In The War
By Manjushree Thapa
17 June, 2003
The girl had a soft, childish
face and a singsong voice. What do you think they will do?
she asked the driver of our pickup truck. The army will recognise
us at once if we go by ourselves. There is a ceasefire, and both sides
have said they will not do anything to each other, but what does that
She wanted a lift past the
army check post into Dailekh bazaar.
The driver hesitated. The
girl leaned against his window, playing coyly with the side mirror.
Glancing at the back, she noted an empty seat. Both sides have
said they will not do anything to each other, but what does that mean?
she said again, in an entreating voice. You know they will take
one look at our shoes and recognise us. Women of the CPN (M) wore
closed shoes so that they may walk easily, and when need be, run. Local
women wore sandals.
The girl stood out as a Maoist
cadre in other ways as well. She and another younger girl in her company
were wearing plain kurta-surals and no jewellery. The other girls
hair was cut in a rough modern style, and she had covered her face with
a bandana. Both were carrying backpacks. This was an area where women
and girls dressed in traditional clothes and finery, and would more
likely be carrying loads of grass or firewood on their backs.
The driver of our vehicle
could hardly refuse the girls request: he had to ply these roads
often, and could not risk the enmity of Maoists. He told her that they
could get into the back of the pickup. This they did, but then, just
before it started off, the girl who had spoken jumped out of the back
and came into the vehicle and sat next to us.
In the next 45 minutes, as we wended our way up the rough road to Dailekh
bazaar, she spoke openly, and amicably, about herself and about her
experience in the CPN (M). She was, she said, 17 years old. I
will be 18 soon, she added quickly, and repeated, I am almost
18. Her friend, she said, was 15. They worked in a team as motivators
for the party, going from house to house in Surkhet district talking
to people about the movement.
Now that there was a ceasefire,
she was on her way to visit her family. She had not been back in the
year that she had been working for the party. She had three brothers,
all older. I am the only daughter. And I am the only one who joined
She spoke easily, as though
she were used to talking to strangers. She did not mind our questions,
and even welcomed them: I will tell you anything I can.
Her family did not mind her joining the party, she said, though they
had wanted her to finish her studies first. She had dropped out of the
ninth class to join the movement. She said she enjoyed her work for
Martial training was only
given to the army wing of the party, she said. And to those who
request it. I did not take any physical training, though I could have,
if I had asked for it. She did not carry any wea-pon, she said,
though during the state of emergency, between November 2001 and August
2002, all cadres were given socket bombs for their safety. We
were all trained how to pull out the pin, throw the bomb and run away.
You have four seconds before it explodes. We all had one bomb each.
I carried mine with me, and almost used it once, against the army, but
did not. At the end of the state of emergency, most of the cadre
stopped carrying socket bombs. Now there is no difficulty at all
in moving around and doing our work. But earlier, during the emergency,
things were hard.
Did the party pay her for
her work? No! She laughed. We get 150 rupees a month
for soap and emergency expenses, but we have to support ourselves.
She ate for free at the houses of people, like most Maoist cadres.
She said that her party bought
firearms from communist parties in India and the parts used for socket
bombs from the border town of Nepalganj. Nepalis living in India supported
the party. She had not heard of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement,
an organi-sation of several Marxist parties from around the world that
has been vocal in claiming Nepals Maoists, as Nepals Maoists
have been in claiming them. She could not say whether it provided any
military support to her party.
Her mind was on the ceasefire.
Both sides have said they will not do anything to each other.
What do you think that means? she asked again and again. The code
of conduct agreed upon by the government and the CPN (M) states, among
other things, that both parties will allow the unrestricted movement
of people. She agreed that the need for peace was urgent, and that the
destruction of power plants, telecommunications towers and other infrastructure
by the CPN (M) in the past year had harmed the country. The people
have suffered, she conceded.
Then, looking out of the
vehicle, she suddenly became anxious. Is that the army camp out
there? Shall I get out here? What shall I do?
