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THALI, NEPAL — Maoist rebels attacked a few minutes after 11 p.m. on Nov. 23, 2001. Surya Man Nepali was on duty with other officers at the small police traffic office in Ghorahi in western Nepal’s Dang District. Among them, the 20 police officers had only one pistol and five rifles.
Such attacks on police were common during the Maoist conflict, but the police were outnumbered. The first bullet hit Nepali in his back, and he was shot another three times before falling unconscious.
He was thought to be dead and was even listed with the dead in the local newspaper the next day. But when clearing the bodies the next morning, a doctor felt Nepali’s pulse and found he was alive.
Nepali was taken to a local hospital and then flown to Kathmandu, where he underwent surgery. Afterward, he was moved to the Nepal Police Hospital, where he recuperated for a month before being sent home. A spinal injury from the bullets had left him paralyzed from the waist down.
“After the attack, my life had changed and I could not cope with my new world. I was always enveloped with negative thinking and feelings,” says Nepali, 50.
Almost 10 years after the peace accord was signed to end the war, the Nepali government is launching its first national-level counseling program focused on the victims of the conflict.
This two-year pilot project, by the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction, will be conducted in 10 districts and will include group counseling, one-to-one counseling and psychiatric help if needed by the victims. If successful, the program will expand to other districts, says Sudev Pokhrel, undersecretary of the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction. [[embed_image_1]]
For Nepali, the program comes too late to save him from the anguish he felt in the months and years after the attack. He tried to kill himself shortly after he was paralyzed, but his wife stopped him. He sank into a deep depression.
“I wanted to throw myself from the rooftop, but I could not even get myself to the edge of the terrace,” he says.
Kumari Devi Nepali, 40, his wife, shudders when she recalls hearing that he had been shot. She was expecting their fourth child at the time, and their eldest child was only 6 years old.
“I am just happy and thankful that he is alive and with us,” she says.
Surya Man Nepali joined the Civil Police division of the Nepal Police in 1986, when he was 22 years old. He worked as an outdoor trainer and karate master.
The once-active man’s entire world is now confined to a small room in his house in Thali, a village on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. Water, clothes, books, a diary, a mobile phone and a charger surround him.
“You have to be in my shoes to know how I felt and why I wanted to take my own life,” Nepali says. “No one will understand that. I called for death, but it never came.”
Nepali says he was unprepared for his new life.
“I was very frustrated,” he recalls. “I had to depend on others for everything. I couldn’t even walk. I had to be on a wheelchair.”
During the Maoist insurgency, 1,486 members of the police force were killed and 326 were disabled, says Kamal Singh Bam, spokesman for the Nepal Police.
They received a one-time compensation, a regular allowance and free treatment at the Nepal Police Hospital. But the money isn’t enough to live on, Nepali says.
“Economically, we are not in a good condition,” he says.
He gets a monthly pension of 12,000 rupees ($114) from the Nepal Police and a disability allowance of 3,000 rupees ($29) to 4,000 rupees ($38) a month. His wife also earns around 12,000 rupees ($114) a month working as a cleaner. In the 2013-14 fiscal year, the average annual income in Nepal was $717, according to Nepal’s Central Bureau of Statistics.
Nepali received some personal counseling at the police hospital in Kathmandu and says the sessions helped him.
But he also feels that counseling unnecessarily opens wounds and makes them fresh in his memory, and he has not sought any counseling since.
“I don’t want to remember what happened to me,” he says. “I don’t want to feel that pain. Instead, I want to divert my mind and engage myself in productive work.”
He took a vocational training course at the Technical and Skill Development Center for Blind and Disabled at Kirtipur in 2003 and tried to set up a business producing bags and candles using the skills he learned there. But extreme fatigue caused him to give up the business.
Nepali worries about his children’s education. He has two sons and two daughters, who are studying in university and secondary school.
“All I want is for my four children to get an education so that they will be able to stand on their own feet,” Nepali says.
