KATHMANDU, NEPAL – Holika KC has a different lifestyle these days after officially retiring this year from the People’s Liberation Army, the Maoist insurgents who overthrew Nepal's former government, leading to a decade-long civil war.
After the war ended in 2006, KC stayed for five years in the Maoists’ temporary camp at Dahaban in Rolpa, a district in Nepal’s Mid-Western region. But this year, the government closed the camps as part of the peace process, offering ex-combatants two options: voluntary retirement or a spot in the national army.
KC says that many female combatants wanted to join the army, but they felt bound to choose voluntary retirement for several reasons. Many had children to raise or were pregnant, while others said that they’d never achieve the same level of respect in the national army.
“I was a brigade commander in PLA,” says KC, who served as a brigade vice commander in the 5th Division of the People's Liberation Army during the war. “And if I go into integration, I will be demoted to lower posts.”
So KC chose to retire and return to family life. She now stays in a rented room in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, with her husband and child. She also takes care of her mother, who has cancer.
“It is a new beginning for me, a civilian life,” KC says.
KC, the eldest daughter of a lower-middle-class family, says she had a pleasant childhood. Both her parents were teachers at a local school and were involved in Maoist politics.
When she passed her School Leaving Certificate exam in 1999 and was preparing for higher studies, the People’s War was at its peak in Nepal. She says that the Maoist insurgents promised the people in her village a better life if they put them in power.
Many youths in the area entered the guerrilla Maoist army, including KC, who joined when she was just 20. She adopted an alias, "Nabina," as was popular for combatants to do in order to hide their identities from the police.
“I supported the Maoist cause and was ready to sacrifice my life for the very cause,” she says.
At first, life underground was pleasant.
“I used to sing, dance and play music during early days of my underground life,” she says.
But slowly, she gained combat skills. During a training, she learned how to use rudimentary guns and different arms such as submachine guns, rifles and howitzers.
"It took me one year to learn the rules of battle," she says. "Then I started carrying [a] gun – and using it."
Life eventually became harsh, she says. The combatants moved from place to place and sometimes lacked access to food. But she says that she moved forward with the troops through day and night, coldness and heat, hunger and thirst and many other difficulties.
“I was fighting for the much-needed revolution,” KC says with pride. "I was fighting for my fellow citizens."
KC says that she also drew inspiration from discussions with her friends underground about how to attack their “enemies” – soldiers and police