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“I was born in the party”: Women in Maoist Ranks

Dr. P. V. Ramana was Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • December 15, 2015

    Kursenga Motibai alias Radhakka, the first woman in Andhra Pradesh/Telangana to join the ranks of the Naxalites of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), or Maoists in short, was enlarged on bail on December 12, 2015. A Gond tribal woman from Adilabad district, Telangana State, she was underground for 28 years and was the Bastar Divisional Committee Secretary at the time of her arrest in Khammam district.

    As the Maoists have themselves admitted in an internal document, not many women have been able to rise to leadership positions. Radhakka is one of those exceptions. A more striking exception is Anuradha Ghandy, who was a member of the apex and all-powerful Central Committee.

    To quote from an internal document of the Communist Party of India (Maoist):

    Our work in the women’s front is still far from satisfactory. Recruitment in many States is poor, selection-gradation-promotion of the women cadres is still not according to a systematic plan and our efforts are inadequate given the immense potential and the necessity of building the women’s movement and recruiting cadres and promoting leadership from the women. The trend of patriarchy is acting as a strong deterrent to our efforts in this regard.

    In their earlier avatar as the Communist Party of India –– Marxist-Leninist (People’s War), or PW in short, the Maoists had identified the various initiatives they would undertake along the way for building the women’s movement and making them partners in their New Democratic Revolution (NDR). These include:

    • Equal rights to women from agriculture labour and poor peasantry background in the distribution of land.
    • Equal rights to women in hereditary and self-earned property to women from well-to-do families.
    • Equal wages for equal work.
    • Eradicate physical exploitation of women and completely eradicate prostitution.
    • Eradicate atrocities on women and severely punish offenders.
    • Put an end to the dowry system. Put an end to ostentatious weddings and demand the encouragement of simple, inter-caste weddings.
    • Fifty per cent reservation for women in government jobs.
    • Struggle for free, compulsory education for girls and co-education institutions. Fight against discrimination/distortions against girls in the education system.
    • Fight against gender determination tests and female foeticide. Fight against discrimination between young boys and girls.
    • Fight against religious practices that are humiliating to women. Fight against ‘personal law’.
    • Fight against derogatory representation of women in all forms, including in the media.

    Similarly, the Maoists have also identified the various long-term tasks the women’s movement would undertake after they herald the New Democratic Revolution. These include:

    • Full partnership for women in social production; i.e. transformation of relationship between men and women in production.
    • Collective role in house-hold activities.
    • Men and women to jointly involve in house-hold activities.
    • Women to participate in politics and jointly exercise political authority.
    • Personal wealth/property to be converted into collective wealth/property and struggle for an end to patriarchy.
    • Abolish private, family business/industry and establish community production and ownership.
    • Establish fraternal relationship with and support women’s movements across the world.

    One of the oft cited reasons for women joining the underground is that, being at an impressionable age, they have been carried away by the exhortations of visiting squads through speeches and the revolutionary songs rendered by cultural troupes. “I was motivated by the fiery, inspiring songs a visiting Maoist squad sung in my village,” Saritha, a bubbling, extrovert teenager and a stickler to propriety, told this researcher in the spring of 2002. She is one illustration of ‘impressionable minds being carried away’ by the Maoist propaganda machine.

    Also, some of the women were influenced to join the movement by a family member –– husband, brother or uncle. For instance, Anasuya, wife of Komarayya, a member of the North Telangana Special Zone Committee (NTSZC), which the rebels once showcased as their flagship guerrilla zone, simply followed her husband’s footsteps, leaving behind her toddler son in the care of her in-laws.

    Nelakonda Rajitha’s is a different story. An under graduate fire-brand student leader in Karimnagar district, Telangana, she rose to become the lone woman member till-date of the NTSZC. While underground, she came into contact with, and married, Sande Rajamouli, who later rose to be a member of the apex and all-powerful Central Committee, and Central Military Commission. Rajitha was killed in an encounter in July 2002 and Rajamouli in June 2007.

    The numbers of women cadre among the rebels swelled from the late 1990s and into the current decade. While an overwhelming majority of the approximately 40 per cent women among Maoist ranks belong to rural and tribal India, and are ‘fighters’, some are highly educated urban ideologues and leaders. Anuradha Ghandy, a university lecturer in Sociology, best illustrates this category. At the time of her death due to cerebral malaria, she was leading the all-India women’s movement and was the lone member of the Central Committee. She was also the wife of Kobad Ghandy, chief of the Central Propaganda Bureau and member of the Central Committee, who was arrested in Delhi in September 2009.

    There is no one particular reason for women joining the Maoist ranks. Some have joined the underground due to desperation. Exploitation at the hands of the high and powerful in the village is one reason.

    In January 2004, this researcher met with a young tribal girl in Karimnagar district who strayed into the Maoist fold after receiving 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 of the same district, another young girl, 14 year-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.

    There have also been instances of all sisters from a single family joining the Maoist ranks, or an entire family taking the revolutionary path. Very peculiar as it may sound, as one surrendered woman cadre told this researcher, “I was born in the party”. Her parents met in the underground and got married. She was born some years later. She was educated in schools run by the Welfare Department of the government and would visit her parents during vacations. Eventually, she, too, joined the underground.

    The conscious efforts of the Maoist organization in Dandakaranya to put an end to various forms of patriarchy had also helped in women joining either the underground or mass organizations. The Maoists had largely succeeded in putting an end to ‘forced marriages’ and marriage among cousins.

    Women join Maoist ranks for a variety of reasons. They do not admit or really feel that they have erred in joining the underground. Impressionable age, the then existing social milieu and circumstances, personal reasons, influence of kin or family and the inspiration of ideology prompt them to join the rebels. The urge to change society becomes so strong at that point that they cannot be dissuaded from joining the Maoists.

    Women Maoists who surrender, as well as those arrested but are willing to join the mainstream, are rehabilitated by the government. The government should encourage surrenders and effectively implement the rehabilitation package to provide succour to those who choose to join the mainstream.

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