Refugee voices: Maoist victims association in Nepal

Refugees International, on a recent mission to Nepal, interviewed members of the Maoist Victims Association (MVA) an organization of people displaced by Maoist violence. Many of the MVA members are from middle class families who came to the Maoists' notice due to their links to the government. MVA claims a membership of 27,000 people all over Nepal. According to an agency spokesperson, this is a small fraction of the numbers displaced; most people do not want to register with MVA out of fear of being targeted by Maoists. In the last couple of years, the Maoists have assassinated three MVA leaders.

Kanta, one of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) interviewed by RI, is a 25-year-old woman from western Nepal where much of the rural area is under Maoist control. She is a single woman, living with her older brother in Kathmandu. Seven years ago, she and her family were first displaced from their village to the town of Nepalganj, the central point of the mid-western region. From Nepalganj, she moved to her brother's house in Kathmandu, while her parents continue to live in Nepalganj.

After witnessing fighting between Maoists and the military near her village, Kanta has come to the conclusion that the military's morale is low, despite the belief, especially in urban centers, that the Royal Nepal Army can defeat the Maoists. For people living in areas under Maoist control, it is all too clear that the army will never be able to defeat the rebels. Kanta claims that the Maoists are becoming more powerful day by day, and are at an advantage due to their familiarity with the mountainous, forested terrain. Many Maoists cadres have grown up in the area and know the territory much better than the military. Kanta adds that ordinary citizens in rural areas don't inform the army about Maoist locations and the army is at a disadvantage in capturing Maoists due to this lack of information.

According to Kanta, the residents of cities like Kathmandu, which have so far been relatively free of Maoist violence, don't understand the impact of the Maoist violence on people living outside the Kathmandu valley. Frequently there is a low level of awareness about the spread of the Maoist's sphere of control and the subsequent abuses. Many of the displaced now living in Kathmandu face prejudice and fear from the locals who don't understand why every day new people are arriving in the capital. Kanta believes that the residents of Kathmandu think that the displaced have fled to the capital after committing wrongdoings in their village, instead of as a consequence of Maoist abuses.

In Kathmandu, Kanta feels safe from the Maoists but is worried about her future. Her displaced family no longer owns any property, she has no earnings, and she is concerned that her family will not be able to provide a good dowry when it is time for her to get married. Kanta is concerned that her being an internally displaced person will affect her chances of getting married due to the suspicion and bias that is associated with this status.

Recently MVA members, such as Kanta, have come under attack from a second front. In May, MVA was staging a protest outside the main government administrative complex calling for the government's attention to its members' problems. Although the government had established compensation funds for those affected by Maoist violence, most MVA members have not received any government support and the little assistance they have been receiving has been from NGOs. The response of King Gyanendra's regime was to send in police to halt the protest forcefully. A number of MVA members and their families were arrested and their homes were demolished. There are concerns that the government cracked down on these IDPs to weaken the Nepali political parties.