Identifying The ‘Organisational Base’ of Left-wing Extremism in India: Women Naxals

 By Tejusvi Shukla
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Introduction
Left-wing Extremism (LWE) is currently believed to be the gravest threat to India’s Internal Security, and has been so for four decades now. Although the efforts to contain the menace of LWE have achieved success on various occasions, certain persisting loopholes in our policy formation and implementation have continued to act as inhibiting hurdles, one of those most prominent among them being the popular perception of looking at the Naxalites as a ‘singular entity,’ and consequentially failing to give the required attention to the prominent gender representation that exists in the Maoist cadres.
Out of the 37 majorly LWE affected districts  with a known presence of armed Maoist cadres, women participation is many areas has been estimated to be as high as 40%-45% , with most of them fighting along with their male counterparts in ambushes against the Security Forces. With such a prominent number in place, could a targeted policy focussing on elimination of the female cadres (by means of either encouraging surrenders, or tapping the entry of women as Naxals in the first place) help hit the Naxal existence on Indian soil, could be a question worth considering.
The numerical strength of Naxal cadres in Chhattisgarh is estimated to be around 5000-6000 naxals, out of which 2000-3000 comprise women naxals. (Source: Chhattisgarh Police)
Motivations: Deprivation and Injustice
From Shanti Munda  to the current soaring figures of women participation in Maoist cadres, women picking up arms is, although an overlooked, but an old phenomenon. While some believe that the entry of women in Maoist cadres started soaring as early as in the late 60s and 70s , claims from scholars like PV Ramana argue it to have begun around the 1990s .
Unlike their male counterparts, women are believed to have more diverse and personal motivations to pick up arms, which makes it all the more difficult to tap their entry . While some join the Naxals because they are influenced by their family members who are naxalites, others join them under the need to protect themselves from sexual exploitation at the hands of the affluent sections of the society.  A strong desire of revenge, too, in terms of avenging the loss of their slain naxalite kins and relatives in skirmishes with the SFs, act as a major motivation . Although reports of forced recruitments by the Maoists is an important fact that cannot be ignored, many tribal women also see Naxalism as a means of escape from a life dreaded with patriarchy . For them, picking up arms and fighting ‘like men’ offers them with a sense of ‘identity’ that is never owned by them otherwise . This hope of attaining that ‘identity,’ of being ‘someone’ from being ‘no-one,’ motivates them to join these cadres. But the escape that they choose rarely matches their expectations.
All is Not Well in the Cadres for Women Naxals
It is interesting to note that despite such huge participation, women representation in the higher Maoist ranks is not only limited, but close to null. Moreover, if closely examined, it can be concluded that inspite of such a significant female participation, the representation of women has been limited, rather restricted, only to the lower and the middle ranks.  The Central Committee and the Politburo have no women representation whatsoever. It can also be easily derived from news reports that in consideration with women naxals in combat roles, they are generally placed at the fronts and often used as human shields against the SFs.  Among the casualties faced by the Maoists, if the number of women casualties are taken in proportion with their total numbers in Maoist cadres, the fact that these women are being used as fodder for the Naxal propaganda only gets strengthened. (Out of 69 killed naxals between January 2018 and July 2018, 27 were women, which is nearly 39% of the total casualties.)  Intelligence gathering is another major job that is majorly handled through women naxals, who are not easily suspected by the Security Forces.
Occurrence of cases of sexual exploitation of female cadres at the hands of the Maoist leadership is a contested fact but interviews of several surrendered women naxals  strongly suggest the existence of this exploitation.
Despite such evident disparities that these women live with, the little so-called escape that their association with the Naxalites offers them, motivates them to continue with this life. Interestingly, the commitment in women naxals is believed to be far higher than that of their male counterparts in the same ranks . This can also be traced from the fact that female naxals are more reluctant to surrender than their male counterparts.

