The Question of Women’s Leadership in People’s War in Nepal
People’s War (PW) in Nepal, which was initiated in February 1996 under the leadership of the CPN (Maoist) has been developing in leaps and bounds. The fire of revolution, which initially sparked in a few districts in Western Nepal, has swept all over the country. According to the Government’s own account, out of 75 districts in Nepal, PW has affected 73 districts. All these gains could not have been possible without the mobilization of the masses that are the backbone of PW in Nepal. The mobilization of women in particular is apparent in PW in Nepal. Consider their daring feats. They were the first to break the tense silence throughout Nepal caused by the first historic strike that marked the initiation of PW in Nepal on 13 February 1996. On the occasion of March 8th 1996 the All Nepalese Women’s Association (Revolutionary) [ANWA(R)] dared to organize a seminar (amidst strong speculation that they all would be arrested) and to voice the need for overall revolution to solve women’s oppression. It was after that bold step that other mass organizations started giving their own programmes. Dalit [lowest caste – ed.] women in Kalikot district in western Nepal were the first to snatch rifles from reactionary armed forces and hand them over to the local Party, thus accelerating PW in that district. The first daring historical jailbreak from the heavily fortified Gorkha district jail in March 2001 by six Maoist women is one of the rarest events, perhaps even in world history. Until the clamp down of emergency rule in November 2001, of all the mass organizations the women’s organization was the most active and in the forefront of the movement. The successful antiliquor drive, which rocked the whole country in October 2001, in fact forced the government to negotiate with ANWA(R). Consider another feat; even before men in the Party started renouncing their parental properties to the Party, women of Rolpa started forsaking voluntarily their personal jewelry [the main form of women’s property – ed.] to the local Party. After the promulgation of the Emergency, more and more women have been raped, killed, incarcerated and disappeared. Despite all this there is a growing participation of women in PW in Nepal.
There are now objective grounds for developing women’s leadership in all fronts. Realizing this, CPN (Maoist) has created a separate women’s department under the Central Committee of the Party. The function of this department is to make policies to develop women’s potentialities to higher levels so that more and more women are able to reach policy making bodies in all the three fronts: Party, Army and United Front.
THE QUESTION OF WOMEN&RSQUO;S LEADERSHIP IN CPN (MAOIST)
The question of women’s leadership became more and more important in Nepal as revolutionary united fronts were replacing the reactionary state machinery at village and district levels. It was seen that women were joining the movement in unprecedented numbers, showing tremendous endurance, sacrifice and devotion; however they lacked expert knowledge to lead the movement. With the establishment of a central level United Revolutionary People’s Council (URPC) to co-ordinate the activities of all the united fronts at various levels, this question became all the more pertinent. Also with the creation of higher military formations within the People’s Liberation Army, the question of women started being raised by the women themselves. This has become more important as military formations have now reached the level of Brigade, and there are separate women’s platoon and sections with the brigade. It is seen that while men are continuing to develop in the military field even when they have reached beyond 40 years of age, women are hardly seen to continue in this field beyond 25 years. While from the field, objective conditions were demanding the need of developing women’s leadership qualities from the women cadres, within the Party itself there was a theoretical debate on women’s role in the communist movement. It was in the Second National Conference, in the process of analysis and synthesis of achievements of PW in Nepal which led to the adoption of Prachanda Path, that women’s role in institutionalization of continuous revolution and their role in preventing counterrevolution were seriously discussed. In fact the creation of separate women’s department is the product of Prachanda Path. Their role in the three instruments of revolution—Party, Army and United Front—was discussed. The Party being the most decisive amongst the three instruments, the question of developing revolutionary women leaders in Communist Party was given prominence.
THE LEADERSHIP QUESTION AND WOMEN
Leadership is basically actualization of political ideology, hence in the Communist Party it is the command in ideology that determines the leadership quality. This quality is developed through continuous class struggle, inner-party struggle and inner-struggle. Hence real tested leadership can only come in countries where there is class struggle, where the Party thrives on healthy inner-party struggle demanding a higher level of transformation of individuals through relentless inner-struggle. Indeed Rosa Luxemburg, Alexandra Kollontai, Clara Zetkin, Chiang Ching were all products of intense class struggle and inner-party struggle that was being waged in Germany, Russia and China in their time. And being women in addition, they had to wage a more complex inner-struggle than the men of their time.
The question of leadership is also linked to objective necessity and the chance factor. In the dialectical relationship between the two, it is true that the objective condition necessitates birth of a leader but the question of who emerges as a leader is left to chance. It is here that the women’s leadership question becomes slightly complicated. It is seen that revolutionary communist movements have always unleashed women’s fury, but they are not able to channelize this energy into producing enduring women communist leaders. The question has been raised again and again as to why there are so few women leaders in communist parties when Marxism offers such a deep penetrating analysis and solution to women’s oppression. Hence the question arises as to why the chance factor is constrained in producing women leaders in communist parties despite growing objective conditions for it? This needs deep analysis.