His medicines are provided free by the Nepal Police Hospital, but sometimes he has to buy a few medicines from a local pharmacy when they are not available at the hospital.
Nepali says the government he served is not helping him in his time of need.
“I joined the police to serve my country and also feed my family,” he says. “I am in this state today because I was honestly doing my duties for my country. The government has to take care of me and give me facilities, but they have turned their backs.”
But an official of the Nepal Police does not agree.
[[embed_image_2]] Kamal Singh Bam, a deputy inspector general of police and the spokesman for the Nepal Police, says the police have to manage with the budget provided to them by the government.
“We are giving as much as we can, according to our capacity,” he says.
Kumari Devi Nepali says she and her four children patiently supported her husband as he battled depression. He could not sleep and was diagnosed with hypertension and diabetes.
“It has been very difficult for him and the family, but we stuck with him,” she says. “At times like this, we have to be there for each other.”
Within a few years, Nepali says, his perception of life began to change. He did not want to give up on his life, because his family showered him with love and care.
“I still had a body, I still had a life, and I need to make use of that,” he says. “I had a new life.”
But the journey to acceptance of his disability and new life has been hard.
“The last 14 years were very difficult for me and my family,” Nepali says. “I wish and pray that no one goes through what I have gone through.”
Shilu Manandhar, GPJ, translated all interviews from Nepali.
RAJPUR, NEPAL — Sundari Basnet, 19, is sweeping the floor of her mud-and-brick house in the Banke District of southwestern Nepal. Her eyes stray to her mischievous 2-year-old son playing near the bed, the sole piece of furniture in their house.
It is hot at midday, and Basnet sits in the doorway, taking refuge in the shade.
It’s at times like this, when she is alone with her son, that her thoughts stray to her own childhood, Basnet says. She often thinks of her father, who was killed when she was 5 years old.
“I don’t know what my father was like,” she says, her face and voice emotionless. “I don’t know what a life with a father is like. I don’t even know what a father is.”
The last memory Basnet has of her father is when he left her with his sister and walked to where his cattle were grazing, about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away, promising to pick her up in the evening.
It was Nov. 2, 2003, and they lived in Binauna, a village in Banke District. Basnet’s mother had gone to another district to visit her family, and Basnet was left with her father. An only child, she often accompanied him as he grazed their cattle.
That day too, Basnet’s father and grandfather took their cattle to the grazing area outside the village when villagers started shouting that the police were searching for Maoists hiding in the nearby forests.
Basnet’s father, Kul Bahadur Khatri, took her to his sister’s house and left her there. He returned to the grazing area, saying he was only a farmer and that the police would not harm him.
Khatri and Basnet’s grandfather did not return that day. The police shot both of them, mistaking them for Maoist rebels, Basnet says. Her father was 23 years old, and Jhup Lal Khatri, her grandfather, was 61.
Basnet says the Nepal Police killed her father, but records maintained by the Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC) confirm only that the two farmers were killed by security forces.
About 7.5 billion rupees ($71.5 million) has been distributed to those affected by the insurgency and their families as compensation from 2008 to 2015, according to the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction. These include those killed, injured or disabled by the conflict.
Basnet says her aunt received compensation for the death of her father but that she doesn’t know how much. Soon after her father was killed, her mother remarried and moved away. Basnet was raised by her aunt.
“I don’t speak much with my mother,” she says.
And there was never a chance to ask about her father.
“My mother and I never spoke about the incident,” Basnet says. “I was too small.”
Basnet grew up in the midst of the conflict, hearing frequent reports of attacks and security searches, until the peace accord was signed in 2006.
Four years ago, she married Ramu Basnet, a driver. Their life is hard, as her husband earns only 8,000 rupees ($76) a month.
She has never spoken about her father to her husband or told him about how he died, she says.
“Why talk about him? It is in the past,” she says. “He is not coming back.”
She clings to the belief that her life would have been different if her father were alive. He would have earned money and bought some land and grown crops, she says.
