A report published on Times of India has thrown light on the use of women as shields and expendables by the Maoist leadership to continue their unlawful and nefarious activities. It states that women are persuaded to join Maoists ranks so that they could be enlisted for the first line of defense against the police officials.
The report came in the wake of the encounter that led to the neutralization of two women Maoists in Chhattisgarh last week. In the wee hours of December 12, two women Maoists were gunned down in an encounter with security forces in Balaghat district of Madhya Pradesh. The slain Naxalites were identified as Savitri and Shoba, members of Darrekasa and Malajkhand Dalams.
The gunfight between the Maoists and security forces took place at Borevan forest in Kirnapur, about 50 KMs from Balaghat town and close to Maharashtra border. One of the Maoists were killed at 12:30 AM but the other one, who was injured, took up the position and continued firing at the forces. The encounter ensued for another 45 minutes after which the second Maoist was also eliminated.
In a similar encounter between the security forces and Maoists, another Naxalite, Sharda, was shot dead on November 6 this year.
Rising participation of women in Naxalite activities
With the neutralisation of Savitri, Shoba and Sharda, Madhya Pradesh has so far eliminated seven Maoists in the last eight years. However, what is truly remarkable is that the majority of those neutralised by the police have been women. Three of the women killed were from neighbouring Chhattisgarh while the other two hailed from Maharashtra. Likewise, another six women Maoists were killed in neighbouring states of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh in just one week.
Not just men but women have also been active participants in perpetrating Maoist activities in the country. The Maoist’s Central Military Commission (CMC) recently stated that security forces killed 839 women cadres were killed in the past two decades.
A report published in March 2020 stated that women have been integral to the Naxalite/Maoist movement in India. It stated that while there were reluctance and hesitance initially, but later it gained momentum as women started joining the left-wing extremism in droves. The report contended that one of the reasons why women started joining the movement was they got carried away by the exhortations of the visiting Maoist squads through their speeches and the revolutionary songs rendered by their cultural troupes.
The report went on to say that the number of women Maoists swelled only in the last two decades, with some of them highly educated urban ideologues and leaders. While there had been no one reason for women joining the fold of Maoism, many of them have done it in desperation, and some of the others after being exploited by the high and the mighty in their village areas.
However, for the security officials and police forces who are involved in combing dense forests where Maoists and Naxalites are active, the gender of the extremist is a non-issue. When asked about the disproportionate number of eliminated Maoists being women, IG -Balaghat Range K P Venkateshwar Rao said that gender is not a factor for the security forces in their fight against Naxalism. He added that the Maoists, whether male or female, are simply insurgents for the security personnel. He also added that forces cannot wait to identify gender during a fierce gun battle.
“Women are actively participating in murders and IED attacks on police and armed forces. The two we killed last week were involved in more than 20 criminal cases,” Rao said.
Women used as shields and expendables by the Maoist leaders
According to intelligence officials and researchers tracking Left-Wing Extremism, women are used as shields, expendables by the Maoists and they are not trained for assuming leadership roles. They assert that this key inference should be exploited by the government to dissuade women from joining the Maoist ranks.
Women’s build often works against them during the encounters, police officials believe. “They can’t run as fast as men. This may be just one of the reasons. In the jungle, you have to be very quick to run and hide, or else you are dead,” an official said on condition of anonymity.
Earlier this year, on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, Maoists had, for the first time, released a list of 22 women cadres killed in encounters to encourage other females to join the movement.
Military psychologist Varnika Sharma believes that the security forces can also use such similar psychological propaganda to deter women from joining the Maoists ranks. She added that during tactical counter-offensive campaigns, often Maoist leaders mislead women Maoists into believing that troops do not open fire on them so they will remain safe.
“Having women in the outer circle (pehla ghera) started after 2010. In some cases, children are also deployed by the Maoist leaders,” Sharma said.
The Ministry of Home Affairs believes that more than 60 per cent of the lower ranks in Maoists and 50 per cent of the PLGA are women. They are used in front, leaving them vulnerable to the first contact with security forces.