Women in the Maoist War in India: Two Sides of Spectrum

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Abstract

The increasing support base of women in the lower Maoist ranks has failed to secure the attention it deserves in the Indian security paradigm. The Maoist support is in its declining phase since many men have either lost their lives in the war against the Indian State or have surrendered or have been arrested by the police officers. The Maoists who claim to restore tribal rights have earned further “social acceptability” due to increasing participation of women. Forty to fifty percent of the lower Maoist cadres now comprise of women who are serving as fresh fodder in the bloody war against the State. While for many women, the movement seems as a way to free themselves from the shackles of patriarchy, the picture however is not very pleasing. Since its inception, gender equality has remained a second class category and has been subverted by the larger ideals of class equality championed by the movement. The cases of sexual abuse faced by women both at the hands of Maoists and state security forces are rampant. Since the female body is often bound by the socio-cultural norms of “honour” and “dignity”, some women find it difficult to re-integrate into the society after having been abused. For many who surrender to the state after quitting the Maoist movement find it extremely challenging to restore their normal lives. I wish to cover the challenges faced by women from different vantage points, not only within the movement but also where they lack the financial agency and security to lead their lives after their husbands have joined the Maoists or lost their lives. This paper seeks to explore the various facets of lives of women caught in the fire between the Indian state and the Maoists

 

Introduction

War and peace have become synonymous with men and women respectively. Exclusive projection of women as mere victims and men as perpetrators completely eludes women’s experiences and participation in crime and violence in a war like situation. Not only does this lead to silencing women’s voices who commit acts of violence as perpetrators but also jeopardises their reintegration into society in post conflict phase. Excessive focus on women as agents at the “humanitarian front of war” evades the possibility of considering their role in crime and violence. Violent conflict leads to blending of public and private spheres which in turn creates space for their activism. Bernice Carol describes this as “giving women special skills to assess the role of weapons and war and to offer alternative models of behaviour in dealing with conflict and social change”.[1] It is this wide range of women’s experiences on two sides of spectrum that I seek to cover in the context of Naxalites.[2]

 

 

 

De Pauw groups women’s roles in war into four categories: (1) the classic roles of victim and of instigator; (2) combat support roles; (3) “virago” roles that perform masculine functions without changing feminine appearance (such as warrior queens, women members of home militias, or all-female combat units); and (4) warrior roles in which women become like men, often changing clothing and other gender markers.[3]

 

Paucity of study and data has failed to effectively consolidate women’s experiences as combatants. War and violence are still mistakenly considered to be the reserve of men and the literature that fails to elaborate on involvement of women in acts of violence.[4]  Therefore war becomes this double edged sword where women suffer both as perpetrators and victims

 

Before touching upon the role of women in naxalite movement as combatants, activist and those affected in the war between naxalites and State I aim to challenge the dominant idea that relegates women to the role of a nurturer and of that who lacks aggressiveness. I support my argument by highlighting certain examples which analyses the role of women from the standpoint of a perpetrator where they have engaged in considerable combat positions. Thereafter I intend to map the vast terrain that lies between role of women as perpetrators, peace activists and civilians who bear the brunt of violence.

 

 Large number of women served in the Soviet army when it suffered shortage of men, this serves as exemplary of female participation in military oriented outfits. The attitude of men prior to female participation was hostile but women “proved themselves” and “gained even acceptance or admiration”. They were concentrated in the nursing department as well as in the anti craft units. Concentration of women in these departments underscores the exclusive feminisation of certain departments which sanction participation of women only in limited categories, just in as much as men are willing to relinquish their authority[5].

 

It is essential here to draw the difference between Germany and Soviet Union usage of women in military positions which subscribed to the “gendered ideology” that prevailed in pre war conditions. Since Nazi Germany propagated the idea which promoted participation of men in politics and women in household, it entered the war maintaining the same position. Women were deliberately excluded from combat roles even though they were heavily concentrated in air force especially in auxiliary positions, simultaneously they were excluded from combat roles. Joshua has also mentioned that women were “neither trained in use of arms nor were they allowed under any conditions to use them.  It is only when the war created gaps in the labour force, that women filled various clerical jobs.[6]

 

“Women are usually occupying base or menial positions such as cooks and drivers, secretaries or in some ornamental role. Although women’s service in the armed forces is usually depicted by governments as a matter of equality, it is rare indeed that women climb out of the ranks.”[7]

 

In the Vietnam War against the French and the Americans, women made significant contribution to sustain war efforts. But their role was a “restricted one”. In southern Vietnam they were primarily used for support functions. As elucidated by Hoi Chinh Minh women carried a large burden of work to carry the war efforts, the prime reason to involve women in the war was essentially to employ their cheap labour. Che Guavara in his essays on guerrilla warfare has highlighted how the men in the guerrilla ranks were forced to eat tasteless food in the absence of women.[8] This lays bare the structures of inequality and oppression which remain significantly operational in revolutionary movements. Women continue to be identified and viewed within the paradigm of domesticity.  The example of Lebanon successfully highlights how the prevailing structures continue to domesticate women in war like situations. They played a supportive role by providing first aid services, hospital administration and food to support the combatants. Cockburn has challenged the dominant accounts of women’s experiences in war that have sustained and often left the structural inequalities untouched or unquestioned. By elaborating the underlying inequalities that prevail in the perception of the role of men and women in war like situations, she poses a pertinent question,” Where is the picture of male guerrilla holding a rifle and a baby”.[9] This portrays how women still subscribe to the same traditional feminine roles that they seek to dismantle. Drawing from this, I seek to explore the vast space that lies between revolutionary and post revolutionary promises for women in left wing guerrilla movements and by doing so identify similar features in the Naxalite movement in India.