“I know nothing about my father,” Sundari Basnet says.
Sometimes, she wishes she knew more about him. All that she knows is what her aunt and neighbors have told her, as she has few memories of him.
“People say he was a good man,” she says.
Shilu Manandhar, GPJ, translated all interviews from Nepali.
KATHMANDU, NEPAL – More than 13,000 people died in the decade-long civil war in Nepal, when Maoist rebels fought to depose the government and establish a “People’s Republic.”
The 10-year conflict, which ended in 2006 with a peace accord, was bloody and brutal, and spread to 73 of Nepal’s 75 districts; only the rural, isolated districts of Manang and Mustang were spared.
“The economy was disturbed, development obstructed and the environment degraded,” says Bishnu Raj Upreti, executive director of the non-profit Nepal Center for Contemporary Research. “There was erosion of trust, and tension between communities.”
An estimated 1,300 people went missing, and more than 8,000 people are disabled as a result of the conflict.
In addition to the serious violations and abuses of international human-rights and humanitarian law – including unlawful killing, torture, enforced disappearance, sexual violence and long-term arbitrary arrest – thousands of people were directly or indirectly affected by the conflict in other ways. Many individuals and families were displaced from their homes. There were large-scale disruptions to education, health and basic government services across the country.
Economic hardships were exacerbated by the conflict, and instability and a climate of fear were widespread, according to a report on the Nepal conflict by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights published in October 2012.
The impact of the conflict on the mental health of Nepalese people is undeniable, according to a study published in 2012 in the British Journal of Psychiatry. The study, “Political Violence and Mental Health in Nepal,” examined the same group of people in the early years of the Maoist insurgency and after the conflict ended. It noted a 21.5 percent increase in anxiety over that time.
The study, authored by medical anthropologist and psychiatrist Brandon Kohrt and others, also found that pre- and post-conflict conditions, especially social injustices among marginalized groups, factor heavily into how well people handle the trauma of conflict.
When a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal in April, mental-health needs there increased again. (See our stories here.) Hundreds of aftershocks, some severe, forced people out of their homes and into tents for months. Some Nepalese families have yet to move back indoors for fear that their homes will collapse on them.
The Maoist insurgency and the earthquake occurred in a country with little capacity for dealing with mental-health issues. There are an estimated 0.2 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in Nepal, according to the World Health Organization’s 2014 Mental Health Atlas.
In contrast, there are about 14.63 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in the United Kingdom, according to the atlas.
There is some evidence, however, that the earthquake focused global attention on the need for mental-health care in Nepal. Mental-health specialists traveled there, alongside physicians and other medical staff, to provide care and training in the days and weeks after the earthquake. Organizations including International Medical Corps and Kohrt’s organization, HeartMind International, are addressing mental-health issues related to the earthquake as well as pre-existing conditions.
KOHALPUR, NEPAL — In 2002, Sudha Chaudhary’s parents asked their two daughters to join the Maoist rebels. Sudha was 14 years old, and her sister, Chameli, was 16.
A few months earlier, police had come to Sudha’s home in Kohalpur, in Nepal’s midwestern region, and harassed her parents and nine siblings.
Maoist rebels often recruited their ranks from villages, and the police accused Sudha and her sister of helping the guerrilla force.
The police returned within a few weeks and took away one brother, who was in his 20s at the time. He was tortured and jailed for 13 months, without any legal process, Sudha says. A few months later, two of her remaining three brothers were also arrested and jailed for 12 days and 16 days, respectively, without any evidence, she says.
Sudha and Chameli were in school at the time, but Sudha says they struggled to learn because of the police harassment.
“There was so much tension in the house that our education was hampered,” Sudha says.
Her parents, fed up with the harassment and accusations, encouraged their daughters to join the rebels.
The Maoists sent Sudha to a training camp in the jungle. She does not know where it was.
“We went on for days without food,” says Sudha, now 28. “We ate leaves and flowers from the jungle.”
