In the history of struggles against feudalism and imperialist domination, the Naxalbari struggle is a historical turning point. In the context of the 50th anniversary of the Naxalbari struggle, if one examines history, one can understand the extent of its impact on various social aspects. Revolutionary greetings to Virasam, that is making such an attempt!
The revolutionary movement alone provided great hope to women in India. This point was proven repeatedly during the Telangana, Tebhaga and Birbhum movements. From the time the Communist Party of India was formed in 1925, it faced many ups and downs. Until the Naxalbari struggle burst upon the scene in 1967, there was no clarity on the path the Indian revolutionary movement is to follow. Bringing down the curtain on various doubts, Naxalbari placed a clear path of struggle in front of the people. Under the leadership of Com Charu Majumdar, the revolutionary movement adopted the path of protracted armed struggle and started its program of action. In March 1967, land struggles burst forth with the slogan “Onward with armed revolutionary path”. The exploited people participated bravely in these struggles with their traditional weapons and the participation of women sharpened the struggles. In order to suppress the struggles that have become fierce by the end of May, the then CPI(M) Government deployed the Police in large numbers. They started arresting the leaders and imposed section 144. They also attacked a group of farmers discussing about ways to deal with the situation. The people resisted the police attack with bows and arrows. In that context, a policeman named Sonam Wangde died due to an arrow shot by a woman. The next day, i.e. on May 25th, when the police opened indiscriminate fire on the people who gathered in large numbers under a big banyan tree in Prasadjote village in order to review the situation, 11 people died. Among the 11, there were 8 women, 1 young man and 2 children. The dead are: 1. Dhanesvari Devi, 2. SonmatiSingha, 3. PhoolmatiSingha, 4. Surubala Barman, 5. Nayanesvari Mallick, 6. Nayanesvari’s six month old daughter, 7. Samsari Saibani, 8. Gaudrav Saibani, 9. Gaudrav’s daughter, 10. Seemasvari Mallick, 11. Kharasingh Mallick.
The revolutionary movement that started thus with women’s sacrifices, recognized the importance of women’s participation and raised the slogan “revolution without women will not succeed”. The primary intention of this paper is to provide an outline of the ideological understanding and practice of the revolutionary movement to accomplish women’s participation.
Part I: Women’s Liberation, Marxist Perspective:
Though the women in United Communist Party made an effort to fight patriarchy, the party itself lacked the correct perspective on the problem of patriarchy. Subsequently, when the party became revisionist, the political struggle against patriarchy retreated further. The same thing repeated in the CPI(M) party. After the formation of CPI(ML) in 1969, even though the party tried actively to make women a part of the revolutionary movement, it did not have a correct understanding of patriarchy which is crucial to women’s liberation. In the past five decades, in its effort to overcome revisionist tendencies and many other incorrect perceptions, the revolutionary movement reviewed many aspects and came to a clear understanding on the nationalities question and women’s question.
The revolutionary movement summarized the revisionist parties’ thought process on women’s question as follows – “The revisionists, while upholding the Marxist view that women’s oppression emerged with class society, understand this in a mechanical way. According to them, patriarchy operates in the superstructure – in the realm of ideology, religion, culture, traditions, customs, law, family etc. – as a reflection of the exploitative class basis of society. Hence, one cannot think of fighting patriarchy as long as the economic basis is not radically transformed. Once the economic basis is changed, and a socialist economic basis is brought about, patriarchy will also disappear.”
As a consequence, “the fight against patriarchy is postponed to an unknown future, nay, it is totally abandoned since revolution will change the economic basis and the entire super structural edifice built on that base. Hence, in effect, class struggle and the struggle for women’s emancipation did not get interconnected in practice.”
They also commented on how the principles being enunciated by some feminists are incorrect – “some feminists are locating the roots of patriarchy in the family. By looking at the problem in this way they are overlooking the fact that the family is itself based on certain economic and social processes – it is based on the very economic structure of society. It changes as the structure changes. By not giving due importance to the relation of the family to the wider economic-political structure they are also limiting their struggle to the realm of the superstructure.”
The anti-liquor struggle that shook the united Andhra Pradesh in 1992 can be shown as an example of how the feminists’ understanding reflects in their practice. In determining the targets of the fight against liquor, while the Marxists aimed at the State and its machinery, the feminists proposed that the fight should be against “husbands who get drunk and beat their wives”.
The revolutionaries, who fought an uncompromising battle against revisionism and established a clear understanding of the revolutionary path in India, declared their clear perspective on women’s liberation. In 1995, the CPI(ML) People’s War Party made the first attempt to formalize this understanding in the form of a document. They subsequently refined their understanding further – once in 1998 when they merged with CPI(ML) Party Unity, and then again in 2007 after the second Congress of the combined Maoist party, that was formed with the merger of People’s War and MCCI. They declared that the ideological base needed for providing correct direction to women’s movement in India is Marxism, Leninism and Maoism. In their document, they defined patriarchy as follows –
“Patriarchy is not just a super structural phenomenon that can be eliminated with the elimination of the economic basis i.e., the exploitative class relations that constitute the base of any mode of production. Patriarchal relations are also economic relations. Relations of patriarchy mean relations of subordination of women to men and to the exploiting classes, not only politically and culturally but also economically and socially.”
