Tuesday, 7 April 2009

My First Night in Army Custody

jit Man Basnet

February 4, 2004
It was 6 o’clock in the evening. I was sitting in a teashop that belonged to my relative in the part of Kathmandu known as Tinkune. I was talking to the shopkeeper about the political instability in the country. A middle-aged man, who seemed like he was 35 or 36 years of age, approached me and ordered a cup of milk tea from the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper told him that milk tea was not
available at that time.
The middle-aged man then turned to me and said, “I think we have met somewhere before.”
“We might have been introduced somewhere,” I answered.
“Aren’t you Jit Man Basnet?” he asked.
“Yes,” I responded.
He then asked me to come outside, telling me that he had some issues to discuss with me.
In the meantime, two or three strangers came closer and heard our conversation. One of them took out an issue of the Sagarmatha Times, a newspaper that I was working for as an editor, and requested that I publish his article in the newspaper. I told him that I would have to read his article first.
The conversation continued for about half an hour. Afterwards, the middle-aged man disclosed that he was a member of the security forces and that he wanted to take me with him. I was shocked by what he said, and it was only then that I realised that I was being arrested.
I gave the keys to my motorbike to the shopkeeper because I wasn’t sure when I would be released. On this very day, my father had come to Kathmandu from the village for his health check-up. He was staying at one of my relative’s homes in Gothatar, which is in Kathmandu District. The shopkeeper came to get the keys from me, but I was warned not to speak to him. Despite the warning, I handed the keys to him and said, “The security forces are taking me. Please give these keys to my father and keep my motorbike safe.”
The security personnel were furious with me because I had informed the shopkeeper about my arrest. They screamed at me using filthy language as if I had committed a grave crime. By this time, other people had gathered to watch.
In about half an hour, an army vehicle came and stopped in front of the teashop. They forced me into the vehicle and took me towards the area called Sinamangal in the capital. The middle-aged man who had been talking to me from the beginning called someone on his cell phone and said, “Boss, we have arrested him and are now taking him with us.”
As the vehicle reached Sinamangal, they blindfolded me with a red piece of cloth and handcuffed me. I couldn’t see a thing. The ride wasn’t smooth as the driver had used a narrow gravel road. I guessed, however, that we had first crossed the Bhatkekopul in Chabel in Kathmandu District with its numerous potholes and gone towards Baluwatar. We took many turns and finally arrived at the Bhairabnath Battalion’s barracks located in Kathmandu’s Maharajgunj area. I sometimes peeped through the blindfold, and that’s how I knew where we were. I was sure that I had been arrested by the Royal Nepal Army, or RNA.
After a while, they took me to a desolate area that was surrounded with a wire fence. There were some tents that served as small, temporary lodging. It was already dark. I could only hear people coughing. The group that had arrested me disappeared and handed me over to another group.
I was ordered to sit on a damp floor inside a tent. I couldn’t sit comfortably with the handcuffs. I was blindfolded even in the dark so I had no clue what was going on.
In the meantime, my cell phone rang. A soldier gave me the phone. One of my colleagues from the newspaper had called.
“I am in a tense situation now,” I told him. “Please help my father get his treatment.”
Then I hung up. I couldn’t even tell my friend about my arrest by the army because they were listening.
A little while later I received another call, but it was cut off unexpectedly. After that I did not get any other calls, and I was sure that the soldiers had switched off my cell phone.
Then the men interrogated me about the previous two callers. I told them that they had been my co-workers from the newspaper.
All of a sudden one of the men started scolding me with filthy language.
“Idiot Maoist! How many people did you kill?”
They nagged me constantly and kept interrogating me. They pressed their boots on my body and walked on my stomach. I soon lost consciousness due to the incessant torture.
I regained my consciousness after about half an hour, and they forced me to walk to a place nearby and stripped me. They asked me to tell them about the Maoists’ hiding place. I told them that I knew nothing about it. They ignored my answer though and continued to ask me questions about the Maoists.
“When did you start working with the Maoists? Where do they hide? Who do you know among them?”
I defended myself by saying that I was neither a Maoist nor a supporter.
I didn’t have an answer because I knew nothing about the Maoists, but they didn’t believe me and started pelting me with boots, bamboo sticks, and polythene pipes, etc. I was naked and shivering. They dipped my head in a drum filled with stinky, muddy water. I kept suffocating. I was extremely cold and couldn’t breathe. I was certain that they wouldn’t let me live and lost all hope of living. I kept losing consciousness because I was so feeble.
After two hours, they ordered me to put on my clothes. My condition was so poor that one of them had to help dress me. Afterwards they threw me under a tent. It was probably midnight, and by then I was suffering from extreme pain all over my body. I couldn’t even push myself to move to the place where they told me to sleep.
Another man approached me and repeated the instructions, that I move to where I was instructed to sleep. I recognised him from his voice and knew that he was one of the people who had arrested me. He asked me calmly the same questions that I had been asked by the other army men who had tortured me. I understood that each played a different role and this was part of their technique. Later I found out that his name was Major Bibek Bista. I could never satisfy Major Bista though.
I was so hungry that I could have eaten a horse. They did not give me any food. My whole body was aching. I would sleep by simply wrapping myself with an old blanket. The chill could kill. I fell on the ground because the old cot was not strong enough to handle my weight and I was semiconscious. My body was covered in blood. I would wail unconsciously due to the extreme pain.
I heard the guards kick my broken cot with their boots during the night.
“You are still alive?” they said.
I had lost all hope and confidence of living. Imagining further intense and painful days ahead, I spent my first miserable night this way in army custody.