Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Kathmandu Dispatch: A Day in Maoist Strike

On a balmy morning Monday, the Maoist protesters clogged the main intersection at Koteshwar, Kathmandu, singing and dancing in the ‘revolutionary songs’.

Helmeted battalions of policemen in riot gear were mere bystanders. Kirant Rajya Samiti of Maoists was responsible for overseeing the protests in Koteshwar area, one of 18 such points where Maoist staged protests. Hence, most of the protesters here were from eastern hills of Nepal. Maoist supporters came from districts such as Ramechhap, Khotang, Solukhumbu, Okhaldhunga. Most of the supporters are brought from far flung areas while a few arrived from surrounding districts (but mostly from rural areas). Some were even forced to participate.

Meet Suresh Rai, a 30-year-old member of Kirant State Secretariat. He along with one hundred fifty Maoist supporters arrived in the capital five days back. “We came in 2-3 groups,” he says. “We’ll continue to protest as long as people will support us.” Hailing from a family of farmers, Suresh says it’s tough for them in the hills to feed the hungry bellies of 7 members of his family.

As we speak, music blares from the huge sound boxes–there’s a makeshift stage built on a truck. Incessant singing and dancing is going on. In between, there are poetry recitations. Flags with hammer and sickle are waved, YCL, the notorious youth outfit of Maoists has a distinct air about them: bandana in their heads, some covering the entire body with the flags.

They’ve been sheltered in several places in Kathmandu Valley ranging from the party palaces and under construction buildings to Nepal Law Campus, Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus, Rastriya Sabha Grisha in the city center.

This has turned out like rural Nepal meeting urban Nepal as most of the village folks have arrived in capital Kathmandu for the first time.

But it’s only natural because Maoists have drawn support largely from marginalized communities such as Dalits (so-called untouchables), janajatis (the ethnic people), Madhesis (the people from plains), among others.

Dil Bahadur Bika, a Dalit from Phulbari village of Okhaldhunga, has come to Kathmandu for the first time. In the village, he runs a grocery store (that also sells cosmetics). But as a sole breadwinner of the family, he had to close it because there’s no one to look after. The 35-year-old, a YCL member, is living with other Maoists in a party palace in Kaushaltar, two kilometer north from Koteshwar.

The protesters’ routine goes thus: they leave for the strike at 6 pm. The lunch time will be from 9 am to 11 am. They observe strict discipline while attending the strike. They stay in the one of 18 points till 3 pm. At 3 pm, they participate in the rally. The evening is the time for torch rally. They finally return home after 6pm. Another cycle of strike and they repeat the routine.
Back to the Koteshwar: A song that is tinged with revolutionary fervor blares from the speakers and Dil Bahadur Bika pirouettes in its music. The song goes:

Arun Tarera Nana Tamar Tarera
Aayaun Hami Birata Ko Gatha Korera

(After Crossing Arun River and Tamor River
We Came Writing the Saga of Bravery)

Similarly, another song evokes the war time nostalgia. It talks about Tyamke village in Khotang, where according to the song; the hills are painted red and are crying (for justice).

The protests despite the initial apprehensions are peaceful. The May Day rally was a huge success but on Day 2, it seems like the protest is waning.

First published at the United We Blog!

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