Guns, Drums and Keybords :By Li Onesto

This morning I woke up to the rhythm of someone hammering on metal. And when I went outside I found some squad members squatting in a circle, making grenades. One person was cutting and carving small wooden pins. Someone else was hammering away, breaking up a piece of heavy metal into small pieces of shrapnel. And another comrade was assembling the parts and adjusting the triggering mechanism.

Here in western Nepal, we are traveling and living with members of the people’s army and I get a real sense of what day-to-day life is like for these comrades. They are constantly on the move, traveling for hours, mostly during the night. When we arrive at a village, the peasants always give us food and shelter. But while the squad relies on the masses, they are also very self-reliant. They have good relations with the people and never treat the peasants like servants. Sometimes we arrive late at night, tired after a whole day of walking. But the squad immediately goes to work–gathering firewood and preparing food. And they’re always engaging the masses in political discussion about the aims and goals of the People’s War.

Like in other villages we’ve visited, the peasants here were very happy when we arrived. Many of them have sons and daughters in the people’s army–and they treat every squad member like their own son or daughter. The masses see these comrades as protection from the police. But more than this, they see them as revolutionary leaders who help them solve problems, give them political education, and mobilize them to fight against their oppressors.

The people’s army also inspires the people with revolutionary culture. A cultural squad arrived early this morning while I was still asleep. They immediately started practicing and the sound of drums, keyboards and young voices has been drifting through the village all afternoon. I’ve anxiously been awaiting the cultural program scheduled for 8:00 p.m. So I’m disappointed when my meeting with party leaders doesn’t end until 10:00 p.m. We still haven’t eaten our evening meal and go downstairs where dal baht and curry potatoes quiet our growling stomachs. Then to my surprise I learn that the cultural program has just started! It was delayed, waiting for the “chief guest” to arrive.

We walk out to a large clearing and I see about 500 people sitting on the ground for the cultural program. A straw screen has been set up at the front and two kerosene torches flicker light for the “stage.” There’s a starry sky overhead, but the color of night that surrounds us is inky black. And while the warmth of the day lingers in the air, a cool breeze has started to rule the temperature. I know we are surrounded by terraced fields, trees and towering mountains. But in this moment, it feels like we’re floating in darkness, in a liberated pocket of revolutionary celebration.

The cultural team has 10 members–four women and six men, all very young. One looks about 14 years old, the others seem in their late teens or early 20s. They put on an amazing show full of singing, dancing and skits, armed with traditional Nepali drums, guitars and portable keyboards. Songs of varying rhythms and moods tell tales of revolutionary martyrs and guerrilla actions. Dances combine traditional moves and music with new steps and poses to narrate stories of revolutionary heroism. And the skits move the crowd to laughter as well as tears.

One very humorous skit is about the upcoming elections, and people howl as the character of a fat Nepali Congress candidate swaggers around the stage, blustering fake promises to some peasants. Then the next skit moves the crowd into a harsher reality. There is a scene between a young people’s army guerrilla and his mother and father. The parents are very sad because their son is leaving to fight in the People’s War and they are afraid he will be killed. But the son tells them he must go into combat for the people and that they shouldn’t worry. I start to hear quiet sniffling behind me and at the end of the skit I look around and see many people crying. For them, the scene is so very real and immediate.

The program is entertaining and full of powerful themes that weave in and out of lyrics, dance moves and skit dialogue. The crowd is really having a good time and I really see how these cultural programs lift people’s revolutionary spirits and provide collective strength.

In between acts, the MC names people in the crowd who have given five or ten rupee donations. After each announcement the crowd claps and cheers. These are very poor peasants and the donations are small–less than 10 cents. But this is yet another way the masses support the people’s army and some of this money also goes to the families of revolutionary martyrs.

Toward the end of the program the team does an “opera”–a drama with singing in which a people’s army squad encounters the police, a fight breaks out and one comrade is killed. The songs are very moving and inspiring, full of sadness but also renewed determination. The fallen comrade’s body is draped in a red cloth with a hammer and sickle and carried off. Again I hear people in the crowd crying softly.

The program isn’t over until after 3:30 a.m. But everyone has stayed to the end.

Eliminating feudal culture and developing revolutionary culture is a big part of the People’s War. And the people’s army has cultural squads like this one all over Nepal. Cultural teams were an integral part of the party’s preparation before the initiation of armed struggle. And they continue to be an important way the party popularizes and spreads its line and program. In the heat of armed struggle new revolutionary culture is being developed–which educates, mobilizes and recruits the masses into the struggle.

The cultural squads travel from village to village putting on programs. And they also work in the fields with the peasants, participate in people’s power committees to settle disputes, and carry out armed actions against the police and other reactionaries. They’re constantly developing new songs, dances and skits. I notice that they all carry little dog-eared notebooks where they write down different songs and poems. And they’re constantly pulling them out and sharing them with each other. As I travel around the country I notice differences in the songs and dances. But I also recognize common themes and some songs that have managed to migrate from notebook to notebook and become standards.

