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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 44 October 22, 2022

Living Experiences of Women Naxals from Odisha & AP | Barik & Nanda

Friday 21 October 2022, by Radhakanta Barik


by Radhakanta Barik & Manas Ranjan Nanda *

SOCIETY IN THE east coast State of Odisha is split longitudinally into Peasant and Tribal society. Both are agrarian in nature. The State has a 450 km-long coastline and populations all along the coast from north to south farm fish. Where the Daya river falls into the sea, the lagoon spreads over three districts around Puri and forms a brackish water lake, known as Chilka lake which yields a rich harvest of fish. More than a hundred kinds of rice farming is done here by peasant farm workers and peasant landlords. The 64 notified tribes of Odisha live in hilly forested regions rich in minerals like Aluminium, Chromium, Silica, Mica and other rare elements. The forests and mineral deposits are spread over at least twenty-two (22) districts of Odisha and the people’s rights struggles against landlords and multinational companies that want to mine in their land and forests have been going on since independence in 1947.

The story of exploitation here is multifarious and so is the people’s struggle for their rights. It is not just a class struggle, the rich versus the poor story. It is about ownership of land, forests, forest produce, deities and worship (as in Nayamgiri), cultures, about waterbodies and produce (as in Chilka), it is about caste, caste dominance in the temples, in jobs and gender dominance in the village, the home and the workplace. It is keeping these socio-political perspectives in mind that we bring our readers the voices of some Naxal women from Odisha. They have been active in the border districts of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha and the Maoists do not recognise this interstate border. Reasons of privacy are adhered to here and the names of the respondents have been changed accordingly.

This paper also attempts a gendered analysis of the ongoing Maoist insurgency in India, particularly focused on women’s position within the movement, the continuum of gender-based violence that they experience and the potential for transformative politics. The contemporary Maoist movement in India attempts to be informed by a stated commitment to ‘progressive’ gender politics and social transformations in that it marks a departure from the Naxal movement of the 1960s and ’70s. Now, Women activists learn from their social and political experiences how to confront the basic issues affecting them and their societies. They demand the right to vocalise their experiences and pilot policy changes.

Class, Caste & Patriarchy 

Tribals do not have any caste and they do not have a hierarchical relation with others. But by looking into the social organisation within a tribe, one does find gender issues. Women’s issues need to be discussed with the women leaders of the tribal groups. In some tribal groups, there is the practice of polygamy (S Sen: 2017). This needs to be discussed within the tribe. There is the issue of forced marriage. There is bride price which affects a woman’s freedom to marry according to her choice. Daughters cannot inherit the land. This is a critical issue. Some superstitions related to menstruation exist. The issue of domestic violence has come up. Witch-hunting and divorce are found within the family and community. All these are related to internal patriarchy. (K Kannabiran: 2004). Maoists look at the fight against patriarchy in essence as a part of the class struggle. Naxal politics has given space for women activists to confront the social and economic reality and turn themselves into militant women activists who are confronting the patriarchy in their own way. This needs not to be categorised as the feminist movement but it is a movement for equality and justice(K Bandyopahyay: 2008).

Case 01 ARUNA

The government restrictions on use of forest produce, exploitation of Jal (water), Jangal (forest), Jameen (land) and Jibika (livelihood) by outsiders convinced Aruna to join the Maoists. At the Jana-natya Mandali, a local theatre group, Aruna learnt about the idea of mobilization, the perennial class conflict, about property, patriarchal rules, class, wealth, poverty and exploitation of the poor.

ARUNA joined the Naxal Dalam voluntarily. Her family was subject not only to poverty but to ill-treatment by the local police, alleging they were Naxals. Chosen for this study, this participant told this interviewer, ‘The police came to our house and tortured our family members as supporters of the Naxals and broke our hut’. This experience was very traumatic for Aruna and he family. Feeling insecure, the family sought the help of their neighbours. However, no one responded to their appeal for assistance. Disheartend, Aruna realized, people could not save her family from the police. Only the Naxals could protect their lives and rights.

 She analysed that Naxal youth who came to her village regularly in the middle of the night and mobilise the villagers, asking them to fight for their legitimate rights. Aruna began to go to these meetings and was soon familiar with the group. Then she told them everything about the police oppression that her family faced. She also expressed her willingness to work with the Naxals Dalam (group), if they would provide protection to the villagers in her village. The Naxal leaders told her, if she joined the Naxal she would have to work for the oppressed and distressed masses in the State. The Naxals assured her that they would protect her family.