WOMEN ARE LATE ARRIVALS IN THE POLITICAL ARENA
Right from the period of the slavery system men from the privileged class developed their skill in running political state affairs. They developed their leadership quality at the cost of women of both classes and the enslaved men. This continues to this day, in some form or other. Here it is worth remembering Engels, who said that the overthrow of mother-right was the world historical defeat of the female sex and that men took command in the house also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude, she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children. By virtue of their sole right over property men became the rulers, the women upon losing their historic mother-right became the ruled. The prevailing division of labor, according to which men undertook mental work, while women were relegated to physical work, led to cumulative experience of men in the field of analysis and synthesis of the world, while women were lost in the hidden world of household activities. Men thus monopolized the field of worldly knowledge; they have been actively involved in not only defining the world but changing it too. Consider this—women got voting rights long after it was achieved by men. Even in today’s 21st century, women in Kuwait do not have the right to vote. With the imperialist countries backing religious medieval feudal rulers like the Taliban in Afghanistan (now replaced by a coalition of smaller feudal lords under Hamid Karzai) and sheiks in Gulf countries, women are restrained from entering public life. Also in Western countries, despite much noise being made by feminists, there are few women leaders in political parties. Take the case of Nepal where women are denied the right to rule right from the womb, because of the feudal monarchical system prevalent here. All these have a cumulative effect on the struggle for developing women’s leadership in political parties, even in the communist parties whose history is comparatively recent and which are so antagonistic to the prevailing mainstream political parties.
PREVAILING MODE OF PRODUCTION IS NOT FAVORABLE
The base and superstructure of the present society is based on exploitation in general and in particular on exploitation of women’s reproductive and domestic labor. In property relations women are looked upon as maintainers of men’s property and producers of sons to pass on the property within a male lineage. The prevailing superstructure, such as the social, cultural, educational, and political system, are all geared to support this exploitation. Take the example of the marriage institution. It is an alliance of convenience for men to perpetuate their hegemonism in property relations. For women the same alliance in fact marginalizes them to domestic slavery. Sadly this holds true amongst the communists too, although to a lesser degree.
Nepal with strong left movements has periodically produced many women activists, but they seem to vanish as soon as they are recognized. One of the most apparent reasons is the institution of marriage, which has robbed us of promising women leaders. People’s War seems to be changing that pattern, however, even within PW the question of continuity of women’s leadership keeps coming up, especially when they get married and decide to have children. This is because in countries like Nepal, where the feudal patriarchal system is yet more oppressive than the capitalist patriarchal system in advanced countries, the married life of women communists can be more complex. Although the element of the notion of private property is slowly disappearing in Nepal with the waging of PW, however the cultural root of feudalism eventually creeps in in many forms, such as the conventional division of labor in the name of necessity. Added to this is the unilateral burden a woman has to carry when she becomes a mother. With the birth of every child she sinks deeper into domestic slavery. In fact many women who have been active in People’s War in Nepal are found to complain that having babies is like being under disciplinary action, because they are cut off from the Party activities for a long period. In this way many bright aspiring communist women are at risk of being lost in oblivion, even after getting married to the comrades of their choice. This is specially so in white dominated areas [areas still dominated by the local traditional elite-ed.] where women seldom get support system from the mass as well as from the Party to sustain themselves in their reproductive years. However, it is heartening to see that this problem is being solved in the base areas of Rolpa and Rukum, where the mass support and the consolidation of the Party has made it possible for the Party and masses to support such maternal burdens of women leaders. Another aspect of Nepalese feudal society is that there is a strong pressure on women to bear children, especially sons. With the launching of PW this aspect has been negated to some level, however, there is still pressure to have at least one child.
There is also the tendency to create pressure on women cadres to get married covertly or overtly as unmarried women draw lots of suspicion from men as well as women for their unmarried status. This results in marriages against their wishes or before they are ready to get married. Also there is a tendency to take sexual offenses more seriously than political offenses.
