One after another well-dressed men enter the big building. Most of them look well fed, the accumulated calories now showing in their oversized bellies. They come in vehicles with multicolored flags fluttering from hoods, their big wheels raking up mini-gusts of dust.
Watching the little eddies of dust are over three dozen women in a field nearby, many with little babies pressed to their chests. The threadbare garments on their bodies seem to be waging a losing battle against the bitter December cold.
There is heavy presence of security forces to stop them from entering the building.
This is the scene outside the UCPN (Maoist) head office at Perisdanda. The people sitting on the ground are ‘disqualified’ PLA who have been on a relay sit-in protest since Nov 25.
It is Tulasa Pariyar’s first visit to Kathmandu. A Rolpa native, she watches people come and go from the big building. She expresses her surprise at how the comrades who once fought alongside her have changed after entering Singh Durbar and Baluwatar. Now, her former male comrades are addressed as ‘sirs’, and female ones as ‘madams’.
During the insurgency, Pariyar was confident the face of society would be transformed by the people’s war, at the end of which only two castes would remain: male and female. She had assumed her wedlock to a Chhetri would easily be sanctioned in a caste-less society. But now her husband’s family has shut its door to her, a dalit.
At 13, a starry-eyed Pariyar left her school to join the insurgency with many dreams. “I lost everything in the war. Now, I have nothing, neither my family, nor any social or party support. All I am is a disqualified combatant,” says a rueful Pariyar.
Right now, she and her colleagues put up in little tents with their little babies, many of whom suffer from cold and pneumonia. Most do not even have enough money to feed their children, who weep all night.
Pointing at one of her fellow tent-dwellers who is breastfeeding her baby, says Pariyar: “This is Rachana who has torn her trousers. Now she doesn’t even have enough clothes to cover her.”
Disqualified ex-combatants, shunned by both their party and society, lead miserable lives.
Sunita Chaudhari from Bardiya is yet another disqualified PLA. “I have one blanket which I use as bed at night and to cover my body during the day.” In her daughter Sushma, she has another person to feed and clothe.
Maoist leaders, they complain, not only ignore their demands, but don’t even bother to enquire if they have enough food, clothes and shelter. Ironically, it was a high ranking police officer who took women with children to a nearby hotel and fed them one day.
“Our leaders assured us that we would be welcomed at another cantonment after we were discharged as disqualified. We were doing our duties until our final days in the cantonments. They had assured us that we would be treated the same as other PLA,” recalled Pariyar.
Fifty percent of the disqualified PLAs have received Rs. 100,000 each, but the rest are deprived even of this meager sum. UNMIN had disqualified those who joined PLA after the peace process as ‘late recruits’, and those under 18 during registration as ‘minors’.
Interestingly, some younger siblings have qualified, but not their older siblings who were disqualified as ‘minors’. Besides, some injured during the war were counted among the late recruits.
Disqualified PLA like Pariyar are the most unlucky Maoists. They have neither the education nor any kind of vocational skills. They contributed the most productive years of their lives to the ‘great cause’, and they now feel betrayed. They were told that to be discharged without a package would be great sacrifice for the cause of peace and constitution.
In truth, Maoist Chairman Dahal was forced to discharge them to save the party from being blacklisted for the use of ‘child soldiers.’
During a foggy morning four years ago, they were kicked out from cantonments with a tracksuit and a rucksack each (provided by UNMIN) containing Rs.10,000 and the tag of ‘disqualified’. The tag took away their right to live with dignity. To avoid humiliation, most live far from their villages where nobody knows they are disqualified. Unable to tolerate the humiliation, eight disqualified PLAs even committed suicide, according to discharged PLA in-charge Sagar Limbu.
“Our comrades call us disqualified, and now even children call us disqualified. I don’t know how I was disqualified without committing any mistakes,” says Pariyar, describing her humiliation. “Tell me dai, how am I supposed to live now?”
She and others like her have been demanding the removal of the ‘disqualified’ tag, adequate compensations, transparency in the funds allocated for the disqualified, and financial packages in line with that received by those opting for voluntary retirement.
The demands of the ‘disqualified’ PLAs, YCL members and party cadres are natural since the Maoist party has been trying to solve its problems by distributing money instead of looking for political solutions. Earlier, Maoist leaders had repeatedly promised that the demands of the disqualified would be addressed when the party entered government, but now Chairman Dahal and Prime Minister Bhattarai decline even to discuss the issue. The disqualified PLAs are sloganeering against this negligence. At one point, they even padlocked the gate of the head office.
COST OF IGNORANCE
According to disqualified PLA, Minister for Peace Top Bahadur Rayamajhi even told protesters that he was not afraid of them. Hisila Yami, wife of Prime Minister Bhattarai, is said to have told them that top level Maoists were facing more problems than they were.
Now, Maoist leaders and the government are making the dangerous mistake of ignoring the demands of the 4008 disqualified ex-combatants. They could easily take to criminal activities if their existence is not acknowledged. They are trained in combat, and are often armed.
Sagar Limbu, discharged PLA in-charge, warned leaders at a press meet at Perisdanda on Thursday: “We know where Maoist leaders live. We know where Lazimpat durbar is. Beware, you taught us to make bombs and bullets. If you ignore us any more, we will swing into action.”
On Dec. 13, discharged PLA informed reporters that Maoist leader Jhakku Prasad Subedi had offered them two sacks of rice. But this is too little too late. Many disqualified PLA have been hospitalized; most at the ground are eating only once a day.
Interestingly, they observed that only middle-ranking leaders now came to Perisdanda, and the party had even stopped holding meetings at Perisdanda to avoid protesters.