 

Women participated in significant numbers in Guerrilla movements in many parts of the world, those of Nepal and Latin America remain the most recent and significant ones. A closer look at the reasons that propel women to join revolutionary guerrilla movements varies significantly. Some theorists suggest that merging with public roles paved way for women to get acquainted with political and revolutionary ideals. Men’s out migration driven by economic downturn resulted in formation of poor and impoverished female headed household. This pushed women to adopt new roles of bread earners and workers in the family. Certain theorists elaborate that the global wave of feminism in combination with changing structural roles were responsible for women’s mobilisation in the guerrilla armies.[10]

 

Despite espousing the overarching goal of bringing gender equality in the post-revolutionary phase, the left revolutionary movement has detached themselves from translating that idea into practice. The gender roles are redefined, reasserted and re articulated in a more militarised space which in essence is “hyper masculinised”[11]. The roles for women are then constructed based on the socio, cultural context that prevail in a nation The post conflict reconstruction efforts in several nations are often most likely to bypass the needs and experiences of women who have fought the war alongside men.

 

Guerrilla armies borrow their ideology from the same patriarchal structures; therefore the “culture of sexism” does not drastically disappear. “Women are more likely to participate in support rather than full combat positions. However these support roles can be strategic”.[12] Study of female participation in left wing revolutionary movements is significant; however lack of research and empirical data limits a holistic picture of their roles. The intention is also to traverse through the porous and complex boundaries between victims and perpetrators. Women who are perpetrators in crime and violence can also be victims of sexual abuse and discrimination.

 

Lack of availability of data and research on women in Naxalite movement has been one of the limitations that I have encountered while writing this paper. To analyse the role of women in the Naxalite movement from its onset till recently through a gendered prism is something that is yet to manifest in the paradigm of academic research. Through this paper, I have attempted to map   their participation not only as “revolutionary agents” but also highlight the challenges of women who have borne the brunt of violence as unaffiliated civilians.  To achieve this, I have borrowed trends from women’s role in other left wing movements and deduced similar or different patterns that exist in the Indian Naxalite movement. I have used journal, news paper articles and video documentaries that contain traces of women’s role in Naxalite movement as well its impact on women who lie outside its purview.

 

 Understanding Naxalbari and Women’s role in its initial phase

 

To understand the complexity of the Naxalite movement, it is pertinent to understand its genesis and how the dynamics have changed over time. The socio-political context in which the Naxalbari struggle is situated, coincided with the peasant struggle that sparked protests in many neighbouring villages. The social tensions, with class and caste ruptures, that were in a tumultuous phase in the hinterlands of India were further fanned by the then ongoing struggle.[13]  The naxalbari revolution started when the local landlords started to harass a peasant named Bimal Kissan who had rightfully claimed the right to plough his land. This sparked retaliation from the local tribal groups and they joined together and started recapturing lands that belonged to disadvantaged class and caste groups. This incident gained visibility and mushroomed into similar peasant struggles and secured popular support from other revolutionaries who chose the path of an armed struggle to fight for the rights of India’s dispossessed and disadvantaged. Few Prominent revolutionaries who orchestrated the movement were Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal. The movement[14] during its inception was considered as mere lawlessness by the Indian State[15] which increased its muscle power to crush it.[16]  The trajectory of the Naxal movement has been punctuated by many splinters and mergers due to surfacing differences in the Maoist ideology along different lines. Even Kanu Sanyal who was one of the founding members of the movement cites that, “he gave up the path of a dedicated armed struggle by 1977 and accepted parliamentary practice as a form of revolutionary activity”. Since its onset, Naxalite struggle has spread across various parts of the country and has claimed to fight against the structural inequality and poverty that have affected vast majority of India’s population.

 

Even after considerable assurance Indian Government has not succeeded in tackling the Naxalite problem. Part of the problem lies in resorting to military response rather than focusing on social integration and development in the region.  All the regions where Maoism took a stronghold are those of alarming poverty[17] Ramchandra Guha in his essay argues that adivasis “have lost most and gained least” in the post-independence development in India. The vacuum that exists in the development paradigm has helped the Maoist revolutionaries to seep into it and secure support of the tribals.

 

The early phase of the movement saw a great deal of literature and academic research published from that period however experiences of women rarely manifest in the historiography of movement. What granted supreme validity to the struggle and violence in the revolution is the subordination of women and peasants by State and the landlords. In fact, in male memoirs of the naxal struggle women are referred to as nurturer, lover and glorious mother who lays bare the patriarchal structures so deeply entwined in the movement. Yet there existed a clear divide in the perception of rural and urban women, often romanticizing the former. The female peasant (disadvantaged group) who struck down the police officer was often looked at with amazement, at times compared to a female panther by virtue of her speed and attack which fell in sharp contrast with the domestic attributes of urban middle class women.[18]

 

Women defied patriarchal norms, left their homes and joined the guerrilla armies. Females usually acquired only politically subordinate jobs along with daily drudgery work of domesticity (as is also the present case). They were employed to do ‘courier work, provide logistical support to robberies, stealing arms, disrupt classes and examinations’. The dominant thinking within the party was that women would be inefficient in organizational work. Many women left the safe confines of their household to participate in gram biplab (rural revolution) driven by their desire to bring about socio political change. Party members however were not keen on women’s participation since it was challenging for women to find a shelter when the movement had to function in underground when cracked by State oppression.  At several instances, women were assumed to be free domestic servants in shelters which signify the all pervasive nature of traditional feminine roles.[19]

 

In the realm of political as well as underground, women’s bodies were considered to be either already ‘raped or rapable’. Female cadres encountered threats at the hands of their own comrades; thereby making the lines between the protector and the prosecutor blurred. The fabrication of a rapist State (during State repression of the movement) was instrumental in creating an illusion of safety within the underground life in the movement. Rape within the party was not only ignored but also treated as consensual sex. Minor sexual transgressions were qualified as deviations or mere mistakes and also required women to remain silent on these issues in order to preserve the positive image of the movement. Women also chose to remain silent to secure their middle class honour and respectability. Those who challenged the unequal gender relations were said to destroy the movement even by their fellow women revolutionaries. This also raises certain troubling questions regarding conflicting identifications of both male and female comrades wherein they negotiated with “good” and “bad” violence  in their everyday lives. Simultaneously, it lays bare the fact that the Left revolutionary movements often start with empowering the women involved and in due course of time are regulated by rigid conformity with patriarchal structures and hegemonic masculinity thereby considering the same women as nothing but “space invaders.”[20]