“Patriarchy, by denying women ownership rights over the means of production, provides the material basis for their exploitation. Patriarchy determines the fundamental relations of women to the means of production. The denial of the right of ownership and control over the chief means of production to women had determined women’s place in society right from the time of the slave-owning society in the West and the Shudra-holding system in India i.e., ever since the period of emergence of classes.Whereas under feudalism this right to property is openly denied to women as inscribed in the reactionary Manusmruti and other literature of the feudal period, capitalism does it more subtly, in more sophisticated ways.”
In explaining the path for women’s liberation, they state “To sum up, actual ownership or control over the means of production; participation in social production on an equal footing with men and abolition of division of labour along gender lines; and releasing women from domestic drudgery and transforming domestic work into the public domain with men partaking in the domestic work on an equal basis – only these changes in the base will bring about the genuine liberation of women from patriarchy”.
In the Indian context, the oppression faced by women has to be seen in the framework of the nature of Indian society.
“After the withdrawal of the British in 1947, India became a semi-feudal, semi-colonial society under the rule of the big landlords and comprador bureaucratic bourgeoisie. With the aid of imperialism they oppress the working class, peasantry, petty bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie.”
“Even while feudalism remains the predominant social relation, capitalist relations have also spread and the two coexist. Hence in India, both the feudal as well as the capitalist varieties of patriarchy are visible. However they do not exist as separate entities. Just like other aspects of the semi-feudal, semi-colonial structure, patriarchy exists in a combined form. It is with the help of this form of patriarchy that the landlords, compradors and imperialists oppress India’s women. But due to the uneven development of Indian society, patriarchal oppression has its specificities among the different classes, castes and tribes; its manifestations also vary in the big cities, in the towns and in the vast rural areas. While in the big cities and to an extent in towns, influence of capitalist-imperialist patriarchy is greater, in the villages feudal patriarchal norms dominate more. Therefore in India the concrete struggle against patriarchy requires that semi-feudal, semi-colonial structure be overthrown and a new democratic society be set up in its place. The struggle for women’s liberation from patriarchy should be carried on with anti-imperialist, anti-feudal people’s war as its goal. The struggle for New Democratic Revolution (NDR) opens new vistas for women’s emancipation from patriarchy and the struggle against patriarchy energizes the NDR. There is a continuous and lively dialectical relationship between the two. One cannot be conceived without the other. The NDR, harbinger of liberation for the Indian masses, is the sure road to women’s emancipation. Subsequently, the NDR should be taken forward towards socialism and communism”.
It is necessary to understand these things. When people deal with women’s issues in practice, they understand those as per their perspective. For example, a Dalit female student in University of Hyderabad committed suicide when an upper caste male student, who promised to marry her, cheated her. In that context, when various women’s and people’s organizations held discussions to form a joint action committee, an activist from a women’s organization said “since ours is a capitalist country, this is not a caste issue, it is a class issue”. This understanding leads us to take a completely different stance on where and who our fight should be aimed at. Similarly, if we don’t correctly understand the nature of the State, we cannot aim our fight in the correct direction. For example, when the Jharkhand state government banned Nari Mukti Sangh – a women’s organization – that was a part of ‘The Committee Against Violence on Women’, some organizations in the committee proposed that Nari Mukti Sangh should not be allowed to be part of the committee. The organizations aiming at New Democratic Revolution disagreed with that. At that time, an activist from an Anarchist organization seconded them and said that it is not correct to accept all the actions of the State and argued that instead, we should be questioning the ban itself.
These two situations indicate how important it is for any movement, including that of women,to correctly analyze the society and to correctly identify its friends and foes.
Part 2:Women’s liberation – Revolutionary movement’s praxis – an examination
Ideological Understanding through Democratic Methods
The People’s War Party released a circular in 1995 which stated “Let us improve the role of women in the party’s political, organizational and military fields. Let us build a strong revolutionary women’s movement”. From the contents of the circular, we can see how the party made women participants in the effort to formulate the party’s perspective regarding women’s liberation.
The party’s first special women’s meeting took place from 5th to 15th August 1994. Women’s representatives from United Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Dandakaranya attended this meeting. The Central Organizing Committee presented the document “Our party’s attitude towards building revolutionary women’s movement” for the first time in that meeting. They stated that “the ideological understanding of women’s representatives improved in the context of this meeting” and also that the valuable experiences and opinions shared by the representatives are such that they contribute to realizing the aims specified in the document. They said that the circular is an appraisal of the summary of that meeting.
In the circular, they stated that they failed to recognize the importance of establishing women’s organizations till 1982.Even after recognizing it, it took some more time to bring it into practice due to spontaneity, which is why they could not obtain good results anywhere except in Dandakaranya. They formulated some guidelines to build women’s movements in Andhra, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Orissa where the revolutionary movement is already present. They gave a call to build, not a single unified organization, but multiple open and secret women’s organizations depending upon the opportunity in each place. They also added suggestions necessary to build urban women’s movement to the document.
Further, they made the following additional suggestions – that necessary changes have to be made in “Party program” and other such important party documents; that the understanding of women’s question should be recognized as an important aspect and added to the manifestos of people’s organizations; that women comrades in guerilla squads should be given the responsibility to build women’s organizations in villages for which they are to be separated from their squads and sent to villages where they are to be provided adequate protection.
