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Devi Charan Poudel –Collage of Success and Suffering II

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3.0 Shopping in Khalikhola , spy and arbitrary arrest

Recuperating from the torture, Devi Charan planned to visit Kalikhola in the second week of April 1991, to shop for spices and tea leaves for the summer. With monsoon turning around in June, all travel would be shut down and April would be the right time for summer shopping to bring goods to my village.

He reached Kalikhola and stayed at his fourth son’s house. On the next day he went to market to do his shopping. Compared to previous years, the stores had very limited goods and Devi decided to go to Kulkuley, a small weekly market in the tea garden of West Bengal, two hours walk from Kalikhola.

At Kulkuley he found market commodities of his choice. Upon returning with a big load cross wrapped on his shoulder, he heard a voice calling him ‘Jantaray Ba’. As he turned, he saw a group of men approaching and one of his nephew, Indra Prasad Poudel was one among them. Those people had escaped the village during September 1990. He became nervous. Fear boiled to his face.

Indra was serving as Block Member during the time of uprising. He had escaped the potential arrest by the army likely to be informed by his ill-willed neighbor.

After the meeting, they had long conversation. Indra inquired many things about the wellbeing of his family members. Overwhelmed by the emotion of meeting his uncle, Indra sobbed on the uncle’s shoulder. Indra wanted to send some items for this children back in the village, and asked for a loan with his uncle.

As Indra requested, Devi Charan lend a sum of Rs.100. Indra promised to repay the loan. He bought a few cheap JB cloths for his children and sent them with his uncle.

As agreed, Devi took the cloths and handed to Indra’s wife. He told her to keep it secret. Indra’s children got new cloths but we don’t know whether they became happy or not. Next to Indra’s house was Tek Bahadur Bhattarai’s, who was acting as informer to the army. He had assumed the Block Member role after Indra’s absconding. And the unit of army was still stationed at Powgang School. Tek was always trying to find what’s going on in Indra’s house as way to revenge. And children always tell the truth.

The very next day Tek found Indra’s daughter at the water spout and asked about her new cloths. She told that the grandfather brought from Kalikhola. Having this hint, Tek threatened the wife of Indra to tell the truth or send her to army camp to serve them. The army was demanding the wives and daughters of those who had absconded the village. After getting all the information, Tek reported to the army camp. And Devi was summoned to the barrack next day.

4.0 Imprisonment- a fantasy of sexual show

For this gesture of caring for the children of Indra, Devi was sentenced to nine months of imprisonment. First he was taken to Powgang Primary school. Then he was taken to Goshi Junior High school and kept there for a month. From Goshi he was transfered to Damphu Junior High School detention center, interrogated for two weeks and finally taken to Chemgang central jail. Despite this imprisonment, he had to sign the voluntary migration form to leave the country without compensation.

Every day the people in the detention center were asked to narrate their participation in the movement and a person acting as judicial clerk would write the report. If a word changed from previous narration, the army would beat mercilessly with the sticks, split bamboo canes, punches and kicks. Every day the prisoners were made to sit at difficult posters, sometimes complete upside down, stand for hours on one leg, crawl on knees and stand by pulling on the ears. The language used for orders was too derogatory and foul. Devi was neither a murderer nor a criminal. His guilt as per Tek Bahadur was bringing the cloths to Indra’s children.

Along with those physical torture and daily threats at Goshi army barrack, there were many incidents of psychological tortures meted to the prisoners. Due to the threatening by the army on duty, the inmates were afraid even to interact among themselves.

Here at Goshi barrack, Devi Charan was once asked to kiss his roommate. The army of Drukpa ethnicity had limited spoken Nepali. That devil didn’t know how to say kiss in Nepali and Devi didn’t understand the word ‘kiss’. First time Devi got three wooden hacks for not obeying. At night his roommate explained him and then only he understood what to do. But next day, that man asked Devi to take out his lower body cloths and demanded to do a show of ‘dog style sex’. The devil was just clapping, laughing and enjoying the scene. Inmates like Devi Charan were forced to stage such immoral sexual show to prevent themselves from more cruel punishment. The demand from the inmates to show such sexual fantasy was obviously to destroy their personal image, put them in shame, dehumanize and force to leave the country.

