By Bed Prasad Dhakal
Walking around homes in the village with swollen feet and foraging for food for the family was not the future Laxman Das dreamed of when he decided to join the rank of the then rebel party. The ideal of an egalitarian society where everything will be better now holds little meaning for Laxman as he goes through the struggle to get by each day.
Laxman Das was born in Phulkahakatti VDC-5 of Siraha district 45 years ago. He used to work as a waged worker before he joined the then CPN-M in October 1997. Soon, he was Phulkahakatti chief of the party.
In the course of his involvement in the party, he was entrusted with different responsibilities. He joined the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and was also given duty of Front Guard leader. He fell in the hands of the security personnel on December 3, 2003. “They inflicted severe torture on me,” Das related. He had been detained at the District Police Office before he was taken to Indradwoj Company of Nepal Army in Siraha. “The brutal beating and torture continued in the army barrack,” recalled Das at a meeting of Phulkahakatti Victim Reconciliation Forum on May 17, 2011, adding, “The army men used to kick at my waist and chest everyday inflicting immense pain leaving me virtually immobile.”
After three months of detention, Das was released from the barrack. However, his physical condition continued to deteriorate. His entire body had swollen and he had difficulty in speaking. Though he received minor treatment, he did not recuperate from physical pain. His legs are still swollen and he stammers due to the torture he was subjected to by the security forces.
The former PLA fighter is forced to manage square meals for his five family members, including him by asking alms in the village. “My swollen body does not help me to walk for long because of which I cannot take care of my family by working,” Das said, adding that he visited different organizations, including his party CPN-Maoist seeking help, but to no avail.
In August 2010, he became member of Phulkahakatti Reconciliation Forum (RF) which was formed by INSEC’s Grassroots Initiatives for Rights, Democracy and Peace (RDP) programme with the objective of organizing conflict victims and initiating steps to restore peace and harmony in the society. Das said that he had been empowered and came to realize that he was deprived of various facilities available to the conflict victims after attending the three-day training organized for the RF for its capacity building and to make RF members aware about various aspects, including reconciliation, reparation, mediation, government provision of relief. He realized that the government has set provision of free treatment to the conflict victims. He has now access to district level authorities with the help of INSEC district office.
Phulkahakatti RF and INSEC district office have raised his concerns through radio programs, newsletters (published by INSEC district office) and articles published in the broadsheet dailies like Samacharpatra. However, Das has not received concrete relief from the service delivery agencies till May 2011. He, however, received assurances of support from different agencies.
When asked, Bilat Narayan Chaudhari, secretary of Phulkahakatti VDC said that the VDC could not help him so far as political parties have not made decision in connection with providing support to ailing Das. He further said, “Since allocating budget to Das solely depends on the decision of the VDC level political mechanism, I cannot alone provide support to Das.” He is of the view of providing support to Das by urging the mechanism to make decision on this regard.
UCPN-M district in-charge, Hari Narayan Chaudhari said that despite his attempts to provide support to Das from various agencies, he has not received any relief. Chaudhari said he has recommended his name from the Local Peace Committee for relief and facilities provided by the government.
The Local Peace Committee in Siraha said that it had also recommended the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction (MoPR) to provide support to Das but he has not received any support yet. LPC secretary, Shiva Dayal Yadav came to know about Das’s condition only after INSEC highlighted his case. Saying that LPC has recommended his name to the MoPR for relief, Yadav said he will take further steps after the ministry responds over the issue.
Das’s wife had just given birth to a baby when a joint monitoring team from INSEC central office, Eastern Regional Office and district office met him on May 17, 2011. As he has to take care of his four-year-old daughter and 70-year-old mother, the team provided a support of Rs 4000 to Das.
“The support provided by INSEC has value of more than four lakh rupees since the amount has become a great relief to his wife,” Ramjatan Kamaut, treasurer of the RF said, adding that the support extended by INSEC has set a good example that all stakeholders should be united to provide humanitarian support to ailing victims.
INSEC ERO coordinator, Somraj Thapa had handed over the amount to Das in the meeting of the RF held in the VDC office on May 17. Like Das, there are several conflict victims with same plight in various conflict-hit areas across the country. Condition of other members of Phulkakatti RF is not different from Das. Neither the government agencies nor any I/NGOs have helped them. They have no means to make ends meet but to lead difficult lives recalling their bitter past.
“Several conflict victims are awaiting treatment and relief from the government. Though the government has made some provisions for conflict victims, they are not able to benefit from them due to lengthy process,” says INSEC district coordinator Devraj Pokharel.
High ranking officials like Prime Minister and ministers have been visiting various districts for inauguration of seminars and conferences over the issue of conflict victims frequently; however, they have not provided concrete support to the conflict victims so far. If some fund meant for such visits could be given to the conflict victims in dire needs, it would be great relief for them. There are several instances of freezing of budget meant to be distributed to the conflict victims due to ineffective distribution system in various districts. The government has formed Local Peace Committee in various districts. However, the LPCs are not functioning as expected. LPC coordinators in various districts complained that they are not the final authority to provide relief to the victims; however, they have just an authority to recommend names of the victims to the District Administration Office.
In such a context, the government should make relief distribution to the conflict victims effective so that genuine victims must not be deprived of enjoying the facilities allocated for them. Moreover, it is necessary to ensure that the fund allocated for the real victim does not go to the fake ones.
Meanwhile, Laxman Das, despite no help in sight, continue his struggle to support his family, as decided to work for encouraging the conflict victims of both sides to reconcile with their past and move ahead for better days.