BHARATPUR, July 24: Rachana Thapa Magar, 24, Tirtha Bahadur Roka, 24, Anu Dhungana, 23, and Ram Ghalan, 25, have one thing in common. They are all former Maoist combatants who wielded guns to fight for a cause. And they continue have a similar cause - of making a living - but through different means.
These four are just a few examples of the former combatants who were ´disqualified´ as minors and late recruits during the verification process as part of the overall army integration process.
These are among 629 verified minors and late recruits (VLMRs) who are currently enrolled for training or education with the support from the United Nations. A total of 2,149 have enrolled for training and education as of June while 1,378 have graduated, according to Pushkar Mathema, communication and reporting officer of the United Nations Interagency Rehabilitation Program (UNIRP).
The UNIRP, which was set up to ease the transition of VLMRs to civilian life, has been offering four rehabilitation options to VLMRs - micro-enterprise development, vocational skill training, health related training and education and education support.
Unlike her colleagues, Rachana of Kogathe-9 of Makwanpur opted to study. While in cantonment in Shaktikhor, she did not attend school but instead had to go through a daily grinding as the Maoist combatant. But things are different now.
“I have made many friends in the new school and nobody talks about my past life these days,” visibly-happy Rachana shares. But it was not easy for her to get back into the society.
Four years after being discharged from the cantonment Rachana is finally living a civilian life comfortably, resuming her studies which she dropped off when she was in the eighth grade. Her colleagues taunted her for opting to study, as they told her that they joined the Maoists to achieve a certain goal.
“I cried a lot when my school teachers and UN officials suggested me to resume studies,” recalls Rachana, who joined the People´s Liberation Army in July 2005 with the assurance that she would be paid monthly salary equivalent to the Nepal Army.
“I feel myself free now,” says Rachana. “I can do whatever I want. I can go home whenever I miss my parents, which was not possible when I was in the cantonment.”
Slowly and gradually, the former combatants are being accepted back in the society.
Keshav Dahal of Parwanipur-3, Sarlahi, who has rented a room to Tirtha Bahadur Roka, 24, to set up a retail shop does not see the latter differently.
“We don´t feel as if he was once a Maoist Combatant,” says Dahal. “People come to his shop without any hesitation and his dealing with costumers is also good.”
Tirtha, a father of a six-year-old daughter and seven months old son, has been running the retail shop for the past five months. The UNIRP had supported him with various retail materials worth Rs 100,000.
“I am planning to expand my retail business,” says Tirtha. “I save Rs 200 everyday in a local finance company.”
Tirtha recalls how his parents were furious when he joined the Maoist army in 2005 with the hope of getting a job in the Nepal Army. “But now they are happy as I am supporting them,” he says. “My family members praise me as I am running a shop myself for livelihood.”
Ram Ghalan, 25, of Handikhola-3, Makawanpur, takes things differently. Though he runs a stationery shop with the help under the rehabilitation package, he is still actively involved in Maoist politics. He wants to run the store to earn his living and also involve in politics, as he is currently the vice-chairman of All Nepal National Independent Student Union (Revolutionary) of Makwanpur district chapter.
But Anu Dhungana, 23, of Chandranigahpur-1, Rautahat, does not feel the same as Ram.
“We fought for the social transformation but the leaders did not do anything,” says Anu, who runs a beauty parlor called ´New Look Beauty Parlor´ since 15 months, after receiving vocational skill training.
“We sacrificed as much as those combatants who opted for voluntary retirement,” she says, adding, “But they received hundreds of thousands rupees and we got nothing.”
She further expresses her frustration, saying, “We have been cheated from both the state and the party (Maoist) as none of them care about the discharged combatants.”