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Maoists at the Hearth

Maoists at the Hearth: Everyday Life in Nepal's Civil War

Judith Pettigrew
Foreword by David N. Gellner
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Maoists at the Hearth
    Book Description:

    The Maoist insurgency in Nepal lasted from 1996 to 2006, and at the pinnacle of their armed success the Maoists controlled much of the countryside. Maoists at the Hearth, which is based on ethnographic research that commenced more than a decade before the escalation of the civil war in 2001, explores the daily life in a hill village in central Nepal, during the "People's War." From the everyday routines before the arrival of the Maoists in the late 1990s through the insurgency and its aftermath, this book examines the changing social relationships among fellow villagers and parties to the conflict. War is not an interruption that suspends social processes. Life in the village focused as usual on social challenges, interpersonal relationships, and essential duties such as managing agricultural work, running households, and organizing development projects. But as Judith Pettigrew shows, social life, cultural practices, and routine activities are reshaped in uncertain and dangerous circumstances. The book considers how these activities were conducted under dramatically transformed conditions and discusses the challenges (and, sometimes, opportunities) that the villagers confronted. By considering local spatial arrangements and their adaptation, Pettigrew explores people's reactions when they lost control of the personal, public, and sacred spaces of the village. A central consideration of Maoists at the Hearth is an exploration of how local social tensions were realized and renegotiated as people supported (and sometimes betrayed) each other and of how villager-Maoist relationships (and to a lesser extent villager-army relationships), which drew on a range of culturally patterned preexisting relationships, were reforged, transformed, or renegotiated in the context of the conflict and its aftermath.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0789-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    David N. Gellner

    The Nepalese civil war/the Maoist insurgency/People’s War in Nepal—what you call it depends on the assumptions you approach it with—lasted ten years, from 1996 to 2006. As Judith Pettigrew describes in these pages, more than 13,000 people were killed, often in brutal ways, and many more were maimed for life, physically, psychologically, or both. The rise of the Maoists was a shock both to ordinary nonpolitical Nepalis and to almost all foreign scholars of Nepal. The Maoists had come from nowhere (so it seemed) to dominating the country in a few short years. In the 2008 elections for...

  4. [Map]
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-25)

    On a cold winter’s afternoon in central Nepal I sat in the courtyard of the house of my village sister, Dhan Kumari,¹ with a group of neighborhood children who were amusing themselves by reading an English alphabet book. My neighbor, Lek Bahadur’s seven-year-old daughter, Rupa, read out loud: “A, B, C, D, Maoists with large bags and guns coming along the path, E, F, G, H. . . .” It was a casual observation, and Rupa did not falter nor was she frightened. She was simply acknowledging a fact and communicating as usual the arrival of Maoist insurgents to whomever...

  6. 1 The Village of Kwei Nasa in 1991–92
    (pp. 26-52)

    As the sun faded on a March afternoon in 1991, I rounded a bend at the end of a steep, five-hour walk uphill and saw the village of Kwei Nasa above me on a ridge. As I walked the last ten minutes to the village, I noticed a woman and a man working in a small field above the path. The man was plowing with an ox while making clicking noises to urge the animal on. The woman walked behind him scattering seeds. I was finally beginning my Ph.D. fieldwork. I had visited three months previously and had received permission...

  7. 2 No Place to Hide
    (pp. 53-69)

    From their original strongholds in Nepal’s midwestern districts of Rolpa, Rukum, and Jajarkot the Maoists expanded their activities into other parts of the country. Maoists first became active in the Kwei Nasa area during the latter part of the 1990s.

    In early 2000 I returned to the village after an absence of two years. I was visiting with a combined British and Nepali archaeology team who were en route to excavate a large ruined ancestral village in the uplands. After the morning meal the archaeologists left for a village tour, and Dhan Kumari and I were about to have a...

  8. 3 Return to Kwei Nasa
    (pp. 70-92)

    On a clear afternoon during the monsoon season in July 2002 my new research assistant, Kamal, and I boarded a Pokhara-bound plane. Kamal was a botanist whose consulting work had practically dried up owing to the dangers of being in the forests during the conflict. In the course of his work he had spent time in other parts of the country under Maoist control, which was one of the main reasons I had asked him to work with me. Since I had learned Tamu Kwi I had not worked with a research assistant; however, I felt more secure doing so...

  9. 4 Maoists in the House
    (pp. 93-114)

    On a cold winter morning in December 2002 a taxi collected Kamal and me from my friend’s house in Pokhara and drove us to the trailhead on the newly completed road. Shortly after leaving the town we picked up a schoolteacher. Although a Bahun, he had taught in Tamu villages for twenty-five years, and so spoke to me in Tamu Kwi. The sun shone through the trees as the thirty-year-old Toyota taxi bumped and shuddered along the steep, rough road. As the road narrowed, I averted my eyes from the steep drop to the river and turned my attention to...

  10. 5 “Our Government Is the Maoists”
    (pp. 115-137)

    On a visit to the village health post in mid-2002 I chatted with a health worker about the impact of the conflict on people’s health. As we spoke, two young men strode in. One carried a large pack stuffed full of bandages. The other sat down in the patient’s chair and stated that he had a cold. He also pulled up his trousers to reveal a large wound on his lower leg. The health worker, who clearly knew him, asked if he had “been injured when running,” but he replied vaguely that he had “fallen off a ladder.” As his...

  11. 6 “All We Need Is Peace”: The People’s Movement and Its Aftermath
    (pp. 138-155)

    Strikes and protests against royal rule culminated in a People’s Movement (Jan Andolan) in April 2006 led by a wide range of civil-society organizations and political parties.¹ In response the government put Kathmandu under curfew. On the first morning I stood with a friend and some locals watching the Ring Road (which circles Kathmandu) as a group of protestors on the other side placed obstacles in the middle. The Ring Road was a key boundary since the curfew was only enforced inside it.

    The protestors and the police eyed each other as the time of the curfew approached. Ten minutes...

  12. 7 After Words
    (pp. 156-166)

    In the elections for the Constituent Assembly held in April 2008, the Maoists emerged as the largest party, although with 220 out of 601 seats they did not secure a majority. The Constituent Assembly voted to end the monarchy at its first sitting; so in May 2008 the country became the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. In August 2008 the Maoist leader Prachanda formed a government, which the Nepali Congress refused to join, preferring to go into opposition. Eight months later Prachanda resigned in protest over the president’s rejection of a cabinet decision to sack the army chief. The CPN-UML...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 167-172)
    (pp. 173-180)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 181-182)
    (pp. 183-188)