Aruna, thus, voluntarily chose to join a Dalam. When she joined the group, her principal target was the police and who tortured villagers who were not Maoists. She, at the time, did not know the meaning of ideology, politics and equality. Later, the Naxal leaders educated her and she changed her mind and concentrated on how to eliminate class enemies. This left movement has a platform called the Jana-natya Mandali. A local theatre group. Aruna was very impressed by the theatre group, and the idea of mobilisation through the Jana-natya Mandali. She learnt about the perennial class conflict from this group; about property, ancestral property, archaic inheritance laws, patriarchal rules, class, wealth, poverty and exploitation of the poor.

Trained by the Naxals, Aruna motivated villagers to raise their voices against the exploiter of the landless and poor people. She told them to go and take possession on their ancestral property, which was illegally occupied by the landed owners. She convinced the villagers to hold guns, and target their class enemies, and drive out the exploiters from the villages.

‘We try to mobilise the poor and downtrodden who have been historically deprived and suppressed by the administration. We tell the people how the government harasses people by appointing corrupt officials. We tell them, if we are united and fight against the oppressors and exploiters, then we will be able to build our own administrative zones where we can enjoy our right and privileges.’

‘We focus on various issues like police torture of tribals, negligence of government officials, illegal land grabbing by rapacious Zamindars, the loot of bauxite and other minerals from the tribal forest land, the government restrictions on use of forest produce, exploitation of Jal (water), Jangal (forest), Jameen (land) and Jibika (livelihood) by outsiders. We also attract the village people through revolutionary songs, songs of martyrdom and drama. The heart-rendering speeches of the senior cadres strongly encourage the young boys and girls to join the Naxal Dalams.’

Aruna describes in detail how a few years ago, they organised the villagers of Narayan-patna and Bandhu-gaon when the lower caste and lower-class people lost their land and their livelihood was in danger. At the time, they started the ‘Land to Tiller’ movement under the banner of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, in a democratic way. They fought against the illegal occupation of ancestral tribal lands by the non-tribals, in a peaceful manner. Due to the Land to Tiller movement, many tribal people got back their ancestral property. Only after several years, when the government did not help the tribals and landless people to get back their ancestral property, did the tribals try to get back their lands forcibly with the help of Maoist groups. Due to confrontation between the landless people and landlords, violence took place and many tribals were arrested and tortured by the security forces.

Aruna says that the Naxals do not practice violence. ‘They adopt violence when there is counter violence.’ She claims that due to the cooperation of the Maoists, thousand numbers of landless and poor tribals have been able to get their lands released in the Bandhugaon and Narayanpatna region. The Naxals now have a comprehensive strategy for a ‘New Democratic Revolution’ through a combination of military and political tactics to create bases in the countryside. By gradual expansion of these support bases, they plan to encircle urban areas and make these too their support bases.

The Maoists do not kill their class enemy directly. They first identify their enemies and then judge their offenses. Accordingly, they warn the enemy to change. ‘At first we serve notice to the land owner or any exploiting party through the village militia.’ If the enemy refuses to compromise with the villagers, then only he is eliminated. ‘In our movement, we target our principal class enemies like land owners, wine traders, moneylenders, and corrupt officials of the government who live by sucking the blood of the poor. We adopt different tactics to annihilate such class enemies. If the party does not obey our order, then he is called to attend a Jana Adaalat (a people’s court) where his crime is examined and due punishment is authorised. This may sometimes be a death sentence.’

Aruna says, she does not like to kill police personnel who belong to poor families and tribal hamlets. The Dalam cadre only attack the police when there is firing from the police side. She says, ‘When the power of their guns and their numbers are bigger than us, then we try to abandon the place one by one. Only two and three of our people continue their firing, to restrict the police and give the core unit cover to escape. The village militia do not have any military uniform.’

They mostly adopt the hit-and-run tactics or lay ambushes. The militias are used as human shields. This causes more damage to the security forces. The main cadres do not come to the forefront. Aruna, now in a leadership position, says, the police is to serve the people, support the people, not tribal landgrabbers. But that is not how the law & order system works.

Case - 02 APARNA

There is no sharp difference between the Telugu cadre and Odiya cadre in the border regions of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, says this participant. ‘We do not make any regional difference. It is only a police creation, to weaken the movement.’ Aparna adds, ‘the schools in remote areas are used for police camps to run anti-Naxal operation’.

APARNA has studied up to Class 3. Born in a traditional Telugu family in the Vedapahad area, of Vishakha district of Andhra Pradesh, this twenty-three-year- old Schedule Tribe woman joined the Naxal movement in 2004 when she was just ten years old. As her parents were unlettered, she too did not continue beyond primary school. The family was very poor with only five acres of ancestral land from which they made a living.