They stated that in 1995, at the time of writing the above circular, there are a total of 23% women in the party’s organizational, military and technical fields put together. They suggested that the party should correct its mistakes in understanding and practice with respect to women’s question while moving forward; that building a women’s movement should not be confined to only women but should instead be viewed as related to the entire party. They suggested that special women’s meetings should be conducted at district and state levels once in two years and they can be stopped after two such meetings since it is only a temporary requirement. The primary purpose of these meetings is to discuss and understand the problems being faced by women comrades and formulate a program to address them.
Perspective on Women’s Liberation – Education at all Levels
After the publication of the document “Women’s liberation – Marxist Perspective” in 1995, this document was used not only to educate the cadre all over the country but it was also disseminated among the people living in movement areas. For example, in 1996-97, women comrades conducted meetings with women in the villages of North Telangana districts (Warangal, Khammam, Karimnagar, Nizamabad, Adilabad) to take classes on different aspects contained in the document. For this, the various aspects in the document were split into smaller pieces and each was assigned to a different comrade. They called these meetings “seminars”. Subsequent to each seminar, they also took up a program of action to defy a patriarchal custom that is local to that area. In some Adivasi areas, women are not allowed to eat eggs because there is a superstition that women who eat eggs cannot conceive children. In such areas, the comrades distributed boiled eggs to the women. In another area where married women are prohibited from wearing blouses, they distributed blouses to them after the seminar. Women leaders who were then in leadership role at the district level – Nyalakonda Rajitha, Yellanki Aruna, JNM Padma, Motibai and others – led these seminars and subsequent actions. Among these, the first three have become martyrs. It was during the successful conduct of these seminars that Comrade Nyalakonda Rajitha got injured in the enemy’s ambush and escaped.
Specialization on Women’s issue
The party passed a resolution in 1995 to assign responsibilities to some people at state and central levels in order to do a focused, special study of women’s issues, and to codify their experiences and present them to the party. The Andhra Pradesh State committee went further and established a Women’s sub-committee. The women comrades in that were assigned various responsibilities such as – to study women’s problems and provide guidance and suggestions to the party on a regular basis; provide guidance to women’s organizations; conduct classes for women on the party’s perspective on women and other political matters; publish literature on women’s issues etc. After looking at the results of AP’s experience, such sub-committees were established in several other states. Subsequently, they formed a national level Women’s sub-committee too. In a statement made by the party at the time of Central Committee member Com Anuradha Ghandy’s death, they mentioned that she was the Secretary of the national Women’s sub-committee. They also stated that under her leadership the committee was involved in the study of ‘status of women in the party’.
Special attention to Women’s Health
In general, women in our country are physically weak. That is not surprising since women in our country face discrimination right from childhood. The party is doing good work in this respect. To prevent anaemia among women members, they provide special food such as groundnut, jaggery, boiled eggs etc. Though it is not possible to do this under repression, the party is trying to provide these whenever possible. Conducting classes on hygiene to women, providing them with clean clothes during menstruation, giving extra Dettol and detergent soaps are some of the facilities that are made part of the daily life of the squads. In case women comrades decide not to have children, the party helps them understand how much their health is likely to be impacted due to abortions and encourages them to undergo operations to prevent unwanted pregnancies. It also educates the men scientifically so that it has become a general practice for them to undergo family planning operations. The party educated its members on how women may be in a great deal of discomfort during the menstrual cycle and asked them to be understanding of the situation. It also educated the women to discuss their health related issues openly with their commanders. This is so that they take it into consideration when assigning them weights or while doing exercises.
Women in Class Struggle
The role of women in movements subsequent to Naxalbari grew along with the movements. It retreated whenever and wherever the movement went into retreat. Though the ML party was formed in 1969, it was under severe repression by 1972 with the leadership being either arrested or killed. At the same time, the movement was badly damaged by the conflicting viewpoints within the party about the correct line to be followed. It was only from 1980 that the ML and MCCI streams of the movement started working as different parties in different regions till they merged in 2004. Even if we look at the broad picture of the revolutionary movement’s praxis in the Andhra – Orissa border area, Telangana, Dandakaranya, Bihar and Jharkhand where it is strong, we can easily understand the basis for increased participation of women. Even though the movement is present in many other areas besides these, they are not being covered in this paper. This paper is an attempt to present a bird’s eye view of the role of women, and the impact of revolutionary movement on women in a few select places. From 1980, a number of women’s organizations have been working in urban areas. Some of them even work with New Democratic Revolution as their goal. However, those are not being discussed in the paper.
Women in Andhra – Orissa Border Area Movement
East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam districts that were under the erstwhile Andhra State Committee, together with Malkangiri, Koraput, Rayagadh, Gajapati and Ganjam districts of Orissa form the current Andhra – Orissa Border (AOB) Area.
Some tribal associations were working in Srikakulam district from 1958 itself. So, the basis for armed struggle was already present there. Srikakulam struggle started as an echo of the Naxalbari struggle. On October 31, 1967 when 400 Adivasi women from Gumma village, dressed in red sarees, carrying red flags and singing revolutionary songs, were going to Mondenkhal to attend an Adivasi meeting, they were attacked at Levidi by a landlord’s goons. Two Adivasis Koranna and Manganna died in the firing by the landlord. Women participated in large numbers in the guerilla war that started in November 1968. Women like Panchadi Nirmala led the guerilla squads and participated in the armed struggle. Even ordinary women participated in large numbers and confronted the police with brooms and wooden pestles. A total of 25 women died in the Srikakulam struggle.
