Monday, January 17, 2011

“A big storm is imminent”: 21st century communism in Nepal

Noaman G. Ali, BASICS Community News Service, Canada

“We are ready to convert academic institutions into barracks. And ourselves into soldiers,” says Ramil Bhum, a student leader from Nepal’s far-west region of Seti Mahakali.
Sitting on the grass outside a large hall of Tribhuvan University on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Bm is surrounded by a group of international observers, of whom I am one. We’ve been invited to observe the 18th national convention of the All-Nepal National Students’ Union (Revolutionary), or ANNISU-R.
With 1.4 to 1.8 million members, there is no doubt that ANNISU-R is the largest, best-organized and most militant of students’ unions in this poor, land-locked country of 30 million. It is a mass organization of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the country’s largest political party.
“A big storm is imminent in Nepal,” says Krishna Bahadur Mahara, a Maoist leader, sitting with us now in the large conference room on the roof of his party’s headquarters. “Our party is not confused about our immediate and ultimate goals. Our immediate goal is the people’s federal republic, then socialism, then communism.”
Communism? Conventional wisdom in the West is that communism means tyranny, mass murder, inefficient economies, and perpetually grey skies. It’s good in theory, bad in practice. If anyone speaks seriously of communism, it’s usually a member of a small and marginal group.
Yet, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and its associated mass organizations count millions of farmers, workers, students, small-business owners and many more as members. Millions more support the party indirectly. Why?

Bache Lal Sardar, another student leader in ANNISU-R from Saptari district in the east, explains one of the reasons, “I am from a marginalized, indigenous dalit (untouchable) community. I have observed the exploitation of dalits from close up. I began thinking of revolution, and how to make it a success.”
Feudalism, backed by a caste system, is widespread in Nepal. Landless peasants or peasants with small landholdings are dominated by rich landlords with vast holdings. The most exploited and oppressed segment is that of the dalits, the untouchables. Inequality is the order of the day.
When the Maoists began a People’s War in 1996, one of their goals was to weaken the feudal system and abolish the institution of untouchability. They would do so in many instances when they took over an area by force of arms. Structural inequalities die hard, but the Maoists would not tolerate discriminatory practices. Dalits and peasants flocked to the party.

In Chaimale, a village in the hills twenty kilometers southwest of Kathmandu, local Maoist cadres show us the house of a landlord. “During the People’s War, it was the party office in the area,” chuckles Shambhu Maharjan, a party cadre for thirty-three years. According to him, the landlord’s holdings were redistributed to peasants, but the house itself was given back upon the ending of the War in 2006.
Though the Maoists signed a Comprehensive Peace Accord with the traditional, status quoist parties in order to put an end to Nepal’s monarchy and establish a federal republic, things aren’t very good in the village.
Kreethima and Sangeeta, both 16-years old, stopped attending school in grade seven. Sangeeta’s little sister, Shokmaya, 14-years old, is in grade five. The three are fetching water from the village tap. “We know that without education there is no future, but our fathers cannot afford to send all of us to school,” Shokmaya says.
Her family isn’t from Chaimale, but came here from a poorer village in eastern Nepal. “It was dangerous work in our poor village. It hurts that we never had enough money.” They still don’t. She speaks to me in Hindi, translating for the other two—she learned it when her family went to India. Millions of Nepalese go abroad, to India or the Gulf, to find work.
Shokmaya and Sangeeta’s father was recruited by the Maoists in their village, but he was repulsed by their slaughter of cows (holy to many Hindus in Nepal) and their appropriating villagers’ foods. Though the girls show an antipathy to the Maoists, other villagers come up to Bishal Maharjan, another party cadre (no relation to Shambhu Maharjan), to shake his hand.

Bishal is young, and joined the party fourteen years ago, in his teens. The party was illegal, and when his membership was exposed, he joined the People’s Liberation Army to fight in the People’s War. I asked him why he joined the party? why not just go to school?
“I realized that for the freedom of our people, struggle is essential. When your conscience feels that struggle is a major part of liberation, how can you just go to school?”
That’s why many of ANNISU-R’s members see themselves not only as students, but as soldiers, soldiers in a struggle for liberation and development, a struggle to revive in the 21st century the hope that communism once signified for millions of the world’s most wretched and oppressed.

1 comment:

  1. Com.
    Going On
    we are with u