Dangerous Arts

At our next shelter Man Kumari Bista comes to talk with me. Her husband, Masta Bahadur Bista, was killed by the police in 1996, when he was only 23 years old. She tells me, “He was underground since the initiation. He was taking shelter somewhere and the police encircled the house. They came in while he was sleeping and shot him in bed. He was a well-known chairman of a district cultural team. He was a very good musician and singer and wrote many revolutionary songs.”

I am reminded of my first meeting with members of the people’s army here in Nepal. A cultural squad in the east–young men and women, most of them in, or barely out of, their teens–came to talk with me in the middle of the night. They told me why they joined the people’s army and how they were determined to defeat the enemy. They filled my notebook with wonderful quotes. Ten days later seven of them were dead. The police surrounded their shelter, set it on fire, then shot them in cold blood when they were forced to run outside.

Many other cultural squad members have been murdered by the police. And the government has harassed, arrested and sometimes killed many progressive and revolutionary artists. In one city the police went to a cultural program and arrested 15 people. Thirteen were released after initially being framed up for attacking the police. But two others were released then rearrested, then taken to another district and framed up in another case.

While in Kathmandu I interviewed Bhaktu Bahadur Shrestha, who is very involved in promoting revolutionary culture. He is president of the National People’s Movement Coordination Committee (NPMCC) which was formed “to struggle for the cause of democracy, nationality and livelihood of the people, to oppose state terror unleashed by the government and to fight for various causes of the people.” He talks about government censorship of the arts. He says, “Progressive and revolutionary Nepali culture is developing and it is in contradiction with bourgeois culture. The government is trying to smash it and has killed democratic dancers, singers, and artists and some of them are very well-known. There have been arrests and harassment all over the country, including police raids on performances. The police and government know who the progressive artists are and arrest and kill them. These are artists who criticize the government, expose them. Some of these artists say they support revolution in the world and the People’s War in Nepal and they are very popular among the people, especially in the countryside.”

One well-known writer of literature tells me he has been arrested over 100 times. And when I interview Dr. Rishi Raj Baral, I get an even sharper picture of the government’s clampdown on revolutionary artists. Dr. Baral is a revolutionary intellectual and well-known short-story writer, critic, and journalist at Tribhuvan University. The first thing he tells me is that he has read and translated many articles from the RW, especially articles about Mumia Abu-Jamal. And he has closely followed the RW‘s coverage of progressive and revolutionary culture in the United States. He tells me:

“Since the initiation about two dozen cultural activists have been killed by the reactionaries–singers, dancers, writers. There is a trend of revolutionary art in Nepal. Revolutionary literature in Nepal started in 1950 and now it is led by the All Nepal Cultural Forum–which openly supports the People’s War and is supported by the People’s War. There are two departments in this organization– writing/literature and dance/drama. The writing department publishes a literary magazine KALAM (“pen”) and I am the editor of that magazine.

“The cultural activists are mainly in the remote areas and the writers are mainly in the city. And most of the revolutionary writers are being terrorized by the government. I was arrested three times. Last November and January and then last week. They came to my house, confiscated all my revolutionary books and writings, and treated me like a criminal. They came in the night time. They searched my house for four hours. The police who raided were led by the Deputy Inspector of Police. At the same time other writers were arrested including Sakti Lamsal, who was arrested at the offices of the revolutionary newspaper, Janadesh. Nearly one dozen writers are now in jail. Many cultural activists have been forced to go underground. We are charged with anti-terrorist laws. We are arrested as criminals, not writers and journalists and we are treated inhumanely. Many people oppose this kind of state tyranny, even if they have government jobs. And there is a lot of unity around fighting the suppression of revolutionary and progressive artists.

“Revolutionary writing and cultural activities are very popular. We have produced six cassettes of revolutionary songs, not only in Kathmandu but from other areas as well. Our cultural front is guided by Maoist ideology and the ideas in Mao’s Talks at the Yenan Forum. Our cultural activists are fighting with both pen and gun. They are a real cultural platoon. We have published short stories, novels and plays. There are a number of revolutionary critics, poets, playwrights and novelists who are nationally recognized–and terrorized by the government. Our new revolutionary culture is also very rich in dance and singing and this is very popular among people.

“Mao’s Talks at the Yenan Forum has been introduced into the Nepal revolutionary cultural front since 1950. Most of the revolutionary writers are inspired by this and even some bourgeois writers in Nepal are influenced by it. It is the basic text for us. Gorky, Howard Fast, Lu Xun, Premchand (from India) are also influential among revolutionaries in Nepal. During the 1960s, artists in Nepal were also very inspired by revolutionary writers who became martyrs in the Maoist Naxalbari movement in India. And the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China was a big influence.”

Revolutionary Worker #1024, October 3, 1999


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