The children in this family did not get any kind of financial help from the government to peruse their education. Aparna practically grew up in the Dalam. Aparna points out that, ‘the schools in remote areas are used for police camps to run anti-Naxal operation’. Aparna is vocal about misuse of schools as police outposts and polling booths. ‘This is how regular students are deprived of learning in the school. This irritates the Naxal cadre and they blow up such schools.... Education, primary health services are the essential parts of human existence. These are lacking in many remote areas of the State’, says this participant in our interview. ‘The State is not fulfilling the demands of the poor and needy tribals, who are living in inaccessible area’, she adds.

As a child Aparna used to go with her sister to watch the cultural programmes organised by the Jana-natya Mandali of the CPI (Maoists) members. She was fascinated by the revolutionary dances and songs performed by the boys and girls. Gradually, she developed her interest to participate in the cultural programmes and joined the performer group. She talked to the sisters of her own village who were involved in this cultural association and joined the group in 2004. She performed dances and sang revolutionary songs from village to village in the Vishakha divisions. Her performance in Jana-natya Mandali was quite good.

The Jana-natya Mandali has been under police scanner for many years now. Not long ago, Suneeta was arrested when she was taking part in a cultural programme to recruit new cadre under the banner of the Jan-natya Manadali of the Srikakulam-Koraput divisional committee at Sana Pilkur village in Narayanpatna. The police seized a country made gun and musical instruments of Jana-natya Mandali.

Aparna soon became an active member of the AOB special zonal committee of the Naxal group near her village. Initially Aparna was given the work of arranging meeting for the senior leaders who motivate the villagers and tribals in different hamlet to join the movement. Then she was independently assigned to mobilise the village women to support the Dalams. Soon, Aparna became the principal motivator and indoctrinated a large number of girls into Naxal Dalam, influencing them through her performances in the Jana-natya Mandali. Over the years, Aparna grew in the organisation. She moved from village to village, hamlet to hamlet and mobilised women to support the local Naxal outfits to put in place their New Democratic Revolution.

She claims that large number of women support her and have vowed to extend their helping hand to the Naxals. Her main objective is to get new members for the Maoist outfits in Malkangiri-Koraput regions on the Andhra-Odisha borders. K was her leader. D, wife of Kh (a hardcore Maoist in Malkangiri), was Aparna’s group commander. The group operated in Malkangiri, Rayagada, Vishakhapatnam and Koraput. Aparna was with this outfit for seven long years and married Raja, an important Naxal leader. ‘The state cannot eliminate the Naxal movement by deploying huge number of para-military forces’, Aparna says. The state may suppress the movement for a while but, the accumulated anger of the people will be burst forth and will spread like wild fire to different corners of the state’, she predicts. The police disgust the Adivasis with their repressive actions. ‘The police have to change the old British policy of divide and rule and the state machinery should work round the clock for the welfare of the tribals and other forest dwellers’, this young woman says.

The Maoist outfits tell the people that the federal government is suppressing the interests of the landless and marginalised people. The machinery of the government works round the clock to provide protection to the upper-class people ‘who are our principal class enemy’. The government suppresses democratic movements by using the police and brutally killing ‘innocent people’. The Naxal cadre raise different issues like the government’s neglect of indigenous people, exploitation by the upper class, corrupt practices of the forest and revenue officials, brutal suppression of forest dwellers and tribals by security forces and ravishing the modesty and chastity of women from tribal and marginalised communities.

Both, Aparna and D were arrested a few years ago. According to jail records Aparna was booked under IPC acts 147, 148.121.121A, 120B, 302,149 IPC,25 & 27, the arm acts and seventeen criminal acts. Indoctrinated at a young age, Aprna told this interviewer, ‘Having seen all the odds, I vowed to fight for women’s rights and respect’. Poor women should not be treated as a commodity, she says, adding that there is no doubt ‘the patriarchal attitude of the society has forced women to be subservient to their male counterparts’. On the one hand, parliament is making laws for the women’s welfare and women’s empowerment, on the other, the implementing and protecting agents are playing with the modesty of women, says this participant. ‘Both should enjoy parallel status in the society’, she adds.
Admitting that sometimes patriarchy has forced the women to join the Naxal movement, she says that interacting with women in remote villages, she has learnt that many women in the families are not properly respected. Often, they are suppressed and manhandled by their partners. Facing constant torture by the male members in the family or society, a woman wants to become a Naxal. Illegal pregnancy brings a bad name to a girl. When her partner abandons her and marries someone else, a woman is likely to become vindictive and joins the Naxals, to avenge her disrespect.