The Srikakulam struggle was primarily an Adivasi struggle. Women’s participation in it started after it became an armed struggle. The adivasis who lost the right to shifting cultivation and had to work as bonded labourers jumped into the movement. The forcible occupation of Adivasi lands by non-tribal landlords and money lenders, the usurpation of their property through high interest rates by traders who loaned salt and kerosene to them, and harassment by forest officials – all these pushed the adivasis into the struggle. Savara and Jatapu are the chief tribes in the Agency area. Women in these tribes participate in agricultural and other work equally with men while simultaneously doing their household work too. Bride price is prevalent in marriages there, there is polygamy too. The women who participated in all productive activities equally, joined the movement along with men to fight against the exploitation by Forest officials and traders.
The women participated in many land struggles between 1991 and 94 due to which they developed politically and culturally. The women who would run away from their villages into the nearby hills whenever they saw white-collared officers are now able to question them without fear. The women belonging to Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam and East Godavari districts are actively participating in the armed movement of the AOB area thus continuing the legacy of Srikakulam movement. Many women sacrificed their lives in the movement in the past five decades. Adivasi women belonging to Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, people from plains areas and students continue to join the revolutionary movement. The participation of women helped democratize the relations between men and women in the movement. Recently, when an Adivasi woman comrade was interviewed by a researcher, she said that she was attracted to the movement by the equality she saw between men and women in the squads that visited their village and the freedom they enjoyed to marry a person of their choice. She said she came into the movement to escape a forcedmarriage. Even after coming into the movement, she did not get married till she understood the political aspects well. She said she wanted to marry the person that she liked only if she is confident that he has the commitment to continue in the movement. For this reason, she did not consider marriage till she worked for 4 years in the movement. She also mentioned that she got educated only after joining the party. When she was asked why they cannot try to bring about a change in society through parliamentary democracy, she countered it by giving the example of Nepal. She was categorical that armed revolution is the correct path. From this we can understand the political maturity and participation of women in the movement. These women are proof of the successful implementation of the party’s belief that societal change is possible only with the participation of women.
Women in Telangana Movement
After the movement was temporarily defeated in Naxalbari and Srikakulam, it learnt its lessons from the defeat and started again in 1978 in Jagityalof North Telangana. It started as a heroic fight against the landlords in Karimnagar and Adilabad and spread to other districts within a short time. Since women were subject to feudal exploitation along with patriarchal exploitation, they started taking part in the class struggles. Telangana also had the legacy of women who fought in the Telangana armed peasant struggle against the Nizam, and that legacy continued into the North Telangana movement. With the entry of para-military forces, the anti-feudal movement turned into a movement against the State.
Since 80% of women living in the Telangana villages belonged to the oppressed sections and they took part in agricultural production, every demand put forth and every struggle taken up by the movement reflected the problems faced by women. Struggles related to picking of beedi leaves and rolling of beedis were both primarily concerned with women since they were the most involved in both activities.
After the movement faced severe repression in 1977-78, it gathered momentum again in 80s.On 20th April, 1981, when the adivasiswere going in large numbers to Indravelli to attend an Adivasi peasant meeting, the police were deployed in large numbers to prevent that meeting from happening. When the police resorted to indiscriminate lathi charge wounding even women and children, the adivasis resisted them. When the police started firing in response, a woman named Bhimbai from Pittabangara village boldly killed a policeman with a small knife. She was wounded in the police firing and subsequently she was arrested and spent two years in a jail. Among the hundreds arrested in the Indravelli incident, about one third of them were women.
Occupation of land was a very important part of North Telangana movement. About 80% of women in rural areas of Telangana were involved as hired labour in agricultural production. But, there was no value to women’s labour since women were not paid adequately for their labour, even their meagre earnings were taken away from them by men, and they had no ownership over the tools of production. Even though women participated equally with men in all production activities and were thus part of social production, their labour was not given the due recognition, value and status on the pretext of gender based division of labour and disparity in women’s usage of tools of production. Every time modernization techniques or higher technical skills were introduced in the methods of agricultural production, women were being pushed further away from labour. At the same time, their work load kept increasing.
Against this background, from June 1990 to September 1991, a campaign for occupation of land took place in entire North Telangana. As per information contained in a report, people occupied 89615 acres of land in Karimnagar, Warangal, Nizamabad and Adilabad districts under the leadership of the revolutionary movement. Of this, they occupied 45000 acres in Warangal district alone. In some villages, people continued cultivating
these lands even under repression. While giving pattas to the occupied lands, the party gave them equally to both men and women. Because of these developments, class composition changed in some villages.
In the 90s, a lot of women from Telangana got recruited into the squads. In 1997, when the first separate women’s meeting was conducted, 42 women who were at different leadership levels attended that meet. They ranged from being area committee leaders to district committee leaders. Another 40 women took care of the security of the camp. Shortly thereafter, Com Nyalakonda Rajitha became a State Committee member. Women led squads and platoons in several places. Even separate women’s action teams were functional for some time. A special 45 foot column was erected in memory of women comrades who were martyred in the Manala encounter in Nizamabad in 1997. Women comrades from Telangana are now in leadership positions in other states too.
Women in Bihar – Jharkhand Area Movement
In Bihar’s villages, landlords used to have the right of “first night” with women. People suffered from this cruelty especially in Bhojpur till the onset of Naxalbari movement. The Naxalbari movement started resisting the Bhojpur landlords with weapons. The leaders could declare that “the landlords will never again dare lay a hand on poor women; this is the great victory of our movement”. The Bihar movement faced two strong challenges. For a long time, class and caste were congruent in Bihar. To fight caste was the same as fighting class. The second challenge for the movement was the caste-based, private armed militias of the feudal landlords. During the initial days, the fight against the State meant primarily fight against these private armies, not the Police. In 1971, the Party even established the “Red Army” for “annihilation of the class enemy”. As part of that program, 100 landlords were eliminated between 1971 and 1977 and 39 party members became martyrs.
