He taught music but was branded a ‘terrorist’
Dhami was detained for teaching music (to 'terrorists') and was respected for practicing music in custody
Ram Dhami was watching local goons thrashing the wife of a serving Nepal Army soldier at Hawai Chowk in Itahari, a town in east Nepal. He was with his childhood friend and close neighbour Duk Bahadur Karki. A state of emergency had been declared by the government at that time as conflict between state army and Maoist militants was in the peak.
“Where is Ram Dhami’s home?” asked a sub-inspector of police Rukum Nepal to Dhami’s friend Karki when Dhami was right in front of the police official. That Sub-inspector didn’t know Dhami was there and Dhami introduced himself.
“Let’s go to our office,” Dhami quotes the then police official, “we will talk about details in the office.”
A dedicated music teacher at Sadhana Music Academy in Itahari, Dhami was perplexed by the sudden call from Area Police Office. “I was surprised to be arrested by the police as I had done nothing wrong knowingly or unknowingly” remembers Dhami, now a noted academic member of government-owned Nepal Music and Drama Academy.
“I was put inside the police office but was not handcuffed. I stayed all day at the police office but the police neither inquired me nor accused me of anything.”
Dhami told some policemen that he wanted to go home as it was evening by then. “As I asked them to send me home they pushed me inside the detention centre of the police office.”
He was detained continuously for 21 days inside the crammed and urine-drenched walls of the detention centre. “I was forced to urinate inside and was permitted to go to the toilet for defecation in the early morning only once.”
‘I taught music, not Maoism and terrorism’
After enduring continuous detention and slurs for 21 days, Dhami was shifted to District Police Office at Inaruwa of Sunsari district and put inside the detention centre for weeks.
“I was ignorant about my crimes till I was detained in Itahari,” says Dhami, also a famous singer of Tharu songs. “But I knew that I was detained for teaching music to some Maoist sympathisers at my open music classes.”
Dhami says he did not care about any political inclination of his music students but only thought about spreading musical knowledge to his pupils.
Having been detained in two police detention centres at Itahari and Inaruwa, Dhami was later shifted to a much more crammed detention centre at Bhantabari, the southernmost part of Sunsari district. Dhami was handcuffed and blindfolded at times in Inaruwa and Bhantabari.
He would be emotionally tortured with verbal slurs by the guarding policemen. “I was detained just for teaching music,” Dhami pictures the rampant detentions of ordinary citizens during 10-year-long Maoist insurgency and says,” I taught music, not Maoism and terrorism. But I was detained and tortured.”
‘Music gave both pains and pleasures in police custody’
Dhami was branded a ‘terrorist’ for teaching music to his students. Maoists had infiltrated his music class and he did not know about it. Dhami was put in police custody at a time when the state had given absolute powers to all security organs like civil police, Armed Police Force and Nepal Army. He was not duly produced at the court.
“The situation inside the custody was so inhumane that I had to pen songs during that time in the wrappers of incense sticks,” Dhami remembers his custody days. He adds, “We were in a group and were forced to urinate at a plastic bucket. Anyone from our group who would defecate early in the morning had to throw this urine-filled bucket in the toilet under the watch of a guarding policeman.”
Despite sustaining torments, Dhami experienced some happy moments inside the police custody as well. Dhami says, “Music gave me pains and pleasures inside the police custody.”
He tells Lokaantar that he was allowed to practice his songs. Policemen did not beat him up because of his musical talent. There were days when Dhami was gifted with snacks and tea for his beautiful songs which he sang on sentry guards’ request.
“Once a police official came to our custody and asked about me. I feared possible physical tortures,” Dhami smilingly reminisces, “But it turned out that police official wanted me to sing a few songs by legendary singer Narayan Gopal.”
As Dhami sang beautiful Nepali songs during his detention, his dark room was gradually allowed to receive more lights from outside. Later on, people inside the detention room were given newspapers to know what was happening in the world outside.
Dhami was detained for teaching music (to ‘terrorists’) and was respected for practicing music in custody. In this way music was both a boon and a curse for him.
‘Music is my life after all’
Having experienced more than 100 days of detention in police custody, Dhami was released on bail from Sunsari District Administration Office on 15 March 2002.
“It was a Friday when I was released on bail by acting Chief District Officer (CDO) named Hom Bahadur Khadka,” says Dhami, “It was Good Friday for me as I was proven innocent.”
Dhami said he passed the voice test conducted by state-run Radio Nepal in 1992. The police handed him a letter describing him a ‘terrorist’ but they took it away later.
“I had a written document describing my detention and my identity as a ‘terrorist’ but it was taken away by the then district DSP of National Investigation Department named Bharat Silwal. Had DSP Silwal not snatched my written document it would be a written document to prove me as a war-time victim at the hands of the state.”
Despite this harrowing experience, Dhami is not sad. He says, “Music is my life after all.”
Published on 24 September 2017