A Chhattisgarh NGO is raising funds to distribute menstrual cups and sanitary napkins to women, including Maoist rebels, in the southern part of the state with the hope that it will create an atmosphere for talks between the banned CPI(Maoist) and the state.
The distribution programme will be conducted from Diwali on Saturday till Sankranti on January 14.
The note by The New Peace Process — a group promoted by Bastar-based Bluetooth community radio CGNet Swara — on ketto.org says, “This Diwali, let’s extend our love to our sisters fighting strong in Bastar. After having borne the brunt of the decades-old Maoist insurgency, the beautiful district of Bastar, with its sprawling forests and vibrant culture, has seen large-scale devastation and violence…. The dearth of information surrounding menstrual hygiene adds to the regressive mindset and is thus a cause for concern. Hence, this Diwali, we wish to gift these women reusable sanitary pads and menstrual cups with the aim of initiating discussions around this topic.”
They said these products can be an essential part of the kit gifted to the Adivasi women of Bastar, who roam around in jungles for most part of their day. “We plan on sending two reusable cloth pads and one menstrual cup as a gift pack, which will cost around Rs 1,000 each…. We intend on sending a portion of these gift packs as a peace offering to the Maoist female fighters as well, who joined the movement as an escape from their distressed living conditions with hopes for a better future.”
Shubhranshu Choudhary, convener of The New Peace Process, said the idea came up in the quarterly “Bastar Dialogue” on October 2, which had participants from countries such as Colombia, Nepal, and the Philippines, where armed communist rebellions have taken place. In 2010, the Colombian military decorated nine trees in contested territory with Christmas lights and a message encouraging Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia cadre to come home. This was followed by Operation Rivers of Light, where people were urged to send Christmas greetings to rebels in floating LED-illuminated balls down rivers that flowed through rebel-held territory. This initiative reportedly led to one in 20 rebels leaving the forests.
Choudhary, who also heads CGNet Swara, explained, “Whenever we went to the forests, the men would explain that they lose three days a month due to malarial fevers. Women say that for three days a month they additionally suffer as they cannot sit down to rest or dry the pieces of cloth used as sanitary napkins. We want to make a beginning by extending a hand of friendship.”
The Process contacted several online donation sites that turned it down to avoid controversy. Police officers and politicians they spoke to were initially opposed to the idea, but Choudhary said they have come around to not preventing them from carrying out their work.
“We were asked why we were trying to make life easy for the Maoists, and that this was an ‘urban Naxal’ idea. For the fighting to stop, both sides need to break the ice. Bastar division is larger than Kerala and a third of it is considered to be under Maoist control. We don’t want to fool people. A part of the kits will go to Maoists. Some of it will even reach villages in neighbouring states. We hope both sides will take it sportingly. The long-term goal is for talks to end the violence,” he explained.
Undivided Andhra Pradesh had attempted talks with Maoists between 2001 and 2005, as did the Centre in 2009. These failed over the key condition by governments that Maoists must abjure violence. Hopes for talks had dimmed after the chief of the Maoist’s People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army M. Koteswara Rao alias Kishenji was killed by police in Bengal in 2011. After being elected in 2018, Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel had said that “talks, not bullets” will end the insurgency.
Choudhary added, “In the last two weeks, two of our teams who go there to gather news and talk to people were stopped by locals in these areas. One of them was asked to return and the other was questioned by Maoists and then asked to leave. Initially, we plan to drop off the kits with locals in five or six such areas. We do not want the government to be a party to this as they are a party to the conflict.”
The Process derives hope from the fact that in a recent telephone survey of locals in Hindi (mainly spoken by non-tribals), Halbi (a link language between Marathi and Odia used in markets), and Gondi (spoken mainly by forest dwellers), an overwhelming majority said the solution to the conflict is through talks, rather than military means. Around 92 per cent of respondents on Hindi and Halbi wanted talks. For Gondi respondents, it was 100 per cent for talks.
“The Maoists publicly claimed that intelligence agencies are doing this survey to spy on people. But one day, a journalist came to us with a message that Maoist-controlled villages are unable to participate in survey as there is no connectivity in their area,” Choudhary said.