Stories of women Naxals
By Aisha Khan
Kareemnagar district, A.P. : It is pitch dark and the noise made by nocturnal creatures, resounds in the entire forest. A group of armed men and women keep marching ahead unmindful of the thorny bushes and muddy path full of potholes. After walking for two
miles, the militia decides to camp. The group has 15 men and four women.
The next day morning the members prepare themselves for a practice session. It is a hard exercise but the women members play cool. They take it in their stride and out perform the male members. Running, jumping, crawling, jogging and firing the target are some of the things they learn.
In her teens, Laxmi is the youngest member of the group that has three other women Bharati, Soumya and Anita. Laxmi joined the Naxal movement when she was barely nine years old. Having lost her parents at a very young age, Laxmi of Goleti village in Asifabad mandal of Adilabad district was attracted towards the slogans and ballads of Maoists.
"Annalu (comrades) visited our village for food provisions, medical help and other needs. I joined the movement as a courier for the Maoists". After serving as a courier for about a year, Laxmi was absorbed into the dalam.
Laxmi is tired after a hectic practice session that lasts for almost two hours. "I am having my monthly periods. I don't have any more strength," says Laxmi. "The police may strike us any time anywhere. So we have to be on a constant vigil whether day or night. There is no chances to be off the guard" she speaks with the intelligence of a military commander. Why not after all she is the deputy commander of Mangi dalam (Mangi is a place that falls under Utnoor subdivision a tribal agency area of Adilabad district) consisting of 18 persons.
Since the dalam is on constant move, Laxmi gets very less time to go for a bath and the water available for attending toilet needs is scarce. "Sometimes we have to go without water for two days at a stretch especially during summers. Drinking water is usually supplied by couriers but for other needs we have to draw water from water bodies in the forest which are contaminated and unfit," she says.
Washing the body is weekly affair and the hot summers add to her misery. "It is a problem that all women face but we are not supposed to discuss our weaknesses. We are taught to be strong," she adds.
The concept of family planning is a basic pillar of the Maoist movement. Naxals at the time of joining take a vow not to enter into family life, at least during their membership of the dalam. Men and women stay in the same camps like comrades. There is no sexual abuse or exploitation" says Laxmi.
However, if the members wish, they can live like a couple. They are married and given free time to live as partners. But there is a strict ban on children. Six months time is given to them to test their will to continue in the dalam. They are free to leave the dalam and join mainstream.
If they decide to stay in the dalam, the male has to get a family planning operation (vasectomy) performed. Of late the easy availability of condoms has made the job easier for family planning.
Left to right: Pramila, Sunita and Jaya [picture : Aisha Khan]
Story of Jaya
32-year-old Jaya looks older than her age. With a hunchback and limp leg she is trying hard to adapt herself to this new life. Jaya is a surrendered Naxalite. She joined the Maoist movement led by people's war group (PWG) in her teens.
"A majority of members in the Eturanagaram (Warangal district) dalam (group) were men and at that time there were only two women- myself and one Padma akka (sister Padma). I had to don the guerilla uniform and carry a heavy sack (kit) on my back. This kit contained all and sundry, right from kitchenware to uniforms, arms, ammunition, provisions etc. It was very heavy but slowly I mastered the art of a porter," she says.
A few years later she got attracted to Ashok Anna (comrade Ashok) of same dalam. They were married in 1984. They lived as partners for about a year after which Ashok got killed in an encounter with the police in Sangampally village in Eturanagaram.
"I was totally shocked. I was present at the place of encounter at that time. The dalam members gave me ample time to decide about my future. I decided to quit and one fine day I reached my home" recollects Jaya.
At home her aged parents could no longer afford to feed her. There was a rehabilitation package promised by the government but it never reached her. "I cannot go out for coolie work (daily wages) because the extreme life in forest has sapped my strength. I suffer from kidney problem, ulcer, joint pain and reproductive tract infections. The monthly periods are extremely difficult," says Jaya.
The story of Sabita
Sabita lost her husband in a family feud. She was exploited to the hilt by both the police as well as Maoists. A native of Jogapur village in Asifabad mandal , close to the Maharashtra border, Sabita got invitation from the Maoists to join the dalam. The comrades visited the village and announced a public trial of the murderer. They promised all help to Sabita provided she joins the dalam.
But even before the comrades could woo her, the local police got her agreed to become a covert for them. A sum of 50,000 was deposited in the name of her two-year-old daughter as a ransom for the life of Sabita.
She was introduced to dalam by Subhash a courier from Jogapur. Once she reached the camp at Jogapur, a thick forest area, Sabita waited patiently for an opportune time.
Normally Naxals do not trust newcomers until they have complete faith in them. Dalam commander Chandranna told members to keep an eye on Sabita. One of the women members was observing Sabita, who was doing the cooking. He caught her red handed while trying to mix poison tablets in the food" said Lavanya, of the same dalam.
