New Nepal must investigate crimes during Maoist civil war

After the first torture at the pond, they threw me in a room full of gravel. I could feel a jute sack beneath me. I felt I was in a dark cave. I could hear men and women screaming around me. I thought I was in a nightmare.

Written by Nabin Bibhas | Updated: February 15, 2018 8:31:13 am
New Nepal must investigate crimes during Maoist civil war They threatened me into accepting that I was a Commander of the Maoist army, that I had killed people. Otherwise, we’ll shoot you, they said. (File)

It was 11pm, September 21, 2003, a time when Nepal was under the direct rule of former King Gyanendra. A few men in civil dress entered my rented room in Kirtipur, a university town in Kathmandu. I was preparing for my Master’s examination in English Literature. Just two days before, my essay collection, based on the events during the state of emergency declared to counter the Maoists waging war in the countryside, had been published. I did not see whether they had weapons. Entering my room, they asked: “Who is Nabin?”  They said I had to go with them. They blindfolded me, tied my hands behind my back, and kept me in a vehicle. That blindfold and rope (later handcuff) that tied my hands were not removed until the end of November, the night I was released.

They did not say who they were but I knew that they were from the Army. In fact, I had written about these kinds of arrests in my book, which usually ended with extrajudicial killings. At that time, the mouths of common people were sealed. Curfew would regularly begin from early evening to late morning.

And so my kidnapping opened the darkest chapter of my life. The van in which I was taken reached some sort of barracks, which was near a pond. My kidnappers threw me into the pond, ensuring that my feet were outside the water. Each time they would hit my feet with something hard, they would shove my head under water.

“You are a Commander,” a voice in the dark repeatedly said, as the torture began. They accused me of writing books. They knew that I was from Rolpa, a small town in western Nepal and that I belonged to the Magar indigenous group (in a society dominated by high caste Hindus). They threatened me into accepting that I was a Commander of the Maoist army, that I had killed people. Otherwise, we’ll shoot you, they said.

After the first torture at the pond, they threw me in a room full of gravel. I could feel a jute sack beneath me. I felt I was in a dark cave. I could hear men and women screaming around me. I thought I was in a nightmare, a twisted fairy tale with a cave full of monsters. My consciousness was cold and dim. For about a week and a half, I was at the crossroads of dream and reality. I didn’t know whether it was day or night. The screaming never stopped, by women being raped by army men.

The army commanders were all “high caste” men and all belonged to the ruling classes. They would often humiliate Dalit and other ethnic minority communities.

I was waterboarded innumerable times, and the soles of my feet and other parts of the body were regularly beaten. I believed I was going to get killed. Slowly, the torture, blindfold and my hands tied behind my back began to feel normal. Often I sat for 24 hours at the same spot, above a pile of sharp rocks, where I was psychologically and physically tortured. There was no way I could send a message to my family. Occasionally, we heard the songs of the birds and vehicles honking.

I survived — thanks to the pressure my fellow writers and journalists mounted on the state to release me. Others weren’t so lucky. A woman who was arrested for the second time told me, one day, that we were kept at the Bhairavnath Battalion. I believe the fate of 49 other men and women also kept there remain unknown.

I was 24 then. Now I’m 37. In the years that followed, I tried to find my torturers. I came to know that the chief of that Battalion was called Raju Basnet, that someone called Bibek Bista was the Major, while Indibar Rana was the captain. The chief of the Nepal Army’s intelligence division was Dilip Rayamajhi.

These men, under whose watch I was tortured, do not know that I exist. I wanted to see their faces and meet them, even if briefly, just once. And, I wanted to thank them, even the cruel commanders and soldiers, because I am still alive while so many others were disappeared and killed.

But of course I didn’t even know what they looked like. Blindfolded, I couldn’t see the faces of the Commanders and soldiers when they tortured me. I have no pictures of those who humiliated me, although I imagine their cruel faces sometimes. Sometimes, I compare my imaginary faces with the faces of real people I see in the street. I wonder if those Commanders walk the streets like common people. Perhaps they travel in cars with black windows. But the soldiers? Perhaps our paths have crossed.

Here were my crimes:

First, I’m from Rolpa, the heartland of Maoist insurgency.

Second, I come from Magar community, the largest indigenous group of Nepal. In the eyes of the state and the army, all Magar were Maoist.

Third, my crime was to write books of poetry, essays, and short stories based on people trapped in the conflict.

For three months, the army tortured me and tried to make me confess to several false charges. I was disappeared. No case was filed against me at the court, so there was no proof that I was a Maoist.

The Army released me, but I remain imprisoned by the torture. I still get nightmares. I bring my experience up because the government of Nepal has extended the term of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for one more year on February 9. It has one year to investigate over 60,000 complaints.

Maoist rebels became the largest constituency during the first Constituency Assembly election held in Nepal in 2008. Its leaders have been elected prime minister in 2008, 2012, and 2016.

Today, Nepal is a republic.

But it seems as if the same ruling castes continue to have a monopoly on power. The lives of Dalit people, women, ethnic minorities, poor and backward places are still in the same condition as before the war. The Maoists simply joined hands with the old elites.

People like me who faced unimaginable torture believe we should not forget the roots of the conflict. The cycle of violation of human rights in Nepal continues unabated, because no one ever gets punished for even the worst abuses. For example, not a single army man has been jailed for disappearances, torture, extra-judicial killings, and rapes.

But if Nepal is ever to embark on the path to justice, the TRC gives an excellent opportunity. I and countless other victims can only hope that domestic and international actors put all the pressure they can on the Nepali government to investigate the abuses and punish those found guilty.

The government has set up two commissions to investigate crimes during the Maoist civil war, including disappearances. Although I have little hope that the commissions will deliver justice to victims like me, it is important that the international community exerts greater pressure on Nepal to credibly investigate all complaints. My ordeal demonstrates the barbarous nature of that war. It is our collective responsibility to ensure nothing like it happens ever again in Nepal.

Nabin Bibhas is a writer and journalist and lives in Rolpa and Kathmandu, in Nepal. He tweets @NabinBibhas

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