Delay, dilute, denyA whole generation of Nepalis has grown up with no knowledge of the decade-long war
Mimamsha Dhungel was barely eight when Nepal’s decade-long armed conflict ended, and she has vague memories of clutching a packet of cheese balls in her hands on 24 April 2006 and being part of a victory rally from Thankot to Kalanki to celebrate the restoration of Parliament and the end of the war.
“My grandfather was martyred in the war,” Dhungel, now a 22-year-old student, says. “The struggle is a part of history that we cannot forget.”
Monday, 13 February marks 27 years since the Maoists took up arms against the state, and almost 17 years since Nepal’s current Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the Maoist and then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala of the Nepali Congress (NC) signed the Comprehensive Peace Accord that marked the end of the conflict that left 17,000 Nepalis dead.
Yet, even as relatives of victims demand justice Nepal’s political mechanism and leadership, which is made up of former enemies, has ensured that no side is held accountable for the atrocities committed during the conflict.
Suman Adhikari’s father Muktinath Adhikari was a teacher at a school in Duradanda of Lamjung. In January 2002, he was taken away by Maoists while in class and later executed because he refused to donate a share of his salary to fund their cause.
“To be reminded that it has been 27 years since the war began, and almost 17 years since the peace accord was signed is painful, but at the same time it is also worrying that the society at large has stopped talking about it,” says Suman Adhikari. “Whichever government it is, the strategy has been to delay, dilute, and deny victims truth and justice.”
Not only have Nepalis begun to forget, but there is also now an entire generation of young people who were either not born or were too young to remember what it was like to live in fear of the soldiers, police or guerrillas.
And just like the political leadership and governments have refused to ensure that Nepalis learn our history, they have also kept the conflict years out of the school textbooks.
The Grade 10 textbook published by the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) reduces the decade-long war into just a mention in a historical timeline. Textbooks put out by private publishers are better, but still offer few details: reducing the war to brief sentences that mention the start of the war, the massacre of King Birendra’s family, and the 12-point peace agreement.
The Grade 12 textbook published by the CDC has dedicated just three sentences to the start of the war, and three sentences to the peace accord in its section about Nepal’s history.
The textbooks make no mention of the cost and achievements of the conflict.
Bhuwan Raj Shrestha, who teaches higher-secondary level Social Studies in Kathmandu says he tried to bridge the gap. “I try to provide context when I teach my students that particular chapter, and a few students who tend to rank higher in class show an interest and ask for details, but that’s about it,” he says.
Shrestha himself used to be headmaster at a school in Nawalparasi during the conflict, and came to Kathmandu for safety after running afoul of the Maoists.
Pranjal Pokharel grew up with a father who is a police officer. So he has some experience of the war, but he has little information.
“Our political stability and impunity now is rooted in whatever happened back then, so it is important for us to learn about what happened,” says the 22-year-old student. “Whatever we have in the curriculum is just the tip of the iceberg, and doesn’t go in-depth at all.”
Aarati Ray, 19, also admits she does not know much about the conflict because it is not taught very well in high school. “There was so much about World War I and World War II in our school textbooks, but there was nothing in-depth about the Maoist war,” says Ray.
But veteran journalist Rajendra Dahal, editor of Sikshak monthly magazine for teachers, notes that the absence of information about the war is part of a larger problem with Nepal’s learning system and education sector.
“Young people’s lack of knowledge is not limited to the armed conflict, most Nepali students are literate but do not have any real understanding that is applicable in the real world,” says Dahal. “As we have become modern and educated, we have also become ignorant and intolerant.”
Journalist Mohan Mainali reported from across Nepal about the human cost of the war and is concerned that almost three decades later, the lack of awareness about Nepal’s recent history and how it could pose a great threat to the nation.
“ A society that doesn’t know its history risks repeating it,” he says. “We are again seeing an obsession for newer parties because of disillusionment with the establishment. It could once more take a violent turn, it is a vicious cycle.”
While the younger generation must be aware of recent history it is not enough to rely solely on textbooks, he says. Indeed, students actually needed to answer questions about the conflict during exams before the peace accord was signed, but the curriculum changed over the decade, and even the exam paper doesn’t have questions specific to the armed conflict anymore.
Conflict victim organisations have repeatedly submitted guidelines to political leaders pushing for the war to be included in the school curriculum. But those in power are reluctant because then they will have to answer to the people about why they were made to suffer.
Says Suman Adhikari: “The reality of the conflict is our history, and it must not be hidden. We as a nation need to acknowledge the mistakes of our past so that we might move on, and also so that Nepalis do not ever have to go through something like this ever again.”
With additional reporting by Swapnil KC.