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The Maoist insurgency began with simultaneous attacks on three police posts on Feb 13, 1996, two of which were in Rolpa and Rukum. With the attacks began a decade long civil war that claimed close to 17,000 lives, and led to a political transformation that changed the course of Nepali history. The Maoists gained a stronghold on political power after the war. They have led three  governments and, since their merger with the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) have formed the largest ruling party in Nepal to date.

In Rolpa and Rukum, the Maoists had some support— and a strong coercive network — which they used to establish parallel governments and state structures. The general consensus in political circles is that the war is over and Nepal has successfully transitioned into a federal democracy. But a splinter group, led by former Maoist youth leader Netra Bikram Chand ‘Biplab’, who hails from Rolpa, believes that the revolution is far from complete. He is now attempting to mobilize a new generation of youth in Rukum and Rolpa to fight for this cause under the banner of his Communist Party of Nepal (CPN). 

13 years after the end of the war, we visit Rolpa and Rukum to see what life is like in what was, and continues to be, the Maoist heartland. 

“All communists, leftists, patriots and democratic forces unite! Let’s struggle together for scientific socialism! Let’s fight against excessive taxation!” This graffiti by CPN cadres is painted on the walls of what used to be the palace of the king of Aathbiskot, Rukum.


Scene from Thabang village, Rolpa. Thabang is the cradle of the war, where the Maoists had almost unanimous support. Following the vicissitudes of the peace process and the many divisions of and within the party that resulted, in Thabang Biplab’s CPN now holds sway.


While sketches of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Prachanda were common in Rolpa and Rukum during the Maoist war, the CPN now projects  Che Guevara as the symbol of the “continued revolution.” This wall painting is from Thabang, Rolpa.


Mural of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao has been at Thabang gate for over a decade now.


Police post in Mahat, Rukum. In 1999, the Maoists kidnapped a deputy superintendent of police of this police post, their first high-profile kidnapping.


Kamal Daha in Rukumkot, Rukum (East). This was the site of the first major clash  between the police and the Maoists in 1996. Over 20 people lost their lives.


Sarun Bahadur KC, 61, father of Bibek KC, a Maoist combatant killed by the police. He received Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million) as  compensation from the government for his son’s death. With the money, he built a temple in Syarpu, Rukum, where is a dhami (shaman) and tends to many locals, providing healing and spiritual guidance.


Banphikot, Rukum. This formerly independent kingdom was the first place where the Maoists declared a “people’s government”, headed by Purna Bahadur Gharti Magar. He is now Speaker of the House for Province 5.


Punni BK and his daughter-in-law standing in front of their house, which they bought from the former royal family of Gotamkot, Rukum. A Dalit man purchasing a house that belonged to the king is indicative of the social transformations taking place in Rukum.


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