 

In the context of naxalites, former naxalite women have claimed that the larger agenda of class struggle had subverted the ideals of gender equality. The Naxalite led struggle in Bihar in the 70s questioned the prevailing status hierarchy that existed between the higher and lower caste. The women participated equally in the struggle however, when it came to deliverance the land rights were considered to be the reserve of men. The struggle also rarely ever addressed the idea of equal wages and land rights both for men and women. These instances reveal that the revolution borrowed the same foundations that existed in the society and did not seek to change or overhaul the same structures that put women in a subordinate position. [21]

 

What needs to be analysed is what propels women to join these revolutionary movements as well as their capacity as “agents” in the revolutionary movement. Some theorists have claimed that women as actors are filled with a profuse sense of political consciousness and “collective identity”[22] that fuels the imagination of a better world. Vindhya in her essay has elaborated on the idea of ‘risky, unconventional activity when success is at best elusive and causes are often lost’[23] which attempts to explore linkages between women’s participation in an organisation that aims to resist power through armed means and the motivation to increase “self esteem” and wellbeing through a revolution.

 

The image of the naxal woman as projected is that of a “militant” that exist in tandem with that the male comrades. However it still remains pertinent to dissect the various entangled identities within the movement that have unfolded ever since its onset. Having elaborated this, it also relevant to underline that individual’s experiences cannot be evaluated based in a single dimension, since class, race, caste and ethnicity play a huge role in determining the experiences of individuals which in the case of women only becomes too complex(mendez). To elaborate this, it is essential to locate the intersections that exist in between class and gender which in turn will allow some space to assess the forgotten role of women. In “Calcutta Canons” Roy has highlighted how the mainstream historiography has failed to commemorate the experiences of the tribal and disadvantaged groups of women. The participation of tribal women evoked a sense of romanticism even though there existed a long history tribal and peasant women’s participation, for example in Tebagha Movement[24]. This springs from the fact that historical accounts were largely dominated by the middle class male who assembled similar ideas in the movement. The ideal image of the naxalite remained confined to that of a male “naxalite icon” and some of the very integral accounts on naxalites have alluded to the same image, thus compromising on the very intricate details of the socio-political context that naxalites came from. Through this it can be derived that the country side (non metropolitan) women naxalites were absent from the historical accounts due to double marginalisation , “first  for the fact that they emerged from “rural or small town areas” and second by virtue of them being “women”.

 

Labo has carved out a very interesting description of class distinction within revolutionary movements. Middle class women due to narrow experiences in daily survival come out as less tougher political figures than women however they have better access to politics than lower class women. The impact of job loss and imprisonment is less on middle class women who have better access to coping strategies than lower class women. The onus of income generation falls less on middle class women which leaves room for activism and politics.[25]

 

Women often retain their feminist ideals after quitting the revolutionary movements. Ajitha who was one of the naxalites who fearlessly fought for the rights of dispossessed and disadvantaged now runs an organisation called Anweshi which is a women’s groups that fights against ‘gender oppression, environmental and indigenous issues”. This organisation has unearthed several cases of sexual exploitation by politicians as well as various sex rackets.[26]

 

 

Recent Times: Women in Naxalite Movement

 

The Naxalites have for long survived and propagated their agenda through the unprecedented support of women. Government figures reveal that women form fifty to sixty percent of lower cadres comprise of women. The Maoist publication titled “women martyrs if the Indian Revolution” highlights that women from the most oppressed sections join them in unprecedented numbers. “More than ninety percent of these martyrs belong to the most oppressed classes of and oppressed castes from rural areas...............naturally the women from the oppressed classes and castes form the revolutionary social force”. [27] The same document reveals that the reasons that drive women to join the revolutionary struggle  might be different but one common feature can be identified amongst most of them and that is to be “liberated from patriarchy and to liberate all the women from patriarchy”.[28] This document evokes heroic and sacrificial image of the women Maoists that serves as fresh fodder for the Maoist propaganda.[29] The women’s question adds further validity to the struggle, invoking an image of “committed, disciplined, reliable and militant” women guerrillas attracts more recruits into the movement who want to escape the oppressive structures prevalent in society.[30] In the case of naxalites, there has been a manifold increase in the number of women in combat roles which has earned further social acceptability for the naxalites. It also becomes easier for female comrades to garner support of poor and especially women since they can penetrate into remote and neglected tribal areas without arousing suspicion in the eyes of police.[31] . The Maoist document on women Martyrs also claims that women revolution in remote and interiors of the forests where women in turn have mobilised lakhs of other women from the forest. [32]

 

Referring to the Colombian FARC[33] movement one of the main reasons for women to join the guerrilla army was to validate their identity. “In a country where women are usually ignored, “guerrillas are surrounded by symbols that give them an identity”.[34] Incentives that have driven Colombian women to join guerrilla armies are that of lack of socio economic and political rights and grinding poverty. [35] In FMLN from El Salvador ,women served as “mountains”[36] strategic tools for the organisation to penetrate into and connect to remote communities. They worked as “revolutionary bridges” between and the guerrilla movement.[37]

 

The injustice and justness of the killing conducted by police or the Maoists perceived by the women survivors determines their course of action. In the former they are provoked to join the Maoists to seek arrange and the latter sparks further “resignation and dependency on the State[38] also depends on which of the warning sides sanction killing of women. Manju Devi was a Naxalite sysmpathiser, who rose to the rank of a representative in the local government in Bihar was brutally murdered by the Ranvir Sena. She was working towards improving the conditions of poor women. She was the elected representative of the district level Panchayat in Kurpi, Alwa.

