KATHMANDU, Aug 12: Forest conservation campaigner from Kailali district Nandadevi Kunwar hardly thought that she would survive after being brutally attacked by a forest encroacher and timber smuggler four months ago.
Thanks to her fighting spirit and to medical intervention, her hands, which were cut nearly asunder with a sickle (and left dangling) are healing slowly and her health is improving. However, she is far from happy.
“I am beginning to feel like a burden for my family. More so as the doctors have said my hands will never again be as functional as before," she said. According to her, the family sold off their two oxen for just Rs 11,000, three goats for Rs 12,500 and took a loan from a school to cover the treatment expenses.
“Now we are financially strapped and it is affecting my entire family severely,” said Kunwar during a press meet in the capital on Friday. Her husband works in Pune, India as a laborer and the couple have four children, one of them disabled.
Conservationist Nandadevi Kunwar´s husband Laxmi Bahadur shows the X-ray of her broken hand. (Photo: Anjali Subedi)
What she finds even more galling is that the forest department has simply turned a blind eye to the incident. “Neither has the government tried to take any action against the culprits nor are they taking any interest in my condition and my predicament.”
Kunwar, who is chairman of the Madhumalati community forest in Malakheti - 6, Kailali, was attacked by Hari Bhatta, a local of Malakehti - 2, on 21 April while the former, along with dozens of other community forest members were busy erecting a fence in the jungle area.
According to Kunwar, Bhatt intended to finish her off right on the spot but she was able to sense danger and defend herself. “He cut my hands thrice with the sickle and they were left dangling and would have fallen off had I not been rushed to hospital by my nephews,” she narrated.
Kunwar was well known in the village because of her passion for forest conservation and greenery, and it was under her initiative that the fence was being erected in a forest area that had already been encroached by a team led by Bhatt.
Bhatt was arrested and released four days later. Every household except that of Bhatt had contributed Rs 200 for procuring barbed wire for the fencing.
“The incident has badly discouraged people like us who love to conserve forests and encouraged those profiteering illegally from the forests,” Kunwar said.
She added that the Federation of Community Forest Users had mobilised help for her amounting to Rs 71,000 and a certain organization offered her Rs 10,000 while the ranger of the forest, Dinesh Yadav, extended support of Rs 4,100.
“They all helped me, HAMS hospital in Kathmandu treated me for free, but I still owe Padma Hospital in Dhangadi Rs 10,000 and the treatment is ongoing. Things have actually turned worse as I have not been in any position to contribute work or money to my already poor family,” she said.