Arrested as 'Maoists', the women who fought the gender war

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We can name the iconic Naxal operations in the forests of Andhra forest, West Bengal, Karnataka, Kerala and Nepal. But little do we know of the gender war that lies as an intermittent undercurrent in all of them.

The gender politics within and outside

Women doning guns and grenades trigger innumerable questions in one's mind. What forced them to take up guns? Women are considered closest to the nature, an epitome of generosity, care and love, there has to be a solid ground why these women took up arms.

Maoists

Looking for an answer is not easy, especially as they are inaccessible for questions and fortified by the high walls of the guerilla war regulations, again determined by their gender.

Ironically, this game of gender is no different when they are arrested or 'rehabilitated', if we may say so.

The Lady with a Gun

Naxalites have a history of 40 years and across these years, women have played various roles within the circuit.

Some working as bodyguards to maoist commanders, others just keep a vigil at the male counterparts who may harass villagers (the ideology afterall has to be served).

One of the maoist rebels provided a different, rather unsettling angle to the women recruitment,"In effect, almost half the rebel fighters are women now. Most of the men and women fighters cohabit either as married or unmarried couples."

Maoists

She further reveals how women play a tactical role in operations and are always placed at the front to 'distract' the security forces. The gender politics is prevalent from a 2010 Times of India report which reveals how a young Maoist woman was being raped by Maoists and then shot at when she filed a complain. [Read : Teen girl who alleges rape by Maoist shot at]

Rampati Gunju, a former rebel commander from the eastern state of Bihar said,"We had women from 16 to 40 years of age in our group. Almost all those I knew had experienced some form of sexual abuse or exploitation when they had stepped outside their homes to work or at the hands of security forces."

The gory details can lead us back to their childhood-the way they were opporessed by their landlords, sexual abuse, suicides in family and more.

One of the former female cadres he Maoists would visit our village to recruit cadres. They promised a steady income for my family. There was no other way but to join them.

Maoists

"I married a fellow rebel and we had a child. That changed my life. I couldn't live like that with my child. We were always in hiding and on the run. I surrendered because I wanted to live peacefully."

Peace with a price

However, in many cases 'Peace' comes with a price. There are horrifying incidents of social ostracization, police brutality and harassment after these women surrender. Some continue to face the trials and meet the brutalities for years.

In fact, harassment by the police is not restricted to the women who surrender. Case studies of simple village women being picked up by the police, alleging Maoist connection, followed by gangrape have come to the fore.

A report by the Women against Sexual Violence and State Oppression (WSS) sites the case of a 17-year old girl from Gajapati, Odisha. She was picked up during a combing operation in February 2010 and was gang-rape. She is languishing in jail till date. There are rumours that there are many such cases that have not been properly investigated.

'The relevance of Kawasi Hidme's unheard story by Sushmita Verma' too has an oppressive narrative. A girl in her teens from Borguda village in Sukma, Bastar region, Hidme was picked up by the police when she was having fun with her family in a fair. When alone, she was groped at and was dragged to a police van parked outside the fair grounds.

The story is no less than a horror narrative for a girl of her age when she was tossed between police stations to be feasted upon by the 'protectors' of law.

But when this trauma came to an end, another began. When the policemen grew apprehensive that she may die in police custody, they found out a reason to formalise her arrest and hold her captive. She was charged with the murder of 23 CRPF personnel and the Magistrate remanded her to the Jagdalpur prison.

Her struggle continues even after 7 years of extreme torture and physical abuse. She now struggles to keep her uterus inside her body (literally) and getting freedom.

The heart-wrenching story of an adivasi teacher Soni Sori comes to light in this context who was there with her in jail. Sori shares the same horrifying experience in police custody. She was given electric shocks and stones were inserted in her private parts. But, when she was released, she spoke to the human rights commission about Hidme's condition. Her cries were heeded.

However, Hidme's ordeal was far from over. When her lawyer argued before the Court that she should be released as all the witnesses were complete, the judge replied that since she had already spent seven years in jail, a few more months would do no harm. Finally in late March 2015 she was released when none of the charges against her could be proved the Court.

Rape in the name of combing operations

The rape of eleven tribal women in the Visakha District of Andhra Pradesh in 2007 picturizes a state law, governed by gender politics. The incident happened in a village called Vakapalli which lies in Nurmati Panchayat of Visakha District, 190 kms from the city of Vishakapatnam and came to light when CPI(ML) and AIPWA members started investigating the case. [CPIML Report]

It was revealed that Greyhounds (responsible for Maoist combing operations) suddenly attacked the village when the men had already left for work, leaving behind the elderly, women and the children. In the name of combing operations, these men ransacked homes and gangraped women in their homes and fields.

The brutal 'operation' is alleged to have continued for three to four hours. When the investigating team took the matter to the DGP, SP of police, the AP Home Minister, they denied saying that the women who complained of rape were part of a ‘Maoist conspiracy' to defame the police and stop the combing operations.

A similar incident from Jharkhand came to light during the same time. The police were regularly harassing, molesting and raping women in the name of combing operations.

Soni Sori

15-year old Phulmani was a victim too. Seven policemen, led by the station officer, forced their way into her house, beat her brutally, stripped her naked, tied her hands and feet together and hung her from a tree. They continued torturing and humiliating her naked body. When they were done, they pulled her down and gang-raped her. There was no action against the police even in this case.

Innumerable other such cases can be cited from different sources, there are interviews to prove these incidents too; But the state keeps mum, waging a war against the wrong elements and using it as an instrument to fuel the ongoing 'battle' against the maoists and the opposition, whichever applies first. SHAME!

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