Megan Keeling (Nepal)

Megan Keeling is a graduate student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where she is focusing on conflict resolution and security studies. Prior to coming to Fletcher, she worked for a women's health care association in Washington, DC. Her projects included facilitating educational programs on reproductive health and managing and promoting a searchable database of providers of long-acting, reversible contraception. Before that, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in northern Jordan, where she taught English as a second language and developed an environmental education program in her school. Megan earned her bachelor's degree in English and Women's studies at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA.

“Now I am a complete man”: The journey from fighter to peace builder for ex-PLA combatants

30 Jun

On my first full day in Nepal (nearly a month ago now!), I attended an event that highlighted the continued challenges faced by former combatants in the People’s Liberation Army, the military unit of the Communist insurgency that fought against the Nepali government in a decade-long civil war. The insights were based on the results of a year-long study conducted by Simon Robins, Ram Bhandari, and a research group made up of 12 ex-PLA combatants.

Like Robin and Ram’s study of the disappeared that helped to launch NEFAD, this report sought to not only provide data about the lives of ex-combatants, but to empower those combatants to create networks in their communities to advocate for justice, peace, and reconciliation.

I talked to two of the interviewers about their experience, with indispensible translation help from Ramish Adhikari, a peace advisor who works on issues of reconciliation in Nepal.

Ram Krishna and Ramesh

Ram Krishna and Ramish

Ram Krishna Mahat and Bikram Sundus are both former members of the PLA currently living in the Chitwan district. Neither of them are originally from Chitwan: Like many former PLA, they did not return home after the peace treaty was signed. Ram and Bikram are both active in their new community through supporting ex-combatants like themselves and leading peace-building and reconciliation activities.

Along with 10 other researchers, Ram and Bikram conducted 241 interviews, and met with an additional 100 former combatants in focus groups.

Each former PLA combatant they talked to had a different experience in the conflict. “Starting to hear their experiences, hear their pain and emotion, I started to feel like I was in their shoes,” Ram Krishna said.

In addition, gender played a surprising role for some of the male interviewers. Before interviewing women, “I couldn’t imagine about the experience of women ex-combatants,” Ram Krishna recalled.

Bikram remembered one woman in particular whose interview stood out to him: “She had lost her leg [in the war], and now economic conditions are very difficult [for her]. She wants to integrate into the community, but whenever she goes out, the community members use abusive words towards her. This is a very hard situation… I will not forget this woman.”

Like the other researchers, Ram and Bikram see themselves not just as ex-fighters, but as active peace makers and community builders. Bikram spoke proudly of how he, along with other former combatants, organized discussion groups to peacefully resolve conflicts that arose in their new communities.

“During the war,” he said, “the society was divided into two parts. When it is like that, one side has to kill everyone else. But coming to the peace process, I realized that the pain I have in my heart is the same on the other side. That is the powerful feeling I have as a peace builder.”

As the evidence in the report suggests, some ex-PLA fighters see their role in nonviolent community activism as a continuation of reasons they joined the armed struggle in the first place: to fight against oppression and injustice.

Ram explains, “Yesterday I was fighting with guns. But when I am involved in the [peace projects], I am acting as a peace builder. Being a fighter – that was just one part of the coin. And now the peace builder is the other side of the coin. So the coin is complete now… being a fighter and a peace builder makes me a complete man.”

Posted By Megan Keeling (Nepal)

Posted Jun 30th, 2016

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