CPN(M): revolution as female emancipation

Barry Stoller bstoller at utopia2000.org
Mon Jun 25 20:38:17 MDT 2001

The Times. 25 June 2001. 'My rifle will liberate me.' Excerpts.

The female recruits of Nepal’s Maoist army are fighting to turn the
country into a communist state -- and for equal rights. Our
correspondent visits their mountain stronghold.

Sweating under a purple bandana, Ekata looks like any other member of
the Maoist guerrilla squad going through its paces in a paddy field near
Jajarkot in western Nepal.

Aged 20 and barely 5ft tall, she is panting under the weight of her
rifle. The purple stitching of its strap matches the colour of her face
mask and nose stud.

Yet this slightly built mother of a one-year-old daughter is one of
three members of her unit to have taken part in the Maoist armed raids
on police stations that have left scores of police dead and forced the
remainder to retreat into a few heavily barricaded strongholds across
rebel-affected areas of Nepal.

She admits, with a smile, that police have been surprised to see her
storming the barricades along with scores of male guerrillas. The direct
question “Have you killed anyone?” prompts a confused glance toward her
unit commander, who interjects: “These are technical questions you do
not need to know.”

Those technical questions cover the course of the five-year-old
“People’s War” that has brought six of the Himalayan kingdom’s 75
districts under Maoist control, and scarred its mountains and valleys
with violence long before the bizarre regicide that made headlines
earlier this month.

With just an estimated 5,000 armed fighters, many sneered when the
Maoist movement’s intellectual mentor, Dr Baburam Bhattarai, first
declared his intention in 1996 to turn Nepal into a red fort and “hoist
the hammer and sickle red flag atop Mount Everest”.

But the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) found willing recruits among
poor youths in rural areas such as this one, 200 miles west of
Kathmandu, that have seen little or no benefits from 11 years of
multiparty democracy.

Ekata is reluctant to reveal details of her operations, preferring
instead to mutter that she is “efficient” with her rifle and its
11-round magazine. What she is prepared to say is that she joined up
three years ago to fight against alleged police injustices committed in
her village, that her husband is serving elsewhere and that she has not
seen her daughter for 20 days.

She rejects traditional dress: “I feel that wearing a sari, tikka (Hindu
forehead mark) or lipstick is a kind of prison. It limits and confines
you. Now I feel liberated.”

Women play an important part in Nepal’s Maoist rebel movement; two
places in every nine-member squad are reserved for them.

Ekata’s boss Comrade Jivan confirms that women command local squads and
serve on the underground party’s central committee, although he does not
know how many. Slim and fastidious, Jivan is a 36-year-old former
primary school teacher. He is flanked by armed bodyguards as he sits
inside a tiny mud-and-brick cottage surrounded by mango trees and
iridescent green paddy fields.

“Capitalism is slowly falling down. It cannot solve the problems of the
lower class,” he pronounces, his Next shirt and Italian tracksuit
shielding a concealed sidearm. “We are active in most districts of the
country and the movement is going on throughout the country. We are
waging a total war and we have to kill and be ready to kill.”

Jivan’s command is in the Maoists’ mid-western heartland, where
government officials concede that the rebels are in almost complete

Other western districts with a strong Maoist presence are Dailekh, Jumla
and Pyuthan, and further east in Gorkha, Dolakha and Sindhupalchowk.

Ekata serves alongside two women trainees, Anju and Navena, both aged
16, who say they were motivated to join by tales of women being burnt
alive and the prospect of leading boring domestic lives “cutting grass
and feeding cattle”.

The Worker, the party’s official organ, includes a picture gallery of
women “martyrs” and a suitably rousing quotation attributed to Marx:
“Anybody who knows anything of history knows that great social changes
are impossible without feminine ferment.”

The Maoist leaders see women as ideal recruits because although they
carry out a double role in the house and field, male-dominated Nepalese
society prevents them from attaining equal ownership.