 

Cockburn gives a very lucid description of what propels women to join in times of war. She asserts that women do not have the means to “conceptually separate themselves” from men who are involved in the war as fathers , lovers, brother or husbands. This same thread can also be observed in the early phases of Naxalite movement and has been also elucidated in the above few paragraphs. To draw from the experiences of girl combatants in the Liberian war women have joined the ranks through forceful recruitment, However, they could also join voluntarity which can be mentioned as the “reasonable adaptive” strategy which is observed and operated under dangerous circumstances when there exist lack of options to survive and be safe[39].The reasons in the case of women naxalites would not differ in the case of Maoists. Some women have picked up guns either to escape the gender based violence unleashed by the Maoists or the State or to avenge that has been already perpetrated upon them. Amongst them one of the reasons for women to join the naxals is also to escape economic risks.

 

“The Naxals also use females and young girls in their attacks. However, the naxal leadership is yet to include any prominent females”[40]. The statements of few female guerrillas resonate of evidences that young girls have been recruited in the struggle , thought that has not always taken place under the influence of force. Girls have joined driven by abject poverty conditions , to break from the shackles of patriarchy.

 

 Rebecca one of the naxalite guerrillas told BBC in an interview that State repression drove her to pick up arms. “We don’t live this hard life for nothing. I had no choice but to join the revolution, now there is no looking back. In the face of extreme poverty and desperate conditions that prevail in the hinterlands of India, it is easier for Maoists to recruit as long as they offer some monetary compensation.

 

The female combatants interviewed by the Open Magazine had joined the Naxals when they were as young as 17 or 18 years old. In fact Tirakka, who serves as the commander in the Gadchiroli district, speaks about the Maoist camps close to her village who espoused the idea of an equal society, which lured her to join the naxalite movement. She sought revenge for the harassment her family faced at the hands of forest officers.

 

Significant pieces of literature have documented the discrimination faced by women party members. “Does War Mean only men’s war” by Andhra Jyothy reflects the biased nature of revolutionary movements which have often failed to accommodate gender concerns. Kannibaran has argued that there have not been significant changes in the sexual division of labour even though men have taken to some tasks like cooking and cleaning, the cracks and fissures still remain. In a meeting held in 2004, women also recommended to exclude words like “veeramatha” and “Veerapatni” as they denote the sexism prevalent in the party.

 

“The glorification of motherhood masks the active denial of entitlements and equal citizenship in practice while idealising sacrifice, service and unquestioning surrender to sons.This glorification of motherhood is a mirror image of the simultaneous worship of the mother goddess and the debasement of women in reality. This mystification of reproductive labour serves to keep women in chains”[41]. The revolutionary movements by reducing “women to nothing-but mothers relegates them to their biologically accepted role without questioning the foundation of its patriarchal base

 

Even though the Naxalites claim to not evaluate women’s identity under patriarchal terms, there still exists glorification of motherhood. In the Maoist document on women martyrs, they mention that the myth of “motherhood has been shattered”, however the idea of women being brave mothers who have left behind their children for the sake of revolution still lingers. At the same time they view women as mothers of not only their own children but that of entire oppressed masses.[42]  Some male and female comrades who have surrendered in Chhattisgarh have revealed they are not allowed to have children even after marriage in order to not sabotage their fighting capability. Women are made to forcefully undergo abortion and men are forced to undergo vasectomy to restrict child birth. These concerted measures portray deprivation of women’s rights for the sake of revolution.

 

The Maoist movement in other parts of Asia, for example in the Philippines ,addressed the issue of sexuality much earlier in their struggle, however this holistic approach was not so well ingrained and the traces of patriarchy still remained. Even the Maoists in Nepal adopted a scientific approach to address gender equality amongst the cadres. The promises however remained undelivered in its post conflict phase because many women who participated in the guerrilla movement were excluded from the negotiating and decision making levels. The Maoists in the onset of Naxalbari movement did not take into account the existing gendered inequality and power dynamics. Certain Comrades like Naramada have also affirmed that incorporating gender concerns into the Maoist struggle was a gradual process and was a result of conceited efforts by some women like Anuradha Ghandy who served as the member of Central Committee in 2007and formulated a strategy to address women’s concerns in her “ Our Approach to the Women’s Question”[43] 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”.[44]

 

Complementing women’s role as agents in organized violence and crimes in conflict situations will have a bearing on the long term solutions that are adopted in the road towards conflict resolution and peace building.[45] It is essential to talk about the role of female combatants in the Maoist cadres to analyse their role as perpetrators of violence. The newspapers were rife with details of women cadres who stabbed 78 times the popular Congress leader Mahendra Karma, who had orchestrated Salwa Judum. The brutal attack has also been said to have avenged the atrocities committed by the Salwa Judum.

 

“While the Maoists had already claimed that their purpose was to "punish" Karma for launching Salwa Judum, the controversial anti-Maoist armed tribal militia, the women rebels attacked him as if they had a personal score to settle.”[46]

 

It remains to throw some light on women’s experiences in the difficult terrain where the Naxalite war is operational. Some women have also openly spoken about the tough life they face in the Naxalite war. During their monthly periods they have to undergo tough and rigorous training. There are days when they have to go without water since water in the forests could be poisonous. Usage of toilets is also scarce.

 

 

Many surrendered women comrades have also spoken about rampant sexual exploitation of women that is meted out to women by the Naxal leadership. Sunita an ex women naxalite in her book , “ek maovadi ki diary”, writes, “Every woman is seen as an object which would satisfy the lust of all male cadres. The movement had lured me in 2003 by making me believe that the male and females would be equal in the new order it strives to create. But what I experienced over there was horrifying, worse than putative oppression which women of rural India face[47],” National Commission of women has highlighted in various state reports profiles that state violence against women in states like Chattisgarh and other affected states does exist in their anti naxal campaign.[48] This portrays how women are sandwiched between two warring sides and are often exposed to misogynist torture on the basis of their allegiance.

