A 70-year-old Droupadi Mahanta of Rebana village of Keonjhar still sheds tears for his son, who was killed by the Maoists ten years ago. Her son was working as a home guard in the district police. Maoists killed him in 2010 suspecting him as a police informer. Now, there is no Maoist activity in Keonjhar, but Droupadi shivers even today after a decade remembering that day when her son was brutally killed by the red rebels.
“They took my son by breaking the doors. I was at my relative’s house. One of our neighbour came and informed me that the Maoists have taken my son. It was night and we were too scared to go out. They dragged my son to the crossroads of the village and killed him there by slitting his throat,” said Droupadi and could not hold her tears.
Laxmi Bag, the wife of a deceased Ghasiram Baghsingh, Kandhmal, who was killed in an police encounter in 2012, says “My husband was killed by the police branding him as Maoist but my husband was not a Maoist, he was a social worker and he had exposed corruption in the PDS. He was the sole earner for the family. It is very difficult to raise my children now.”
Droupadi and Laxmi are representing thousands of women who face immense challenges living in Maoist-affected or conflict zone of our country. Since last 20 years, several states like Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and others are reeling with Maoist menace. Mostly in the tribal dominated forested districts of these states where Maoists have spread their roots.
Poor innocent tribals residing in the left wing infested areas are not only killed by these ultras, but also become alleged victims of the bullets of security forces those have been deployed in those areas to eliminate the Maoists.
There are many instances of encounters where the innocent tribal became the victim of the security forces. It may be the encounters at Uppar Panchakula and Nishanguda in Jugsepatna area of Kalahandi district in 2015 where three innocent tribal villagers were killed in the Nishanguda jungle, police encounter mistaking them as Maoists when they had been there in quest of a strayed goat, or the incident of Gumudumaha village of Kandhamal district in July 2016 where five tribal including two women and a child were killed by the police bullets when they were returning to their village in an auto rickshaw. In the alleged fake encounter due to a heart wrenching picture of the death of two-year-old Ghadej Digal, who was in his mother’s arms when a bullet hit him, Odisha police faced a hail of criticism. Even the encounter in Bhaliaguda in December 2012, where five persons were killed in CRPF bullets, had raised many eyebrows and created questions among locals. In all these incidents, women have worst suffered.
Peaceful living has become a nightmare for the tribal people living in Maoist affected areas. The uncertainties of life play themselves out in tortuous ways, especially if you happen to be a poverty-stricken tribal woman. Sometimes, you are not even allowed the luxury of being who you want to be.
According to the data of the South Asian Terrorism Portal, in Odisha, 906 causalities are being reported during the 2000 to 2021 in the police and Maoists encounter. Out of which 364 were civilians, 224 were security forces and 311 were Maoists. Likewise in Chhattisgarh, 3428 causalities were reported during the 2000 to 2021 in the police and Maoists encounter out of which 908 were civilians, 1171 were security forces and 1325 were Maoist. Out of which, about 30 percent are women.
The bullet is fired either by Maoists or security forces, the local tribal people are destined to death. Such activities have almost stalled the lives of poor tribal people there and development work too. In such a situation, women become more vulnerable and become the soft target of the Maoists.
On one side they are deprived of basic amenities and on the other side they are victims of discrimination and harassment. Maoists take the advantage of this and try to include women in their cadres. In the last 10 years, the numbers of women in the organisations have increased by about 50 percent.
Few years ago, I spoke to a couple of woman Maoists in Bastar reason of Chhattisgarh- one of them was 23 years old Kamli Wadde (name changed) had joined the red fold at the age of 15. “I am fighting for my people. I am not scared to die. Our fight is against the capitalist and the land lords, our fight is against the police and forces who are harassing our people,” Kamli said.
“We know the life inside the jungle is very tough, every minute life is in threat still we have opted this life to get rid of exploitations,” she added.
The Maoist Central Military Commissions (CMC) recently said that 839 women cadres have been killed in past two decades. On International Women’s day in the year 2020, Maoists had for the first time released a list of 22 women cadre killed in encounters as propaganda on women contribution to the cause. As per the Home Ministry assessment, more than 50% of lower ranks in Maoists and half of PLGA are women.
