The Naxalbari movement in India has had disturbing historical beginnings. To characterize Naxalites and Maoists' movements as gory and violent is certainly not fair because police brutality and violence isn’t unheard of. It is truism of most protests to have a violent offshoot and in contingency to encounter repressive action by the authorities. The contemporary ‘black lives matter’ movement in the US and its conclusion is exemplary of this notion. However, the 1967 West Bengal famine, the succeeding peasant uprising and the ensuing Naxal struggle over 34 years doesn’t seem conformist to such a theorization. We are an agricultural dominant economy, in a developing country with a surging population where farmers have taken to arms. The picture is definitely not a desired one. The civil uprising has however been a great gender equalizer, or is it? Women have been active participants, perhaps fighting for freedom beyond economic malaise towards newer social beginnings.
This article doesn’t want to impeach the sanctity of the Naxal struggle from oppressive administration. But it does point out its hypocritical underpinnings for the women who are part of its struggle. Again, this isn’t an overlapping generalization but an emerging narrative from the enduring struggle. Much like the national freedom movement in India, the women are seemingly slaves to quantitative pillars of unity whose souls aren’t rendered the freedom of liberation. Instead, it has ruined many a life and further deteriorated their living standards and shattered their expectations and hopes of a better life.
The focus of the article is to shed light on the misogyny and inherent patriarchy in the Naxalite struggle. The common understanding among many, is about the existence of the Red Belt in India, which expands into states like Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Assam, etc. The abject levels of poverty and lack of job opportunities and a shortage of other essential amenities force many people not towards protest but an armed revolution. They intend to spread awareness about their situation but, in most cases especially in the recent attacks over the past few years, in a brutal and violent way. Unfortunately, these attacks end up affecting innocent civilians the most and do not necessarily influence the government authorities. Rather they add weight to oppressive countermeasures through military action that further obscures civilian life.
Earlier women had nothing do with arms or even guns for that matter. Instead, they were struggling to make their ends meet and feed their families. Today they are trained and misguided to kill in training camps at Naxal hidings.
More and more women are encouraged, many times forced, to join the Naxal and Maoist struggle in the hope that they might lead a better life. However, these illusions disempower many such women and do not show them the right path through which they want their voice to be heard. There are countless stories of women who were young when they joined. Many have left, and many continue to do so. For how long can they sustain the feeling of hopelessness? To avoid poverty or force the government to take developmental actions, these women face exploitation, abuse, and coercion in these Naxal groups itself. The medium of liberation has turned into a means of extreme exploitation and lack of social security. A movement with the ideology of socialism, equality, and providing justice to peasants and for other lower strata economical groups now oppresses those women who are a part of movement struggle. Is it sensible, and for the most part humanitarian, to fight for the poorest population segments but abuse women who work for them? Reducing them to such standards reflects the sheer standards of their idea of liberation. They aren't acknowledged or respected in their homes, nor when they take the painful decision of leaving everything behind and joining the Naxalite struggle. They face repression from the village authorities, and when they finally join the ranks of Naxal groups, the difference is their expectations are quashed. They have been mercilessly killed after being tracked down, and their movements completely dismantled on the government orders. But for any movement with a noble idea to work and gain momentum or acceptance, it is important to stay unified instead of crushing the ideology behind the whole movement. The foundation on which the Maoism and Naxalism movements work is purely for the upliftment of poor people who are ignored by the government in their social and economic development plans. Today, thus, it has taken a different stand and is now being increasingly known for its role in the nefarious work of murdering innocent people.
Moreover, many women have given accounts of the existing patriarchal system in these Naxal groups where women are not given the opportunity to rise above and be promoted to higher ranks. This indication of politics within the Naxal movements marks the hypocritical nature of men who operate and manage such groups.
Importantly, the Naxals claim to have put down a certain code of conduct and rules which they adhere to while recruiting women and working with them. According to the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, the Naxals/Maoists have envisioned a few tasks which they would like to see incorporated after women take charge of the movement post they heralding the New Democratic Revolution. Some of them do sound revolutionary and underline a common target of equality between men and women in all spheres of life. But, is that taking place among Naxals? It is difficult to say.
Another pertinent question here is the involvement of government in providing job opportunities and social and economic securities for those women who have left the movement. What happens to post their resignation from the Naxalite struggle? The government might have adequate funds to build statues worth thousands of crores of money but does it also invest for those who are ready to start anew?
It is like a vicious cycle for such women. They are torn between the State, their families, their comrades, etc. based on what they are expected to do. The government continues to sideline the possibilities of growth for such women. The Naxalbari and the Maoist movement in India is bound to continue, but it is time to address the problems within. Instead of the government merely hunting down such rebels and killing or arresting them, these people deserve to lead better lives and not remain poverty stricken. Generations and generations of such families succumb to the heightened state of miseries because of poverty, unemployment, etc. Out of desperation they decide to become Naxals, but this can be curbed, and the government must take serious considerations to at least heed to that advice and suggestions, which peaceful Naxals may want to convey.
Furthermore, the role of women in such movements isn’t an anomaly. Virginia Woolf, a renowned western novelist wrote one of the earliest specimens of a gendered perspective of war in ‘the three guineas.’ I implore you to read this work. It explains how the internalization of patriarchy blinds us to the realities of gender discrimination. More importantly, it portrays the sacrifice of female liberation at the altar of national (or in this case naxal) interest. There is always a bigger battle, a social impediment more evil than that of gender discrimination. The liberation of the Naxals may soon see the light of day, but not until a woman’s struggle for equality is met at the break of dawn.
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