To encourage support from women, Maoists frown on polygamy, make much
propaganda capital of the harsh penalties their self-appointed courts
impose on rapists and have strict rules that require party permission
for recruits to marry and ban premarital or adulterous affairs.

A few miles from Ekata’s unit another volunteer, 23-year-old Sunita,
explains that she joined up five years ago seeking to avenge the death
of friends who, she claims, were killed by police merely on suspicion of
being Maoists. “Instead of just dying like that I thought I would die
fighting the police,” she says.

Barefoot and clutching an ancient muzzle-loading rifle, she uses the
same stock phrases as her comrades to outline their plan of class
struggle and eventual world revolution against the enemies of
imperialism, capitalism and revisionism.

But chief among them is the desire to redress the many injustices she
believes were meted out to women. “The aim is to put an end to social
discrimination against women. There were so many women who were raped by
police in my village, including two of my cousins,” she says.

She claims to have no regrets about choosing a life where she must move
through the forests from village to village, never sleeping at home and
rarely visiting her parents.

She no longer wants to return to the normal life she once knew. “I am
having an education reading Marxism and Leninism. Going to school is
education for selfish reasons, but what I am doing is for the whole
country not for myself. ”

The Maoists have adopted the Great Helmsman’s strategy of establishing
bases in the countryside and surrounding the cities with “liberated”
villages in order ultimately to seize control of the country, although
many analysts believe this is beyond them.

Militarily their brutal but effective strategy -- often compared with
Peru’s Shining Path guerrillas -- has been to launch night-time armed
raids on police stations killing dozens at a time and taking others

More than 80 police died at the hands of hooded, red bandana-wearing
rebels who stormed two stations in Rukumkot and Naumule in April, and
the attacks have escalated noticeably in recent months.

With the police holed up in fortified bases and the government’s writ no
longer effective in the countryside, the Maoists move openly through the
valleys and hillside consolidating control by ousting government
officials from village committees through threats, abductions or murder
and setting up their own administrations including courts, taxation and

Travel through Jajarkot, Rukum and Salyan and it becomes clear that some
of the people are won over by the Maoists’ arguments and initiatives
such as co-operative farming, crackdowns on wealthy landowners who abuse
their position and insistence that once-lazy teachers stay in the
schools and teach.

Certainly poverty and malnutrition are among the Maoists’ best
recruiting agents. Here fly-infested children wander through villages
with clear signs of poor diet and locals fish as their ancestors did
1,000 years ago by dangling looped ropes in rivers hoping that fish will
swim through the slip knots.

“The Nepalese army gets three years training, we finish ours in 15
days,” says Comrade Muktee, the commander of another squad. “Every
morning we do drills and exercises, we make some of our own bullets and
we seize others from police. Our job is to protect the people and if the
police come, to stage an ambush. We have killed police.

“No one feels nice when someone dies but we kill only those who fight
back. Those who surrender are not killed.”

His unit would be more convincing if his .303 rifle were not the only
semi-decent weapon in sight; the others are ancient flintlock models
that take at least two minutes to reload through the muzzle.

However, he concedes that his is a “low” ranking volunteer unit, and
that only selected members were chosen to take part with the Maoists’
front-rank troops in major attacks on police stations in Jajarkot.

In Jajarkot itself, the hilltop capital of a district where there isn’t
a single road passable by car, the police sit behind sandbags in one of
the highest buildings in town, having been forced to abandon all but
four of the 16 stations they used to occupy.

In a nearby building K.B. Rana, the government’s sincere and
well-meaning development officer, concedes there is little he can do for
the local people when his staff control just 2km of the district’s 2,123
sq km.

“Frankly speaking the Government has not done enough,” he admits. “Very
little of the budget has been allocated here and because it is a remote
area civil servants do not like being posted here. They feel they have
been forced to come as a punishment, but the Maoists are sacrificing
their lives. It makes them a difficult enemy.”


Barry Stoller


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