 

Shayne reflects on a close link between feminism and revolutionary struggles. She quotes Kampwirth citing “guerrilla aim to transform social relations, to reduce economic and political inequality, in short, to turn the world upside down. Feminist struggles may be described in the same way , qualified only by the addition of the phrase, ‘between men and women’”. In the post-revolutionary phase when women realise that their situation has not significantly improved, most of them become a part of feminist struggles which seeks to transform social structures and the ideological basis that suppresses them. Women are more than often used for tactical purpose which provokes a sense of dissatisfaction and betrayal for not achieving their desired status in the society.

 

Reintegration Process of Female Combatants

 

This field of research is still shrouded by disregard for women’s role as combatants. The needs of female ex combatants are often overlooked in the reintegration process. Women and men have different experiences and hence that must be taken into account in the reintegration process. Besides recognising the role of women as combatants

 

Lack of research on the role of women in combat situation also jeopardizes their reintegration in the DDR[49] process. Women are not only marginalised in the guerrilla groups but also their experiences in post conflict process are undervalued. They are “stigmatized and excluded “in peace and negotiation process which is often punctuated by lack of women’s participation and representation of women. Not only did early phases of Naxalite movement exhibit lack of representation of women but  also further proceedings displayed similar patterns, for example the October 2004, ceasefire agreement between the State Government of Andhra Pradesh  and the Naxalite groups ,the women were not represented at the negotiating table even though they had equally participated in the naxalite struggle. These gender blind approaches threaten women’s reintegration process. Further due to the stigma attached to women ex combatants, they also try to avoid being “identified” by the authorities.[50]

 

Ortega in her essay reasserts that reintegration process often involves women to return to their traditional feminine roles, the same shackles they were trying to break free from through their revolutionary struggles. Female sexuality is bound in the clutches of patriarchy and this has a tendency to spill into revolutionary movements, however they largely ignore the foundational structures that lead to women’s oppression in the first place.[51]

 

Some women who have quit the Naxal cadres have come forward to help other women to reintegrate into mainstream life. Sunita, a former naxalite has come forward to form “bandhumitra communities” that help other women to claim the rehabilitation package and reduce police harassment of surrendered naxals through public relations. Women who surrender are subjected to regular stalking by special cops and are required for daily attanedance to the police stations.[52]

 

  Women from the other side of spectrum: Victims and Survivors

 

Naxalite war between the State and the naxalites has certainly displaced an overwhelming number of civilians. In many areas, the only last resort that is left for people is to abandon their belongings and homes. Sexual violence is used as a means to punish women to support the “wrong side” in the armed conflict. Women are subjected to torture and often killed. “The sustenance of everyday life, especially for indigenous and peasant women is made impossible by the operations of armed actors”.[53] War raises many challenges for women which they often have to face single handed.

 

Salwa Judum (purification hunt in Gondi)is the local militia that was formed to hold counter insurgency operations against the naxalites. Seversl Adivasis were forcibly displaced from their homes and pushed into relief camps on grounds that the villages had to be vacated to cleanse it from Naxal presence. The rampant violation of human rights committed by the salwa judum militia and the Naga battalion in their anti naxal operations have been continuously overlooked due to political backing. An All India Committee Against Violence on Women conducted a research in November 2006 and revealed several cases of large scale sexual abuse and exploitation of women that took place in the camps. Some women had reported of having lost their land and livestock due to the raging war between the state and the naxalites, simultaneously they also reported lack of food and toilet facilities in the camp. UNICEF had reported malnutrition belonging to grade 4 in Dornapal camp amongst children.[54]

 

 Various women organisations have come together to urge the State to withdraw its “armed offensive against the people from Odisha, Jharkhand, Chattisgrah , Madhya  Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Any democratic uprising to uphold the rights of citizens is being increasingly labelled as “Maoist sympathisers”. Salwa Judum atrocities are one of the worst documented cases of human rights violations in the State of Chattisgarh. Custodial rapes, gang raped, mutilation of body parts, and repeated sexual abuse of women in relief camps and police custody are certain crimes that have surfaced. They are continuously being silenced through the use of weapons like abuse and rape. “Women are the worst sufferers of the lack of livelihood, food, shelter and security, and of state abetted violence, specially the increasing use of sexual violence to intimidate communities

 

There are some villages that have been rendered man-less due to many men being  arrested as Maoist suspects. The increasing number of female headed household seems alarming especially when the agency to pull them out of their poverty stricken state remain limited. The compelling issue of malnourished children in the Maoist affected areas remains yet another grave challenge that needs to be tackled. [55]

 

The daily lives are punctuated by frequent disruptions where even the children are caught in the crossfire between the State and the Maoists. A report by Human Rights Watch titled “Sabotaged Schooling: Naxalite Attacks and Police Occupation of Schools in India’s Bihar and Jharkhand States” lays bare the sad state of education that prevails in these affected areas. The increasing dropout rates is due to the bombing of the schools that is used by naxals to erase all state relevant infrastructure in the areas where they exercise most influence. This is coupled by the already existing paucity of schools and other State amenities in the region.[56] The lack of police stations in the area inevitably leads to occupation of schools by the State security affairs. The dismal enrolment rates of children in the left wing extremism affected states are also an outcome of the poor facilities provided by the Government. The meagre number of teacher personnel also contributes towards magnifying this issue. The teachers are reluctant to get posted in these regions due to the Maoist insurgency in the region. My intention here is to further elaborate on the dismal enrolment rate of girl child in the region. The dropout rates of girl child are higher than that of boys due to actual or perceived sexual exploitation at the hands of security personnel. Due to prevalent lack of law and order in the region , the girls are also prone to sexual abuse and exploitation at the hands of the school personnel.  One of the woman naxalites in “Let’s Call Him Vasu”[57] had cited her decision to join the Naxalite movement was due to the rampant sexual abuse that took place in the schools. More than often it is the girl child who has to quit education in times of poverty where in her education is less preferred than that of a boy, thus subscribing to traditional feminine roles which relegate her to the domestic sphere.

