There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Daughters of Mao

By Jaideep Hardikar
Nagpur, India

With the blood-red vermilion on her forehead, and sari draped around her Chhattisgarhi style, 18-year-old, newly-married Suman looks like a typical adivasi woman -- shy yet attractive in her simplicity. "I got married this year," she says, sitting down next to her husband.
We are in a hamlet called Bodankheda in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli district. It's where Suman's father lives -- he tills a small farm here -- and Suman is on a short visit to see him. Her in-laws' village, she gestures with her hand, is right across the hills -- in Chhattisgarh's Rajnandgaon district.
'Don't know about Maoism '
In 2007, when she had gone out to collect firewood, she disappeared from the forests of Dhanora, a Maoist stronghold. She surfaced one year later, in 2008. During this period, Suman had been a Maoist. But she seems oblivious to the theories of Mao, Marx, Lenin or Stalin. "I don't know what Maoism means," says Suman, who speaks in Marathi, Hindi and Goendadi, her speech punctuated with long, thoughtful pauses. "I never wanted to join them."

For more than a year, Suman, who has had no formal education, trained in the use of arms, got lessons in ideology, and learnt to do things she would never have done otherwise. Her commander was a woman. "There were altogether four women in our group (which normally comprises 10-11 members)." Her unit, she says, was a loose formation and not highly trained. It was meant to execute small tasks: cutting trees, digging roads, and generating ration and material for the groups. She didn't enjoy it, and craved to return.
In 2008, with seven others, Suman surrendered. Soon enough, a Maoist group came looking for her in the hamlet. "The entire village argued with them (Maoists)," says her maternal uncle, who lives behind their hut. "We told them, if you want to kill her, kill all of us first." Sensing retribution, the Maoists left the village and Suman unharmed. She was immediately married off.
However, not all women rebels are shy and want to return, like Suman did. In Gadchiroli and the neighboring districts of Chhattisgarh, surrendered Maoists assert that young women cadres -- mostly from poor, adivasi backgrounds -- now lead from the front and are fiercely battle-ready.
Men cook, women patrol
The Laheri ambush on October 8, in which 17 policemen were killed, intelligence sources say, was led by Tarakka, alias Vimala Chandra Sidam, an educated rebel from Kistapur village in Jimalgatta area.

Tarakka's photographs in the police records show a simple, good-looking woman, quite unlike the hardened image of a resolute guerrilla fighter that one would expect. Her husband, Bhupati, a central committee member, is a technology graduate. Police sources claim they had a love marriage.
A surrendered Maoist in Gadchiroli says that the couple is strongly committed to the Maoist cause and that the duo are idols among the youth in the territory they command. He adds, "In the dalams, there is no discrimination between women and men. Men can be asked to cook and women can be asked to do patrolling. So there's nothing peculiar about women commanders or cadres."
In many cases, women follow their Maoist husbands to the rebel camp. The classic case is of Diwakar, a top Maoist rebel: his wife Jyoti joined the cadres after their marriage. Jyoti, who is commander of the Tippagarh dalam, was Diwakar's first cousin. Their adivasi village had ruled their marriage as improper and ostracised them. A disgruntled and angry Diwakar joined a local Maoist group and rose to higher ranks. Jyoti married him, and his cause.
"Women cadres naturally attract more girls into their fold," says Chandra, a former Maoist who surrendered with her husband after fighting for the rebels' cause for 18 years. "We were disheartened by the party's new policies," says her husband, whose surrender in 2008 was considered a big setback for the South Gadchiroli division of the Maoists. The two live in isolation, away from their families. "They won't spare us if we return to our villages," says her husband, Murali.
The trigger for women taking to arms, Chandra says, is the continued physical and economic exploitation of the adivasi community. "There are many girls who join the Maoists to avenge the exploitation by outsiders and the police," he says. "The poor adivasi can't approach any system -- political or judicial -- where they can plead their plight or seek redress against injustice. Maoists have that system, so the villagers naturally support them." Chandra says that if the administration and the police approach the villages with honesty and softness, things will change.
'Women get quick justice' 
In the Red territory, Maoists follow a time-tested process of initiating a young villager into their fold. "It starts with regular interactions between the Maoist cadres and children," says Chandra. The Maoist leaders keep an eye on potential recruits during their visits to villages, she says. "They try to convince us to join the armed revolution, and any incident, such as a policeman beating an adivasi for information after an incident, becomes the push."

"I was impressed with their talk," says another surrendered woman Maoist, who lives with her husband near Gadchiroli. "They spoke of revolution, justice and equity to women." A CPI (Maoist) pamphlet pasted in several villages across Gadchiroli on International Women's Day reads: "No revolution without winning the class struggle. No freedom to women without revolution."
The powerful infusion of ideology, says a police officer with years of experience with Maoism, can't be undermined. "There is a political vacuum, which the police can't fill. If a woman complains of her exploitation to the police, she may not even get heard, forget getting any justice. All these years after independence, this has not changed. In contrast, if she approaches the Maoists for justice, she gets it immediately. This appeals to her."
No private life 
Several women and men in the ranks get married, but don't raise children. "It's not necessary that the husband and wife will remain in the same unit," says Chandra, who got married when she was a soldier with the Maoists. "Though couples are not expected to raise children, it's not a rule."

Recent trends indicate female cadres raising children. Police sources say that after a recent encounter at Saunsari village, they recovered medicines that are generally prescribed during pregnancy. The second indicator: A woman Maoist killed near Murumgaon earlier this month, was found, in the post-mortem, to be pregnant.
At any rate, there is no private life in a dalam, says Chandra's husband, only a few private moments. "How can you raise children when it's a war every day?"
This article was first published in the DNA. Names of surrendered Maoists have been changed to protect their identity.


  1. I have seen a few past issues of this magazine. I am glad to see it in website. Looking forward to more interesting stories, essays and poems.

  2. This is a very very touchy topic for me as I have read about them. You have written it so so realist that it made me feel as if I can see it all like a movie. You have portrayed Suman true to life

    Well I know Mao's are now titled as terrorist , but after reading extensively I believe that it was a situation like when cat is cornered. A cat being such a timid animal always retreats when faces threats , but when the same cat is cornered and has no where to left to go , its jumps right back and kills the threat by biting of the throat of it, or at least it tries to do so

    These group of people they are the collection of those poor , tortured and enslaved men and women who have been exploited for ages. And now they have nothing to lose as they are cornered

    Didi I don't have any intension to differ or contradict you but i just put down my thoughts , though I know they are ruthless , but trust me worse thing has happened to them just that the world is not aware of it.

    Didi I am extremely sorry for using up so much of your place in the blog.