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IDSA COMMENT

Women in Maoist Ranks

August 20, 2013

Women have been an active part of the war machinery of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), or Maoists, in short, for several years now.

Replying to a question in the Lok Sabha, on July 13, 2013, Minister of State for Home Affairs, RPN Singh said, “The LWE (Left-Wing Extremist) groups, particularly CPI (Maoist), forcibly recruit female cadre, including minor girls, from the tribal belts of Naxal-affected areas in various parts of the country”.

“I was motivated by the fiery, inspiring songs a visiting Maoist squad sung in my village” Pittala Saritha, a bubbling, extrovert teenager and a stickler to propriety, told this researcher in February 2002. She aptly represents ‘impressionable minds being carried away’ by the Maoist propaganda machinery. She was forced to quit the Maoist fold in Warangal district, Andhra Pradesh (AP), when she accosted senior leaders for their immoral activities.

Unlike her, Anupuram Anasuya, wife of Anupuram Komarayya, a then member of the North Telengana Special Zone Committee (NTSZC) was motivated by her husband to join the underground; she left behind her infant son with her family. Anasuya, however, surrendered to the authorities and came over-ground shortly after her husband was killed in an encounter with the police. Similarly, Polam Bharathi, wife of Polam Sudharshan Reddy, who was also a member of the NTSZC at that time, quit the outfit after Sudharshan Reddy was killed in an encounter with the police.

However, the story of Nelakonda Rajitha alias Padmakka, is different. While underground she married Sande Rajamouli, who rose from the ranks to become a Polit Bureau Member and member of the Central Military Commission that guides all the armed activities of the Maoists. An under-graduate fire-brand student leader, in Karimnagar district, AP, she, too, had risen from the ranks to get elected as the lone woman member till-date of the NTSZC. Rajitha was killed in an encounter in July 2002, while Rajamouli was killed in another encounter in June 2007.

The numbers of women cadre among the rebels began to increase in the late 1990s. As the Minister said in the Lok Sabha, “No data on the exact number of female cadre with CPI (Maoist) is available.” But, as one senior IPS officer told this author, “Approximately, 40 per cent of the Maoist cadres are women and they belong to rural and tribal India. They are ‘fighters’”.

In fact, some of them are highly educated, urban ideologues and leaders. For instance, Anuradha Ghandy, a Sociology lecturer, best illustrates this category. At the time of her demise due to cerebral malaria, she was leading the all-India women’s movement and was the lone member of the Central Committee. Her husband, Kobad Ghandy was heading the Central Propaganda Bureau of the Maoists until he was arrested in the national capital New Delhi, on September 20, 2009.

Women have been joining the rebel-fold for various reasons. Some have joined the underground due to desperation. Exploitation at the hands of the high and powerful in the village is another reason.

This analyst met with a young tribal girl, in Karimnagar district, AP, in 2004 January, who strayed into the Maoist fold after she received a scolding from her parents. She was spotted in the fields weeping, by a passing Maoist squad who consoled her and asked her to walk along with them. In another instance in Pata Rudraram village, in the same district, another young girl, 14 years-old, Narsingojula Padma, ran away from home, in May 2004, and into the Maoist fold in an attempt to escape getting married against her wishes. Both young girls actually qualify being termed as child soldiers and the rebels should not have taken the girls with them at all, in the first instance. Immense pressure and protests by parents and villagers forced the Maoists to, eventually, let-off both the girls.

In yet another instance that came to light in Bihar, the Naxalites targeted girls, as well as boys, in 2002; at that time, parents in the vicinity of Tanda and Bagh Rivers sent away their children to help escape forcible recruitment. In 2004, in Bihar, the police reportedly rescued a group of girls from the Naxalites and admitted them to a local vocational training institute run by missionaries

Women do join as fighters and participate in raids and attacks on police. Some are fearless and make good fighters. The military training they receive is as rigorous and strenuous as that imparted to their male counterparts. There are, in fact, a few women squad commanders and platoon section commanders in various parts of the country, especially in the North Telengana and Dandakaranya guerrilla zones. However, according to a Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), “In many cases women are the first to succumb in direct clashes during exchange of fire.” Besides, the Maoists have, themselves, admitted in their internal documents that they have not been able to, in general, train women to assume leadership positions.

It is not uncommon to find couples among Maoist ranks. One Superintendent of Police told this author, “Good looking women cadres are married-off to senior Maoist leaders”. Of course, cupid can strike any couple, irrespective of their standing (rank) within the underground.

Besides, as one IPS officer told this researcher, “Women play a catalyzing role in the couple surrendering to the authorities and joining the mainstream”. This researcher, in fact, met with a few such couples. For instance, Byrani Ramchander, a deputy commander of a Naxalite squad surrendered along with his wife in 2001, in Jagityal, Warangal district, AP, after senior leaders declined to get his wife treated for a medical ailment. He deserted the underground and left with a few tens of thousands of rupees to get his wife treated. Some months later, he hand his wife surrendered throwing to the winds the warning issued by his former comrades. Some months/years into the marriage, women Naxalites would like to settle down and raise a family, which persuades them to prevail upon their husband to surrender. There are numerous such cases.

However, irrespective of the circumstances that prompted the surrender, life is not as easy for a surrendered woman Naxalite or couple. Poor health and financial constraints are significant factors in this wake. But, according to a senior IPS officer, “In the male dominated remote and interior rural areas a surrendering woman Naxalite is, comparatively, a stronger woman”.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.