5.0 Eviction, vulnerability and cheating

The imprisonment was the outcome of bringing the JB (jai bangala) cloths to Indra’s children in that time and situation. And that imprisonment was the sufficient condition for his family to fled the country. When Devi was serving at Chemgang central jail, his youngest son was summoned to Daga Dzong, the district administrative office, to fill up the voluntary migration form, submit all the documentary evidences related to nationality and leave the country. When Devi was released from jail, his family was preparing to leave the country. Initially he didn’t believe, but there was no mercy in that anarchy and he had to join the family.

After his release from the jail he stayed just about a week in his home.

The family tried to sell their tangible properties, but left lot of them behind. Meanwhile, a rumor was rife in the air at the time that army would use a scanner to check on cash and seize any money at the border if they were carrying. If they did not surrender, further punishment or death would result. With such rumor and scale of fear, many families crossed Sunkosh at Nichula point without reaching Kalikhola and brought some money with them. A battalion of army was stationed at Kalikhola bazaar after the uprising which served the benefit of doubt.

Anyway, Devi’s family of sixteen reached Maidhar camp, on the banks of river Kankai on January 27 1992. They built a small bamboo hut and started the miserable refugee life.

After three months in the camp, Devi’s second generation nephew Shyam Chimoriya (name changed) came to meet them. The nephew stayed in the camp for two days and showed his intimacy and affection. In these two days of knowing each other, Shyam inquired about the money and any wealth the family brought with them. Taking advantage of the simplicity and ignorance of Devi Charan, vulnerability of camp security, he crafted some fake and sneaky plans to siphon the money from him. Among the plans, he suggested buying trucks for transporting goods, and that would double the wealth within four years. He promised to manage the transportation business, advised to work in partnership and share the profit. That plan seemed feasible and lucrative to Devi. So on third day, Devi handed the bounty of money to Shyam without counting them and without having a formal written agreement.

Honestly, Shyam was  a stranger then, without a proper address and origin.

Shyam became too happy and felt as if he won the lottery. Devi even didn’t know exactly how much money he had given away. With that money Shyam bought two trucks and a personal van. With leftover  money, he built a two storied house in Ilaam. Devi didn’t even bother to inquire for two years, and on third year he went to Illam to meet him. Shyam denied that he took money from him. Instead he threatened Devi for alleging him of taking the money and demanded to show the proof of written agreement. The family filed a case at Jhapa District Court. Devi’s family didn’t know the prevailing law of Nepal and never got the justice. The case was forwarded to Appellate Court in Illam. Devi emptied out his pockets by paying the lawyers to fight for the case, but no judgment in his favor. The case remained unresolved for all the 15 years they lived in camp.

With that loss of family wealth, fiery conflicts ensued. First, his wife suffered depression and passed away of that cause. Secondly, his second daughter-in-law kicked him out of the house where he was living. The daily arguments and unpleasant behavior forced the old man to change his shelter and went to live with his youngest son. Third, all his grandchildren began blaming him for not getting the the opportunity to study after the camp education.

6.0 Resettlement

All the members of the Devi Charan’s family were ardent supporters of repatriation and a few of the younger members publicly criticized the third country resettlement. In the beginning, many of these family members had stopped communicating with the relatives who showed interest on resettlement. But the ‘destiny of fate’ didn’t turn their side. Curtailing of supplies in the camp, other growing crisis and peer pressure made them to realize that resettlement is left without choice. Finally the old man and his family got resettled in 2013 making Salisbury City, Australia as their new home. The fourth and youngest sons of Devi Charan are in Australia, while rest of the family members are spread over USA.

Devi Charan died of cancer on February 26, 2019 in Lyell McEwin hospital, Salibury, Australia. In his last days he felt most lonely and could not access to communication like the modern smart phones as he did not know how to play with it.

When his third daughter in-law passed away in South Dakota in March 2018, he was too far away to attend her funeral. We could only understand his frustrations for being far away from the family members.

Editor’s note: This story is published posthumously with due respect to Devicharan Poudel who died in Lyell McEwin hospital,Australia at the age of 93. Devi Charan’s grandson, Sovit Poudel,  living with him also died of cancer on March 25, just in a month away .

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