Choosing the Other Way

Subhash Chandra Kattel
National Coordinator
The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) Nepal


It was during the decade (1995-2005 A D) long Maoist-government armed conflict in Nepal that took the life of about thirteen thousand people. In December 2000, a 46 year old man was missing since ten days for no known reason. Whom to ask? Where and how is he? To the police, neighbors, politicians, human rights activists, army, relatives, government, rebellions, or the UN?

His name was Shiva; the name is also of a Hindu supreme god.

In his absence, the rest of the members in family hardly spoke to each other; nobody knew anything- a dead silence. What news comes the next minute- a scary fear! Is this the cause what Shiva lived for- a hopeless frustration!

With hope he was still alive, it was expected that he would come back home any minute, take a seat on the mat as usual and will ask for a cup of tea. But it never happened!

On the eleventh day, a military officer came to my house and asked- Who is Mr. Shiva's son? The first military presence at my door was frightening- I said, “Me”.

“You come with us”, the military man ordered me to follow and pointed at the dark green vehicle. I took a back seat- knowing nothing about what would happen to me. “Where am I going”?

It was not a good sign that the military comes to a house when someone is missing from and asks to accompany them. “Go, and don't loose your patience; you are our guardian now”, Mother told me as I departed. Tears were flooding her face.

The green vehicle stopped after two hours. I followed a group of military men for an hour toward a corner of the jungle.

Pointing at a decaying body on the ground, the military man threw me a question, “Is he your father? After 6 minutes of silence, I responded, “Y...E…S….”! I recognized my father after carefully looking at his body. Only recognizable were his nails. The other parts of his body- even his face were unrecognizably damaged.

“He was discovered dead on the eleventh day of his later known- abduction”.

So, a decaying body was found in a jungle. Clothes were taken off, except underwear. His body was laid down on the muddy ground. His hands were bent behind around the waist and tied together. The feet tied too. Knees were bent close to the chest. And the loud noise of green flies around the body was dominant, instead of the melodious cuckoo in the jungle.

It has been eight years since I was in at that scene. The decaying body was that of my father. The army said the Maoists captured and shot him to death, but I still do not have clear believe and proof who are the perpetrators.

My family and I still do not know: “Who shot the gun. Why was a life of a fellow human being taken?”

What is my duty as a son now? I questioned myself many times. Looking at mother's defeated appearance and the flower-like face of innocent school-going brothers and sisters- the final answer was to live, not only for self, but also for others.

Two options were present ahead of me. One was to live the life of revenge, hold a gun, and find and kill those who took my father's life and who destroyed my family. The second option was to live the life of nonviolence through love, unknowingly- on the path of forgiveness. I choose the second one. It was also for my family since I had become their breadwinner.

Two months later, I also choose to leave the village, as an Individual Development Plan (IDP) family, we shifted to the district headquarters where we felt safe living.

A question triggered me mostly- what is a better way to live the life of peace and spread the message of nonviolence? Being a journalist was easily available to me, but it had a limited possibility of freedom to find and write needed nonfiction; stories of injustice, violation of human rights and equal dignity of fellow human being. Writing in a newspaper was not enough to express the feelings; feeling of love and empathy. I quit journalism and stopped reporting in local and national newspapers.

I left behind my family at the home district in a rented room and took a bus to the capital city. 'Human rights activists'- it was the profession in my mind. Spending seven months doing nothing in the capital Kathmandu, I joined a human rights organization called- Institute of Human Rights and Communication (IHRICON). It took some six months to learn about the human rights, national and international human rights laws and their implications; with some national and international level training on the subject.

Armed conflict was going on; claiming, and injuring life of innocent people, women, and children. IHRICON planned a project of human rights training for security forces. I, as a team member, joined the project and became part of trainings for the army and police on human rights issues. The focus was to convince them why women and children should be taken care of during the conflict, how to protect them, and “What happens if we do not do so?” etc.

Beginning training was a strange experience. By nature, security personnel were so isolated from social and humane behavior. It was difficult to help them speak and express. They expressed enemy psyche about others. They were ordered to kill their fellow brothers and sisters. They could not meet their family for a long- from 4 to 8 years. If they went to their home, they might be killed by the Maoists. So, camp was everything for them- family, office, place of love and anger, hope and frustration, life and death. In this situation we went to them talking about human rights, and raising awareness of their own rights.

Later, during end session of the trainings, security people opened up. They laughed, shared jokes, read poems and stories they had made about their family, loved ones, and peace for others. Some of them cried telling their stories of unwanted revenge to their country people. We too cried, and asked them to love others, respect human rights, and behave as responsible citizens and civil servants. We met about four hundreds security personnel in this campaign.

During 2004, I was invited to join training on nonviolent action in India, which was organized by the Gandhi Peace Foundation, Ekta Parishad, and the Quakers Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) London. Gandhian activists P.V. Rojgopal led a nonviolent land-rights movement, which justice for those in endless poverty. Being with Rajgopal and closely observing his nonviolent movement was the first inspiring experience for me at international level.

Quakers were unknown to me before 2004. Stuart Morton, a Quaker from England is also the model of simplicity and love- whom I met in India for the first time. There is an alliance of NGOs for nonviolence named- the South Asia Peace Alliance (SAPA). Stuart has been coordinating for this and I am a member of this growing regional network.

In 2007, Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) at Geneva announced a Summer School which I applied for. QUNO selected me to attend the School at Geneva for two weeks. Mostly, I remember two things from Geneva. One, at the UNHCR office, I raised a question of 'verification' and third country settlement of about one hundred thousand Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal. I asked “Who is the authorized person or institution to verify them and say- you can go to USA, Canada, or Norway?” I pointed out “This process will separate the family members and will destroy societal cohesion. Who is authorized to say “You are disqualified to be accepted for third-country settlement?” I wondered who cares about refugees' first wish and rights which is typically to go back to their home in Bhutan. Nobody cared. And, now, after 2 years, the refugees are experiencing internal trouble to accept a family split; sometimes a violent response is seen in the process of third-country settlement. They are facing the psychosocial problem and living challenges.

Second, from the QUNO Summer School, I brought the seed of Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP) in Nepal. “Nonviolence is, and should be, the culture of life. It is not, and can not be, a donor project”- I said to Aletia, an AVP facilitator from Australia who came to work at Geneva.

Consequently, after some months of communication with AVPers in Australia, it came to my attention that an AVP facilitator, Mr. Ken Woods from Australia, was living in Nepal. Mr. Woods and I meet and worked together with other friends to begin AVP work in Nepal. Now we have 30 Nepali facilitators. A few of them are active in AVP and some are busy with their professional work. The AVP International Gathering (IG) in Kenya 2008 nominated Nepal for next IG in 2010.

Coming to this point, some fundamental issues are worth repeating.

The first issue - whom to ask, where and how he is? - I wrote at the beginning. Because, I experienced, there should be functioning institutional provision and social practice to protect and know how about its members in the society. Democracy is the better social and political system to answer me about my father Shiva and say- here he is! I asked again- who shot the gun? Rule of law established and backed by democratic governance should answer this question- he/she shot the gun to you father. Talking about the security forces, I again asked- what about their own rights? Democracy should not order to kill the fellow human beings like it did in Nepal. Rather, it should address the reason of the holding. I know that militarism cannot be the friend of democracy.

Personally, choosing the nonviolent path has proven spiritual and enabling for me to live the life of equity and dignity. Choosing nonviolence and peace is the culture to be practiced by every individual, traumatized or not, if we wish to live in harmony.