After some fretting she decided
that it would be safer for her to stay in the pickup. She signalled
to her friend at the back to take the ban-dana off her face, and then
she became tense as we approached the army check post.
Outside, an army man strolled
over to the vehicle. The girl stiffened visibly as he circled the pickup,
scanning the passengers. The driver got out to register the vehicle
num-ber, and the army man moved away, but still the girl kept her head
down. I will tell you later, she hissed when I asked her
Once we got on our way, she
lifted her head and asked the driver, Dai, using the Nepali
word of respect for any older male, They will not stop us again,
When he said no, she turned
to us and said, My name is Binita. My home name is D Kandel, but
my party name is Binita.
She went back, then, to answer-ing our questions in her open, unassuming
Was it hard for her to live
such a rough life? There are lots of women in the party,
she said. There is even an all-woman company. A company
had three platoons; and each platoon consisted of 45 armed personnel.
Even the commissars and commanders of that company are women,
she said with pride. She herself had never seen the all-woman company,
but she had heard about it: it was stationed in another part of Surkhet
Comrade Binita got touchy
when we asked if she had ever killed anyone. I have not done anything,
she said quickly. Who knows what would happen if I had to? But
I probably will not have to. Neither had she witnessed killings
carried out by her party members. I have never even recommended
that anyone be killed. Our work is to motivate people. She talked
to villagers as she had been trained to by the leaders.
Her work was dangerous but
she had never been apprehended by the security forces. When you
see them, you think it is better to die than to fall into their hands,
so you run. She laughed. What happens when you run is, the
bullets land either in front of you or behind you. You just keep running.
Once I sprained an ankle jumping across a ditch. They were shooting
from above, and I did not know what to do. So I jumped.
What did the party do if
its cadres were wounded? There were doctors in every platoon, she said.
And if they could not treat the wounded, the party would send them to
the district headquarters, or if that was too dangerous, to India.
She had no regrets about
joining the party. The movement is chang-ing so many things,
she said. The only thing she wondered about was whether she should not
return to school for her School Leaving Certificate (SLC). Maybe
after-wards, if there is peace, I could go back and complete my SLC,
she said. Then added, Though it will be odd. I will have lost
a year or more.
How did that matter?
I would feel embarrassed
being older than everyone else.
Does she feel, we asked,
that girls like her are being used by the party? There are examples
of women activ-ists who worked for the political parties in the Panchayat
era when party politics was banned for 30 years, who had given up their
bourgeois education in order to help their parties
only to find that they were unqualified to hold top posts when democracy
was finally won in 1990. Will the men of your party not take all
the top posts as soon as they get a chance?
Comrade Binita shook her
head no. It is not like that, she said. Women
and men are equal now.
Then why are there
no women in the Maoist negotiating team that is meeting with government
Her face suddenly darkened. Quietly, and sounding puzzled, she said,
I do not know.
As we neared Dailekh bazaar
she repeated what she had said earlier, more to herself than to us:
If there is peace, I could get my SLC. That is the only thing
my family pressures me to do. I should do it. It would be good if I
could do it.
She and her young friend
got off in Dailekh bazaar, and headed off with thanks.
Comrade Binita and her compa-nion
were the only female Maoist cadres we were to meet in Dailekh district.
Some of what she had said to us was in line with available information
about the CPN (M): the party was divided into a political wing and a
military wing. From early on, the party has made claims that women comprised
one-third of its cadres. This has not been in-dependently verified.
Neither is it clear what positions the partys females occupy
whether there is space in the party for women in leadership positions,
or whether the majority of the partys female cadres fill the bottom
ranks. The presence of females in the military wing has tended to come
to most attention, but there has been little opportunity for independent
analysts to examine whether or not these women merely served as cannon
fodder. Neither is it known what percentage of these female recruits
are underage girls. The nature and scope of female involvement in the
party can only be studied after the party comes fully above ground.
