Deepesh Shrestha, AFP
New Delhi: For Sheela Devi, who fled her home town and a Maoist insurgency to live in a New Delhi slum, the peace process in her native Nepal has raised hopes she may soon be able to return home.
Devi, who hails from the remote mountainous district of Rolpa which was a Maoist guerrilla stronghold, said leaving for India had been the only option when the insurgency became too violent.
“People were suffering a lot because of continuous threats and intimidation. I was worried about my children’s future,” said 42-year-old Devi, who came to India in 2001.
But following the end of the decade-long civil war late last year, Devi and other Nepali migrants living in India’s capital are optimistic they can head home soon.
A new government line-up due to be unveiled later Friday in Kathmandu will for the first time formally bring Maoists into mainstream politics.
The former rebels struck a peace deal with other political parties last November, ending a war that claimed at least 13,000 lives. Under the accord, the Maoists received 80 seats in a new 330-seat interim parliament.
Elections to an assembly, which will rewrite the constitution and decide on the fate of the 238-year-old monarchy, are to be held by June.
So later this year, Devi will be returning to her home town with her four daughter, two sons and electrician husband after a gap of four years.
“I miss my village so much. I’m planning to return to Nepal in April and I’m looking forward to voting in the elections,” she said with a broad smile.
Nepalis do not need a visa to enter India so there are no official records about how many are in the country, but the New Delhi-based South Asia Study Centre estimates the number at three million.
“During the conflict there was a rise in Nepali migration, mostly women and children from Maoist strongholds,” said Raju Bhattrai, convenor of the centre which has been focusing its activities on Nepali migrants workers.
While Nepalis working in other parts of the globe are important sources of remittances for their homeland, where the war only deepened the economic woes of one of the world’s poorest countries, it is not the case in India.
“Those who left during the conflict were very poor,” said foreign ministry official Ghanashyam Thapa by telephone from Kathmandu.
“Things were so ugly, I felt there was no hope,” said Prem Mainali, 36, who now works as a clothing factory worker in New Delhi.
“Now the future looks bright. I’m definitely going back to vote in the elections and if I find a good job I’ll stay there.”
Co-worker Shankar Koirala, who moved to India to work 15 years ago because of the desperate poverty in Nepal, voiced similar sentiments.
“I’ll go at any cost to vote in the election,” he said.
But not all are optimistic about the changes in Nepal amid fierce wrangling between the Maoists and political parties over ministerial posts.
“Why should I vote when the only thing they do is fight for power? They always forget us when they win an election,” said Cheeja Gurung, who had left Nepal in 1998 because of the escalating conflict.
“The war has ended but I doubt long-lasting peace will prevail,” she said.
Despite the peace process, Nepal has been rocked by ethnic violence between the Maoists and ethnic Mahadhesis that has claimed 60 lives along the fertile southern strip of the country bordering India.
The Mahadhesis say the peace accord has left them politically isolated and are demanding a greater voice at the national level.
However, Devi is hopeful Nepal’s troubles are finally over and is brimming with plans for the future.
“We’re going to have a new house in Nepal. My children will be living there and will be going to school,” she said.