By Daphne Holmes:
Maoist women in India face a sexism double whammy: in mainstream Indian culture, and within the alternative Maosit culture to which they have dedicated their lives. All too many women join rebel Maoist groups to help overthrow India’s semi-colonial, semi-feudal government only to discover that they have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Life has never been easy for most women in India. Relentless and grinding poverty, and widespread displacement of locals from their land by big-business interests, are problems that hit women as hard as or harder than they do men. But women also suffer from the gender inequality that is inherent in Indian culture. So it is little wonder that many women have joined the effort to create a better world through a ‘people’s war’.
For many of India’s women Maoists, however, life in the ranks of the rebel forces can mean physical abuse, sexual exploitation and harassment and, in some cases, torture. Even worse, some women, upon surrendering to authorities, find they get no sympathy, just more exploitation. Some have allegedly been gang-raped by police while in custody.
In the news
In recent years there have been several news stories about atrocities against women and girls within the Maoist rebel groups. These experiences have persuaded many women to give up fighting the ‘good fight’ and return to mainstream society.
For instance, back in March of 2010 two female Maoist cadres, who surrendered in the Keonjhar district of Orissa, alleged mental and physical abuse by their seniors. Police officials reported that the two had told them that other women cadres were being tortured. and that Maoist forces molested women and girls during their raids in villages in the night.
More recently, two women Maoists surrendered to Malkangiri district police, claiming they had been harassed and tortured by senior ultras. They had originally been persuaded to join the Maoist organisation by leaders who were impressed by their social and creative skills. The women put those skills to use attracting others into the organisation through cultural activities. Women are often used for these purposes, though many are fully trained in weapons and tactical maneuvers as well.
It seems that women just can’t catch a break. Furthermore, a November 2013 BBC News India piece quoted a former rebel commander from the eastern state of Bihar: ‘We had women from 16 to 40 years of age in our group. Almost all those I knew had experienced some form of sexual abuse or exploitation when they had stepped outside their homes to work or at the hands of security forces.’ The former commander noted that, although the women had originally joined the Maoist organisations to seek revenge against abuses in mainstream society, many had become disillusioned and were leaving the ranks – in large part because of abuse by their organisations’ male leaders.
Women’s growing role as insurgents and counter-insurgents
India’s Maoists are sometimes also known as ‘Naxalites’, a reference to the Naxalbari insurrection conducted by radical Maoist peasants in West Bengal in 1967. The present Communist Party of India was founded in September of 2004, a merger of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War (People’s War Group), and the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI). They operate mostly in India’s central and eastern regions, demanding land and jobs for the poor. Ultimately the Maoists want to establish a communist society by overthrowing the Indian government. Not surprisingly they are officially designated by various governing bodies of India as a ‘terrorist organisation’ and an ‘unlawful association’.
In recent years an increasing number of women have joined ‘the movement’; a phenomenon that most analysts attribute to the worsening conditions in rural India. In fact female commanders have come to constitute almost half of the armed cadre of Maoists. And, although it is difficult to get a head count of the women killed in encounters, it’s safe to say that as their participation grows, more female casualties are likely.
But despite their bravery in battle and their willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause, women still have difficulty getting respect from their fellow fighters, or from the authorities to whom some surrender when life as a rebel becomes unbearable.
Of course women aren’t the only ones who are brutalised when Maoists clash with law enforcement. In fact, attempts are being made to alleviate some of the problems, such as hiring women police officers to help address some of the human rights violations in Maoist-affected areas. Recently a survey was conducted in 322 locations across India, for the purpose of assessing public perception of women police officers. The results were presented in February 2014 during a conference held in Guwahati by the director who noted that there had been multiple complaints against “rude policemen who participate in human rights abuses”. Survey respondents indicated that they believed a female officer could handle any situation in a better manner than a man, and could also communicate more effectively with locals.
That’s just a drop in the bucket. It fails to address the problems that women rebels face within their organisations, and does not even begin to tackle the deep-seated problems that gave rise to the rebellions in the first place.
It could happen anywhere
Much of the world remains unaware of the suffering faced by India’s female Maoist rebels. It’s an issue that makes the news only occasionally and doesn’t capture worldwide headlines, as much as genocide or natural disasters or even celebrity sex scandals. Moreover, many people are unsympathetic to the Maoist political ideology as well as the rebels’ tactics, so Maoist women in India may not present as the most sympathetic victims in the eyes of many people.
Yet the fact remains that India, the world’s largest democracy, has serious internal problems that won’t be fixed easily, rebels or no rebels. A female Maoist being raped or tortured in India – whether at the hands of her fellow freedom fighters or by mainstream law enforcement – cannot simply be dismissed as “someone else’s problem”. What happens to her can and does happen everywhere in the world.
This guest post was contributed by Daphne Holmes. Daphne is a writer from Arrest Records.com based out of Dallas, Texas who writes on crime, violence and bullying. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.