“Women have to carry a gun to change society as and when needed. I was not alone, there were many women fighting with us,” said Mina, a 26 year old veteran soldier of the People’s Liberation Army in Nepal. “We could only change our lives, and change the country with weapons.”
At the age of 18, she joined the ranks of the Maoist rebels who launched an insurgency against the monarchy in 1996. Ten years of conflict cost some 16,000 lives, A democratic republic was established two years after a peace deal was signed.
Since then the opposing sides have been treading a difficult path to reconciliation.
Mina is one of the many women who fought in the war. She lives in the Shaktikhor camp about 100 kilometres west of the capital Kathmandu.
It is one of the areas where around 19,000 former rebels are waiting for rehabilitation.
Mina lost her leg to a landmine while she was on a raid.
“Women suffered a lot,” she explained. “When men joined the Maoists, their wives in the villages would be harassed by the security forces. Many were raped. There were many attacks, and they were tortured. Their eyes were pulled out while they were alive, and sometimes the soldiers doused them in kerosene and burned them alive. Those things really happened. Women suffered a lot in Nepal.”
Mina says she fought to build a better future for women, and that their lot has improved considerably after the fighting.
Starting with her own. Despite her disability, and the loss of her first husband during the war, she feels she has only gained from her experience.
In the camp, she learned to read, and also met her second husband.
“Things have changed a lot for women, and it definitely brought big changes for me, I have improved a lot. In my village, I was trapped inside four walls. All I did was cook. I knew nothing else. But now I have learned a lot. First, I could study here. I became very aware of politics. And I’ve learned to cut and stitch clothes. Most important for me, is I learned how to handle a weapon. And I learned how to make ammunition and explosives. That’s great for me.”
Like many others, Mina is waiting for the implementation of the political process, aimed at rehabilitating former rebels, and integrating them into the Nepalese security service or regular army.
Time passes slowly in the camp. Apart from reading and some household chores, Mina earns a modest income from making and mending clothes. Despite her losses, she says it was all worthwhile.
“I have no regret because I was on a mission to change society. And women must be ready to lose something in order to gain something. We knew very well that we might lose a part of our body, or even our life. Looking back I’m glad I took part in that raid. You have to fight for your rights, you don’t just get them on a plate. You have to seize them. So I don’t have any regrets,” she said.