Nepal’s decade-long civil war (1996-2006) barely registered with the American public, and the lack of awareness surrounding this conflict helps to make Robert Koenig’s documentary all the more disturbing.
The insurgent Maoist People’s Liberation Army was helped, in large part, by the influx of adolescent and young teenagers from Nepal’s poverty-afflicted villages. Whether willingly or through coercion, the rural Nepalese youth became soldiers in a brutal military conflict that resulted in the overthrow of the country’s feudal monarchy. But when the war was over, the young soldiers (particularly the female fighters) found themselves in a new struggle: returning to villages where their families and neighbors viewed them with hostility.
The young Maoist veterans interviewed in the film are uncommonly eloquent in detailing their pre- and post-war circumstances, but they are mostly evasive in offering details on what transpired while they were in uniform – either that, or Koenig’s 57-minute running time required excessive editing of the first-person narratives. The film is also hazy on how the Maoist movement actually maintained its power over the years – the U.S. viewed it as a terrorist movement and the Chinese government was never supportive of the Maoists’ goals.
However, the film is highly effective in detailing socio-economic disparities within today’s Nepal, with particular attention provided to a crushing caste system that keeps successive generations locked in perpetual servitude. It also provides a quiet commentary on how United Nations’ programs and the outreach of international nonprofits slowly began to initiate the rural economic plans, gender equality policies and educational reforms that the Maoists promised but never delivered.
Ultimately, this remarkable documentary offers the heartbreaking conclusion that Nepal’s children – and adults, for that matter – were the losers of this long and terrible war.