Need to rememberFormer clandestine Maoist radio journalist documents war before it is forgotten
Sangita Khadka was so stirred by the Maoist ideal of social change that she joined the party while still in school at 15.
Good at writing, she felt she could help the cause by communicating the need for armed struggle and documenting the sacrifices of her comrades through the party’s underground newspapers and clandestine radio stations.
Today, 13 years after the war ended, Khadka is still committed to the cause, and thinks recounting the history of the conflict is important at a time when the public, and even Maoist leaders, have forgotten what it was they fought for.
In her recently published book, Yuddhaka Ti Din: Ek Patrakarko Bhogai (Those War Days: A Journalist’s Experience) Khadka traces her life in the movement.
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Born and brought up in Kathmandu, she started out as a naive teenager, and travelled all over the country with the Maoists, hiding from the security forces, broadcasting from secret portable radio stations high on mountains. Life was hard, she and her comrades struggled to light fires in the monsoon, resorted to eating contaminated food, all the while trying to evade army patrols.
Khadka was captured, and spent 10 months in detention, where she was physically abused by soldiers and police. Her mouth bled from kicks, her body swelled up from beatings, and she often had fever from sleeping on cold floors. Along the way, she met fellow Maoists who suffered similar torture, and throughout it all she says it was the ideal of a more just Nepal that kept her going.
“I wanted to write the book because I did not want people to forget,” says Khadka, who is back to doing journalism in peacetime. “Our leaders forgot the human toll of the war, the dedication of the rank and file. Some minimise the sacrifices we made, pretend it did not happen. This book tells it like it was, so future generations know the truth.”
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Khadka recounts how the radio stations were rudimentary backpack transmitters, her motley group had no security, operated with limited resources and had to change location often to avoid detection.
The book records acts of kindness amidst the violence of conflict, like a police guard who risked punishment to give her biscuits, villagers who voluntarily warned her group of the movement of security patrols. The book records how it was ordinary Nepalis who showed extraordinary courage to deal with war, not the leaders who started it.
“I am glad I was able to contribute to a movement that brought so many positive changes to the country,” Khadka says. “But I don’t think the party stayed true to its ideals. It has been afflicted by the same greed and craze for power as every other party in Nepal.”
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The disillusionment shows in the book, even though Khadka does not dwell on the years after the Comprehensive Peace Accord in 2006. She also avoids the atrocities committed by her party, even while documenting heinous crimes committed by state security. She defends this, saying that as an underground journalist she had limited access to information.
“Now that it is all over, there are grievances on both sides that need to be addressed,” admits Khadka, who also omits from the book her parents’ attempts to talk her out of joining the revolution. It was more difficult for them than for her, as the Army and police constantly harassed Khadka’s parents about her whereabouts, while neighbours shunned them.
Says Khadka: “I don’t regret what I did, but I do regret what happened to my family. I can never make up for what they went through because of me.”
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After the Maoist war ended in 2006, several books have come out in Nepali that deal with the period. They are either fictionalised accounts of what happened or testimonies of war experiences. Some authors have published novels and collections of short stories, while others have written memoirs. A selection:
Ambushma 6 Barsa
by Damodar Nyaupane (Six Years in Ambush)
Journalist Nyaupane records his war-time experience, weaving dramatic stories and chilling encounters in Gorkha and Lamjung into a reportage.
by Mahesh Bikram Shah (The Guerrilla’s Son)
A collection of 18 stories set during the conflict, Shah’s notable work of fiction won the Madan Puraskar in 2006.
by Radha Poudel (The Attack on Khalanga)
Health worker Radha Poudel recounts the terrifying night when the Maoists attacked the district headquarters. Her book won the 2013 Madan Puraskar.
Banda Parkhal Dekhi Khula Akash Aamma
by Uma Bhujel (From within Walls to Open Sky)
Uma Bhujel was among the six women who broke out of the Gorkha jail in 2001. Bhujel is now with the Biplav faction of the Maoists.
Chhapamar Yuwatiko Diary
by Tara Rai (Diary of a Female Guerrilla)
Tara Rai penned her experience of joining the Maoists as a teenager, and the socio-political context of the times.