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The torment of Nepal's broken families

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The torment of Nepal's broken families

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Days go by peacefully in the village of Munalbasti, in western Nepal.

It has not always been the case in this community.

The village sits in the Bardiya district, which in Nepal registered the biggest number of missing persons during the war which raged in the country from 1996 to 2006.

This is where Laxmi Devi Khadka has lived for the last 17 years, and where she got married.

But nowadays, she takes care of her three children on her own.

Her husband disappeared in 2003, taken from their home by Maoist insurgents, during the civil war which ended the Nepalese monarchy.

“I have a photo of my husband. Just a small one. My daughter took the small photo of her Baba, and turned it into a big one. I look at the photo every day.”

More than 10 years after her husband went missing, the pain is still strong. But uncertainty is even harder to bear.

“I have not been able to find the dead body of my husband, not even any mortal remains. Until I am able to see the body, I have hopes that my husband may be somewhere, and may come back home. I have few hopes, but there is hope until you see something. He was taken during the night, in just five minutes. And, when the dogs bark at that time of the night, I think, it was that at same time that he was taken away, it could be him coming back.”

After her husband’s disappearance, Laxmi planted a tree in his memory. Every day, she continues to pray for his return.

According to international aid organisations, more than 3,000 people were reported missing during the conflict. The fate of over a third of them is still unknown. Aside from the psychological impact, social and economic consequences are harsh for the families of missing people.

“If no body or remains are found, we cannot procede to the funeral rites. Given the circumstances, I can’t perform the burial rites. Many who look at it from the perspective of their religion and culture, gossip and backbite against me for wearing red clothes, or bangles, though there’s no proof of my husband’s death. There’s also some land in his name. But the custom is that you need to produce a death certificate for transfer of land ownership. However, I can’t be sure that my husband is dead, so I can’t provide a death certificate.”

Laxmi has gone to all the Maoist leaders, political parties and human rights groups in the district to find out what happened to her husband. His kidnapper is known.

Her search means she still gets threats.

After years of effort, with the help of human rights organisations, she got compensation, and citizenship papers for her children, which were lost after her husband disappeared. They are not entitled to free education.

The same applies to Devi Sara’s children, who still do not have citizenship. Their father disappeared after being arrested by the police during the conflict, accused of supporting the Maoists.

Devi and Laxmi, whose husbands were on opposite sides, now campaign together in the ‘Conflict Victim Committee’ of Bardiya district, working to help families suffering similar ordeals.

The two women became friends during group therapy sessions staged by humanitarian organisations for relatives of missing persons.

“Before that, I was thinking that we cannot do anything and we cannot give our children a good education. After I met all my sisters I started to think that now we have to do something, we have to move forward for justice after finding common ground,” said Devi.

The work of women such as Laxmi and Devi is beginning to bear fruit, but there is much
yet to be achieved. They are waiting for the peace and reconciliation committee’s work to be enforced by law, for the rights of conflict victims to be effectively recognised.

“For a long time we walked this road all alone. Now we are walking in search of justice as victims from both sides of the conflict. This is equally beautiful. We share grief with each other. We cannot always sit and cry!” said Devi.
O The torment of Nepal’s broken families

Days go by peacefully in the village of Munalbasti, in western Nepal.

It has not always been the case in this community.

The village sits in the Bardiya district, which in Nepal registered the biggest number of missing persons during the war which raged in the country from 1996 to 2006.

This is where Laxmi Devi Khadka has lived for the last 17 years, and where she got married.

But nowadays, she takes care of her three children on her own.

Her husband disappeared in 2003, taken from their home by Maoist insurgents, during the civil war which ended the Nepalese monarchy.

“I have a photo of my husband. Just a small one. My daughter took the small photo of her Baba, and turned it into a big one. I look at the photo every day.”

More than 10 years after her husband went missing, the pain is still strong. But uncertainty is even harder to bear.

“I have not been able to find the dead body of my husband, not even any mortal remains. Until I am able to see the body, I have hopes that my husband may be somewhere, and may come back home. I have few hopes, but there is hope until you see something. He was taken during the night, in just five minutes. And, when the dogs bark at that time of the night, I think, it was that at same time that he was taken away, it could be him coming back.”

After her husband’s disappearance, Laxmi planted a tree in his memory. Every day, she continues to pray for his return.

According to international aid organisations, more than 3,000 people were reported missing during the conflict. The fate of over a third of them is still unknown. Aside from the psychological impact, social and economic consequences are harsh for the families of missing people.

“If no body or remains are found, we cannot proceed to the funeral rites. Given the circumstances, I can’t perform the burial rites. Many who look at it from the perspective of their religion and culture, gossip and backbite against me for wearing red clothes, or bangles, though there’s no proof of my husband’s death. There’s also some land in his name. But the custom is that you need to produce a death certificate for transfer of land ownership. However, I can’t be sure that my husband is dead, so I can’t provide a death certificate.”

Laxmi has gone to all the Maoist leaders, political parties and human rights groups in the district to find out what happened to her husband. His kidnapper is known.

Her search means she still gets threats.

After years of effort, with the help of human rights organisations, she got compensation, and citizenship papers for her children, which were lost after her husband disappeared. They are not entitled to free education.

The same applies to Devi Sara’s children, who still do not have citizenship. Their father disappeared after being arrested by the police during the conflict, accused of supporting the Maoists.

Devi and Laxmi, whose husbands were on opposite sides, now campaign together in the ‘Conflict Victim Committee’ of Bardiya district, working to help families suffering similar ordeals.

The two women became friends during group therapy sessions staged by humanitarian organisations for relatives of missing persons.

“Before that, I was thinking that we cannot do anything and we cannot give our children a good education. After I met all my sisters I started to think that now we have to do something, we have to move forward for justice after finding common ground,” said Devi.

The work of women such as Laxmi and Devi is beginning to bear fruit, but there is much
yet to be achieved. They are waiting for the peace and reconciliation committee’s work to be enforced by law, for the rights of conflict victims to be effectively recognised.

“For a long time we walked this road all alone. Now we are walking in search of justice as victims from both sides of the conflict. This is equally beautiful. We share grief with each other. We cannot always sit and cry!” said Devi.

“You console my heart and I console yours. We will look after our children, we will move forward. We should not lose hope. We must move ahead. The state will one day do us justice,” agreed Laxmi.

That concludes our Nepalese edition of ‘Women and War.’ Next month we report from Afghanistan.

“You console my heart and I console yours. We will look after our children, we will move forward. We should not lose hope. We must move ahead. The state will one day do us justice,” agreed Laxmi.

That concludes our Nepalese edition of ‘Women and War.’ Next month we report from Afghanistan.