Women were attracted to the peasant organizations due to the struggles taken up by the CPI(ML) Party Unity in 80s for social dignity and better wages and against criminals and bandits. From 1980 to 90, women participated very militantly in the activities of peasant organizations. Women fought especially bravely whenever their activists were arrested, and got them released. When some of the activists were arrested in Jehanabad, they attacked the Police with stones and agricultural implements and freed the activists. Struggles such as land occupation, crop harvesting, strikes for better wages, attacks on landlords’ houses, gherao of police stations etc. were carried out militantly with women’s participation. Women would participate in processions and meetings armed with sickles. Women participated in the action to destroy a landlord’s office in Anandgarh. When the police came to Karpi to break up the protest for better wages, they resisted the police with traditional weapons. They snatched the guns from the hands of the Police who were preventing them from gathering mahua flowers in Panki of Palamu district. In yet another incident, they gheraoed a police jeep and tied the arms and legs of the DSP. In the police firing on a public meeting in Arwal, some women died and a lot of women were injured.
Even though women activists were moving around with squads of Party Unity, they did not become part of the squads till 1990. They became members of the squads after 1990 and women’s organizations were also formed around the same time. Though the number of women in the armed struggle in Bihar is relatively less, there were women in the squads and some of them even occupied leadership positions. Dalits and women are severely suppressed due to the severe feudal oppression in Bihar. Because of this, people from oppressed castes and classes joined the squads. Since they are subject to a lot of humiliation in the society, certain measures were taken to ensure them complete respect within the party. One such measure is the way they are addressed. When addressing each other in squads or mass organizations, they are expected to use ‘ji’, that indicates respect, at the end of a name. This way of addressing is applicable to men, women and even children. This form of addressing – ‘ji’ – became so much a part of their names that they were referred to as such in villages, in newspaper reports, in police cases, and even in the court hearings. In a place like Bihar, which did not see any reform movements, being given this sort of respect is a very important thing for women and Dalits. In certain places in Bihar, the landlords would not allow the Dalits to vote. In such places, the party stood in support of the Dalits’ right to vote even though it gave a call to boycott elections.
In Jharkhand, women participated in the armed struggle in larger numbers compared to Bihar. An all women platoon was established in 2006-07 in Jharkhand. This platoon proved that women can also work competently and independently. After the platoon worked for a year, the party reconstructed it into a mixed platoon with a woman commander. Com Urmila Ganju, who has been martyred recently, was a State Committee member of Jharkhand and she was a Dalit. She was a Political Commissar in the company at the time of her martyrdom. Such incidents prove that there are women in leadership positions in the party.
Women in Dandakaranya Movement
The revolutionary movement brought great changes in the lives of tribal women of Dandakaranya. There is no comparison between the conditions prior to the entry of armed squads in Dandakaranya in 1980 and now.
Prior to 1980, women in Dandakaranya were banned from using bows and arrows. There was a superstition that hunt would fail if women handled bows. And now, women not only use traditional weapons such as bows, arrows and spears in militias but also fight with guns in the People’s Guerilla Army. They are also acting as commanders of platoons and companies. Due to all these, even ordinary villagers are free from such superstitions.
It is now an accepted thing among the people of Dandakaranya that even women who eat eggs can conceive, that women can eat any part of an animal’s meat and not just the stomach part, that men need not give the meat to women but that both men and women can eat meat as per their liking.
The Marxist understanding that women’s participation in production is a pre-condition for the liberation of women is being practiced in Dandakaranya. The revolutionary movement introduced settled cultivation in the place of shifting cultivation which was the predominant form in Dandakaranya. A number of programs related to production such as cultivation of vegetables, fish farms, construction of tanks etc. are being carried on under the auspices of Janatana Sarkars. The understanding that social changes are not possible without corresponding changes in relations of production is being put into practice by making women participants in all activities related to agriculture.
“Women’s experiences in Dandakaranya could be discussed from two angles –
1) Changes taking place due to Maoist political and ideological influence on social life
2) Changes occurring due to the emerging new production system that is coming up from the Maoist revolutionary strategy”
“The social relations in a family are also materialistic. The Revolutionary movement understands that changes in the social aspects should be consolidated by bringing changes in the production sector. This is possible only when the process of social change becomes part of the production system. Then only social changes can last long. This conception is different from the understanding, which says that once production relations are changed, social identity problems will be automatically solved.This conception is very close to Marxism. Since the revolutionary movement has this understanding, women were drawn not only into political agitations, the Party and military departments, and the Janatana Sarkar, but were also ralliedat par into the production sector.”
The field study made by Pani, the author of ‘Janatana State’, brings out the vigilance of the revolutionary movement in this regard. “The Sarkar activists are fully aware that when women participate in the process of production, it becomes easier for them to unshackle from social restrictions. Though this is just an elementary stage of people’s governance, women are partners in the political and production fields equally.”
