in Rukum for the festival celebrations. The then Maoist rebels who were reported in a large number according to her, taking this as the right time, attacked the police beat leaving all of them dead. The Thakuri family was even prevented from performing the death rituals of the loved one, by the rebelling force and the family had to come to the Pashupatinath in Kathmandu to observe the death rituals. She finally went back to parental home in Nuwakot along with her two-year-old daughter and has been living there since then.

Shanta Adhikari, now 44, dared to take a bold decision to work as a whole timer cadre of the then CPN (Maoist) , felt the earth collapsed when she heard the news about the forced arrest of her husband three days after the incident from her relative. Her daughter was just eight months old when the then Nepal Army on October 29, 2003, when the Maoist insurgency was at its peak, arrested her husband Ramchandra Adhikari, a student leader, 31, at the time, from Jorpati area in Kathmandu. He was reported of being taken to the Bhairabnath Battalion of NA. Recounting the stories of her long struggle – moving the Supreme Court to joining the sit-in protests –to get to know about her husband’s status, she complains, “It is all absurd to narrate the story as nothing more can be expected from the State”.

The then State security forces must be feeling proud of being able to detain Janak Rai, aka Firoj, the then CPN (Maoist) district in-charge in Rautahat and shot him dead on October 25, 2003. But the ‘duty’ fulfilled by some people was casting a shadow in the heart of Nepti Rai, 38 of Bauntar-3, Rautahat. The Rai couple had already three children when the man was shot dead by the State side in his early 20’s and Nepti was expecting her youngest son.

Though experiences and needs are subjective, Kapila, Leela, Ganga, Shanta and Nepti do have collective voices on some matters – can the one million rupees compensate for the life of their loved ones? Are perpetrators blessed with special right to walk free? In case of the disappeared, do they have no right to know the status of their loved and dear ones? Should not the State apologise for injustice it did to its citizens? Do they have no right to live with dignity in the society? Is it not the responsibility of the State to do something to restore their self-esteem and what of the guarantee of higher education and employment opportunities for their children?

They have concerns over the ‘meaningless’ existence of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) formed by the decision of the government to find out the truth behind the incidents of gross violation of human rights dating back to the decade-long armed conflict (996-2006 AD) in which over 13,000 people were killed and 1,300 had gone missing as per the official report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) Nepal. Its term is ending from coming February and its tenure must not be extended for the second time without addressing the conflict survivor families’ some reservations regarding the TRC Act-2014, ensuring the representation of conflict victims in it. They have warned that it should not be made merely a means of spending the State coffers just to ‘fill up the pockets of certain people’.

Meantime, the arrest on Tuesday of Balkrishna Dhungel, the former Maoist lawmaker and CPN (Maoist Centre) leader in connection to the murder of Ujjan Kumar Shrestha of Okhaldhunga in 1998, has raised glimmer of hope to some extent among the conflict affected for getting justice and the court’s orders related to atrocities from the conflict era are respected.

The Maoist Centre has however contested Dhungel’s arrest saying the conflict era cases should be dealt by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as per the spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Accord. RSS