The lingering trauma of war

The letter Kiran Chaudhary got last year from the NHRC informing her about compensation for torture and rape by the security forces during the conflict.

Last October, a letter came for Kiran Chaudhary from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). It was Dasain, so the letter took several months for it to reach her husband’s home in Kailali.

The letter had made a recommendation to the government to pay Chaudhary NRs300,000 as compensation for her ordeal during the insurgency, and to arrest the perpetrators. 

The conflict lasted from 1996-2006 with a loss of more than 17,000 lives. There are still 1,500 missing,  and there have never been a specific number for those maimed or still suffering from mental trauma.

Kiran Chaudhary is one of them.

It was in April 2002, four vanloads of government security personnel arrived at the village in Kailali district and entered her house. Chaudhary, a schoolgirl at the time, was accused of being a Maoist supporter.

"They accused me of being involved in the Lamki bombing, and asked me how many people I had killed," recalls Chaudhary. For the next 38 days, she would be locked away, followed by torture and rape.

"I can only remember that everything was red with blood. My menstruation cycle had not begun then, but in detention, I started to bleed. I could not tell if I was menstruating or bleeding from being raped regularly.”

More than 18 years later, Chaudhary continues to suffer from the physical and psychological trauma. In her mid-30s now, she nurses a fractured pelvis from beatings, and the severe injuries caused to her reproductive organs by repeated rape.

“I have been married for more than six years, and I cannot have children. When my in-laws ask, my husband is kind enough to say it is because of him,” explains Chaudhary. The couple still spends a quarter of their income on her medicines.

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The letter from NHRC last year gave the couple some hope, and they spent some time in Kathmandu last week, visiting people at the Commission. But they came away confused about the process of getting the compensation money.

“We went to the Commission to ask them what we should do with the letter, and they said we have to go to Finance Ministry and Home Ministry, but we don’t know anyone there,” Chaudhary said. She had already spent ten days in Kathmandu waiting in government offices, trying to get noticed. 

But this is not new to her. Chaudhary has been in Kathmandu every few years following-up on her case. On most occasions, she walks from office to office, waits on people until she runs out of savings. 

She registered a case with the NHRC against the perpetrators in 2013. But it was only after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as set up two years later that it received some attention. But with 63,000 other complaints, progress on individual cases like hers has been slow.  

“It all depends on the Cabinet now,” an NHRC official told Nepali Times, requesting anonymity. She added, “We have already issued a letter recommending the government pay her compensation and take action against some individuals in the security force who violated and tortured her.”

State of impunity, Editorial

Meanwhile, Chaudhary’s life staggers along. A storm last April, blew away the thatched roof of her house and destroyed her documents, including her citizenship certificate.  

“We received too much rain last year and the fry plopped out of the pond before they could grow to full size. It was a bad year for business,” says Kiran’s husband Mahesh. “We grow just enough rice to last a few months, but with her medical expenses, we never have enough.” 

Last year, Mahesh spent a few weeks going down to Lamki, learning Korean. He also cleared the Employment Permit System (EPS) exams, but with the pandemic, his migration plan is on hold. “We thought if I work abroad for a few years, we can save some money for her treatment.” 

Kiran also requires physiotherapy for her back, but the nearest hospital is two hours’ bus ride away. Most days after field work she cannot sit because of the pain. 

Kiran Chaudhary was detained, tortured and raped in two different army bases in Kailali. When she tried to go back to school after her release, she was ostracised and forced to drop out. For a year, she had to report to the police every day, and the villagers called her, “आर्मीले लगेको केटी”.

“So many people have died in my family in the last few years, I find myself very alone, with the same problems that never leave,” sighs Chaudhary, with a catch in her voice. She tries not to think about her past, and has tried many ways of moving on. 

In 2012, she briefly joined Surya Bahadur Thapa’s Rastriya Janashakti Party, hoping that political affiliation would ease her life in some ways, but quickly realised she had no time for politics.  

Peace is not peaceful

From withdrawing inward to shun memories that would send her into fits, she has learned over the years to live with the past. But every time she hears of another woman who suffered similarly during the conflict, and the government doing nothing to help, she feels like the cycle is a perpetual one.

“I am not the only one, am I?” she asks, in reference to recent cases of rape. “Even the officer at the Commission said that there are so many like me. Will they even do something about us? If I get the money it would at least pay my medical bills.”

The NHRC official said the Commission has been following up on conflict-era cases, and has been pressuring the government to include individual cases like Kiran Chaudhary’s on the agenda. 

“It would be easier for everyone if the government made the decision and sent the compensation amount to be released to the local governments so that they don’t have to keep coming to Kathmandu,” the officer says. “But with the political mess we are in, it doesn’t look like that will happen soon. And it’s always the victims who keep suffering.”

Some names have been changed.

Read also: Nepal stalls on war crime probes, Nepali Times

Pratibha Tuladhar