“In each village, the women belonging to families of the revolutionary classes are in the Dandakaranya Krantikari Mahila Sangham [DKMS] as members or leaders or representatives of the Party. But in some agricultural works, there are some restrictions on women even now. It means that people are more revolutionary in political practice, than in productive activity, where there are still aspects of backwardness.
That is why whenever there is any mention of women participating in Maoist departments, questions such as these are posed – are they participating in all agricultural works? If they are, do men allow them to do so? Is the awareness to resist patriarchal social relations growing both in men and women? The changes in social relations should not only be speeded up, but they must be made stable.”
All these discussions reflect the Marxist understanding stated above.
Formation of Revolutionary Women’s Organizations
Nari Mukti Sangh (NMS)
Nari Mukti Sangh (NMS) was formed in early 80s after the Jharkhand peasants started organizing under the leadership of the revolutionary party, against the oppression of the Rajput landlords, and the harassment of forest officials and contractors. It worked till 2000 in the united Bihar and subsequently, after the formation of Jharkhand state in 2000, it continues to work in both Bihar and Jharkhand. In Jharkhand, the leaders and members of NMS are predominantly Adivasis. The NMS mobilized women into anti-feudal struggles. They were able to eradicate the practices of landlords’ right to “first night” as well as bonded labour. The landlords do not dare abuse the peasants or women now. The NMS not only propagandized against child marriages but could also prevent many of them. No child marriages are taking place in areas where NMS is strong. It was also able to bring down significantly the practices of dowry and forced marriages in their areas of influence. They are conducting inter-religious and inter-caste marriages in a progressive fashion, these are called ‘SibirVivaah’. NMS also preaches against feudal customs and ostentatious weddings. They led agitations in Bihar and Jharkhand against sexual harassment by Forest Range officers and contractors. In a number of instances, they also punished the offenders.
NMS also conducts People’s Panchayats (a form of people’s court) and resolves issues within families. The following is an example of such a panchayat. An Adivasi woman’s husband went away to Mumbai to find work within a week of their marriage and he did not come back for 3 years, nor did he call her. Since it is routine for Adivasis to migrate to Mumbai in search of work, they generally carry mobiles with them and there is no reason for her husband to not call her. Since her husband is anyway not coming back, another man indicated his interest in marrying her if she is willing. The Adivasi woman was also interested in marrying this man. So she brought the matter to the notice of NMS and requested them to help her annul the existing marriage so that she can marry the other man. The day she made this request to NMS, her husband in Mumbai came to know of the matter and he called to inform that he is coming back and that the marriage should not be annulled. From this, it is clear that her husband is in regular touch with his father. The father-in-law claimed that the Adivasi woman is an outsider to his family since his son never lived with her. But, since he fed her and took care of her, he put the condition that she should not re-marry till she paid him back the expenses he incurred on her. NMS conducted a Panchayat in the village on this matter in the presence of the woman, her husband, both their families, the other young man who showed an interest in marrying her and his family. After listening to both the sides, NMS ruled that since her father-in-law is considering her an outsider to his family, her parents should pay him the expenses incurred on her, and her father-in-law should pay her wages for the work done in his house for three years. Since her husband behaved very irresponsibly towards her, he should pay for her upcoming marriage and new household expenses.
In places where NMS is strong, people stopped going to Courts since they believed they can get instant justice by going to NMS. Another serious problem in Jharkhand is that of young girls going to Delhi to work as domestic workers. Sometimes, these girls run away to Delhi without informing people at home. In such cases, they are ensnared by brokers and ruin their lives. Some of them even end up in jails. NMS is educating people against this through cultural activities and is able to prevent it to a large extent. In one incident, a female broker ensnared a school going girl with the promise of good wages and clothes and took her to Delhi. That girl came back home after a year as a living corpse. She would just sit silently and her family could not get any details from her. Her brother did his own investigations and found out the phone number of that female broker and he passed on the information to NMS. Then, activists from NMS’s Jharkhand unit called the female broker, informed her that they have a lot of girls who are ready to go to Delhi and asked her to come there. When the broker came, they bound her and decided to conduct a Panchayat the next morning. She pleaded with them that she will not step into Jharkhand again. A few men from the village were assigned the duty of guarding her that night but she managed to escape, maybe with their help. A month later, she was caught by the Police in Delhi and through her a large scale trafficking racket came to light. In any case, NMS conducted extensive campaigning on this matter in Jharkhand.
NMS also takes up programs to ensure that Primary Health Centers are run effectively, and scientific temper is inculcated among people by fighting against superstitions.
After 1990, under the auspices of CPI(ML) Party Unity, Nari Mukti Sangharsh Sangh was formed in Bihar’s Jehanabad and Gaya districts and Nari Chetna Samiti was formed in Palamu district. Subsequently, they both joined together to form Nari Mukti Sangharsh Samiti. Women activists from both Nari Mukti Sangharsh Samiti and Nari Mukti Sangh participated in the seminar ‘Women’s Question – Marxist Understanding’, conducted by AILRC in Patna in 1993.
Revolutionary Women’s Organization
When the revolutionary movement in united Andhra Pradesh spread from North Telangana to South Telangana and from Guntur to Rayalaseema, there was correspondingly an increase in women’s participation in the movement in those areas. Starting from 1985, around a hundred women’s organizations were formed in various places of different districts. In many places, these organizations functioned without even a name. Finally, in 1995, all these organizations were combined into Revolutionary Women’s Organization. For a while, the organizations in North Telangana worked under the name of Women’s Liberation Organization. Subsequently, they changed the name to Revolutionary Women’s Organization. This organization carried on struggles for land occupation and increase in wages, and against sexual attacks, child marriages and liquor consumption and many other issues of concern to women.
