How former Maoist child soldiers became engineers of Nepal's democracy
Between 1996 and 2006, a bloody civil war between Maoist revolutionaries and the state tore Nepal apart. A decade later, FRANCE 24 Reporters head to Nepal for the first legislative elections under the new constitution adopted in 2015. In this report, they meet three former Maoists who spent their childhoods fighting for the revolutionary cause, but today they are hoping to make a change not by staring down the barrel of the gun, but through the ballot box.
FRANCE 24 reporters have selected three key moments that stood out during the filming of their meetings with the former Maoist fighters:
The rocky road. Jeevan used to be a Maoist child soldier, but now he’s in charge of his former commander’s election campaign. We had been filming with Jeevan at an election rally, in the upper reaches of the Karnali valley, in western Nepal. As night fell, we descended from the mountain in single file, torches in hand. It took us less than an hour to go down the slopes that had taken us five hours to climb the day before, camera gear on our backs... We had to keep pace with the former soldiers.
Halfway through our journey we stopped to catch our breath at a small cottage with red flags flying overhead. It was the home of a local farmer, a friend of the Maoists. There, as we drank cups of lemon tea, the “comrades”, who still go by their "party names", negotiated the price of a goat that we would eat for dinner by an open fire later that night. Soon after, we carried on in silence, as our eyes remained focused on the rocky road. It was hard not to think of those who had fallen here, fighting battles in this unforgiving terrain.
Political patronage. Sapana joined the Maoist party at the age of 14. She was one of several young Nepali girls who fought for the Maoists during the war. More than a third of the guerrillas were women. But only a handful of these women stood in the elections (7 percent). Sapana was one of them. We followed her as she campaigned in several villages just before the elections. She had to constantly confront the harsh realities of Nepal today. Poverty, caste inequality, poor access to healthcare, water, electricity -- the problems that made Sapana take up arms against the state and the monarchy a decade ago, were still issues during this campaign.
In one of the villages we visited, she arrived a little too late. The inhabitants were in the process of cutting up sheep they’ve been “offered” by a rival party. This is a system of political patronage that remains very strong in Nepal. But the dreamer -- Sapna means "dream" in Nepali -- remained committed to her democratic mission.
An assault rifle painted on the wall. With the elections approaching, we saw several roads being renovated -- a way for those in power to show Nepali citizens that they are working for them. Are the elected officials the ones who will change Nepal? Arjun and his wife Purna didn’t think so. They are former Maoist soldiers who were devoted to the revolutionary cause. Today, they are a hard-working couple. On their farm everything works like clockwork. They provide employment to many while making sure they respect the environment. We were blown away by Arjun's ingenuity and ideas for innovation.
But after their parents and son headed to bed, the eyes of Arjun and Purna hardened and they began to speak freely. They fought fiercely in the jungle for leaders who did not keep their promises after the war. In the small shack serving as a toilet at the bottom of the garden, an assault rifle is painted on the wall.
In Nepal, the memory of the war persists, but few are nostalgic.