From our travels, however, it would seem that the CPN (M)s claims
to enjoy the wide participation of women are exaggerated. As we wended
our way north from Dailekh bazaar on foot, through the villages of Dullu,
Dandibandi, Sukhatiya and Raraghat in Dailekh district, we met Maoist
cadres at every stop but they were all men or boys. The vast majority
of them were of the Bahun (hill Brahmin) caste. In Kalikot district
as well, there was not a single woman cadre among the Maoists we met.
In Pakha village of Kalikot district, the CPN (M) Area Secretary Comrade
Sandesh assur-ed us that his party had many women cadres.
He repeated the claim that the party had an all-woman military company,
though the one he was talking about was based in Rolpa district, due
east, the birthplace of the Maoist movement. And he said that his party
had been working hard to end discrimination against women.
There is a local practice
of segregating women when they are menstruating and after they have
given birth, he said. These women used to have to stay apart,
in sheds. Now we have put an end to that practice. Even when women are
having their periods or have given birth, they are kept in the house,
and are no longer barred from the hearth and other ritually pure places.
He added, Just next door, a woman gave birth to a son yester-day.
Today she is cooking fish
He laughed when we suggested
that perhaps she would enjoy her rest better, and said that it was important
to eradicate the notion of impurity that traditional culture imposes
on women. This was part of a larger movement to rid society of superstition
and religious faith. Comrade Sandesh insisted that his party was truly
different from the other political parties. The lack of women in the
Maoist negotiating team did not indicate discrimi-nation within the
party, he said. Can only women represent the interests of women?
Some of the social drives
that Comrade Sandesh mentioned were evident along the trail. The anti-alcohol
campaign led by the All Nepal Womens Association (Rev-olutionary),
a sister organisation of the CPN (M), had driven the consumption
of alcohol under-ground: many people now drank in the privacy of their
homes, and they did not dare create a commotion in public, as they earlier
might have. Card playing too was done surrepti-tiously. Past the village
of Sukhatiya in Dailekh district we saw men playing a game of carom.
Had the Maoist cadres been present, they told us, they would not be
able to idle about so openly.
The spirit of these social
drives was unmistakably youthful, and the behaviour of local motivators
and cell members exuded Red Guard zeal. In his 40s, Comrade Sandesh
was one of the older Maoist cadres we met. He reprimanded us when we
referred to porters as bhariya (literally, bearer), and
asked us to call them helpers instead. At the end of our
he fed us some trout that
the wo-man who had just given birth had cooked. This is the culture
of the communists, he said in an oddly bracing mix of hospitality
and menace. We share everything that we have.
This was the kind of pedantic,
big-brotherly leadership, it was evident, that attracted the following
of the ideologically fervent youths of these parts.
As we approached Jumla district,
we were assured by male Maoist cadres that we would meet female comrades
along the way. There are many of our women along that stretch
we were told at almost every stop. In several places we were told we
had missed them by a day; they were said to be putting up plays and
cultural pro-grammes, or attending rallies in villages nearby. There
would not be many women in the military wing in these parts, we were
told, but there would be political workers along the way for certain.
The female Maoist cadres
that we did meet at long last turned out to be girls and not women.
They were walking in a scattered group along the trail an hour down
from Tato-pani village, in Jumla district, having staged a play the
day before in a nearby village. We spoke to one girl, as two younger
girls sat by listening. All three were unsure in their manners and shy.
As we talked, we were quickly surrounded by passing villagers, and a
uniformed boy who greeted the girls energetically, with raised fists
and firm handshakes, accompanied by greetings of lal salaam
(red salute) stopped by. Comrade Jamuna, the girl we spoke
to, said she had been in the party for only four months. The other girls
were even newer to the party; they had joined only two months ago. At
first they could not remember the names the party had given them in
order to protect them, and initiate them into their new life. After
consultations, they finally told us that their party names were Pragati
What had you been doing before
joining the party?
