The representation of women among Maoist cadres in Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra has risen to around 40% and several of them are commanders of various units of the banned ultras and are often involved in clashes with security personnel, said a senior Chhattisgarh police officer. However, women representation in the decision making process of the Maoist is still very low, he added.
Sujata (65), in charge of South Bastar division of Maoists’ Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC) was one among the key planners in almost all ambushes in South Bastar, which is the core area of Maoists in the country. Even at 65, she carries an AK-47 and speaks six languages including local Halbi and Gondi, the police officer quoted above said.
Sujata, the wife of senior leader Mallojula Koteswara Rao alias Kishenji who was killed in 2011 in an operation, is in-charge of logistics and other support in the Teklaguda attack this April, in which 22 security personnel were killed.
“Sujata is very active, sharp and important for Maoists in South Bastar. In the April 4 incident, she was continuously talking to Mandvi Hidma during the ambush. Hidma, the head of battalion number 1 of Maoists, led the attack in Teklaguda on security forces. Sujata and his team were rescuing the injured Maoists and also collecting the arms and ammunition of slain security personnel. Mainly, she has been among the key planners of any big attack in South Bastar,” said a senior police officer posted in Bastar.
Another prominent woman commander is Sujatakka, who is in charge of the Maad division of CPI (Maoist). The ultras are said to have recruited the maximum number of people from this area in the past two years.
“Sujatakka is a powerful woman commander, a member of DKSZC, and she also carries an AK-47. She has been instrumental in hiring many women cadres in Bastar,” the police officer quoted above said. In South Bastar, of the total 653 Maoist cadres, 310 are women and in West Bastar, 169 out of 420 are women. North Bastar division has 106 women among 226 members and the Maad division has 134 women out of the 322 armed cadres in the area, according to police records.
Police officials said Sujatakka was instrumental in recruiting women in South and West Bastar divisions, both headed by women and this was the reason that the presence of women cadre was the highest in the core Maoist area.
According to figures collected by HT from Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra police, the total estimated strength of armed Maoists in the region is 2,498, of which 1,391 are men and 1,107 women. “So, approximately 40% are women, which used to be less than 20% till a decade ago,” a senior Chhattisgarh police officer said.
The cadre is from nine divisions of CPI (Maoist) Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC), central committee members of CPI (Maoist), the newly formed Maharashtra – Madhya Pradesh Chhattisgarh (MMC) zone and two other divisions (Mainpuri-Nuapada joint division and Bargarh-Balangir and Mahasamund ( BBM) division which falls in Chhattisgarh and Odisha respectively.
However, decision making is still dominated by men. Of the 21 members in the central committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), there is only one woman, Sheela Marandi. In the 14 member Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC) there are only two women, officials said.
Abhishek Pallava, Dantewada’s police chief gave three reasons for Maoists recruiting more women.
“Firstly, women are more dedicated and loyal. Secondly, low surrender rates of women cadres and the fact that they are difficult to arrest as they can easily get mixed with villagers. And thirdly, women are traditionally dominant in tribal societies, so involvement of women cadres gives legitimacy to Maoists in this area,” he said.
Sunderaj P, inspector general of police, Bastar, pointed out that women have not been able to rise in the hierarchy of CPI (Maoists). “This is evident from the fact that till date not even one women cadre has been inducted into the Politburo of CPI Maoist,” he said, and added that there was no female in their apex military wing, the Central Military Commission (CMC)/State Military Commission (SMC), showing there was no gender equality at the top level in the Maoist organisational structure.
An intelligence officer monitoring the Bastar area said representation of women in the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) of CPI (Maoist) gained momentum after the start of Salwa-Judum (from 2006 onwards) and reached the 40% mark, considered very high. He said that during Salwa Judum, women were targeted by special police officers (SPOs) resulting in the women inculcating deep hatred against security forces and a sense of vengeance.
“Prior to the Salwa Judum, most female Maoist leaders were members of frontal wings such as Chetna Natya Manch (CNM), cultural wing and Dandakaranya Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangh (DKAMS). Very few were in organizational work,” he said.
Another senior police officer, who was not willing to be named, said higher representation of women was helping Maoists in establishing better connections with tribals and also in hiring more young people.
Shubhranshu Chaudhary, a peace activist working in Bastar, claimed that Maoists strategically used sentiments against “patriarchy” in tribal regions for inducting more women.
“As there was very little class conflict in Bastar, Maoists chose to focus on patriarchy in adivasi societies from the beginning as a strategy. They claim Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangh, a banned organization, is the world’s biggest women’s organization. They always celebrated 8th March as women’s day in a big way. The high number of women in Maoist outfits is not an accident and it did not increase after Salwa Judum but it is an outcome of a thoughtful strategy implemented in the last 40 years,” said Chaudhary.
But an author, who has interviewed many armed women cadres, believes that patriarchy is not the only reason behind women’s participation.
“All human societies have elements of patriarchy, but Gond adivasis of Bastar offer far more political and cultural rights to its women than many others. If we say that many Gond adivasi women joined the Maoists ranks to escape patriarchy in their society, we must also acknowledge that these women could leave their families and easily take up arms because their families had given them enough space to exercise their political choices. Urban women face strong opposition when they leave their families, but we have barely seen any resistance in the adivasi community,” said Ashutosh Bhardwaj, who has written extensively on Bastar’s Maoist movement.
Sunderaj disagreed with both arguments and said young boys and girls are forcefully and coercively recruited by Maoists. “Those who challenge the Maoist leadership are targeted and punished. Due to this fear factor, parents of young boys and girls cannot stop their children from being taken away,” he said