Adivasi Revolutionary Women’s Organization
Many women’s organizations were formed from 1991 in the context of the anti-liquor movement that saw large scale participation of women. About 190 women’s organizations were established in the districts of East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam. These were consolidated into Revolutionary Adivasi Women’s Organization whose name was subsequently changed in 1995 to Adivasi Revolutionary Women’s Organization (AVMS). This organizationsuccessfully led the struggles for increase in wage rates for coconut plucking and working in plantations. Mandal level AVMS with 2000 members, representing 15 villages, was formed in Bhamini Mandal in March 1995. They demanded and obtained wages on par with men for road construction work in many villages of Srikakulam district. In 1995, this organization also got the wages for working in the cotton and tobacco fields of 25 villages of Rayagadh district of Orissa, raised from Rs 18 to Rs 25. AVMS branches are now present in all districts of the AOB area.
Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sanghatan (KAMS)
After the People’s War party sent squads into Dandakaranya in 1980, agricultural workers’ unions started forming from 1983. Since women started participating actively in these unions, the Party took a decision to form separate women’s organizations. The first women’s union was formed in Bangarampeta village of Gadchiroli district with the women who resisted the opposition of the tribal elders to their going to the meeting of agricultural workers union. Subsequently, many organizations were formed in Kamalapur area of Ahiri. The first range committee meeting also took place in Kamalapur. From 1985 to 1991, all these organizations worked under the name of Adivasi Mahila Sanghatan. In 1991, the Party felt that there is a need for a unified organization across Dandakaranya and re-named it as Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sanghatan. This organization spread so much that by 2010, which represents 30 years of Dandakaranya movement, it had a membership exceeding 1 lakh. That number might have reduced in subsequent years due to repression. But, one can confidently say that no other women’s organization ever had this sort of massive membership over such a vast area.
KAMS had tremendous impact on the lives of Adivasi women in Dandakaranya. Forced marriages, finalized by their elders, were a serious problem for women in Dandakaranya and they had to face hell if they opposed them. Young, unmarried women attending marriages were sexually molested and forced into sexual relationships by men. Even married women were not spared in some contexts. After the formation of women’s organizations, such incidents stopped to a large extent. Men do not dare misbehave with women in the organizations. Women could finally get the respect they deserved only because of these organizations.
Thanks to the various struggles carried on by women’s organizations, domestic violence on women reduced; they are able to get equal pay for equal work; they are guaranteed an equal share in property; no man dares subject them to sexual harassment at work places; the merchants don’t dare misbehave with them or cheat them with fraudulent measurements and false accounts. Women achieved political power and they provide judgment on matters of injustice to women. This destroyed the power of the elders in the tribe. Women are taking an active part in the judicial committees of Janatana Sarkars. The environment in Dandakaranya has changed so much that when a group of women meet, they talk about political and organizational issues rather than merely indulge in gossip.
In a self-critical evaluation in front of people, KAMS publicly acknowledged the various incidents in which it had behaved rashly and thus could not take the people along with it. It recognized that some of its actions such as – forcibly making women enter grain stores and plant seeds against the approval of majority people, behaving rashly with bigamous men, burning the huts that women are banished to during menstruation – are wrong, without first recognizing and educating people on the various patriarchal forms in tribal society and without inculcating a new democratic revolutionary culture in them. Even though these are all desirable changes in the society, the mistake is in trying to enforce them without agreement and participation of the people. This is one of the lessons that other organizations should learn from KAMS.
The real success of the revolutionary women’s organizations is in the progressive change they brought about in men. Men are now behaving in a cultured manner with women and are trying very hard to rid themselves of patriarchal behavior.
The People’s War Party conducted a massive “rectification campaign” in 1985 to correct the increasing ‘other’class tendencies within the party. One aspect of this campaign to thoroughly cleanse the party was to get rid of patriarchal tendencies. The impact of this campaign was so significant that when public meetings and programs started again in 1990, the songs that were sung in those meetings were changed to eliminate all patriarchal notions in them. Women activists discussed and criticized patriarchal expressions orally as well as in print. Serious discussions were carried out against patriarchal expressions in language. The first novel by Sadhana (the writer of the novel ‘Rago’) was published with the title ‘Brothers in Forest’. The women comrades from the party openly questioned the title in an article in ‘Arunatara’ (asking if there are only brothers and no sisters in the forests). Sadhana responded to the criticism and changed the title to ‘Frontier’. Women comrades also debated about famous writer Com Manjeera’s story ‘Eldest son’ in ‘Arunatara’. They said that the notion of an “eldest son” taking responsibility is also a form of feudal thinking.
