Saturday, May 18, 2024

The lesser-known battles of Maoist women

A video grab of a woman Maoist rebel undergoing rigorous training in Bastar (Chhattisgarh).

A video grab of a woman Maoist rebel undergoing rigorous training in Bastar (Chhattisgarh).

All is not well in the Communist Party of India (Maoist) which, besides waging an armed struggle to capture political power, also claims to fight for gender equality. The Maoists profess discipline and integrity, but exploitation of women in the party is a stark reality. Women who join the party in the hope of bringing about a “revolution” for the proletariat and the landless class are often subject to the same structural violence that they are supposed to fight.

Women constitute 35%-40% of the total party members, but their representation in the Central Committee and the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC) is negligible. As per recent reports, only one woman cadre, Sheela Marandi alias Hema, of Jharkhand is a Central Committee member out of a total of more than 20 members, and only two women cadres — Pothula Kalpana alias Mainakka and Jode Ratnabai alias Sujathakka — are DKSZC members out of approximately 20 members.

Struggles in the jungle

While jungle life is difficult for all cadres, the women have to face additional health challenges. While working women in mainstream society are fighting to get menstrual leave, women cadres in the CPI(Maoist) don’t get even get sentry duty off and need to be alert all the time with a gun, said women cadres who surrendered to the police. In addition, they have to walk for miles daily to change their location. Women cadres said that only one loin cloth is provided to two women cadres to be shared as a sanitary napkin for six months. One half of a soap bar is given to each woman cadre during her period. Women are not permitted to liberally use water. Each cadre has to carry water in bottles for her own use. It is taboo to use water from streams or ponds for washing. Women are at the mercy of the unit commander who carries some medical necessities.

Most women who are not conscious of their nutrition intake, particularly iron, become anaemic. While the food given to the cadres is never wholesome, the surrendered cadres said that two articles are given additionally to each woman so that she can meet her protein requirements: half a kilogramme of jaggery and one kilogramme of peanuts or sesame seeds. A few eggs are given to those who do not like peanuts. The women cadres said they never found these provisions sufficient, and always felt tired and lethargic, particularly during their period.

According to documents seized during raids, marriage is permitted between willing partners, but only so that they can fight together, not so that they can enjoy family life. Male cadres are forced to undergo vasectomy either before marriage or immediately after marriage. In case a woman cadre gets pregnant, she has to undergo an abortion. She is either given medicine for this or sent to a quack or a dai belonging to the Swasthaya Vibhag (health branch) of the Revolutionary People’s Committee. One MBBS doctor known by his Maoist name Rafique, who generally stays with the Central Committee members in the region, gives medical training to some cadres, but cannot handle abortion and related issues, said women cadres.

It is the junior cadres who mostly face discrimination. Available reports show that when Madavi Hademe alias Savitri, who was a Maoist cadre and wife of the former DKSZC Secretary, Ravula Ramanna, got pregnant, she was not only transferred from one division to another, but also sent on maternity leave for about two years. Obviously, neither was Ramanna forced to undergo vasectomy nor was Savitri asked to undergo an abortion. Their child named Ravula Ranjith alias Srikanth studied until Class 10 at a school in Nizamabad. Thus, the leader was allowed to break rules with impunity instead of setting an example for others.

Sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation of women is not uncommon in the party. Senior Maoist leaders told the press that when GVK Prasad alias Gudsa Usendi, then a DKSZC member and its spokesperson, surrendered before the Andhra Pradesh police in 2014, he fled with his third wife Santoshi. His first wife Savita had died in an exchange of fire, and he left his second wife Raje without giving any justification to the party. The party has a code of conduct for solemnising marriage, but is silent on issues of divorce and polygamy. It is true that disciplinary action is taken against cadres for moral turpitude, such as establishing a sexual relationship before marriage or making sexual advances against the wishes of a woman cadre, but the maximum punishment is only suspension for a year or demotion. The cadres do not have to face the brunt of the Maoist’s ‘people’s court’ where villagers are killed on the ground of mere suspicion, and that too in front of their family members.

There are instances of women cadres dying by suicide on account of ill treatment or suspicion. For instance, a woman cadre, Kaushalya, shot herself after her husband, a member of another Maoist unit, objected to her talking in a friendly way with a male member of her platoon. Such incidents are not uncommon, said surrendered cadres.

It is not disputed that most of the lower cadres do not have any revolutionary zeal; they are temporarily allured towards the gun culture of the Maoists. While the surrender and rehabilitation policies of the State and the Central government are quite comprehensive with attractive returns, some additional incentives may be doled out for the women cadres to wean them away from the outfit. They need to realise that even in the party they are fighting for, they are in a disadvantageous position.

R.K. Vij is a former Director General of Police of Chhattisgarh. Views are personal

#lesserknown #battles #Maoist #women

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