Remembering not to forget the people's war

Books are scattered around in a dark room, an earthen pot lies shattered to pieces, and clothes litter the floor. The sound of crickets chirping and a woman sobbing add to the eerie atmosphere. This is an installation at Nepal Art Council, recreating the room of a woman who was forcibly detained and raped by the security forces during the 1996-2006 war.

It is part of an exhibition titled Memory, Truth, and Justice organised by Voices of Women Media and Conflict Victims Common Platform, which shares stories of more than 100 victims from both sides of the conflict. Some are audio-visual testimonies, there are photographs while others are artistic re-creations.

“We wanted to bring these stories out because we realised that everyone was forgetting the war,” explains project manager Bikkil Sthapit. “The government and leaders are not doing anything. And even for family members of those killed and disappeared, memories are fading. Justice is being forgotten. We wanted to record these memories before they are totally gone, inform the public and advocate for justice.”

Read also: “How many times do we need to share our story?”, Seulki Lee

Just not justice, Om Astha Rai

The ten year war cost 17,886 lives, 1,530 were forcibly disappeared, 8,191 were maimed, millions were displaced. The conflict left deep physical and psychological scars on individuals, families and society. Like most wars, many of the victims were civilians. Innocent bystanders lost their limbs in bus bombs, girls and women were subjected to sexual violence, suspects were tortured, former child soldiers sacrificed their childhood and are now abandoned.

Conflict victims and family members have lent items they have preserved lovingly: a shirt bought from first salary, letters smuggled in with noodle packets. These items present victims’ stories with an urgency and immediacy that is lacking in the numbing statistics of war. The first person accounts, often graphic and intense, can be very hard to watch and listen to.

“The exhibition reminds us that we should be ashamed that so little has been done for the justice of conflict victims,” says Prakash Wasti of the National Human Rights Commission. “These issues do not belong to the 100 people whose stories are represented here, but to the whole country.”

Memory, Truth, and Justice

Nepal Art Council 

Until 6 October

Read also: It's all in the mind, Sonia Awale

The art of healing, Sewa Bhattarai

Sharmila Chaudhary, Dang​

 Sharmila is the mother of Jagi Ram Chaudhary, a Kamaiya who was disappeared at the age of 17.

"I still put some food for my son in this plate before I eat any meal. Though he was disappeared 16 years ago, I still hope that one day he will come back to eat what I serve."

Read also: Doors closed, Om Astha Rai

Children of war, Kunda Dixit

Shova Rayamajhi, Nuwakot

Shova Rayamajhi was 11 when she was given a gun to fight for a cause she did not understand. After the war, the UN Mission to Nepal (UNMIN) verified a total of 4,008 minors and ‘disqualified’ them from compensation. She missed out on education, even though she fought for the rights of the oppressed. She is now an activist demanding rights for child soldiers like her. The government had earmarked Rs 200,000 for child soldiers so they could reassimilate into society. A writ petition was filed against the decision which the Court stayed.

Read also: Ex-minor ex-Maoist, Om Astha Rai

Sandip Pun, Rukum

Sandip's parents, Surya Prakash Pun and Parampara Gautam, were Maoists and were killed by the army. Parampara wrote this in her diary the day she left home. Sandip has treasured the diaries, but has never turned the pages to read them himself.

The day I left my son behind

(My son), a piece of heart holds me close.

I tell him I am going to bring him some grapes. Son, I give him a loving kiss on the cheek and tell him I am leaving.

On the way my mind and body are both unwell. My mind is not in its place. How can I leave the little one behind and travel to village after village. All these things trouble my heart.

The bus continued at its speed. I was feeling dizzy. My head was aching. I do not feel like eating anything.

When I see bunches of grapes somewhere. Suddenly I am reminded of my son and my heart was troubled anew.

It’s ok, I hope my son lives. One day we will surely meet.

- 1999/ 6/ 18, Paru

Krishna Ghising, Dolakha

Even today, I get scared every time I hear a certain kind of music. There was music playing when I gained consciousness after 19 days in a coma. It was a radio jingle which played during intervals of news bulletins of Radio Nepal.

I had gone to my village to make my passport with a dream of going to Korea. On the way back to Kathmandu, our bus was moving slowly when there was an explosion. Some passengers died on the spot, the injured were taken to hospital. I survived, but over half my body was paralysed because of a spinal injury. All my dreams were shattered.

I left the hospital in a wheelchair after nine months. It was a difficult time. When I was in the ambulance, I felt like I was carrying my own corpse.

I wanted make my son a famous person one day. The conflict made me incapable of looking after myself, who cannot move without the help of others.

Perhaps, it would not have been so much pain if I was born disabled. But we were made disabled. It is the duty of the state to take care of us. Instead, they humiliate us. I have spent 15 years in a wheelchair now. This is my second life. I don’t know how long this one will last.

Read also: Post-conflict stress syndrome, Taylor Caldwell

 What the people think about the ‘People’s War’, Seulki Lee

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