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Victims of war and earthquake


Sindhupalchok, April 8, 2016: Few Nepalis outside this district that was ravaged first by war and then an earthquake have heard of the village of Thulo Sirubari. Located along a ridge, the scenic settlement offers a view of the district capital of Chautara and beyond that, a grand panorama of Langtang and Jugal Himal.

Visitors approach the village of 5,000 people through a community forest, and it was here that in 2002 six villagers were tied to a tree and executed on suspicion of having helped the Maoists. 14 years later, the people still think the forest is haunted. The eucalyptus tree with its white bark stands out prominently in a forest of pine, like a memorial to those killed there.

The Maoists had spent the night at the homes of villagers, and the Army found out about it. A patrol led by Capt Keshab Shahi from Chautara and another from Panchkhal surrounded Thulo Sirubari and went house-to-house. But by then the Maoists had fled, and the soldiers took away the villagers who had hosted them.

Soon after, gunshots were heard from the forest above, and villagers later found the bodies of six of their blindfolded neighbours, killed execution style. The soldiers had left a note warning that the bodies shouldn’t be removed, so the corpses rotted and were eaten by wild animals.

A decade later, Thulo Sirubari hadn’t even really begun to recover from the violence when the earthquake struck on 25 April. Only 74 of the 2,100 houses in the VDC are still standing. One year later, the homes are still only heaps of rubble. There is hardly any reconstruction going on.

Former VDC Chairman, Tanka Gautam, was so fed up with the brutality by both sides in the conflict that he abandoned politics after the April 2006 ceasefire. But when the earthquake struck last year, villagers looked up to him to take the lead in rescue and reconstruction.

“I had to play a role in organising earthquake relief distribution because there had been no local elections in the VDC,” Gautam told us.

There were 78 fatalities in Thulo Sirubari – relatively low compared to the extensive destruction of homes. If it wasn’t for volunteer groups like the Society of Ex-Budhanilkantha Students (SEBS) and humanitarian organisations like Oxfam and Save the Children to help out with the damaged school buildings, Thulo Sirubari would have had to fend for itself.

“There has been no help from the government. The two time cash installment of Rs 15,000 and Rs 10,000 were the only thing we got. We feel there is no Nepal government here for us,” said Resham Gardwaj, 45, who has been living in temporary shelter for a year.

Gardwaj lost his 35-year-old daughter-in-law on 25 April when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit. His 12-year-old granddaughter was in the house with her mother but survived. Three other family members were out on the paddy field and were saved.

Says pediatric dentist Sneedha Mainali of SEBS after a recent relief distribution camp at the village: “I’ve been to more than five quake-affected districts and it is heart-breaking to see people affected by the war and earthquake who still have beautiful smiles and a generosity of spirit.”

Victims of war and earthquake 1

KILLING FIELD: The eucalyptus tree where six villagers of Thulo Sirubari were executed by the Army in 2002 for being suspected Maoists and students have class in the open because of earthquake damage to their school.