Today, at 27, Bista is still fighting-but without a gun. He is now fighting against the social stigma associated with being a former Maoist child soldier. And he is fighting for justice and survival for his peers who are disillusioned with the dreams of a revolution filled in their minds more than a decade ago. Most of his former ‘child comrades’ are now either unemployed or have paid their way to the Gulf or Malaysia. Bista, on his part, heads an organisation that works towards securing reparation for the former child soldiers.
Now a full-time social campaigner, Bista was about to fly to Bangkok last week to attend a program when he was held at the Tribhuvan International Airport by immigration officials. Arbitrarily and instantly, his name was included in a temporary ‘blacklist’.
The fact that he was stopped after being issued a boarding pass and having cleared the immigration procedure speaks volumes of the ever-tightening grip of the Oli government on individual freedom in the country. More so in this case, because the former Maoist leadership that is now part of the government was anxious that Bista would raise the issue of war crimes at an international symposium-or even implicate senior Maoist leaders for recruiting children for their armed insurgency.
The ex-Maoist Centre is accused of committing a litany of atrocities during the bloody 10-year war in which more than 12,000 lives were lost and an estimated 1,200 were forcibly disappeared. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) were set up to investigate conflict-era human rights violations and abuses, but the work of these commissions have been half-hearted and debilitated by weak legislation and a lack of political will. Now, by joining forces with the UML to form a single communist force, the former rebels are wielding their new-found political influence to hinder investigation into war crimes.
The government’s action against Bista is a naked display of power authorities are wielding on outspoken voices, and the menacing network of surveillance the administration is keeping over citizens. Banking on its parliamentary majority, the government is experimenting with new levels of high-handedness each day, which is against the ethos of democracy. Rather than facilitating justice and rule of law, the government is turning its powers against citizens.
Today it is Lenin Bista, tomorrow it will be someone else. By silencing activists and dissenting voices, the government is creating servile, unquestioning citizens. Now more than ever, it is imperative that the citizens vehemently challenge the government’s tactics. Our future, and the future of this democracy, depends on it.