 Aparna tells us that the Naxals try to listen to such stories and often extend their hand of friendship to such women and ask them to join the groups. However, many-a-times, due to lack of recognition of gender roles in Naxal groups and the lack of mobility within the group, large number of women cadres are now surrendering before the police. Sometimes, women have to surrender due to physical illness, family problem or threat of life from security forces. A woman cadre has to walk and work for a long time and carry large kit bags. She gets tired after long days of hard work. After a few years, she becomes homesick and develops emotional feelings about their left-behind families. Sometimes, the couples who want to lead a family life prefer to surrender before the police. Aparna says in these Maoist groups, there is no oppression and exploitation of women.

 The state is responsible for creating the conflict between haves and haves and it has failed to bridge the gap between the mainstream and the marginalised within its population. The division between two classes has aggravated the relationship between the rich and the poor, and hence constant conflict results, says this participant. ‘Multinational companies and their agents should not be allowed to exploit and suppress the freedom of indigenous masses in any State. Government must not deny justice to tribal communities and the underprivileged by delaying the grievance redressal processes for the needy and poor people’, she adds.

‘People from outside migrate to our places and exploit our people and grab their land; they pollute our culture and threaten our livelihoods. So, we hold the gun to drive them out from our ancestral land. The government does not listen to our grievances. So, we are trying to form our own government. The police create hurdles in building our bases. We fight against the police because they come and arrest out people and harass them in the police stations and jails. Anybody who comes to the path of revolution, they are our class enemies. In case of exploitation by the capitalist or moneylenders, we warn them. If they do not change their ways, then we serve them notice to attend the Prajaa court (people’s court). In case, a person does not attend the prajaa court, then the Janta Sarkar awards him punishment.’

Reiterating that the Maoists do not oppose democracy but autocracy, Aparna says, ‘We wish that all should enjoy their right, liberty and justice and should be equal to all, under the banner of democracy. Democracy does not mean to oppress and suppress the downtrodden classes in the name of democracy, and displace the innocent landless and tribals from their homeland in the name of development alternative’.

Naxals are neither traitors nor terrorist, but they are true patriot, she adds. ‘They fight for the right of the poor and downtrodden people in the backward regions of the State. We kill the police personnel when they attack us, we mow down the civilians who deceive us, and a traitor should be eliminated from the society, because he is more dangerous than a class enemy is.’

Case - 3 ASHA

Tribal people are very innocent, says Asha. They do not understand the complex rules and regulation of the state. They love to live in their own world. When somebody tries to enter their world and impede their interest, they become furious. They consider that land is their source of living, forest is their heart, and the stream is their soul. If anyone obstructs them, they do not tolerate it and fight for their right.

ASHA, an Adivasi belonging to a Scheduled Tribe, was born in Pakalpalam village of Visakha district. Educated up to class 10, before her arrest she was living in a thatched house on two acres of ancestral property, with her parents and brothers.

When she was married, she went to live with her husband, an agricultural labourer. ‘After two years of my marriage, I came to know that my husband was associated with the Naxals’, this participant tells us. ‘When I did not care for him, I returned to my mother’s house and cut off all relationship with him.’

One day, when she went to the market with her brothers, the police from Janbai village of Chitrkonda panchayat arrested her. She says she does not know why the police arrested her. She was waiting at the Chitrakonda reservoir in plain clothes for a boat to cross the river, when the BSF forces nabbed her, along with her group commander, D. Asha claims she was beaten by the policemen in order to make her confess her involvement with the Naxals. The police allege that the 30-year-old woman is involved in the incident of abduction of Malkangiri Collector, R V Krishna in February 2011. According to the jail superintendent, Asha has been charged with sections like 147,148,149 121,121 A, , 120b, 302, 363, 364, 365, 368, 506 of the IPC.

D figures in the most-wanted list of the Andhra Pradesh police. She is a Maoist commander of the Golkonda Dalam that had led a series of attacks in Odisha and AP including the abduction of the Collector. She has been working in the Dalam of AOB since 2001 and is an expert in handling AK 47, SLR and manufacturing of explosives. Top Naxal leaders like Madhaba and Ganesh who operate across the border in Odisha trained her. These women are alleged to be also involved in the attacks on AP greyhound Jawans at Alampaka in the Chtrakonda reservoir area in June 2008, murder of a home guard at Chintaapalli, an encounter with the police at Dayaltonga, a serial blast at Singamaapal and the attack on Essar company facilities at Chitrakonda.