Comrade Jamuna shrugged. Nothing. She had never attended
school, though one of her brothers was a graduate and another one was
studying in class seven. Even my sister-in-law has passed her
SLC exams, she said with pride. Com-rade Jamuna, however, used
to do housework: cutting grass, working in the fields, gathering firewood.
She said, There was nothing interest-ing to do at home, so I decided
to do party work. I wanted to join the revolution. She was 15,
she said, and from nearby Nuwakot village. Then she retracted her age,
I am 18. She is 15, said one of the village
women who was listening in on our talk. And the other girls are
12 and 13.
I am 18, Comrade
You were born after
my son, said the woman. He is not above 15.
I asked the other girls what
their ages were, and they agreed that they were 12 and 13.
Comrade Jamuna said that
she worked in a team that reared chick-en and sheep for the party, and
grew potatoes, corn and green beans. There was one male cell member
in the group, whom she referred to as dai and three girls
altogether, amongst whom she was the only cell member. Cells were the
most local-level unit of the CPN (M), extending all the way to small
But was this not exactly
the kind of work she was doing for her family? We asked if her family
disapproved of her work for the party?
Why should they disapprove?
They are happy for me, she said. Her brothers had not joined the
party, but her family, she said, was different from most village families.
They do not say that a daughter must get married. They agree that
things should change.
Did other village women support
She said yes.
And did she enjoy her work?
She nodded yes. There
was nothing to do at home.
Did she feel that perhaps
girls like her were being used by the party?
She said no. Then, for no
reason, she said in an exhorting tone, We must not feel discouraged.
There is no reason for that. We must realise that there is nothing to
be discouraged about.
The involvement of girls
in the CPN (M) raises problematic ethical questions for the party: girls
of 12, or even 17, are simply too young to know if they are being exploited
by those more powerful than they. They are certainly vulnerable to emo-tional
manipulation and sexual abuse by men within their party. To add to this
is the danger from the security forces that they are exposed to. In
a country where half the population is below the age of 20, it is to
be expected that the young would be targeted for politicisation. Yet
the CPN (M) must accept its culpability for recruiting children, including
girls, not just to forward its politics but to fight its war.
At the same time, it is obvious
from talking to these girls that joining the CPN (M) was the best option
that was available to them. They have been denied any mean-ingful participation
in the rural societies that they live in: most of them have not been
formally edu-cated and are not fit for employment as teachers, government
workers or staff in the non-governmental or-ganisations that used to
be active in development work here. These girls cannot participate in
local govern-ment bodies because of age, inexper-ience or gender discrimination.
There are few social movements at the grassroots that they might involve
themselves in, and the other political parties have not carried out
programmes that may have sparked their youthful imaginations. There
is simply no means of expression, in these areas, for their desire for
advancement, other than to answer the Maoists call. There is no
less militant option by which they might exercise their agency.
The failings of Kathmandu
The broad context for the partici-pation of girls in the CPN (M) is,
then, the non-responsiveness of the state to long-overdue demands for
womens legal equality, political participation, and social and
economic empowerment. The post-1990 period has witnessed the proliferation
of social movements in Nepal, among them the nascent womens movement.
Yet, because these movements are yet to mature, they have had limited
success in forcing the state to respond meaningfully to the widening
democratic aspirations of ordinary citizens.
So scattered has the womens
movement been in Nepal, many feminists would contest that such a thing
even exists. Shova Gautam of the Institute for Human Rights Communication,
Nepal, expresses the prevailing sentiment of many feminists when she
says, Nothing will come of the womens move-ment. The women
affiliated with the political parties will only take up an issue if
their party raises it. They do not independently pressure the leadership
of their party. Then there are the women activists of the NGO movement,
who will only take up an issue if they can make a project
out of it, and get funding for it. There are too few real womens
activists, who will take up issues based on the logic of rights.
