A sunny afternoon in December of 1990 I hiked down from Sarangkot Summit, near the base of Annapurna north of Pokhara, Nepal. I carefully chose my steps in the loose dirt, trying to keep balance enough to catch a glimpse of Phewa Lake.
Girl at Summit of Sarangkot, Photo by Davi Ottenheimer © All rights reserved
Looking ahead I noticed a young man headed towards me. He nodded hello and I stopped to ask a question about the trail. His English was basic at best and my Nepalese was nothing to write home about. We nonetheless struck up a rudimentary discussion when I saw a book under his arm.
He said he was a Maoist. I asked him about Lenin. He was unfamiliar with the name. Marx? Never heard of him. Stalin…Mao only. He spoke of making a village strong by giving people power. No more king he said. The conversation lasted no more than ten minutes but it etched an unforgettable portrait of rural Nepalese life in my mind.
I soon realized I was witness to the growing disillusionment of rural people and birth of local propaganda by Maoists. This time was characterized by political confusion as Nepal started an experiment in democracy; King Birendra took a step away from power in November 1990.
BBC reports today that this struggle continues. They describe anti-rebel steps taken in India, with the measure of security in a region linked to jobs and economic development.
In Lalgarh, for example, some 125 villagers were engaged in making a small dam worth three million rupees. Five days into the work, the rebels came and asked for a meeting in the jungle with villagers and government officials.
“We could not agree so we backed out,” one official said.
The jobs scheme created an average of 52 man-days of work per household in West Midnapore during 2009-2010. But in the Maoist-affected areas it created only 36 days of work, up from 21 days of work in 2008-2010.
“But it is the only way forward to take on the Maoists,” said one official.
“This is nothing about winning hearts and minds. It’s only about giving people work before the rebels come in and convince them that they are a better option than the state.”
Boy at Sarangkot Summit offers refreshment. “Coke, One dollar! Coke, One dollar!”. Photo by Davi Ottenheimer © All rights reserved.