Former Maoist child soldiers learn to shoot - with camera

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS
Friday, December 31, 2010

KATHMANDU - It was not a desire to change the world but his grinding poverty that made Nar Bahadur Sunuwar join the underground Maoist guerrillas when he was only 12.

Living in a village in northern Nepal’s almost inaccessible Humla district that was four days’ trek away from the district headquarters and had no electricity, running water, telephone, health post or even radios, Nar Bahadur’s family were even worse off than other villagers because they were Dalits - considered untouchables.

The boy, who felt like an ox caught in a trap, heard that if he joined the Maoist rebels, he would be fed and clothed well, would be able to roam around as he pleased, and also get to carry a gun, an important attraction and point of prestige.

So, he ran away from home and joined the underground party that had started a “People’s War” against the state, only to find that he had changed one prison for another.

Used as a courier to pass messages, Nar Bahadur was made to walk all through the night through dense jungles, pursued by the fear of the army and with little to eat besides the bamboo shoots growing in the forest.

So he ran away again and finally managed to reach Kathmandu, where, with the support of child rights organisations, he is finally studying in Class 12. Now he has a new dream: to shoot, but this time with the camera.

Now 20-year-old, Nar Bahadur has made a short film on life in his village and the circumstances that made him become an outlaw.

“My sun rise”, the film that he made, premiered in Kathmandu Thursday as part of a trilogy “Through our eyes”.

The documentary, which asks the audience not to stigmatise thousands of young children like Nar Bahadur, who were compelled to join an armed struggle, includes two other short films, both made by former Maoist child soldiers.

Sukmaya weeps as she narrates her story.

When she was 12 and the insurgency spread to Myagdi district in the remote midwest, the Maoists took shelter in her home in Pakapani village and the army surrounded them. “The army wouldn’t have spared us and so, we had no option but to join the Maoists,” she says.

Now that the civil war has ended, she weeps to find there’s no place for thousands of children like her who were used by the former guerrillas to capture power and then were discarded.

Still, the 19-year-old believes that will power is stronger than the gun and “Sukmaya’s witness”, the film she made, focuses on her new battle to protect children from a fate like hers, through the NGO she has founded in Pokhara city, New life for Children.

Jay Bahadur Thapa, whose “My life is a meadow”, comprises the last sequence, is the feistiest of the lot.

Certified a meritorious and obedient student by his village school teacher in Doti, another of the poorest districts of Nepal, Jay Bahadur also joined the Maoists as a 12-year-old because he wanted a better life for his village.

While working mostly in the cultural troupe of the Maoists and given the nom de guerre Kiran, he was arrested after the police came to know of him but released when a rights organisation interceded on his behalf.

Now 19 and studying in Class 12, Jay, like Nar Bahadur and Sukmaya, wants to be a filmmaker.

“It was amazing working with them and visiting their homes,” says Tassia Kobylinska, a British documentary maker whose Roving Eye Film, in collaboration with the Child Workers in Nepal NGO, trained the three youngsters and produced the funds to make the documentary.

Tassia, who came to Nepal on a holiday in 1996 - when the war started - and kept on returning to make documentaries, says she had never seen such poverty. “The malnourished children with their swollen bellies and the flies on their faces!”

In February, she is flying to Britain with the documentary for individual screenings after which it will seek entry in international film festivals.

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