Collateral Damage

Nepali Times issue #201 18-24 June 2004

Children are often ‘collateral damage’ in any conflict, be that in Israel’s war on Gaza where more than 15,000 have been killed or during Nepal’s insurgency where school-going children were recruited by the Maoists. Most of these child soldiers now say they were manipulated by the Maoists and regret taking up the arms. 

In this report published 20 years ago this week, the reporter came across a group of young Maoists with schoolbags full of grenades in Dailekh. Excerpt from the issue #201 18-24 June 2004:

The mornings are freezing at 2,500m in the mountains. Nearly 65km northwest from the administrative headquarters of Dailekh, 55-year-old Laxmi Shahi is wracked by a terrible cough that kept her awake all night. She is still in bed when someone knocks on the door. Fifteen-year-old Bishnu Shahi enters, whispers something in Laxmi’s ear and leaves. All Laxmi does is nod yes. A few minutes later, a dozen young boys with large backpacks come to the house with loud greetings of ‘lal salam’. All of them look like they belong in school, but instead of books, their bags are packed full of grenades.

They seem immune to the cold. Most of them have no shoes or warm clothes. Their stoicism extends to showing no fear. They follow Bahadur Thapa, ‘Comrade Samman’, their 13-year-old commander. He has a red homemade cotton belt full of explosives strapped to his waist, he spouts Maoist slogans and is ever ready to kill or be killed. An army helicopter sweeps overhead and his hand reaches automatically for his belt. 

Before he became Comrade Samman, Bahadur was a sixth grader at the local government school. His father Ram Lal Thapa was a farmer till he was forcibly recruited for the ‘People’s War’. With the sole breadwinner gone, it fell upon Bahadur’s mother to earn money. He says, “One day, the security forces came to our village and arrested many young boys and girls, including her, and they were beaten and tortured. Later, I was told that she was killed on the way to Dailekh, accused of being a Maoist.”

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