A tale of buried voices will they be back?
An old woman, with her hair dyed grey by her age, speaks boldly of the day her son was taken by army personnel. At 9 pm on Decemder 25, 2003, Harisharan Thapa’s home was invaded by security forces and before the eyes of his old parents, was forcefully taken into custody. His mother, Binda Thapa, remembers the incident as if it had yesterday. “If they had killed him in front of me, I would have gotten over it. But they took him away alive and the thought of him returning always haunts me.”
Thapa’s eyes are perpetually on the road in front of her house, waiting for her son to return.
This first scene from the documentary ‘Nasunieko Awaj’ (Unheard voices) is just a snapshot of what is to follow. Tales of families whose members have been detained for ages and whose whereabouts are unknown make up this film. The families themselves are caught in a dilemma — whether to convince themselves that the disappeared members are already dead, or fighting the gut feeling that says they might still be alive, and therefore, to wait for them.
Based in Dhading, the film talks about the lives left behind by those detained and made to disappear by the state in the decade-long civil war. According to the Nepal Police’s information which was submitted to the National Human Rights Commission, nearly 583 people have reportedly been disappeared by the state. The report also says 331 people were abducted by the Maoists and 56 were reported lost during the civil war.
Some of these were taken into custody from their homes, while others were detained from different parts of the country, with their families finding out days and even months later about their arrest. The film is a montage of real life interviews with their families and proceeds without narration in the background. Despite this, it explains the fear, wrath, hatred and uncertainty that simmer in those left behind.
The film talks about 23 such families. The families narrate their nightmares from the day of the arrests. Mothers weep out loud with the pain of separation, fathers speak about their sons with lumps in their throats, and wives wait out long sleepless nights by crying themselves dry.
The children look expectantly at their mothers seeking the answer for when they will get to see their fathers, which the mothers themselves do not know. Siblings reminisce the childhood spent together and hope to relive them even when it seems impossible.
Like in the case of Maina Sunuwar, a 15-year-old girl who was reportedly tortured to death while in custody with the Nepal Army in 2004, the victims in this documentary may have had the same fate but their families refuse to believe it.
Although Amnesty International and other human rights group have been demanding a probe to this incident, no prosecutions have been made so far. The case remains unsolved, proving true the statement in Amnesty’s 2008 Report, “Police and public prosecutors continued to fail in their duty to investigate and prosecute cases of human rights abuse.”
Produced by Ram Prasad Kandel, a resident of Dhading, whose own nephew was ‘made to disappear’ by the state, the film has certain technical glitches, but those can be overlooked for the message being delivered.
The filmmakers try to remain on neutral ground. They don’t support the state nor do they condemn it. The names of the so called ‘informers’ of the state — who allegedly framed innocent people for money or because of personal grudges — have been muted.
One gets a sense that the families would not be in the same condition had the brutal war not affected them this way.
A dying father demands the dead body of his son for a proper cremation, while a daughter carries her father’s photo to places hoping to meet him someday. Every family hopes the near-impossible might happen. And this hope sustains them throughout the length of the film, and through their lives.
Some of them cry their hearts out in front of the camera, while others try to suppress the feelings inside to not cry. But, their wet eyes deceive them and that eternal question rages on — “Will I see him in my lifetime?”