 

YearMalesFemalesTotal
20162166212187
20171096115
2018973100
Gender break-up of Maoist surrenders showing a huge disparity between male and female surrenders (Source: Data from Central Reserve Police Force)
They can, on the other hand, be termed the ‘organisational base’  of Left-wing Extremism in India, primarily by the virtue of them being ‘women’.
The ‘organisational base’ of Naxalism
In tribal areas like Bastar, which act as a major Maoist stronghold, differentiating between a naxal and an ordinary villager serves as a major challenge for the security personnel. Women, are even less suspected by the SFs , who consequentially serve the ‘tactical needs’ of the Maoists . They, therefore often serve as more efficient couriers for transferring Maoist arms, ammunition and money.
In recruitments, through their active participation in Maoist outfits like the Chetna Natya Mandali (which serve to boost recruitments through culturally propagandist activities like street-plays and nukkdas), they attract several other women and children to join Maoist cadres . Moreover, their comparatively higher penetration among the tribal population , has played an instrumental role in conveying the Maoist propaganda to a wider tribal mass. A Maoist document on ‘Women Martyrs’ too, credits mobilisation of ‘a lakh of other women from the forest’ towards the Maoist agenda .
In ambushes, with most of them placed in the front, they are often used as human shields by the Naxals. Interestingly, despite considerable casualties, when measured on parameters of brutality, they have so far proved to be more brutal than their male counterparts, thus hurting the government efforts on ground slightly harder. The murder of a political leader on one instance by stabbing multiple times , only strengthens the fact of the damage women naxals are capable of inflicting on the policies of the government and the efforts of the SFs. The recruitment of women commandos in LWE affected areas from mid-2017 is being perceived as a welcome move in this direction.
Requirement of more women representation in SFs
Gradually realising the significance of women representation in LWE affected areas, the first platoon of female commandos was created at Bijapur district of undivided Bastar at the initiative of the then Superintendent of Police, KL Druv . Since then, the number of women commandos has been constantly increasing in these areas at a gradual pace. Over 189 female commandos are currently serving in the Bastariya Battalion itself, out of a total of 534 local recruits.
189 recruits out of a total of 534 local recruits for the Bastariya Battalion are females (Source: The Hindu; Data verified by CRPF)
Results of the recruitment of more women commandos have been witnessed in the face of a couple of successful road and bridge constructions with the female recruits guarding them. These female commandos have reportedly found the tribal population cooperating and supporting them during such development activities due to the comfort they feel with women commandos around.  The successful construction of the bridge linking Tindori, Daler, Viriabhoomi and Aadwada villages in Bijapur, in September 2017, can be seen as an encouraging sign in the same direction . The comparatively greater communication of the tribal population with the female commandos during the same has been another positive news. Usha Kiran, the first female CRPF officer to be sent to naxal-affected regions, has herself supported this view on several occasions .
Greater communication of the villagers (especially women) with the women commandos, by virtue of them being ‘women,’ can possibly not only mobilise womenfolk against joining Maoist cadres, but also serve as a means of extracting intelligence about any suspected links of these very women with senior/suspected Maoists. Greater presence of women commandos has also resulted in a significant drop of accusations of sexual exploitation  against the Security Forces, which in significant cases is claimed to have been used as a shield for the Maoists.
Conclusion
Although the women recruits in the SFs still fall significantly short of the numbers of their counterparts in the Naxal ranks, the gradual shift of the focus in the policy formation towards the female cadres of Naxal ranks as well (contrary to the erstwhile perception of the Naxalites being a ‘singular entity’) could prove instrumental in eradicating Naxalism in the long run.
Only restricted from bearing children, the naxals in their lower ranks are allowed to marry within the cadres. Consequentially, with desires to raise a family post-marriage, many naxal couples in lower ranks have surrendered together.  If policies aiming at surrenders of women naxals are put in place, in the event of them being married within the cadres, many surrenders from their male counterparts too, might follow. These women commandos can also persuade more women, comparatively, against joining Naxal ranks with these women then persuading more women along with some male members of the family for the same, in turn triggering a chain reaction. The cases of sexual exploitation too can be more easily conveyed to women security personnel owing to the comfort that the tribal women feel in their presence, and dealt with timely. This might act as a major deterrent to the very motivations of women for joining naxal ranks.
Overall, as instrumental a role as women naxals play in the Maoist ranks, despite their challenging conditions, a closer examination for targeting the wider problem of Naxalism in India with an increased focus on the ‘aadhi aabadi of LWE,’ could significantly help in tackling the Naxalism menace and make India internally secure.