Yet there is no doubt that
there was the intention, in 1991, to launch a broad-based womens
movement with the formation of the Mahila Dawab Samuha (the Womens
Pres-sure Group). This group was com-posed of a coalition of women leaders
and activists from the Com-munist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist)
(CPN-UML), the Nepali Congress Party and smaller centre/left parties,
and some promi-nent unaffiliated women. The left politician Sahana Pradhan
was its chairperson. The group first came to prominence by galvanising
pub-lic outcry following a spate of rapes of young girls in the Kathmandu
valley in 1990. After that, by the admission of its own members, the
increasingly bitter rivalries between the political parties pushed the
group into dysfunction.
Since then, the womens
move-ment in Nepal has drifted into the hands of a variety of actors.
These include the womens wings of the major political parties,
whose strug-gles begin with internal discrimi-nation in their parties.
They form two camps composed, loosely, of bourgeois or liberal
feminists and progressive or leftist feminists. Just as
important are the growing num-bers of star activists based
in Kathmandu, such as advocates Shanta Thapaliya, Sapana Pradhan Malla
and Meera Dhungana in the field of public interest litigation, or Meena
Acharya in economics and Seira Tamang among scholars. Though leftist
feminists would pointedly disagree, the NGOs pro-viding services for
womens social and economic empowerment have also contributed towards
the cause of gender equality. And mass-based local initiatives such
as the mothers groups of west Nepal have also helped to carve
a greater social space for women in rural communities.
Because these efforts are
scat-tered, and sometimes fitful, they have not coalesced into an arti-culated
womens movement of any kind. This has allowed the state to respond
lethargically, and often insincerely, to womens demands for equality,
making three scant concessions in the course of 12 years.
The first of these came in
1997, when the minority Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist)
govern-ment established the Ministry for Women, Children and Social
Wel-fare. Though leftist feminists lauded this move as an effort to
support womens rights, many liberal femi-nists viewed it as a
token gesture that would ghettoise rather than mainstream womens
issues. In its years in operation, the womens ministry
has had mixed success: its most notable work was perhaps done in drafting
a bill for womens rights, a bill which was not without its share
of critics. Since then it has gained the unfortunate image as a convenient
place to provide employ-ment to the women activists of the party in
The states second concession
to the womens movement came with the passing of the 11th amendment
to the civil code in 2001, after six years of protracted struggle by
legal activists. In 1995, Meera Dhungana filed a writ petition at the
supreme court asking that the term son in clause 16 of the
civil codes inheri-tance law be repealed as it dis-criminated
against daughters: prevailing inheritance laws allowed a woman to inherit
paternal pro-perty only if she was over 35 and unmarried. By contrast,
all men over 18 enjoyed the right to inherit paternal property in Nepals
system of angsha, or birthright inheritance.
In a tellingly conflicted
response to Dhunganas petition, the sup-reme court ruled that
the clause in question did discriminate against women, but that repealing
it would grant women dual rights to inherit their parents and
husbands pro-perties, and would thus discrimi-nate against men.
The court ordered parliament to submit a just bill within
one year, but it also tacked on a note that changing current laws could
affect the patriarchal order of the country.
The ruling warned: Society cannot accept it when social values
are changed suddenly.
Though mixed, this ruling
did force parliament to do something to address gender inequality in
the civil code. In 1997, the Ministry for Law, Justice and Parliamentary
Affairs submitted the bill for the 11th amendment to the civil code,
popularly known as the womens bill, to parliament.
The rights it granted women were limited: most controversially, inheritance
rights were granted only to unmarried women, who would have to give
up their inheritance upon marriage. The bill also proposed stiffer punishments
for rape, and the legalisation of abortion for married women with the
consent of their husbands, or for women who had suffered rape or incest.
The womens movement
was divided over the bill. It did not touch on most of the 54 discriminatory
laws in the constitution and in the civil code that had been identified
by the NGO Forum for Women, Law and Development. Nevertheless, liberal
feminists tended to favour the bill, arguing that further concessions
could be won in the future to consolidate the bills limited gains.
