Female Maoists are a substantial 60% of Maoist cadres and occupy almost all operational and tactical positions responsible for sustaining the Maoist rebellion in India. For a security threat constituting such a sizeable number of female combatants, embracing the woman question should be central to conflict resolution.
The umbrella grievance of women in the movement is that of gender inequality, which worsens problems of sexual assault, police brutality, atrocities against Scheduled Caste/Tribe (SC/ST) communities, and economic inequality.
Rise of women cadres in left-wing extremism:
- Many ex-Maoist women, like Krishna Bandyopadhyay, admit Maoism’s appeal was rooted in its commitment to women’s rights.
- The demand for gender equality is so potent that male Maoists themselves cannot escape it. In one instance, female combatants compelled the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) to admit its own patriarchal failings within the party and the overall insurgency.
- The most gendered motivator, distinguishing female experience, is sexual assault. Crimes against women are more rampant in Maoist-affected areas than in other parts of the country.
- Security personnel are known to use body searches, casual molestation, custodial rape, torture, threats of harm upon loved ones, etc., as warfare tactics against combatants and even civilian women.
- National Crime Records Bureau data shows that Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha alone registered 84,938 crimes against women in 2019.
- Women face sexual harassment from the state as well as insurgents, with no avenues to seek justice. Many find it nearly impossible to even register a first information report with the police.
- Evidently, police brutality and impunity pushes women towards Maoism, creating a cycle of violence.
- Therefore, many women perceive Maoism as relief from poverty and unemployment.
Addressing gender injustice in fight against left wing extremism
- Despite sustaining the uprising, female Maoists are rarely at the table during peace talks and ceasefire negotiations.
- Even within the ranks, they face sexual assault and gendered division of roles such as cooking, cleaning and nursing.
- Maoists are not immune to patriarchal attitudes and behaviour, suggesting a scope for the state to re-enter the discourse through effective gender-sensitive policies that offer women of the region a better alternative than joining the cadres.
- The need of the hour is for the state to adequately address women’s ground realities in the region that push them toward radicalization.
- State and Centre must collectively work to empower women, provide them security and education, finally bridging the developmental deficit.
Failing to address women’s grievances around patriarchy renders the state’s counter-terrorism response inadequate. The Indian state’s priority must be to diminish motivations, not demean them. The driving factors should not only be understood as incentives behind violence, but potential solutions for peaceful outcomes.