[Marxism] Maoist Rebellion Shifts Balance of Power in Rural Nepal
furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Thu Feb 5 07:06:34 MST 2004
***** The New York Times
February 5, 2004
Maoist Rebellion Shifts Balance of Power in Rural Nepal
By AMY WALDMAN
BARDIYA, Nepal - Until two-and-a-half years ago, Rachna Sharma and
her husband lived as zamindars, or landlords, in this district in
western Nepal, presiding over an ample estate just as their forebears
As members of a high caste, they did not dirty their hands working
their land. That was left to the Tharus, a landless and powerless
ethnic group indigenous to this plain area. Until 2000, when the
government, under pressure, freed them, thousands of Tharus -
including 15 families on Mrs. Sharma's estate - lived as bonded
laborers, equal to slaves.
But today Mrs. Sharma, an aristocratic beauty, lives as a refugee, if
a cosseted one, in the town of Nepalganj. Maoist rebels are living in
her former house and cooking in her kitchen. The Tharus are farming
her lands - and keeping all of the crops.
When they come to see her in town, she tries, futilely, to wheedle a
share, making requests where she once issued commands.
"Now we have to be polite to them," Mrs. Sharma, 36, said.
The guerrilla insurgency that the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
began against the constitutional monarchy eight years ago has wreaked
great damage in this country of Himalayan scenery and epic poverty.
More than 8,500 people have died, including more than 1,500 since the
end of August, when a cease-fire broke down.
The insurgency has also, in parts of rural Nepal, wrought changes in
the balance of power between the landed and the landless that
multiparty democracy - ushered in with great expectations in the
early 1990's - failed to bring.
That dynamic helps explain why a rebellion that many say has become a
criminal enterprise as much as a political movement still finds
support among the Tharus and other disenfranchised ethnic groups and
the country's low castes.
In the villages of Bardiya, young Tharus talk happily about how the
landlords have had to flee the Maoists' wrath. "All the zamindars are
scared of us now," said Bal Krishna Chaudhary, an intense 18-year-old
Tharu student from a family of former bonded laborers.
His eldest sister, Sita, was a Maoist supporter taken by the army
more than two years ago. They said she was carrying a bomb, a charge
he denies, but he does not dispute her Maoist sympathies.
"They speak for the people," he said, explaining why. "They speak for
Like a creeper wrapping itself around a tree, the Maoist movement has
used the entrenched poverty and discrimination of this Hindu
kingdom's deeply feudal society to build its insurgency. Nepal has
perhaps the most rigid caste hierarchy remaining today.
This country has been, and still is, dominated by two high castes:
the Brahmins - called Bahuns in Nepal - or priestly caste, of Mrs.
Sharma; and Chhetris, or warrior caste, of her husband.
The two castes hold the highest positions in government, politics and
business. They control the army and the press. And perhaps most
crucially in a society still reliant on agriculture, they own the
Much of that land was once farmed by the Tharus, an aboriginal group
in Nepal's lowlands. With a population of about 1.2 million, out of
Nepal's 24 million, they are one of the country's largest ethnic
Once self-sufficient farmers, the Tharus were gradually dispossessed
as the government granted land to high castes to secure their loyalty
and expand its reach. Then, the eradication of malaria - to which
Tharus are believed to be immune - drew in large numbers of hill
migrants to claim Tharu lands.
Tharus, little educated and ill-equipped to battle for their rights,
went from being owners to landless tenants. For several generations,
an estimated 20 percent or more of Tharus in western Nepal - some
20,000 families - were indentured, usually with no hope of escape.
The Maoists did little or nothing to free the Tharus from bonded
labor; the pressure on the government came from domestic and
But the Maoists have woven the uplifting of the Tharus - and of
Nepal's other downtrodden groups - into their tapestry of slogans,
and it has resonated among a people who believe that both royalist
rule and multiparty democracy have failed them.
"We work with them because we think they can help raise our issues
and get us our rights as citizens," Bal Krishna Chaudhary, the
student, said. He knew seven people who had joined the Maoists, he
said. Most are dead or missing.
Ekraj Chaudhary, a Tharu radio journalist based in Nepalganj, said he
believed that most Tharus were involved with the Maoists, even if
only passively. But even in the movement, he said, they were still
relegated to low-level militants, and thus easy prey for the army.
Col. Dipak Gurung, a spokesman for the Royal Nepal Army, said the
Maoists were exploiting the Tharus. "Tharus are very meek people,
they normally don't resist," he said. "By nature, by culture, they
No longer, as Mrs. Sharma could testify. At 45, Mrs. Sharma's husband
is working in Nepalgunj as a computer instructor - the first job he
has ever held - to support their family. "Zamindars never worked,"
she said. "It's very strange."
But if the undoing of nobles like Mrs. Sharma has cheered some Tharu
hearts, the cost of the insurgency has troubled many others. This is
a war with no winners.
As a result of the rebellion, the state is pulling out of many
Maoist-controlled areas - generally the country's remote and
desperately poor rural regions.
The police have been pulled back to district headquarters. Teachers
and doctors, often singling out the Maoists for extortion or worse,
are in some cases refusing to serve in villages. The swollen military
budget, required to sustain an army now close to 80,000-strong, has
crowded out development spending.
The government calls most of the dead Maoists, but human rights
advocates, journalists and ordinary Nepalis say many are civilians
caught in the crossfire or Maoist sympathizers mislabeled militants.
Support for the Maoists by some Tharus has placed the entire
community under suspicion. The army has come down hard on the Tharus
- harassing, beating, detaining and sometimes killing them, often
with little or no evidence.
On a recent afternoon, four parents, faces wan and weary, sat on a
bench in the front yard of a village home, clutching photographs -
and in one case simply a negative - of their missing children.
Thirty-seven Tharus have disappeared into army custody from this
district alone, said Mr. Chaudhary, the journalist. Across the
country, 709 Nepalis have disappeared in the last eight years, 200
into Maoist control and the rest into the custody of security forces,
according to the National Human Rights Commission.
Colonel Gurung disputed that the army had taken people without
accounting for them. "We're not that irresponsible," he said. He said
it was "very rare" that anyone would be killed in army custody.
But Phool Kesari, a Tharu and a former bonded laborer, whose husband
was taken by the army a year and a half ago, is almost certain that
he is dead. The army came three days after he was taken to say that
he was a Maoist, which she denies. There has been no word of him
She has no relatives to rely on. She depends on a 15-year-old
daughter still working as a bonded laborer, for about 4,000 rupees,
or $60, a year.
She sat in her one-room house, the possessions inside countable on
two hands. Three small children clung to her, their eyes watering
from the thick, stinging smoke of a cooking fire, their noses running.
"How am I going to survive?" she asked. She had no land, no property,
no education, no husband, no income and three children to feed.
Without waiting for an answer, she offered one. "Maybe I'll go back
to the zamindar," she said.
* Bring Them Home Now! <http://www.bringthemhomenow.org/>
* Calendars of Events in Columbus:
<http://www.freepress.org/calendar.php>, & <http://www.cpanews.org/>
* Student International Forum: <http://www.osu.edu/students/sif/>
* Committee for Justice in Palestine: <http://www.osudivest.org/>
* Al-Awda-Ohio: <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Al-Awda-Ohio>
* Solidarity: <http://www.solidarity-us.org/>
More information about the Marxism