Where is that fire and fury?
– Hisila Yami
The mainstream journalists in Kathmandu Valley during People’s War (PW) (1996-2006) used to marvel at the guts and gusto of the Maoists Journalists for their courageous writings and reports from the war fronts. Many Maoist men journalists have written their memoirs after coming to the peace process, however for the first time a professional Maoist woman journalist, Sangita Khadka has written a memoir: ‘Yudhaka tee din’ (Those days during the war) (2076 BS) published by Sangrila Books. Not only that it has been written by a woman born in Thandkok in Kathmandu distict the headquarter district of the old regime. She was only 2o years old when she was caught by security forces.
At once the cover photo of the book attracts attention, bispecticle Sangita is seen holding and keenly seeing on her weapon, the camera. She is surrounded by two PLA women one with a rifle in her hand and another with PLA tag on her shoulder, both are looking at the camera with excitement and keen sense of curiosity .
My next attention was drawn to the contents: The first main headings: ‘Emergency Period’ and ‘Life in Jail’ with their subtitles gives vivid jolting memoirs of her stay in police custodies, army barracks and jail. The second main headings ‘The Underground Radio; and ‘The Gandak Travel’ with their subtitles describes life of an urban woman in rural settings under harsh, adventurous as well dangerous environment of jungle life reporting war events.
The book starts with an attack on Dang military barrack the first attack on Nepalese army that too successful one by the PLA and its effect in Kathmandu district, particularly on Maoist publication house. All the trickeries, ruse used to print papers and its distributions together with desperate measures undertaken by Maoist journalists to save their work and themselves have been well depicted. In the process their arrests, torture, disappearances and their killings have been well depicted.
The book ends with the preparation for the Second People’s movement ( Chaitra, 2062 BS) in Pokhara. It explains how the Maoist mobilized its PLA, mass fronts, masses and how it coordinated and cooperated with the seven parliaentary parties with which it had made alliance against the old regime. The author being an active participant in the movement gives vivid documentation of its success leading to republican state
It is to be noted that Sangita went through all forms of rigorous torture short of rape for almost one year ( 2059 Jestha- 2059 Chaitra BS). She was released during peace talks between the old state and the Maoist Party. She was one of the few journalists who saved themselves from being arrested in the first lot. She was able to describe how the underground publications and distribution took place in the heart of white terror district. However she and Krishna sen were arrested the same evening and both were duped into the security trap by their own renegate comrades ( 2059 Jestha BS ). She was witness to torture of Krishna Sen the highest ranked Maoist journalist and the editor of ‘Janadesh’ the mouth piece of Maoist Party which led to his death in the custody (Jestha 2059 BS).
Being a woman journalist she explains the gender perspective of her experience of PW both within the urban and rural areas. She was able to throw light on how PW affected women’s life in custody, barrak and the jail which many memoirs written by males fail to mention. After she was released she was sent to rural districts where she had to start working on the Maoist radio fm which demanded to be stationed at the high mountain points. To dodge Nepal army’s vigilance and pursuit they had to shift their stations from one point of mountain to the other. While in custody between tortures she recollects how one of the police officers had retorted ‘one pen is more effective than hundreds of bullets in the war’. This explains the degree of mental and physical torture they went through inside custodies, barracks and jails. She narrates how within the enemy camp she came across some security personnels who were humane and helped them in little important ways and how some within the movement turned out to be turncoats betraying their trust!
After the army jammed Maoist FM radio she narrates her experience in the Gandak region where she was deputed to report on war fronts. It is to be noted that Gandak region is another white mountain region. She witnessed war at a close hill when the Maoist PLA attacked Basantapur in Palpa. She also reported an attack on the Police post in Sankhu in Kathmandu district by the PLA which was the . Coming from an urban city she describes difficulties of adjusting to jungle life and rural regions. It reminded me of my own state as I too came from the core of Kathmandu district Bhurankhel and how different I felt being in the heart of the base area in Rolpa where I worked as the secretary of United Revolutionary People’s Council (URPC).
She artfully managed to tell the readers how she nurtured her love with a fellow Maoist and how they got married amidst war. At the same time she frankly outpours her alienation and the sense of betrayal when at the climax of war she the sick one was left to fend for herself when her comrades did not reach her in time and place as promised. She then explains how ordinary villagers risked their lives to save them.
Once you pick up this book one does not want to leave it unfinished. Her presentation is simple, straight and without being self centric. However what is lacking in this book is the political analysis of PW. Being a journalist one had wished she would describe the two line struggle within the Party which was also affecting Maoist publications during PW.
After going through the book one is left with the question as to why the same journalists who were so brave, committed for progressive changes and who sacrificed for the revolution are today silent on the performance of today’s incumbent government. I am also perturbed at the silence of prolific and powerful writers who were so active during PW days. Today when the country is burning with inaction, atmosphere is rife with series of violence against women and the country is being subjected to corruption one after the other amidst COVID 19. I ask where are they ? Where have all the fire and fury of yesterday’s revolutionary journalists gone?