Women’s Role in Naxalite Movement

According to CPI (Maoist), in 2010 women constituted 40 percent of their cadre, most of them are reported to be more ferocious than men. However, this is not a recent phenomenon; women have participated in the revolutionary Naxalbari movement since its genesis. Any conflict often leads to a blending of public and private spheres and the ongoing “outside” violence and terror spills into what is known as the “safety zone” i.e. house thus leaving women no choice but to get directly or indirectly involved in conflict. In the Naxalite movement, women have played various roles as combatants, peace builders, activists and politicians.Whether this movement which espouses   the cause of the oppressed classes has also adopted an inclusive approach towards women,remains to be analysed

Charu Mazumdar, himself had written that women should not be involved in squads “because women need a place to stay at least for the night”. This view reasserts the patriarchal mind-set etched in the very ethos of the movement. To see women as “objects of violence” and “ “subjects of fear” thus assuming a “protective” approach towards them shows that women are not and perhaps can never be considered as equals in the revolutionary movement.

In the initial phases of the Naxalbari movement several women especially from the middle class joined the movement under the influence of their male counterparts (brothers, husbands, friends and relatives). This movement brought to several women a new ray of hope for self-transcendence from the “everyday” life to a “heroic” one. However, even at the peak of the Naxalbari movement, women were only recruited to “assist” men or do ordinary and courier tasks. “Fewer women were on local communities and none were in the senior positions of leadership”. For most part of the 1970s many women limited their efforts to the class struggle and did not seek to explore the larger role other marginalised women could play in the movement. Even within the organisation, several instances contradicted the very foundation of the Naxalite movement; upper middle class women often enjoyed a better status than lower middle class women. Wife of the leader was automatically granted a higher status than most other women. The self-inflicted “voluntary poverty” by women was over romanticised by these revolutionaries at various levels. The everyday struggle was subverted under the higher and more worthy cause these women were fighting for:

Under the patriarch’s strict supervision of the women of the family would draw water from the well for my bath. I would bathe in the night under their watchful eyes. I had long hair and would spread it, fan like on the pillow to dry. Rats would tug at my hair at night. I was always terrified of roaches and rats but I had no option. The entire family took such wonderful care of me that I never felt the least discomfort.(Sanyal, 2001)

Women activists were “resistant to a protectionist discourse that intended to restore them to their homes, conceived as a space of safety from dangerous public domain”. While for male activists the shelter was “refuge” of sorts during the struggle, for women it meant receding into the same domestic space they sought to liberate themselves from through the movement. For example:

“First, she (Supriya) cannot leave for anywhere on the spur of the movement. If she has a programme or wishes to stay away even for a night she has to inform me beforehand”(Sanyal,2001)

In the October 2004 ceasefire agreement between the State Government of Andhra Pradesh and the Naxalite groups, none of the women who were part of the movement were represented. Men and women have different experiences in conflict, therefore this gender blind approach affected several women who were victims of conflict and were deliberately silenced.

“Since the parties had repeatedly asserted in the course of the peace process that they would function within the constitutional framework, representation in terms of only physical numbers, at every level was an intrinsic part of democratic structures. And in a situation where there is concentration of power and authority in a certain class, in this case men ,bringing about equal representation would mean that women could only assume leadership to the extent that men are willing to relinquish the authority that is already with them”.(Kannabiran and Volga ,2010)

Naxalites still sanction the idea which regards women as an epitome or reservoir of culture and traditions of a community, who need to be protected. This leads to the usage of rape as a tool to demean the other community, in this case, the warring sides. A naxalite woman could be raped by the State forces or if a woman chooses to support the State or drops out of the naxalite cadres could easily fall prey to the brutality of the naxalites

Now, women are joining the naxal cadres due to various reasons ranging from oppression and sexual harassment by the upper class/caste communities or the State forces, married into a family of pro naxalites, abject poverty and recourse to a better life which Naxalism often offers. However, once a part of the cadre these women are supposed to shirk their feminine identity and transcend into a more masculine one. Jaya, an ex-naxalite who became a guerrilla  in her teens says, “a majority of members in the Eturanagaram (Warangal district) dalam (group) were men and at the time that time there were only two women including myself. I had to don the guerrilla uniform and carry a heavy sack on my back. This kit contained all and sundry, right from kitchen ware to uniforms, arms, ammunition, provisions etc. It was very heavy but slowly I mastered the art of a porter; after having quit, I cannot go for coolie work(daily wages) because the extreme life in the forest has sapped my strength. I suffered from kidney problem, ulcer, joint pain and reproductive tract infections. The monthly periods are extremely difficult.”  The rehabilitation package promised by the Government never reached her.

Sabita, a resident of Jogapur village lost her husband in a family dispute. While on one hand, the naxals assured her that joining the cadre would give her security, the police offered her a sum of fifty thousand to become a source for them. Later on being caught while mixing poison tablets in the food she was cooking for the leaders of her cadre, she was shot in the outskirts of Jogapur forest. The police later tried to label naxalites as rapists and murderers; however the autopsy reports of the victim declared that she was not raped.

Under these sub human conditions and abject poverty, this ongoing conflict has also resulted in a lot female headed households. Men are either picked by the police forces on suspicion of collaborating with the naxalites or by naxals to join their cadres. Due to State apathy and lack of policy interventions for these women, they continue to struggle and lead a life of hardships.

It seems that in or outside the naxalite movement, women have lost the battle. Women who are a part of naxalite movement place the “class” agenda over gender, the latter often considered as “deviant”. This approach obviously reverberates of the patriarchal discourse within the movement. The Government and the society often neglect women, who wish to quit and become a part of the mainstream life. It remains to see if the women’s issues can be looked in isolation within and outside the Naxalite movement.

Original Source: Centre for Land Warfare Studies

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