SCOTT SIMON, host:
And this current political crisis in Nepal began about 14 months ago when the King fired his entire government, saying that it had failed to defeat that country's Maoist insurgency. Maoists now control vast stretches of the countryside, clashing frequently with the Nepalese Army and police. Reporter Doualy Xaykaothao traveled to the heartland of the Maoist rebellion in Nepal and she filed this report.
DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO reporting:
It's a loud and turbulent one hour flight from Katmandu to the western city of Nepalgunj. This is no exotic tourist town in the Himalayan kingdom. It's a rundown place bordering India where shady characters abound. An indefinite curfew is in effect but fails to deter almost daily fighting between security forces and Maoity(ph) or Maoist rebels. Buildings are old and damaged by the attacks. From here we drive into the countryside, headed for the Maoist stronghold, passing numerous government checkpoints where authorities search for suspicious items.
(Soundbite of checkpoint)
XAYKAOTHAO: For more than nine hours, we travel northeast on rocky roads, driving through small streams and finally arriving in the mountain village of Tela(ph) in Rolpa District. There we spend the night.
At dawn, traditional Nepali folk music wakes up the entire village.
(Soundbite of Nepali folk music)
XAYKAOTHAO: It's International Women's Day and the Maoists are holding an event to honor them. It is estimated that women make up 30 to 50 percent of the armed Maoist rebels.
(Soundbite of celebration)
XAYKAOTHAO: Women from surrounding villages and farmers are welcome to the event. Many are carrying Nepal's national flower, the rhododendron, as Maoist sentries guard against Nepalese Army attackers. The crowd gathers in an open field near a school, listening to insurgent leaders.
(Soundbite of person speaking foreign language)
XAYKAOTHAO: Maoist officials tell the crowd to remember the martyrs, those who sacrificed their lives for the ongoing people's war. A Maoist officer shows off her troops, commanding them to line up in front of the makeshift stage.
(Soundbite of Maoist officer)
XAYKAOTHAO: This is meant to show how disciplined, strong, and gender-balanced the Maoist Army is. Later, boys in dark glasses and girls wearing colorful head scarves perform revolutionary music.
(Soundbite of revolutionary music)
XAYKAOTHAO: Sitting not far from the festivities is Manou Homigie(ph). She's in a committee called All Nepal Women's Association Revolutionary. She wears a badge that depicts Maoist leader Progendai(ph).
Ms. MANOU HOMIGIE: (Through translator) Just like in the picture. Mr. Progendai is very polite, very clear in his ideas and thoughts. He says that women's participation is very important in this revolution for its success. And the reason why the women have come so far is because of their own efforts, their own participation.
XAYKAOTHAO: Nepal has traditionally been patriarchal and feudal. Women inherited no property and had few rights. Comrade Bandu Chon(ph) says the Maoists are correcting the problem.
Comrade BANDU CHON: (Through translator) In the Rolpa, Rukum, and Salyan areas, the facilities for women have become much easier. When a family disintegrates, there's no question that part of the property has to go to their daughters. And this is the kind of trend that we want to spread to other regions.
XAYKAOTHAO: Some distance from the ceremony and out of earshot from Maoist officials stands Baugie Tamaugar(ph), a 57-year-old mother of four children. She's waiting for a bus to go back to her village in Rukum District. She laughs when asked if she supports the Maoists.
Ms. BAUGIE TAMAUGAR: (Through translator) Well, it's just like that, they are on their own bus, we are on our own, but when they come, they usually ask for food and other things to stay. I worried, like, if they say, if you don't provide those things they kill you.
XAYKAOTHAO: More than 13,000 people have been killed in this war by both the Maoists and the Royal Nepalese Army. Tens of thousands have been displaced. Compounding that problem, men often leave villages to find work in Katmandu or neighboring India. Women and children are often left behind with more responsibilities and less protection. This makes women and children more vulnerable to Maoist recruits.
On a rainy day later in the week, we meet some children inside a clay hut. Ramm(ph), whose name has been changed to protect his identity, is 15. Most striking is a huge bullet worn as a ring on his finger.
What does it mean to you, this bullet ring?
RAMM: (Through translator) I like this ring because it makes my hand more beautiful.
XAYKAOTHAO: Do you know anything about Maoity?
RAMM: (Through Translator) Maoist are people who have very revolutionary ideas. They want to bring something new.
XAYKAOTHAO: Do you like what they are saying?
RAMM: (Through Translator) I don't like it that much, but I listen to it from time to time.
XAYKAOTHAO: Amar(ph), also not his real name, is in tenth grade. He's been taken several times by the Maoists to learn Communist ideology. He says it's not really abduction because the Maoists tell you they are your fathers, brothers, mothers and sisters.
AMAR (Tenth Grader): (Through Translator) (Unintelligible) the same, like we were being abducted, and then slowly we actually started taking it casually.
XAYKAOTHAO: Amar says the revolution came to his village more than ten years ago. He says he's learned a lot in recent years and he's decided not to become a martyr.
AMAR: (Through translator) I don't want to become a Maoist because, first of all, I don't want to leave my family and become a Maoist, and the Maoists say that they're ready to kill themselves to bring all this change in the country, and I'm not prepared to die.
XAYKAOTHAO: Amar says he wants to be a teacher, even though teachers in Rolpa have to give up to 50 percent of their salary to the insurgents. Educators also have to teach a Maoist curriculum called the People's Education. This Maoist leader, who would not give his name, argues that the curriculum is meant to liberate the Nepalese people, who he says have been oppressed by the King.
Unidentified Man: We have been trying our best, but we are on the struggle. We hope that we give something to our country, to our people after we complete our People's War.
XAYKAOTHAO: As the war continues, villagers here just try to get on with their lives. Fifty-year-old laborer, Teeg Bago, is building a shed on a lush green field here in Rolpa.
Mr. TEEG BAGO (Laborer): (Through Translator) Well, they say it's a Maoist stronghold, but we don't know where they are. We stay in the villages, we work here. This is what I do, labor work, and I keep my family going.
XAYKAOTHAO: Children try to carry on as well. Twelve-year-old Sharmila is grinding spices with a big rock to make dolbat, the traditional Nepalese rice and lentil dish. She's shy and hesitant to talk, but she enjoys singing with village kids.
(Soundbite of Singing)
Not far from Sharmila, Maoist forces are training for their next battle.
(Soundbite of soldiers training)
For NPR News, I'm Doualy Xaykaothao.
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