References

[1] Annual Report 2017-18, Ministry of Home
[2] Data obtained by the author from Chhattisgarh Police (17 Jan. 2019).
[3] "Roles and Participation of Women in Indian Left-Wing Extremism: from ‘Victims’ to ‘Victimisers’ of Violence.", Akanksha Narain (2017), Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses, at https://www.jstor.org/stable/26351543?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents (Accessed on 13 Jan. 2019).
[4]“Naxal Women: Challenges that lie Ahead”, Institute for Transnational Studies (2011), at https://www.transnationalstudies.org/system/files/artikel/NAXAL%20WOMEN_0.pdf  (Accessed on 13 Jan. 2019).
[5] “Women in Maoist Ranks”, PV Ramana (2013), Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, at https://idsa.in/idsacomments/WomeninMaoistRanks_pvramana_200813 (Accessed 15 Jan. 2019)
[6]Interviews with DIG- Intelligence (January 17, 2019), CRPF and journalist Subhranshu Choudhary (January 14, 2019).
[7]“Women in Maoist Ranks”, PV Ramana (2013), Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, at https://idsa.in/idsacomments/WomeninMaoistRanks_pvramana_200813 (Accessed on 15 Jan. 2019).
[8] "Roles and Participation of Women in Indian Left-Wing Extremism: from ‘Victims’ to ‘Victimisers’ of Violence.", Akanksha Narain (2017), Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses, at https://www.jstor.org/stable/26351543?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents (Accessed on 13 Jan. 2019).
[9] “Women’s Approach In Maoist War In India: Naxalite And Anti Naxalite Strategy”, Sneha Kulkarni (2018), IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS), at http://www.iosrjournals.org/iosr-jhss/papers/Vol.%2023%20Issue6/Version-1/A2306010106.pdf (Accessed 14 Jan. 2019).
[10] Interviews by the author with Brigadier BK Ponwar (Dated January 12) and journalist Subhranshu Choudhary (Dated January 14); Pandita, R. (2011). Hello, Bastar. India: Westland Books.
[11] “Women cadre the backbone of Naxals in Chhattisgarh's Bastar”, The New Indian Express, 2018, at: http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2018/jul/28/women-cadre-the-backbone-of-naxals-in-chhattisgarhs-bastar-1849842.html (Accessed on 15 Jan. 2019).
[12] Ibid.
[13] “Sexual Exploitation forces women Maoists to surrender”, Times of India, 12 Aug. 2011, at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/videos/news/Sexual-exploitation-forces-women-Maoists-to-surrender/videoshow/9580464.cms (Accessed on January 15)
[14] Interview of the author with journalist Subhranshu Choudhary (Dated January 14)
[15] Ibid.
[16] “Women’s Approach In Maoist War In India: Naxalite And Anti Naxalite Strategy”, Sneha Kulkarni (2018), IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS), at http://www.iosrjournals.org/iosr-jhss/papers/Vol.%2023%20Issue6/Version-1/A2306010106.pdf (Accessed 14 Jan. 2019)
[17] Ibid.
[18] “Women cadre the backbone of Naxals in Chhattisgarh's Bastar”, The New Indian Express, 2018, at: http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2018/jul/28/women-cadre-the-backbone-of-naxals-in-chhattisgarhs-bastar-1849842.html (Accessed on 15 Jan. 2019).
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[21] “Women Maoists stabbed Congress leader Mahendra Karma 78 times”, The Times of India, 2013, at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/20319599.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cpps (Accessed on January 15).
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[23] “Bastariya battalion to take on Maoists”, The Hindu, 2018, at, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/bastariya-battalion-to-take-on-maoists/article23944624.ece (Accessed on 16 Jan. 2019)
[24] “Meet the women commandos fighting Naxals in the jungles of Bastar”, The Economic Times, 2018, at, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/meet-the-women-commandos-fighting-naxals-in-the-jungles-of-bastar/articleshow/63150699.cms (Accessed on January 15).
[25]Facebook page of Bastar Police, 2017, at: https://www.facebook.com/bastarpolice/photos/a.874348796055269/874351452721670/?type=3&theater and (Accessed on January 16)
[26] “Real Lady Singham: Usha Kiran: First Woman COBRA Commando Who Asked To Get Posted In Hostile Areas”, Daily Hunt, 2017, at, https://m.dailyhunt.in/news/india/english/ed+times-epaper-edtimes/real+lady+singham+usha+kiran+first+woman+cobra+commando+who+asked+to+get+posted+in+hostile+areas-newsid-101621456?ss=fb&s=dm&fbclid=IwAR1ppbj1NmYAErfxk7spIcNzfnXTPrzvv1QZciuLXftIlRRKZL_X-a1XiwA (Accessed on January 15).
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[28]Facebook page of Bastar Police, 2017, at: https://www.facebook.com/bastarpolice/photos/a.874348796055269/874351452721670/?type=3&theater and (Accessed on January 16
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