 

The State has lumped the issue of adivasis with Maoists for long which has created a wide gap in an already fragile situation. A recent example would be Soni Sori’s case, a tribal woman who was implicated under the charges of being a Maoist sympathiser. She was a school teacher in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh when the police issued a notice for her arrest. She has struggled for over two years until she was granted permanent bail last year with meagre resources to prove her innocence. She was framed under the charges of being a Maoist informer and was abused and tortured by the police officials. A detailed overview of this isolated case also reveals the crumbling law and justice mechanisms. “The Indian State’s war against the Maoists has resulted in the incarceration of thousands of Adivasis in Chhattisgarh and elsewhere, many of them on flimsy charges.”[58]  Recently the state has cracked down upon the human rights activist working for the cause of tribals in the region. Ms Gera has initiated a legal aid group in Chhattisgarh due to the prevailing poor records of the state of human rights. The series of extra judicial killings both by the naxalites and the state have taken place due to the non-responsive and weak justice mechanisms. The tribals have been hurdled behind bars based on them being Maoist suspects. There exist only three convicts amongst 600 people that are now in prisons in Chhattisgarh. This number has overridden the actual capacity of 120 people that the prisons can retain. The cases investigated by Legal Aid Group run by Gera have also revealed that often the name of the inmates in prison does not exist on the charge sheet which stems from the poor understanding and lack of support that exist for the tribals in the region. The “slow judicial process acts hand in glove with the already weak system that prevails in the region. The police forces collude with the judicial process to “stall” the court cases since the tribals are believed to have connections with the Maoists. The President of Danntewada’s bar council was murdered in what is supposed to be a Naxalite attack. The Legal Aid group’s credibility has come under the scanner from the State and often enough its political affiliations have been questioned.[59] The intensive media coverage of the Soni Sori case is a recent manifestation of the rampant injustice that prevails in the region and provides some scope to peel the layers further to take corrective measures to inhibit exploitation of women on frivolous grounds.

 

Policy of impunity has further given police officers a free hand to exploit, implicate unaffiliated civilians and carry out extra judicial killings. Ledha Bai, a tribal woman in Balrampur had pressed charges of murder of her husband on SP kalluri who had also later raped her when she sought a legal procedure. In March 2011 upon Kalluri’s orders, CRPF men had burned down three villages namely “Tadmetla,Timmapuram, and Morpalli in Chintagufa Thana, they also killed three men, sexually abused women.  A public dissent propelled a judicial inquiry into his role, however after being transferred out of the area , he has been placed again  in the same area and this time at a higher position.[60]Male violence sticks as a fact of life, and media often “sensationalises cases of rape and sexualised murder of men by women.”[61]

 

Survival Strategies for women

 

War brings grave challenges for women which they often have to bear alone. War leads to blurring of public and private spheres. The new agency that women acquire during conflict situation provides a space for women to transcend from their traditional roles. These could be due to displacement in times of war or when acquiring a new job.[62]

 

Women tend to form survival strategy to cope with the brimming violence and bloodshed in conflict situations. It is necessary to transcend from the idea of victimhood to agency to better acknowledge women’s “notions of security and peace”. This is pertinent to recognise their role as agents in weaving survival strategies against atrocities in war. They organise peace coalitions, become a part of administrative bodies and courts and organise other resistance movements. Any overriding violent or conflict situation goes on to affect women directly, they are the ones who are raped, or displaced or struggle to make ends meet in female headed households.[63]

 

There often exist an administrative, law and order vacuum in such areas and women bring such issues back to the forefront because it directly affects them. Hallihole which is a naxal affected district has witnessed women’s organisations coming together to protest against the sale of liquor at petty shops and hotels. This was organised against inaction of police and the excise department.[64] What is pertinent to be highlighted here that women have time and again proved to have the agency to rebuild and reconstruct. Alcoholism is one of the issues that directly affect them thus raising the level of domestic violence and lack of productivity amongst men. Women also came together in certain parts to bring their community together with police with whom the Maoists clash in bloody and destructive battles.[65] There are women who have protested against police atrocities in Naxal affected areas, one such example can be deduced from adivasi women who assembled together in Lalgarh , west Bengal and barred the police from enetering the village in 2008.[66]

 

CGNET Swara[67] reports reveal that women callers are more in majority than men and that stems from the fact that women have covered a range of issues that impact them and often neglected by the mainstream media. Shubhranshu Choudhary, one of the founding members

Of CGNET Swara, elaborated that they never actively promoted CGNET Swara amongst women , however  women have been able to utilise this news portal to share stories that affects society as a whole. Report on witch hunting and child exploitation in Tendu leaf industry have forced compulsive action from organisations such as National Human Rights Commission and National Commission on Child Rights. CGNET Swara reports registered by the citizens from Naxal affected districts are rife with issues pertaining to infrastructure and connectivity issues.

 

 Some women on the other side of the spectrum have ceased to be passive and “powerless victims”.[68] Kalavati Devi despite owing to her gender status overcame insurmountable challenges to be elected as the Sapanch of her village that lies in the Kanker district. Her work is exemplary of how women who despite living in insurgency areas have continued to work towards development of their communities. To address the very integral issue of connectivity in her own village she organised the construction of roads in her village which would have facilitated mobility and connection to the two main highways. This project however was stalled due to Maoist threats. To attract attention towards the plight of her village, she also attempted to construct an arch outside her government building and invite the Chief Minister for its inauguration. This project could not be realised since the Maoists sabotage any semblance of State infrastructure in the interior of the villages. They do this by convincing the tribals in the villages that the construction is only to benefit the police and paramilitary forces. Kalavati Devi has expressed that the Maoists are not against the tribals but the conflict between the State and the Maoists manifests in their daily lives and causes serious impediment health and education sector. In the same interview she asserts that the Maoists do not hamper health facilities in the region but the officials are scared to serve in remote areas or stay in the village after dark. Kalavati however has devised other ways to help women in the village to empower them and contribute towards the development and progress of her. She initiated a social entrepreneurship program which involves women to cook mixed cereal grains for a government scheme that caters towards pregnant lactating women. This income generating program helps women to improve their poverty stricken conditions. “It’s for the state to solve [the Maoist problem], all I can do is keep trying to help the villagers get a better life,” outlined Kalavati. “If I fail everyone will say ‘she was a woman, so she was incapable.’ I don’t want that to happen”.[69] Kalavati in her following statement not only highlights her firm resolve of taking measures to rectify this issue but also challenges the notion of viewing women as mere passive recipients and not active change makers in the developmental process.