Leftist feminists, however, wanted it defeated so that parliament would
be obliged to draft a more progressive set of bills covering the issues
of inheritance, rape and abortion. The womens wings of the CPN
(UML), the United Leftist Womens Group and the Nepal Womens
Association demonstrated against the bill, as did the by-then mostly
inactive Womens Pressure Group.
In any case, parliamentary
action on the womens bill was delayed for years due
to the rapid succession of governments. When the bill finally came up
for consideration in December 2000, the parliaments Law and Justice
Committee sent it for discussion to the grassroots level. This was a
clear indication of ambivalence: in 10 years of democracy, no other
bill had been sent to the public in this manner. Over the course of
several months, however, the bill received resounding support at the
grassroots level. It was eventually passed in 2001 with a few amendments.
It was received with mixed reactions by the women activists.
The third and final concession
of the state to the womens movement was the formation of the Womens
Commission in 2002. This commission, headed by Durga Pokharel, has yet
to be activated, and it is uncertain how much more effective it will
be than the near-defunct Ministry for Women, Children and Social Welfare.
That the incipient womens
movement has had such limited success should not be of surprise. Social
activism is very young in Nepal: the human rights and environmental
movements, the language and janajati movements, the dalit rights movement
and the demands of smaller pressure groups in areas such as human rights
are only now beginning to gain pace.
Sickles and automatic rifles
The reasons for this are
clearly rooted in the countrys authoritarian past. Though philanthropic
works have been performed traditionally through private donations, yagya
offerings and guthi services, modern social activism in Nepal began
as late as the 1930s, as individuals critical of the Rana regime took
their political consciousness to action. Tulsi Mehar introduced Gandhi-style
spinning wheels, and was arrested for it. Kathmandu intellectuals got
together to start libraries, for which they met with prison sentences.
The father of Nepali Congress leader and first democratically elected
prime minister (1959) BP Koirala famously sent the tattered rags of
a poor man to the Rana prime minister Chandra Shum-shere, and had his
properties confiscated. Home schooling began to take place in secret.
Shukra Raj Joshi in Kathmandu valley, Yog-maya in the eastern hills,
as well as other religious reformists called for justice in their religious
discourses. By the time the political parties formed in the 1940s, subjects
all over the country were organising their defiance, giving voice to
widening left/liberal aspirations to citizenship.
With the formation of the
political parties, activism got channelled against the state. Through
the 1960 royal takeover and the consolidation of the panchayat system
in the 1970s, political activism began to overshadow social activism.
Nepal is witnessing the legacy of this today.
There was not, in Panchayat
times, what we today call social activism, says advocate Gopal
Siwakoti Chintan, one of the grow-ing numbers of forceful, targeted
social activists to emerge since 1990. There was social service,
led by those in the palace. Then there was political activism, which
was limi-ted to organising against the state. Though the underground
political parties also did sectoral work calling
for cultural reform in relation to gender and caste, for example
their main goal was to topple the Panchayat system. All social causes
were secondary, he says.
The sudden proliferation
of social causes after 1990 seems to have caught the political parties
by surprise. The janajati movements and the dalit rights movements have
taken place at the peripheries of the political parties, rather than
at their centres. The environmental move-ment has had to battle, at
times fiercely, with successive democratic governments: the anti-Arun
III campaign in 1993 engendered much ill will when it successfully pitted
the local people of the Arun valley against the central govern-ment
for control over water re-sources. This was perhaps the first example
of truly successful social activism in Nepal.
The main challenge now,
says Chintan, is to consolidate the gains of the social activism of
the past decade. His view is that effect-ive activism can only take
place through community organisations, run by local people who are ac-countable
to their own communities and have the greatest moral auth-ority to steer
One such example was the
sum-mer 2000 movement to free bonded labourers in far west Nepal, the
Kamaiya Mukti Andolan, led by the community NGO, Backward Society Education
(BASE), which has mass membership of former bonded lab-ourers. Dilli
Raj Chaudhary and other leaders launched the organi-sation with literacy
classes and other social services traditionally considered NGO
work. They gradu-ally expanded into advocating the end to bonded
labour at the local and district levels. To do so, they enlisted the
support of human rights organisations such as the Informal Sector Service
Centre, and international donors and develop-ment agencies that were
willing to fund their cause.
