This review appeared in Republica on July 31, 2015.
Journalist Mohan Mainali's latest book Mantha Darayeko Jug paints the real picture of the common people caught up in the 10-year war between the state and the insurgents. The writer is loyal to neither of the groups and his sympathies lie with the common people. His is the stance of an observer who comes across the devastating consequences of the conflict. But he is moved and inspired to write a moving feature that would generate help for the victims. In this sense, Mainali's reporting can be called humanitarian journalism.
Humanitarian journalism aims to give voice to the voiceless. Amidst the shrill blaring of gunshots from both sides, the voice of the common people had been silenced. People were looking for an outlet to express their pains. The writer and his colleagues provide the opportunity for these muted people to open up. Armed with their video cameras, they visit Sankhuwasabha, Dhading (Jogimara), Bajura, Kalikot and Jumla districts to be aware about the ground reality at the time of ceasefire and also when the war was in full swing. Going to these hinterlands to record people's pains might appear churlish but Surya Prasad Giri of Bajura tells them that their presence had a balmy effect on the grieving villagers.
The feudalistic structure of Nepali society had led to discrimination against a large number of people for a long time. Despite the ushering of democracy on different occasions, the lives of ordinary Nepalis had not changed for the better. In this context, Maoists waged a war against the state demanding equality for all. Many disgruntled people joined the war but it soon took an ugly turn as more innocent people than combatants were killed in the name of war. The pincer attack of combating forces on
non-combatants destroyed many families.
The war not only killed people but more tragically it annihilated people's belief in others. Thus, any stranger that came to the village was held in suspicion. The video journalists, including the writer, with their cameras on the tripod appeared as soldiers with guns to a middle aged villager working in the fields in Bajura (the term "shooting" is used with both implements).
He ran away from them and later returned after being assured that they meant no harm. This is emblematic of the advent of fear that separates people from one another, a bitter consequence of war. People become rude and unsympathetic due to this fear. The writer meets rude Maoists and army officers who irritate him and his friends with unnecessary questions and unwarranted comments. But it should be understood that fear of death has made them so and they too have their personal sorrows to deal with.
One of the most tragic incidents of war was the death of 17 laborers from Jogimara, Dhading in Kotbada airport, Kalikot. These dirt poor people were lured by the contractor's offer of attractive wages and they went to Kalikot despite their relatives telling them not to do so. While they were working there, the government had imposed emergency in the country. One Maoist combatant fired at the Nepal Army helicopter and scampered away. The Army was unscathed but it returned the next day with vengeance. It randomly opened fire at the laborers, not even bothering to find out whether they were combatants or not. The laborers, however, were declared to be terrorists.
Guerilla warfare generally works like this. Rather than combatting face-to-face, the insurgents provoke the state forces from hiding. The state forces are so afraid of the invisible enemy that they lose rationality. In retaliation, they kill anyone that comes their way. This is the main reason why people not belonging to any combat group become unwilling casualties. Those people without knowledge of politics and ideology are termed as terrorists by the state and martyrs by the insurgents.
In Mantha Darayeko Jug, Mainali presents vignettes of war through words. His words function as the viewfinder of a camera through which the reader gets a vivid picture. Simplicity of expression helps perfect that picture. The writer avoids grand words and meticulously explains it if he comes across any. He also records dialects used in the region that brings authenticity to the feature.
One may say that the book has been published a little too late as people have gradually lost interest in the war. But the direct victims of the conflict can never forget it. In this sense, this book serves an archival purpose. It stands as the reminder to authorities that they cannot remain apathetic to the plights of victims. Conflict victims are yet to get justice for the violations of their rights. Unless their demands for justice are fulfilled, their desire for exacting revenge against the wrongdoers will remain and it will generate another bout of violence.The book is a plea for peace and justice.