Asha told her interviewers that although she has surrendered before the police voluntarily, the police is keeping her inside the jail. The police told her that she was being kept in the jail for her own security, Asha says. She says, she rejects the charge that she has any link with Naxals and adds, when she is released, she would like to go live with her old mother-in-law and take care of her.

Complaining that the police is arresting innocent Adivasis in false cases of involvement with the Naxals, this respondent says many tribals are suffering due to this reason. ‘The Naxals are not the enemy of the state. They fight for the interest of one particular section of the society. They will not damage the state apparatus or its citizen, if their movement is not hampered. The police should not play any dubious role with the tribals.’

Naxals cannot build peoples movement within a day, she argues, saying that it takes time. Naxals live in the social mainstream as part of civil society. Some are working over ground and some are working underground. Now a days people’s movements are being suppressed by the state to protect the interest of the higher-class people, she points out. Naxals are holding gun because power flows from the barrel of the gun, she says, adding Naxals do not practice violence, but they respond to violence. The security forces illegally hunt Naxal cadre who have never been violent. Tribals do not normally pick up guns against the government. They harass many innocent tribals who have been forced to participate in the meetings organised by the Naxals. ‘Security officials fail to recognise a real revolutionary among the hard-core Naxal cadres’, Asha says. ‘Not all the tribals are Naxals and all Naxals are not hard core and do not practice violence. Some of them are militia who are forced by the Naxals to carry their baggage. During the exchange of fire between Naxals and the police, these innocent people do not have weapons to save their lives. They become victims in police firings even as the hardcore Naxals escape from the site’, she adds.

Women are the better soldiers in the Dalams. They take leading role in different stages of any operation. Women are respected in the Dalams and the men do not harass them. However, Asha admits, the female cadres are not equally consulted in the decision-making process due to their small numbers in the Dalams and because some amount of patriarchy still exists in the Naxal movement.

 Asking why there is negligence in case of tribal and needy women in the undivided Koraput district, Asha says, ‘sometimes women tell us they are being treated as objects’ and we arrange to punish the culprits’. These days Naxal Dalams do not go from village to village, organising song & dance events due to police harassment. Many young girls these days do not like to join Naxal Dalams. If the government implements the existing welfare programmes for the tribals, then Naxalism will not flourish, this respondent says, adding the state has to stop brutality on the poor.

Case study - 04 AMMU

Life as a Naxal is adventurous, where one has to move from one place to another place and cover at least 10-15 kilometers in a day. It is a completely group life. Minor girls are recruited to the cultural wing of the Naxals and the Naxals give them arms training after a few months. Minor boys are used as courier boys and subsequently elevated as full-fledged cadre.

AMMU was born in Dekapadu village in Narayanpatna block in Koraput and has studied up to class 4. Her family had about five acres of land with poor productivity. Her main occupation was seasonal agriculture and collecting forest product.

Ammu joined the Naxal movement in 2008, when she was a teenager, persuaded by the village head, SS. He told her, ‘Outsiders are coming and exploiting us. The Maoist leaders are coming from the outside our district and State and fighting for our rights and property. If we do not support them, then they will lose their interest and go away to other places and State. Then, we will not achieve our goal of driving our exploiters away. So, you must join the Biplab Mahila Sangham to protect the interest of our village’. A large number of women are recruited to Naxal groups by the persuasion of the village leaders and women leaders of the Naxal groups, or due to personal problems they face.

Ammu first joined the Jana-natya Mandali. ‘I moved to different villages of Narayanpatna and Bandhugaon block to study the problem of the villagers and performed different kinds of cultural programmes to convince the adult members (both male and female) to support the Naxals in establishing their rights in the Koraput region. The members of Jana-natya Mandali supply vital information regarding movement of forces, organise meetings, paste posters and provide logistics support to the Maoist groups of the region.

Ammu says, Naxals are not allowed to have illicit relationships in the camp due to the fear of pregnancy. When senior cadre reveal their secret physical relationships, they are allowed to marry, with a special condition not to have children. To settle down and have a family is not permissible in Naxal groups. Naxal leaders say, ‘we are warriors’.

Asked about reports of sexual harassment of women in Naxal groups, Ammu says, she has not seen any such harassment. ‘Female Naxals should realise that they have joined the movement for great struggle and they should not romanticise the situation’. Sometimes, surrendered women Naxals are presented before the media and forced to say they have been harassed by the Naxals; Ammu adds.

The Naxals have their own expert medical teams who are well trained to take out bullets from the body. They also have basic knowledge to prescribe medicines for general ailments. They also sometimes get help from the health workers (Dai Maa) of the village.

