First and foremost this is a character driven
story told in first person perspective. This is the story of several different children from different regions throughout Nepal whose lives are forever affected by their association with the Maoists and the ten-year long "People's War." This is not just a story about what happened to these children as they fought against the King's forces, but a story about the difficulties they faced when they went back home after the major conflict had ended.
Our story follows these children over a three-year period. We first meet the characters in 2007 at a pivotal point in Nepal's history after the Maoists signed peace accords with the government to end their guerrilla war and release all underage combats from their forces. We return to the children a year later in 2008 after the king was ousted from power and the Maoist's supreme leader, Chairman Prachanda, was elected democratically to become the first prime minister of the republic
of Nepal. In the third section, we propose to follow the children in 2009 as the Maoists continue to exploit them in violent activities through the Young Communist League
. The following are descriptions some major characters and how they will be represented in the film:
Ashish became a soldier at 15 years old.
Ashish from Robert Koenig's "Returned: Child Soldiers of Nepal's Maoist Army".
We interviewed Ashish, now 17 years old, and his father high up in a mountain village near Tibet. Ashish's father describes how Maoists forced him and other villagers to give food and money to the Maoist army. When Ashish's father was unable to give the Maoists either, the guerrillas lured Ashish into joining their ranks in the Maoist army. He was involved directly in combat against security forces. He learned karate, how to use weapons and communist ideology through cultural programs. During his first encounters with the government army, Ashish froze in terror. But, after a few battles he quickly assumed the part of the seasoned soldier. However, Ashish's enthusiasm for the Maoist ideology and violence disappeared in an instant when he saw his best friend killed. Ashish then returned home only to find that his father did not want him. Ashish's father feared that a having a former Maoist soldier in the house would give the government army an excuse to kill the entire family. Ashish, homeless, wandered in the countryside and then stayed in Kathmandu until the war ended.
After the war, Ashish returned home, but without an education or skill he found no work. It was not long before he rejoined the Maoists, this time with the Young Communist League (YCL), a violent gang of teenagers paid by the Maoists to ensure, by whatever means necessary, that local populations support Maoist ideology. In 2008, we learned that Ashish participated in the YCL's activities forcing villagers to vote for Maoists candidates. Ashish's father and others in the community resent and fear the Maoist control over the village. The conflicts between the old and new generation and between religious conservatism and Maoism that plague the country plays out in the household through tension between Ashish and his father. In 2009, we plan to re-interview Ashish and his father to learn about the escalating violence of the YCL.
Ramesh became a soldier at 13 years old.
Ramesh recruiting other child from Robert Koenig's "Returned: Child Soldiers of Nepal's Maoist Army".
Ramesh, now 15 years old, lives with his mother and older sister Uma; all of whom we interviewed in 2007. Ramesh's family lives in a small house and support themselves by raising goats and chickens. When Ramesh was 12 years old, the government army murdered his father, a journalist who wrote about the government's failures in rural Nepal. Maoist guerrillas recruited Ramesh soon after his father's death. The Maoists promised Ramesh an opportunity to fulfill his father's dream of improving the lives of rural Nepalis and to take revenge against the men who killed his father. Ramesh studied Maoist ideology, recruitment techniques, and military skills including handling explosive devices. Ramesh's story follows the tension between this teenage boy and his sister Uma, an outspoken and confident 17-year-old girl, who disagrees with Ramesh's choice to join the Maoists. "If there had never been this Maoist war, our father would still be alive today," she says explaining why she chose to stay at home.
When the war ended, Ramesh was sent home to recruit school children into the Maoists. Despite this, Uma welcomed him home and worked to help him resume his education. In 2008, we learned that both Ramesh and Uma were in school and that Ramesh had not joined the YCL. In 2009, we hope to learn the current status of Ramesh and Uma to discover if Ramesh's story paralleled or diverged from that of Ashish. The story of Ramesh and Uma demonstrate the power of a family to survive the death of their father and the political turmoil of a country in violent transition.
Asha became a soldier at 13 years old.
Asha during interview from Robert Koenig's "Returned: Child Soldiers of Nepal's Maoist Army".
Asha (interviewed in silhouette to protect her identity), now 17 years old, is a girl from a poor, low caste family in southern Nepal. Asha loved school especially art class, but was forced to quit her education after fifth grade because her parents thought it was a waste of money to send girls to school. Education is for boys, while girls work at home, her mother explained. After being forced to quit school, Asha joined a Maoist women's battalion to escape domestic servitude. She was attracted to the Maoist ideology of gender egalitarianism and the opportunity to use her art skills in painting Maoist propaganda posters.
Asha was gone less than a year when she returned home to visit her mother. Afraid that people in the village would find out that Asha had been a Maoist, Asha's mother immediately devised a plan to get the girl out of the house and prevent her from rejoining the Maoists. Asha's mother locked her in the house and within a day arranged for 14-year-old Asha to marry an older man from a distant village. The marriage was violently consecrated and Asha spent years being abused by her husband and in-laws. Asha said that once they found out she had been a Maoist they treated her like an animal. After a failed suicide attempt, Asha was kicked out of the house and sent back to her mother.
When we interviewed Asha in 2007 she despaired for her future; she had a meager education and no useful skills. But, in the summer of 2008, Asha told us that she was involved with a UNICEF training to learn to operate a sewing machine. Asha speaks of this training with hope, but the psychological trauma of her life after the Maoists is still evident: "If I had not joined the Maoists, none of these awful things would have happened," she explained. In 2009, we hope to find out how where Asha's life has gone. Her story demonstrates the myriad wounds left by the Maoists' war.
The children's personal stories are presented against a colorful back-story of the royal intrigue that almost seems like they had taken a page from Hamlet. The old king and his entire family were killed in a bloody massacre allegedly perpetrated by his own son, the crown prince, who then committed suicide. The king's brother who miraculously was absent from the massacre then took over absolute control of the military causing an escalation in the struggle. These events, occurring, in 2001, coincided with the start of the U.S. global War on Terror. The U.S. regarded the Maoists a terrorist organization, the likes of Al Qaeda. The Bush administration provided nearly $20 million dollars to the government army to fight the Maoists, a move which experts in the film (including President Jimmy Carter and prominent Nepali politicians) argue dramatically escalated the violence and may have contributed to the Maoists need for child soldiers. In addition to U.S. involvement in the Nepal conflict, the film also includes exclusive interviews Chairman Prachanda (now Prime Minister) and other leading Maoists. The film provides viewers with a brief history of Nepal and its significant global positioned between two of the 21st century's emerging superpowers: China and India.