When met with resistance
from the local administration, BASE shifted its advocacy efforts to
Kath-mandu, successfully combining street-level activism and a savvy
media blitz with the selective high-level lobbying of individual politicians.
Ironically, BASEs success earned them the enmity of the CPN (M),
for bonded labourers had been an easy source of discontent that the
Maoists could tap. BASE is now focusing on the rehabilitation of the
freed labourers, warding off the CPN (M) at the grassroots level and
lobbying the government and international donors in order to provide
the services that fall under the ordain of NGO work.
Given the fledgling state
of social activism in Nepal, then, it would be difficult to argue, as
even feminists do in moments of frus-tration, that the womens
rights movement has failed; rather, one could say that it is gradually
coalescing. The scattered loci of womens activism today are the
womens movement. It may not look like much of a movement, but
it is undeniably more powerful and broad-based than it has ever been.
However limited its gains, the womens movement, for example in
the 11th amendment that grants some property rights to women, has helped
to slowly make joining the radical fringe a less appealing option for
those who want change.
To most of the women of Nepal,
of course, such a gradualist view smacks of complacency. The indi-cators
of womens status in Nepal have been consistently appalling: women
have far lower literacy rates than men; women are not recog-nised for
their economic contri-butions; women suffer from poorer nutrition than
men, and two-thirds of women of reproductive age are anaemic; women
here suffer one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
In a country where 42 percent of the population lives below poverty
level, women consti-tute the vast underclass. Indeed, Nepali women would
be very well served well by increased pressure, worldwide, to include
economic rights in all charters on human rights, for the conditions
in which they live arguably betrays criminal disregard on the part of
This has undeniably strengthened the logic for violent revolution in
grassroots Nepal. Further along our walk into Jumla district, past the
village of Tatopani, we passed a large group of girls the age of Comrades
Jamuna, Pragati and Sangita. They were returning from a wedding of two
CPN (M) mem-bers. They were all wearing red teekas on their foreheads
to mark the festivities, and looked very much like schoolgirls anywhere
on a picnic or outing; the occasional greetings of lal salaam
were the only indication of their political bent.
We fell into a conversation
with one of these girls, who was dressed like her comrades in a simple
kurta-sural. The girl and the boy both have to like each other,
she said, trying to explain her partys views on marriage. Then
the party will hold a ceremony for them. This entailed an exchange
of garlands, and some singing and dancing afterwards, she said.
The girl was, again, very
young: she said she was 16. She was originally from Kalikot district
and had been working in Jumla district throughout her year and a half
in the party. She was in the armed wing, she said, though nothing in
her bearing gave off any hint of militancy. She was curious about my
mission, and asked why I was unmarried, and how my family accepted my
travelling with men. It is the same with us, she said enthusiastically
when I told her that women must be ready to travel in any condition
if they are to have the necessary mobility for their work. She said,
We too have to travel with men for our work.
What was she doing before
she joined the party?
said, I was at home, spending my days cutting grass. This
was a story that had by now become routine coming from the girl cadres
of the CPN (M). Joining the party had offered them perhaps the best
chance available for wider social engagement.
The girl said she had received
physical training, including on the use of firearms. She was not involved
in the Maoists November 2002 attack on Khalanga town, headquarter
of Jumla district, one of the clashes that with its end-game brutality
is thought to have pressed the government to agree to the ceasefire.
But the girl was willing to go to war if her party instructed her to.
With a soft tone that belied
the hardness of her message, she said, That is why I joined the
movement. You see, there used to only be sickles and grass in the hands
of girls like us. And now there are automatic rifles.
This article has been made
available by the Centre for Investigative Journalism (KhoPaKay), Patan.