Sabita was brought to the outskirts of Jogapur forest and shot down. Immediately after this incident the local police tried to cash on the episode by terming the Naxals as rapists and murderers. The police even rallied college girls and women's organisations for holding protest demos in neighbourng towns of Bellampalli, Kagaznagar, Asifabad etc denouncing the Naxal act. However doctors who performed the autopsy had declared that Sabita was not raped, as claimed by the police.
But the police propaganda of gangrape and murder hit the right target. Many defections from the dalam were witnessed in the immediate days following this incident. Especially some women members of the dalam quit protesting the manner in which her case was handled.
The story of Pramila
Pramila is a mother of two children. Her husband Sahu alias Venkateshwarlu was a top Naxal leader in Husnabad dalam (Karimnagar district). He penned revolutionary songs that are sung by the cultural troupes of Maoists to attract village youth into the Naxal movement.
Pramila's father was a tailor who took orders for stitching uniforms for the dalam members. 'I was introduced to Sahu when I accompanied my father into the forests. There I nursed several injured dalam members. Later I accompanied some of them to Hyderabad for further medical treatment." says Pramila.
"Though I myself never participated in any encounter directly, I was assisting them indirectly. The forest life was hard as we did not have sufficient food and water. I suffered several problems like irregular monthly periods, infections of reproductive tract and similar problems," she recollects.
She got married in 1983. In 1984 Sahu left for the Asifabad forests in Adilabad district.
"I had no news from Sahu for more than 6 years. During this time he was caught by the police and jailed. After his release in 1990, both quit the dalam and decided to live a normal life. Sahu underwent a recanalisation operation and the couple had two children, a boy and a girl. He died of asthma in 1994.
Today Pramila runs a tailoring center that is the only source of livelihood. "I too suffer from asthma and related diseases. So I cannot take up hard work. I also suffer from diabetes and the monthly expenses on medicines are huge, "she adds. Pramila lives in Huzurabad in Karimnagar district, struggling to make both ends meet.
Story of Sunita
So active was Sunita in the dalam that she was raised to the position of a district secretary in the Manthani Mahadevpur dalam (East Karimnagar bordering Madhaya Pradesh). Sunita was married to Akula Komraiah alias AK in 1997. In 2003 Sunita and Komraiah were on a routine work inside the forests in Manthani, when a police party captured them and took them to Vijaywada.
"Komraiah was killed in a fake encounter at Vijaywada and I was asked to surrender. Thereafter I left the dalam and started living with my parents," says Sunita.
She received a bullet injury on her right knee during one encounter with police. "when I was in the dalam, I handled weapons like AK-47 rifles, carbines, 303 with ease. Also I was aggressive and fearless.
Today Sunita's psyche is scarred with memories of her past and fears about her future. "I am alone in this battle of life. Sometimes I feel like rejoining the dalam but I cannot. The mainstream life is more difficult than the life of forest," she adds.
Women like Sunita, Pramila, Jaya and Laxmi are victims of the failure of parliamentary democracy as well as circumstances. There are hundreds of
such women in rural Telangana who have quit the dalam and are struggling to adapt themselves to mainstream life.
While some joined the dalam on their own, some others were led by circumstances as they were married to dalam members. Once into the dalam, these women prove no less fearless than men. They participate in encounters, attacks and ambush operations.
However, most women quit when they reach thirties. "The strength is sapped by the hard life of forest. Also after marriage we develop a desire to have family and children," says Sunita.
Today Sunita is in the forefront of fighting for the rights of surrendered women naxalites. "We are subjected to a lot of trouble. There is interrogation, stalking by special branch cops, daily/weekly attendance to local police station, etc. Even the common people ask us many questions when we start living with them" says Sunita.
These women also face problems when male members of their house are arrested or surrendered. Similarly during encounter death, the bodies are not handed over to their families, even several days after the post mortem is performed.
In order to overcome these problems, surrendered women Naxalites under the leadership of Sunita have formed a bandhumitra (relatives) community group.
"Our main intention is to secure the basic rights of women who have gone underground and want to make a comeback into mainstream life. We counsel them and also help them in leading a normal life," she added. The bandhumitra community holds it's meeting once every month but the meetings are secretly held.
There have been instances where police harass the family members of slain Naxalites, pick up immediate family members to bring pressure. In such cases the affected family members approach the bandhumitra community for intervention.
"Recently there was an encounter in Adilabad district where a Naxalite hailing from Karimnagar district was shot dead. The police at first declared the body as unclaimed. The family members were alerted by the bandhumitra community that
acted on the basis of newspaper reports.
The other issues handled by the community include claiming compensation/rehabilitation package promised by government, public relations exercise with police officials to reduce police harassment of surrendered Naxalites.