 

There are some women who have deployed strategies to counter the poor performance of health infrastructure and facilities in the region. Khemwanti works as a rural health counsellor in the village and educates women from about safety measures during child delivery as well as raise awareness about maternity programs offered by the Government. “The compounders [paramedics] leave early because, they are scared to stay in the village after dark,” explains Khemwati. “I had labor pain[s] in the evening. There was no transport available to go to the town then. So, I delivered at home.” This statement elucidate negligible presence of health facilities in the region which exposes women to unsafe and often life threatening circumstances. A woman goes on to affect her entire family and a larger community; therefore if a woman is healthy, empowered, politically and financially secured she can exert a positive influence across her whole community. As Cockburn has also mentioned, “It’s on women shoulders. They are holding things together. They are the weavers and maintainers of social fabric”.[70]

 

Conclusion

 

Ramchandra Guha quoted an adivasi which encapsulates in a nutshell the prevailing condition in the left wing extremism affected districts in India , “ Humme dono taraf se dabav hain,aur hum beech mein pis gaye hain” (Pressed and pierced from both sides, here we are crushed in the middle. There are young men and women who have for years have operated in the most difficult circumstances, however according to him their successful revolution in military terms could but be a “fantasy”. Unless both the parties come to an agreement, there would continue to be a “war of attrition lies ahead, which will take a heavy toll of human life- lives of policemen, Of Maoists and of unaffiliated civilians”. [71]

 

A clear question that emerges from this attempt is whether there is a clear dividing line between perpetrators and victims. Women are both victims and perpetrators in the guerrilla outfits. As this paper has established that men and women undergo through different experiences in a conflict and post conflict phase, women most often have to recede into the same traditional feminine roles. Empowerment during the conflict phase can quickly faze out and could be replaced by gender hierarchies.[72] Women are sandwiched between two types of perpetrators where each tries to be the guardian/custodian of women’s honour and custodian. When seen through the lens of class and caste, gender issues occupy a less significant position in party’s agenda. In order to bring about women’s representation in government and society, empowerment should first start from the revolutionary parties and movements.[73]

 

Women have largely served as supports at the onset of naxalbari movement rather than being independent agents. Women who have surrendered have often found it difficult to reintegrate into the society. The societal structures women come from also determine the challenges they face when they have quit their life as combatants.

 

Women as a whole are being increasingly ignored by the government, media and the society. Manchanda also points out that national movement in South Asian context have failed to incorporate women’s issues in ethnic conflict situations into their agenda. When democratic agenda meets with failure, it paves way for radicalised politics. Driven by extreme poverty, neglected young boys and girls are being increasingly drawn into the Naxalite war. Due to the narrow range of options, the road to empowerment has become that which is scarred by violence. The new government has been pushing for further concentration of military in the Maoist affected areas to eradicate the problem, however as Manchanda has pointed out that a military oriented response will only lead to a manifold increase in violence unless the prevailing structures of injustice have been addressed.

 

Besides often the approach that is adopted in reintegration programs is narrow and limited and excessively focused on economic support, thus overlooking psycho social support programs. Women also have to overcome the social prejudices that exist in the society and are often not entitled to the same rehabilitation package as male combatants by virtue of their social status that is deeply entrenched in the society. There is also limited research being carried on the after lives of many female combatants. As also their exist lack of steps and research in the direction of the children born to the combatants and what became of them (mendez)..  One of the motivations that see manifold increase in women’s participation in the Maoist cause is “social and political empowerment.[74]”Therefore the rehabilitation package should be focused on providing a “sustainable income and employment” to these women. Simultaneously there is a need to support women who are carving out survival strategies amidst the violence being perpetrated by State and the Naxalites through relief programs and by improving their socio-economic status.

 

 

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[1] Manchanda Rita 2001, “Women, War and Peace in South Asia,Pg 19,Sage Publications

[2] Member of Communist Guerilla Groups in India. Also referred to as Maoists or left wing extremists.

[3] GoldStein S Joshua  Sept 2001, “War and Gender: How Gender shapes the War System”,Cambridge University Press,

[4] Mendez Andrea, Aug 2012“Militarised Gender Performativity :Women and Demobilization in Colombia’s FARC and AUC, Graduate Program Thesis, Queens University, Canada

 

[6] GoldStein S Joshua, Sept 2001 “War and Gender: How Gender shapes the War System”, Cambridge University Press

[7] Vickers Jeanne,1993, “The Impact  of War on Women”, Women and War, Zed Books

[8] Ibid

[9] Cockburn Cynthia, 2007,“From Where we Stand: war, women’s activism and feminist analysis”, Zed Books

[10] Viterna S Joceylene, “Pulled, Pushed and Persuaded: Explaining Women’s Mobilisation into the Salvodorian Guerilla Army’,Tulane University

[11] The women of Dahomean army considered themselves as men and not women.They said, “Our nature is changed”. GoldStein S Joshua,Sept 2001 “War and Gender: How Gender shapes the War System”,Cambridge University Press

 

[12] Shayne Denise Julia,Sept 1998, “Gendered Revolutionary Bridges: A Feminist Theory of Revolution”, Department of Sociology, University of California

 

[13] J mohan,Jul 1970, “Naxalite and New Left”, Economic and Political Weekly.Vol 5, No 29/31

[14] Dixit Raman, April 2010“Naxalite Movement in India: The State’s Response”,Journal of Defence Studies,Vol 4, Issue 2

 

[16] State emergency under the Prime Ministership Of Indira Gandhi

[17] Guha Ramchanda,Aug 2007 “Adivasis, Naxalites and Indian Democracy”, Economic and Political Weekly

 