Pu, the section commander of the Narayanpatna block and the wife of Gh, a noted Naxal leader, was playing a crucial role in imparting training to the new cadres when Ammu joined the Dalam. She taught the newcomers how to fire a gun, set and explode landmines and other explosives. Ammu too was given military training along with other cadre for ten days in a month.
When there was a congregation of Maoist cadres of Koraput, Rayagadda, Nabarangpur and Malkangiri in Pindamali and Bhitarpada of Gumandi panchayat in 2011, Ammu went to her village to see her family members. The police arrested her from her house and brought her to the police headquarter at Koraput. She was only 18 then. Police suspect Ammu was involved in a murder case executed by the Maoists at Tentulipadar village in Koraput with a .303 gun.

In custody, the police officials convinced her to surrender. Ammu was already ready to surrender and give up the life of a Maoist cadre, due to fatigue, inadequate sleep and frequent police raids and family problems. She has received Rs 1.5 lakh from the government as a rehabilitation package.

Majority of the tribal people do not have any jobs, businesses or farm work. They idle away their time and when Naxal groups invite them to participate in song and dance, and meetings, they love to do it. ‘The Koya adivasis play an important role in the movement’, says Ammu. They easily convince their Koya fellowmen to join the movement to drive out the bourgeoisie elements from their area. They tell people, Naxals are not criminals and it is wrong to project them as deshadrohi (traitor). They are whole-heartedly fighting for the poor and needy people in the State.

Na-Li is the principal motivator who indoctrinates the people into Naxal outfits. Majority of the people from Narayanpatna and Bandhugaon block do not go to the police station to lodge any criminal complaint as they are not allowed by the Naxal to return to the village. Their problems are solved by the local leaders, like Na-Li in Prajaa courts, in the presence of Ar and Dee. Ammu says, ‘Na-Li is really doing wonderful work for the tribal people. Initially he emerged as a mass leader for the tribals when he forced people to support his cause, he too became unpopular’.

Due to frequent anti-Naxal operation by the security forces, many committed cadres have lost their lives and many have been languishing in the jail. Recruitment of fresh cadres has become a Herculean task for the Naxals. In some cases, the parents are compelled to surrender their daughter to the Naxals. Once they indoctrinate her, they do not allow her to visit her village and meet the parents.

Why Women Cadre Surrender: Women cadres surrender because
1. Undue pressure/heavy physical work, long stretch of work hours moving heavy kit bags
2. Feel alienated from family, village community
3. Surrender of husband or lover
4. Health problems
5. Death of parents
6. Incurable diseases, pregnancies
7. Torture by the male cadres

 However, Ammu cannot go back to the mainstream civil society life. Unlike before, she now is considered a ‘traitor’ by the Maoists as she surrendered. They think she has become a police informer. She has learnt, her family members are periodically tortured by Maoists. Her elder brother was threatened with death, so now he has fled to Andhra Pradesh. Therefore, Ammu can never return to her village and lives in fear, in police custody. The Naxals do not allow anyone from her family to meet their daughter. Urging the government for proper rehabilitation, Ammu says, she is ready to do any paid work the government provides her.

Case Study - 05 AJITHA

‘We are living in a small tin room within the premises of X police station and are told to just eat and waste time. We are wage earners. We want to work to earn a living. The house, livelihood and pension that was promised to us by the government when I surrendered has never reached us. In order to develop a strong and powerful democratic country, the leaders of democracy should bring equal development to all section of the people in the state. The state has failed to provide a dignified life to the poor and deprived sections’, says Ajitha.

AJITHA was born in Turugudi village Kumbharput panchayat, Bandhugaon block in Koraput. Unschooled, this sixteen-year-old worked as farm labourer on her family plot of five acres that yielded little. She joined in Naxalite movement in 2010 and surrendered in 2011, spending just six months as a Jana-natya Mandali member. She says, she had joined the movement because the other girls in her village were working in the Jana-natya Mandali. The senior women Naxals taught her revolutionary song and drama and there were many minor girls in the Dalams who played very important roles in the Jana-natya Mandali. At the time, she did not have any idea about the violent activities that Naxals indulge in. When she observed the Dalams and their activities, she was very distressed and finally surrendered before the Koraput police.

Poverty and illiteracy have forced the poor tribals to support the Naxals and to take up arms for their protection from the landed people who used to exploit them, says Ajitha. ‘We never got bread, clothing and shelter. We had no money for treatment. There is no education for the poor. The Naxals are fighting for the rights of the poor farmers and landless tribals and in return, tribal people extend their support to the cause of Naxals.’