IG Bastar Sunderraj P said, “Normally the Maoists either lure or threaten the parents to sent their daughters to their groups. The innocent tribal does not have any other way out except to send their teenage sons or daughters to the red rebel groups. After recruiting the girls, they provide them the guerilla warfare training and most of the times the Maoists have used the women and children as their human shield.”
Many women Maoists disillusioned from the groups and left after some years. Some of them alleged sexual harassment in the group by their male counterpart. Several surrendered women Maoists whom I have spoken over the period in Odisha and Chhattisgarh, everyone have their own reasons for surrender. Along with earning a livelihood and doing social work, the ideology of fighting against atrocities, women in those areas join Maoist organizations. But the rough life in the jungles, disillusionment with leaders, resentment at being exploited, especially sexually, and dreams of living a normal life, cause some of these women to surrender.
“The life was terrible inside the jungle. I have to walk kilometers during my periods that pains me lot but had no choice. Either you do it or die by the bullets of the security forces,” Malini Hosa, a surrendered Maoist told.
But another surrendered Maoist Mamina Munda, who had joined Maoists cadres at the age of 10 and surrendered before the security forces after a few years, has a different story to share. “They lured us by saying that they will fight for our rights by organising our people. They assured us to set up schools and hospitals for us etc. So, I joined them. But they did not do it, rather they exploited me so I left them,” Mamina said.
However like Mamina, surrendered Maoist Sabita Munda, 18, Malini Hosa alias Muni; Bela Munda, 17, alias Lili; Laxmi Pidkaka alias Sunita every one has the similar kind of experiences to relate. “We did not know that they are other exploiters, we joined them but soon we realised it and left them,” they echoed the same.
Shubhranshu Choudhary, a senior journalist, peace activist and founder of CGNet Swara, who is in a process to initiate the peace talks between the Maoists and Government said that though women Maoists in the cadre are the back bone of the Maoist organizations as their number is quite high, the male chauvinism is still persist there in the groups. The Top cadres are not untouched by the patriarchy bent of mindset
“Recently during our peace effort, we met several women cadre who are in the forefront of the war zone shared with us that it is very tough for them during their periods time. So we decided to provide them menstrual cup (a menstrual cup is a type of reusable feminine hygiene product). But the Maoist leader did not accept this idea and Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee issued a written statement saying that you are sympathies with menstruating women, what about the women comrades being killed? Why do not you raise your voice against that? Your sympathy is fake; it's a facade. In this situation how can we say that they care for their female cadre?” Shubhranshu explained.
“Though maximum number of the Local guerrilla squads (LGS) and local organisational squads (LOS) are women but hardly any woman can reach to the top level or to their central committee. In the 21 members of their central committee, only two were women members. After the death of central committee member Anuradha Ghandy, only one woman member left,” he added.
“Women empowerment was never been the slogan of Maoists. The key slogans of Maoists are to capture the Indian democracy or power in to their hands. For this reason, they are using women and children as human shield and also for their political reasons,” Odisha based Maoist researcher Rajat Kujur said.
When a war breaks, along with many soldiers people who have no link with the fight are killed unnecessarily. The women in conflict zone face the same fate; they are victimized just because they live in these areas. They have to live under the shade of fear and terror in the battle zone.
“When it gets dark the fear is there. We stay in the closed door house. Nobody will go out in the late evening. Even if we have any health emergency. You never know when the firing will takes place and you will be caught in between. You never know when the Maoists come and take shelter forcibly in your house or the security force will come and interrogate you,” Bandola korram of Narayanpur said.
“There has to be a specific policy for the women living in conflict zone. They should not be deprived of the basic amenities like food, health, safe drinking water etc. Government should ensure this,” Human Rights Activist Namrata Chadha says.
“It is very sad that till today in our national security policy, no where specifically mention about women and children. We give the slogan of women empowerment and demanded the reservation in the parliament but the issues like insurgency where women and children are the worst suffers, are never taken into consideration. We must have to think for their security in the national security structure,” Kujur added.