[18] Singh Pratibha, Apr 2013,”Women’s Role in the Naxalite Movement”, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, April 2013

[19] Singh Pratibha, Apr 2013”Women’s Role in the Naxalite Movement”, Centre for Land Warfare Studies

[20] Ibid

[21] Bandyopadhyay  Sarbani, Sept 2008,“The Revolutionary Patriarchs”, Himal South Asian

[22] Vindhya.U, May 2012,“Guns and Roses: Collective identity processes of women activists in India”,Feminism and Psychology, Vol 22, No.2

 

[23] Crotaeu D W and Ryan C (eds),2005,“Rhyming Hope and History:Activists, Academics and SM Scholarship,University of Minnesota

[24] Custers Peter, Oct 1986” Women’s Role in Tebagha Movement”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 21, No. 43

 

[25] Shayne Denise Julia, Sept 1998, “Gendered Revolutionary Bridges: A Feminist Theory of Revolution”, Department of Sociology, University of California

[27]        Maoist Document,”Women Matyrs of Indian Revolution, Naxalbari to 2010

[28] Ibid

[29] Manchanda Rita (ed),2001, “Women, War and Peace in South Asia”,Sage Publications

[30] ibid

[32] Maoist document

[33] The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia

[34] Stated by Maria Eugenia Vasquesin,

Perez Gonzales Margaret,2006 “Guerillas in Latin America: Domestic and International Roles” Journal Of Peace Research,Vol 43, No.3

 

[35] Ibid

[36] Even though Ecuador is a flat country, mountains remain essential for guerrilla warfare. Women whther through their political education work or through cooking fostered relations with the communities, thereby acting as “metaphoric mountains “,Shayne Denise Julia, Sept 1998,“Gendered Revolutionary Bridges: A Feminist Theory of Revolution”, Department of Sociology, University of California

[37] Shayne Denise Julia, Sept 1998,“Gendered Revolutionary Bridges: A Feminist Theory of Revolution”, Department of Sociology, University of California

[38] Manchanda Rita (ed),2001, “Women, War and Peace in South Asia”,Sage Publications

[39] Shayne Denise Julia, Sept 1998,“Gendered Revolutionary Bridges: A Feminist Theory of Revolution”, Department of Sociology, University of California

[40] Chaturvedi Medha,Sept-Oct 2010, “Recent Trends in Naxal Violence” ,Asian Conflict Report,Council For Asian Transnational Threat Research”, Issue 13,

 

[41] Kannibaran et al, Nov 2004,“Women’s Rights and Naxalite Groups”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 39, No. 45

 

[42] ibid

 

[44] Kannibaran et al,Nov 2004, “Women’s Rights and Naxalite Groups”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 39, No. 45

[45] Ortege Luisa, Feb 2010,“Transitional  Justice and Female Ex Combatants:Lessons Learned from International Experience”, International Centre for Transitional Justice

 

[46] Naveen P,May 2013, “Women Maoists Stabbed Congress Leader Mahendra Karma 78 times”, Times of India

 

[49] Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration

[50] Ortege Luisa, Feb 2010,“Transitional  Justice and Female Ex Combatants:Lessons Learned from International Experience”, International Centre for Transitional Justice

 

 

[51] Kannibaran et al,Nov 2004, “Women’s Rights and Naxalite Groups”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 39, No. 45

 

[52] Khan Aisha,Aug 2006” Stories of Women Naxals” , “Naxal Maoist India:Blog on Indian Revolution

 

[53]  Cockburn Cynthia, 2007,“From Where we Stand: war, women’s activism and feminist analysis”,Zed Books

[54] Punwani Jyoti,Feb 2007,”Traumas of Adivasi Women in Dantewada”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 42, No. 7

 

[55] India’s Silent War against Naxalites, Al Jazeera Documentary

[56] Singh Pratibha, “Naxal Target Schools”. http://www.claws.in/991/naxal-target-schools-pratibha-singh.html

[57] Choudhary Shubhranshu,Dec 2012, “Lets Call Him Vasu”, Penguin

[59] Bearak Max,Mar 2015, “Shoestring Legal Aid Group Helps Poor in India”New York Times

 

[61] Cockburn Cynthia,2007,” From Where we Stand” Zed Books

 

[62] Ibid

[63] Manchanda Rita,2001, “Women, War and Peace in South Asia”, Sage Publications

[67] CGNET Swara is a voice portal system that serves as a platform for the tribals in Central India to record and listen to news that is pertinent to their region. This platform is instrumental in filling the wide information gap that exists between the government, mainstream media and the tribals in Maoist affected areas. This information gap impedes the socio economic development in the region and adds to the frustration of tribals, this gap thereafter is exploited by the Maoists(Naxalites) to garner support for their armed struggle against the State. http://cgnetswara.org/about.html

[68] Khadka Sharda, 2012, “Female Combatants and Ex-Combatants in Maoist Revolution and their struggle for reintegration in Post War Nepal”, Masters thesis in Peace and Conflict Transformation,University of Tromso

 

[69] Kalavati mentions in her interview to Women’s News Network http://womennewsnetwork.net/2013/08/30/india-tribal-women-leaders/

[70] Cynthia Conckburn derived this through Patricia Prieto of Grupo Mujer Y Sociedad(Women and Society Group),

[71] Guha Ramchanda,Aug 11 2007, “Adivasis, Naxalites and Indian Democracy”, Economic and Political Weekly,

 

[72] Ortege Luisa, Feb 2010, “Transitional  Justice and Female Ex Combatants:Lessons Learned from International Experience”, International Centre for Transitional Justice

 

[73] Kannibaran et al, Nov 2004,“Women’s Rights and Naxalite Groups”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 39, No. 45

 

[74] Khadka Sharda, “Female Combatants and Ex-Combatants in Maoist Revolution and their struggle for reintegration in Post War Nepal”, Masters thesis in Peace and Conflict Transformation,University of Tromso,2012

 

 

  Free Article
Author: Pratibha Singh (Willy Brandt School of Public Policy)