Ajitha too says, the Naxals recruit the cadres through village heads. Sometimes the Naxals directly compel people to join the Dalams by generating fear among the poor tribals. The red rebels encourage the villagers to raise arms against the corrupt and manipulated system skewed to favour a few moneyed people. ‘Now people are aware of the corruption of officials and the governments’, she adds. Neither the government, nor the Maoists can ‘develop a society by alienating a section of people who are the majority of the system’, she says.

Condemning the Naxal atrocities as well as police atrocities on tribal people, young Ajitha says, the tribal people are illiterate and ignorant. They are easily cajoled. The Naxals promise to fight against the capitalist to protect tribal interests. This way they indoctrinate people from different villages and hamlets. Later, they use the newly recruits as their human shield. During exchange of fire between Naxals and the police, the causalities are higher in case of village militias than among cadres. Some of the senior cadres of her village have complained that they were disappointed by the high-handedness of the leadership. She says, a majority of the children in the Dalams are forcibly imparted military training, taught how to make and plantg landmines and bombs and gather intelligence. ‘The Naxals are ruining the career and character of innocent children for their selfish and vested interests’, she says, adding that any schoolchildren who should be in the schools are now suffering in the Naxal dens. She urges the Naxal leadership to let children pursue their careers in school.

The police raids the homes of the tribals when they asleep following a hard day of work. They drag them out of their huts and beat them so that they confess their involvement with the Naxals. ‘Both ways, the innocent tribals are dying’, says Ajitha. Even BDOs and other block and panchayat level officers do not visit the distressed villages in undivided Koraput, making the excuse of Naxal threat. With no hearing, no relief and no development, discontent has developed among the remote dwellers, says Ajitha. A large number of tribal men and women are caught in the middle of violent conflict between the Naxal and the government, and the administration is deliberately ignoring their plight says Ajitha.

Now in a ‘rehabilitation camp’ set up by the government, Ajitha says, the government should help her lead a ‘normal’ life. Her family is being threatened by the Maoists ever since she surrendered. Crying before this interviewer, this young woman reiterates, ‘I have been in a Naxal camp only for six months. I did not have any idea that I would have to meet this consequence if I join the Naxal group. Neither can I go to Naxal groups, nor can I go to my native land. I love my village, forest and stream where I have spent my childhood’.

MAHATMA GANDHI CREATED a multilayered political platform for women by giving the countrywide call for a national freedom movement. Women could fight with the men, the political enemy — either landlords or the British. Then they had to fight the caste hierarchy by breaking the caste hierarchy in a local society. They had to fight the male domination in the family itself. This multi-layered politics was mostly accepted by the Left and the Congress Party in India.

In Cuttack Gandhi’s call brought women out of their homes, charkha in hand. It is interesting to note here that Gandhiji personally went to some well-known persons in the city to request them to send their wives or daughters to participate in the national movement. He went to the most well-known person of the time, Madhusudan Das, who advised his daughter Sailabala to join Gandhi’s movement, but contrary to his father’s request, Sailabala refused to join the national movement.

When the Communists started getting active in politics, they took up women’s issues such as dowry and education of women, but their influences were earlier very limited in Odisha, confined to some pockets of some districts such as Ganjam and Balasore and Puri and Cuttack and Sambalpur. Two important movements, post-independence, I studied were: the Kisan Movement in Takarada, Ganjam. It was a well-organised movement led by the Communists against the landlords of the district. In Puri district, the Communists led a movement against dowry. It is interesting to note here the impact of the movements still linger and at least in two panchayats, people refuse to give dowry when their daughters get married and their sons refuse to take dowry.

Social issues related to gender are taken up by the Communists to some extent. For Instance, in Takarada, when this researcher went to study the role of women and caste, we found that the practice of untouchability still exists. I found that Dalits here do not interact with the upper castes of the village at any social and cultural level. For example, when I went to the Dalit Lane of the Takarada village, I was persuaded by the leaders not to go as the lane is dominated by the Dalits. In interacting with the Dalits of Takarada, I found that despite their participation in the Communist movement, untouchability persists for their community and they are an unhappy lot. Maoists, on their part, argue that class struggles have to take care of caste issues and male domination, both.

Neoliberal economics has further disrupted the equality of tribals and peasant communities. Nehru’s Panch Sheel towards tribals that make governments maintain a distance from their cultural world and provide communities some help in improving their education, health and economy is no longer applicable. MNCs are today allowed to look for minerals in tribal lands and granted licenses by governments to exploit the resources. The rivers flowing in these areas have plenty of water for these companies to extract the underground wealth. This brings to the fore the question of confrontation of the tribals and the state (V Priyedarshi:2005).