Conditions were harsh. Trainees were taught to fight and shoot guns. Sudha was moved around to different camps. She didn’t have a change of clothes.
Sudha met her husband, Babu Ram Chaudhary, in one of the camps. He had been shot in the leg by police and walked with a limp. The two married in April 2006 and remained with the rebels until the peace accord was signed that November and they went to Kohalpur, Babu Ram Chaudhary’s hometown. Sudha and her sister had survived their time with the rebels.
But that wasn’t the end of the violence. In May 2007, returning home from a visit to a hospital after being diagnosed with tuberculosis, Sudha was brutally attacked by four armed men.
“They said that they will kill me,” she says.
The men tried to drag her toward a nearby stream, but she fought back and was shot in the chest and head. One of the men raped her, she says, and she lost consciousness.
She believes she was attacked because of her Maoist past, Sudha says. Two of her attackers were caught. One was fined and the second jailed for five years, but neither said in court that the attack was linked to Sudha’s past. [[embed_image_1]]
Rape was used as a weapon during the conflict, but rape and sexual-violence victims rarely reported those incidents.
Sexual assault during or related to the Maoist conflict isn’t separately recorded, says Madhavi Bhatta, spokeswoman for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was set up under the 2006 peace accord to seek the truth about events during the conflict and compensate victims accordingly.
“The victims have not received psychosocial counseling since the conflict,” she says.
Sudha Chaudhary and her husband now operate a small grocery shop in Kohalpur.
She makes small talk with her customers, and she seems to know everyone who comes to the shop, a few minutes’ walk from their small house. Her 4-year-old son plays in the dirt road outside the shop.
Chaudhary likes to stay busy so that she won’t think about her past.
“The last 14 years of my life feels like a dream,” she says. “So much hardship. Now the only thing left is to die.”
Although she tries, Chaudhary cannot completely escape her past.
She regularly dreams about her friends Chaya and Tara, who died in the conflict between Maoist rebels and government security forces.
They were together in the same rebel camp and shared everything, Chaudhary says. She returned to the camp one day to hear about their deaths.
“I see my dead friends dancing on a mountaintop, and I am walking toward them,” Chaudhary says.
She is also tormented by what she lived through as a rebel.
“So much blood was lost,” she says. “We worked so hard and fought for our rights. But we didn’t get anything.”
Chaudhary says there are times when she despairs over living.
“I ask my mother why she gave birth to me,” she says. “I have gone through so much.”
In 2009, Chaudhary went back to school, completed her studies and sat for the university entrance exam, which students take at the end of high school.
Had her life not been interrupted by war, she would have achieved her ambition, Chaudhary says.
“I would have been a teacher,” she says. “I look up to teachers.”
Shilu Manandhar, GPJ, translated all interviews from Nepali.
KATHMANDU, NEPAL ̶ Daily life in Nepal’s capital has been severely curtailed since a group of protesters blocked major trade routes from India beginning on Sept. 25, halting food and oil imports.
The blockades are in Birgunj, south of Kathmandu on the border with India, as well as five other major checkpoints and a handful of smaller crossings as well.
The protesters, from the Madhesi ethnic community, say Nepal’s new constitution, which divides the country into seven provinces, will leave them and other minority ethnic and religious groups underrepresented in the Constituent Assembly. (See GPJ’s story on the constitution here.) The constitution was adopted Sept. 20.
“Madhesi are treated as second-class citizens in Nepal,” says Laxman Lal Karna, a Madhesi and a constituent assembly member, in a phone interview.
Karna is co-chairman of the Sadbhawana Party, one of the political parties involved in the protests.
The protesters are demanding a separate state with two provinces in the east and west, under a federal government structure, he says. And they want to see equal representation in government, according to the population in these states.
The landlocked Himalayan nation depends on imports from India, with which it shares a more than 1,400-kilometer (870 mile) border. Citizens of each country can travel across the border without visas or permits.