The Party took up periodic rectification campaigns to eliminate many non-working class traits. Though anti-patriarchal aspects were also part of these, the Party conducted a special rectification campaign against patriarchy in 2001. As part of this, the Party did self-criticism that it did not educate men as well as it educated women on the ideological aspects of women’s question. To correct that, it conducted classes on women’s perspective from the top to the bottom layers in the party. To a large extent, these classes were conducted by women. This process helped in building self-confidence among the women cadres and it helped male cadres accept women’s leadership. Women talked about how a lack of proper perspective shows up as a deficiency in practice – for e.g. If the commander is a woman the squad members instead of reporting to her reports to the deputy commander who is a male; belittling women comrades in the guise of jokes (such as asking them after encounters if they fired their guns after releasing the safety catch or not etc), laughing while women are speaking. Some men use patronizing terms while speaking to women comrades. Though they do this out of affection and with good intention they do not realize that this is because they don’t recognize the women as equals. Sometimes, even when men tried honestly to correct their behavior, they would get confused. Since women are relatively physically weak, would it be patriarchal to try and help them? Or, is it simply being supportive to a fellow comrade? So, the women were encouraged to ask for help unhesitatingly, when needed. Rules were put in place for men to not propose to women till the women complete two years in the squads and even then, men should inform the higher committee of their intention to propose. These rules were criticized by some feminists as feudal perspective of the party. But, when women are less in number, and if multiple men propose to them, they would feel like running away from the movement. That is the reason why it was suggested that men should inform the higher committee. Now that there are many more women in the party, this problem is significantly reduced. In certain cases when women chose to accept proposals from men who were politically weak, the higher committee pointed out that fact to women and suggested that they take some time to think through their decision. This turned out to be beneficial to those women when subsequent events proved the higher committee’s evaluation of those men to be correct. The strength of the revolutionary movement lies in the recognition of its mistakes and openly rectifying them.
Impact of Feminist Movement on Revolutionary Movement
Just as the revolutionary movement has an impact on all aspects of a society, they in turn have an impact on the movement. The feminist movement had a significant impact on the revolutionary movement. In states where the impact of revolutionary movement was high, women mobilized in large numbers. In breaking out of the confines of their homes,women waged their first battle against patriarchy. The revolutionary organizations were democratized because of the participation of women.
The feminist movement helped the revolutionary movement understand the gender question in depth, and to recognize patriarchal expressions in all forms. The various debates initiated by the feminists during 1980 – 90 especially helped sharpen the revolutionary movement’s understanding on the gender question.
Women in Revolutionary Movement’s Leadership
There is a criticism that there are no women leaders in the Maoist Party. Though it is not true that there are no women at all among the leadership, it is a fact that they are not there in sufficient numbers. In reality, it is rather difficult to know the overall number of women, and their numbers and roles in leadership positions in the revolutionary movement since it does not work in the open. We come to know of their details only when they get arrested or killed. It was only when Sheela Marandi was arrested, and Anuradha Ghandy was martyred, that the world came to know that they are members of the Central Committee of the Maoist Party. On the basis of different reports, we now know that there are women in almost all the State Committees of the party. Women are also leading companies (of PLA) in Dandakaranya. Women are heading Janatana Sarkar committees at different levels. State violence is the primary reason for women not being present in significant numbers in leadership positions. A lot of women comrades died in violence perpetrated by the State organs. Among them, if women such as – Nyalakonda Rajitha, YellankiAruna, JNM Padma, Padma (Adoni), B. Suguna, Janjanam Savithri, Geddam Lakshmi, Ajitha of Tamilnadu, Urmila Ganju of Jharkhand, and Ranita(who heroically fought the CPRF jawans alone for an entire day) – were not killed brutally by the State, there would have been substantial number of women leaders in the Party today. Most of the above mentioned comrades lost their lives in false encounters. Even though this is the primary reason for insufficient number of women leaders, for precisely this reason, the Party should put in special effort to bring up women into leadership positions.
The movement did not develop equally in all places. Women’s organizations were formed and women were recruited into the party wherever the movement was strong. In the review undertaken by the party in 2007, it was mentioned that some states are extremely backward in terms of women’s movements and organizations. The review also stated that the party failed to make conscious and persistent attempts in Bihar and Jharkhand to mobilize women into the revolutionary movement. It stated further that new democratic revolution was not sufficiently linked with women’s desire for liberation from patriarchy and for a long time the demand “land to the tiller” was not clearly articulated to include landless women too. Even though the Party led struggles to increase wages for both men and women, it did not demand equal wages for men and women for a long time. In an in-depth review, the Party mentioned that they failed to educate the entire cadre that until the above class based demands are clearly expressed and fought for, women’s strength against feudalism and imperialism will not be exhibited completely and patriarchy will not be eliminated.
We know from the book ‘Janatana State’ that women are being made part of productive activities carried out by Janatana Sarkars on a large scale. While speaking to the writer regarding their participation in agricultural activities, some women activists said that “we are also unable to do some things because we have to handle both domestic work and agricultural work”. This is definitely a big problem for women and it is not clear if domestic work has been collectivized in Janatana Sarkar areas. From the book, it doesn’t appear to be so. Since women cannot participate fully in production without being freed from domestic work, Janatana Sarkars should plan for collectivizing at least some aspects of domestic work.
The most important challenge in front of the Party today is its inadequate mobilization of the industrial working class that is expected to provide leadership to the new democratic revolution. This challenge is applicable to the revolutionary women’s movement too. Another big problem facing the movement is how to continue the activity after severe repression, which results in serious losses. One major drawback of the movement is its failure to gather industrial working women into the movement in these four decades.
Even though the movement faced severe losses in many places, multiple times and had undergone temporary setbacks, the consciousness generated by it is still continuing. It is an accepted thing that it is only the revolutionary movement that created a strong questioning attitude among the people. The revolutionary movement which is continuing despite many setbacks makes a promise and provides the hope that it will fulfil the desire of Indian women for liberation,by determinedly pursuing the effort it has undertaken so far.
Translated in to English by P.ARAVINDA