Obstacles to exploitation of tribal lands come from Indian Constitution. The Preamble and Fundamental Rights have provisions like economic and social justice. The chapter Fundamental Rights, and specifically the right to equality and special provision for reservation for the tribals, still provide some hope. Right to life with dignity under the Art 21 is a glimmer of light in a hopeless situation. The provisions for protection of resources under the special law, PESA [1], brings some form of state accountability and creates some check and balances in the law. Under this law, the tribals as a community can decide by voting to say regarding their natural resources.

Literature Review

The literature review for this project tells us that women in peasant societies in Odisha have moved from the interiors of households to the verandah, which not so long ago was just the domain of men. The spread of education and participation of women in the labour process has pushed women from the interiors to the courtyard verandas of the village households.

Most of the novels read for a feel of what used to be, speak about women’s subservient situation in peasant societies. However, some writers have started looking at the position of women in tribal societies also. Traditionally, tribal societies have a lower level of patriarchy than the peasant society. Also, they do not observe sequestering (purdah, wearing the ghunghat or veil). However, exploitation of tribals by the Diku, Kumuties and Odia babus is greater than of the peasants. [Gopi Mohanty’s Paraja is a marvelous historiography of the tribal community known as Paraja and the people living in the deep forest area surrounded by river and ponds. It narrates the atrocities laid on the family of a tribal person by the money lender and the forest guard and exploitation of poverty-ridden Sukru Jani. Though he is illiterate he stands like a pillar against the social power systems which marginalise the people living in the backward region following the rites and ritual inherited from the tradition. The government agencies and the village landlords exploit the tribal people who surrender to their cruel plans due to the lack of knowledge and ignorance. The women in this book kill the wicked landlord.]

Some pockets of Odisha suffer from greater social and economic exploitation than other regions. Writer Satkadi Hota, in his novels, Asant Aranya, Dharmayuddha, and others talks about the exploitation of communities around the forests and the Chilka lake. This researcher has witnessed this exploitation on a visit to the lake area. Travelling in the boat in the Chilika Lake, I saw a landlord come to boatman and warn the boatmen. After his departure I inquired from the boatman, what had the man said and I was told, ‘this man claims the fish in this area is his. He did not give me the daily wage he is supposed to, for me to catch fish and give him.’ Cast and low payment are among the many forms of exploitation here. The barber community here has gone to the apex court, complaining about non-payment of wages here by the landowning caste. Naxal support to stop this exploitation among communities in this region form Hota’s fiction subjects.
The best portrayal of women’s emancipation is in a novel called Basanti in 1920s. Annada Shankar Ray, Baishnab Charan Das, Harihar Mahapatra, Kalindi Charan Panigrahi, Muralidhar Mahanti, Prativa Devi, Sarala Devi, Sarat Chandra Mukherjee, and Suprava Devi — all these writers together wrote an experimental novel, Basanti. She is a progressive woman who struggles to have equality with her male partners including husband and father. She takes a political stand on social issues and political issues. She plays an active role in national movement in mobilizing the women against the patriarchy. Two decades earlier, Fakir Mohan Senapati wrote the story, Rebati, of a young woman who wants to be educated. Rebati confronts the tradition which opposes women’s education. A novel by Prativa Ray portrays a middle-class woman’s desire to break out of traditional social boundaries. Bibhuti Patnaik comes up with an educated woman character ‘happy to stay home and cook for her husband’.

* (Authors: Prof Radhakanta Barik (Retd) is Professor of Public Administration from the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi. He has written books on the Politics of the JP Movement, Caste and Class Politics of Bihar, Saffron Regime, Liberal Intelligentsia and Fear, A Critique of Reservation Policy (ed). He has also contributed articles in various journals and is regular contributor to Frontier; Manas Ranjan Nanda is a Lecturer in Sociology, (HOD) Ekram Degree College, Bhubaneswar and a post-doctoral Fellow, IIT Kanpur.)


  • Bandyopadhyay K 2008. Naxalbari Politics: A feminist narrative, EPW vol 43, No 14, 5 April.
  • Kannabiran K and V Kannabiran 2004. Andhra Pradesh: Women’s Rights and Naxal Groups, EPW, vol 39,issue No 45, 6 November.
  • Priyedarshi V 2005. Women’s Rights in India: The Role of Naxalite Movement, World Affairs: The journal of International Issues Vol 17, No 3, Autumn issue.
  • Sen S 2017. Class struggle and Patriarchy: Women in the Maoist movement, EPW vol.52, issue no 21, 27 May.

[This article was edited by Papri Sri Raman]

[1The Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996

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