Sixty-eight percent of Nepal’s trade is with India, says Chandra Mani Adhikari, an economist and member of the National Planning Commission, a state advisory body.
The blockade began to ease Sunday, when some trucks began to cross the border, but the shortage of fuel and essential food items in Kathmandu continues unabated.
Karna says four of the political parties involved in the protest – the Sadbhawana Party, the Terai Madesh Loktantrik Party, the Sangam Samajbadi Party and the Terai Madesh Sadbhawana Party – on Tuesday began discussions with the Nepal government aimed at reaching an agreement that would end the protests.
Nepal has lost more than $2 billion because of the blockade and the resulting disruption to the economy, Sujeev Shakya, founder and CEO of Beed Management, an international management consultancy and financial advisory firm in Nepal, said via email.
Adhikari says the blockade will affect the country’s economic growth in the current, 2015-16 fiscal year.
“This year’s budget estimates an economic growth of 6 percent,” Adhikari says. “Due to the current situation, achieving even 4 percent economic growth is difficult.”
The daily lives of everyone in Nepal, especially those in urban areas, are affected, experts say.
Shakya says transportation and factories are already severely impacted. Hotels and restaurants are closing down because of a shortage of cooking gas. Schools and hospitals are next in line for closure if the situation continues, he says.
“The tourism industry, one of the main sources of the economy, is impacted as hotels and airlines are impacted and countries are ready to issue negative travel advisories,” Shakya says.
Nepal and India share 19 operational checkpoints along Nepal’s southern border. Six of those are major trade points.
In contrast, Nepal has only two checkpoints along the northern border with China. Both of those checkpoints have been closed – one route was damaged after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake April 25, and the second road is being repaired from the Chinese side.
Nepal has experienced blockades from India before. The last one began in 1989 and lasted over a year.
Many Nepalese, who harbor deep distrust of the Indian government, believe India is to blame for the current blockade.
“A neighbor is present in good times and bad times,” Adhikari says. “They give suggestions for improvement. But India, through their inhumane act, is giving trouble to the Nepalese public.”
Adhikari thinks the blockade is the Indian government’s response to not being consulted in the development of the constitution development.
“Nepal has been taking suggestions from India since 1950,” Adhikari says. “And Nepal has passed the constitution without taking suggestions from India. So India is taking revenge.”
Officials at the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu did not respond to Global Press Journal’s requests for a comment regarding the blockade.
Karna says India doesn’t have a role in the blockade and that it is led by the Madhesis, who have been protesting against the constitution for more than 50 days.
“We live in the borders,” he says. “Madhesi people have blocked more than 17 posts since (Sept. 25).”
Posh Raj Pandey, executive chairman of South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment, says the blockade presents an opportunity for Nepal to consider options other than dependency on India.
“Food security and energy security are a part of national security,” he says. “A strategic intervention has to be adopted.”
Nepal needs to look for alternative sources of supply, primarily with China along the northern border, Pandey says.
Nepal also needs to build its storage capacity, especially for fuel and cooking gas, he says. The nation does not have enough capacity to store fuel and depends on the daily overland import of fuel from India.
Hydropower can be used as an alternative fuel source, Pandey suggests.
“We have the capacity to export hydropower,” he says. “We can even export to India.”
Nepal imports about 1 billion rupees ($9.5 million) worth of rice from India every month, Pandey says. Instead of purchasing rice from India, he says, Nepal should promote and develop agriculture on its own soil.
Pandey says the time is now to take steps to reduce Nepal’s dependency on India.
“We cannot have zero dependency, but we can decrease our dependency,” he says.
Observers say that if the trade routes between India and Nepal are not reopened soon, it will lead to strong anti-India sentiment in Nepal.
“It will take weeks to recover, but if Nepali patience is pushed too much then it can lead to an ugly conflict, especially the heightening of anti-India protests,” Shakya says.
Shilu Manandhar, GPJ, translated two interviews from Nepali.
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