Forgotten woman who sheltered communist activists

During the days of absolute monarchy, Nepal’s communists were underground and organising their party. Many people risked their lives to provide shelter for them.

One of them was Balkumari Thapa of Hatiya of Makwanpur district, where a landmark meeting of the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN), under the chairmanship of C P Mainali, was held during the 1989 pro-democracy movement.

The first meetings of the All Nepal Women’s Association, the women’s wing of the CPN, were also conducted in Thapa’s home. Recalls Shanta Manavi, founding member of the association: “She let us use her home at great personal risk to organise.”

In 1979 the police killed 16 people in a safe house used by communists in Dhankuta, and Thapa was aware that something similar might happen in her house. So she deployed her three sons to keep a look-out whenever party leaders met there. And when they spent the night, she herself stayed awake on sentry duty.

It all started when Thapa had to take her sick son to hospital in 1964. She had to break her journey at the house of Badri Prasad Khatiwada, an underground communist party cadre who worked full-time as a teacher. He converted Thapa to communism, explaining it in terms of the imperative to remove exploitation and to fight for equality and justice.

Balkumari Thapa

Now 83, Khatiwada recalls, “I went to Balkumari’s house after school on Fridays, collected everyone nearby, and taught classes in communist theory.”

Balkumari’s husband Tilak Bahadur Thapa was an anti-malaria health worker, and was not interested in politics. With all the party workers who had to be fed, the Thapas ran out of food, and she had to farm to earn the money to buy more provisions.

“There was no way of knowing how many people would drop in. Sometimes there wouldn’t be any food at home, so I borrowed rice, flour, and other essentials from the neighbours,” Thapa recalls.

In 1979, Thapa became a Female Community Health Volunteer and that made it easier for her to travel and mobilise without raising suspicion. By 1981, she had become an active party member and her job included safe-keeping and delivering party documents, organising women, and teaching classes.

Manu Sigdel, whom Thapa taught, is currently the chairperson of NCP Makwanpur. He remembers: “The party was more important to her than her own family."

Thapa was arrested and detained for a day in March 1988 for defying a government ban on celebrating Women’s Day. She has since held key positions in the All Nepal Women’s Association and currently holds an advisory position within the Nepal Communist Party.

Only after the ban on political parties was lifted in 1989 did Thapa not have to offer a secret safe house anymore. After that, everyone forgot about her selfless devotion to the party.

After Thapa fell ill in 2007, the government did arrange for a pacemaker at Gangalal Hospital free of cost, and the Hetauda municipality provided her with financial support.

Mukunda Koirala of the NCP in Makwanpur is critical of his party for forgetting Thapa’s sacrifice. He says: “Those she sheltered are now in power, but they have forgotten the people who put them where they are now.”

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