WOMEN&RSQUO;S STRUGGLE IS MORE COMPLEX THAN MEN&RSQUO;S
For communist women, it is not enough for them to participate in class struggle, inner-party struggle, and inner-struggle. Often they may remain in the minority even if they belong to the majority line within the party. And because they are the product of this patriarchal structure, hence their inner-struggle consists in not only struggle against themselves as individuals but also struggle against the effect of patriarchal values on them, such as fatalistic tendency, inferiority complex, guilt syndrome, victim syndrome, etc. They have to face an even more complex struggle if they happen to be single, divorced or married more than once. This is well documented in Alexandra Kollantai’s collection of articles. In fact she represents the best example of revolt against such marriages. She left her first husband and child in order to concentrate more on revolutionary work, then later she left her second (communist) husband on the ground of his stereotyped expectation of the marriage alliance. And because of her rebellion against conventional marriages she not only faced difficulties with the bourgeois society but also from conservative communists as well. As a result Alexandra Kollontai is more known for the “glass of water theory” (the theory that sex should be as easy and uncomplicated as drinking glass of water) among the conservative communists than her contributions to the communist movement and the proletarian women’s movement. Take another example, that of Chiang Ching. She had to face slander from the bourgeois press and personalities because of her past marriages, and even within the Party she was not received kindly. Chiang Ching had to agree to political isolation for many years as a condition for her to marry Mao. This decision was taken when the rightist Liu Shao Chi was in the Party headquarters.
MANIFESTATION OF PATRIARCHAL VALUES IN COMMUNIST PARTY
Since the feminist movement is the product of the bourgeois revolution, quite often communist parties tend to become hyper-sensitive to women’s issues. As a result they fall prey to patriarchal values even while agreeing in theory to women’s liberation. This is manifested in many ways. For example instead of taking women as reliable long-term equal partners in the communist movement it takes women’s role as supportive. As a result the Party is often found overemphasizing the class struggle at the cost of gender exploitation, forgetting the dialectical relationship between the two. There have been cases of delaying the formation of separate women’s organization or even temporarily dismissing existing women’s organization within communist parties. In parties where separate women’s organization exists, there are cases where the women’s mass front is not given the required degree of freedom so as to make their own plans and programmes, thus robbing them of initiative and creative power. This ultimately breeds alienation and tailism in the Party. This can also take place by not coordinating the women’s programme with the party programme and as a result the party programme gets priority over the women’s programme. Conservatism in the party can also be seen through relegating women cadres to only women related work, thereby robbing them of the chance to develop in party policy matters and other fields.
In the practical front, this leads to spontaneity whereby women’s issues are addressed but not implemented because one leaves it to circumstances, leading to gradualism. Often it is seen that the party does not actively intervene in the existing traditional division of labor between men and women whereby men take to mental work while women are left to do physical labor. This is also manifested in taking men and women as absolute equals by not being sensitive to women’s special condition and their special needs. This becomes all the more apparent when women are menstruating or are in the reproductive period.
LACK OF SUBJECTIVE EFFORT ON THE PART OF WOMEN CADRES
Women have to wage a longer struggle because of their double oppression. However due to lack of subjective efforts they lose half way. For example, where they have successfully rebelled against feudal values, they have not been able to sustain themselves in class struggle. And where they have been able to wage class struggle, they have not been able to sustain in inner-party struggle. And by not participating or participating poorly in inner-party struggle they lose sharpness on ideology, thus robbing them of their chance to determine the course of the communist movement, which has so much relevance to their own liberation. Their lack of subjective effort is manifest in many ways. In the field of ideology, they fall prey to pragmatism, economism, sectarianism because they are not serious enough to study theoretical knowledge and be involved in inner-party struggle to overcome their objective conditions, which in turn breeds these tendencies because of their past objective conditions.
In the practical field they often fall into tailism whereby they follow the directives of the party blindly without questioning, just as traditional women have been following their fathers when unmarried, and their husbands when married, and their sons when widowed. They thus become the victims of circumstance. This manifests in unplanned motherhood, which affects them most if they are in the military field. It manifests in following the husband’s political line blindly instead of developing one’s own political line, thereby affecting their independent political life. By not being assertive of their rights they fall into the trap of traditional division of labor. As a result they covertly become the vehicle of traditional conservative ideas leading to counter-revolution. In many cases they take marriage and motherhood as a break in their political/military career as if it is temporary work. Similarly they become willing partners to their husband’s field of work thereby losing hold of their own previous work. Hence frequent change of place and work affects them more than men. The effect of all these tendencies leads to developing an inferiority complex among women which is counter-productive to the revolution.
MEN&RSQUO;S WILLINGNESS TO GIVE UP THEIR SPECIAL PRIVILEGES
While women cadres have the problem of asserting themselves, men cadres have the problem of relinquishing the privileged position bestowed on them by the patriarchal structure. This is manifested in many ways. This is mainly seen in the form of formal acceptance of women’s leadership, while in essence not accepting their leadership. Thus there are delays made in establishing women’s leadership in the Party, PLA and United Front. This also results in their being impatient with women’s mistakes and general lack of skill in fields from which women have been excluded. Often they relegate women’s issues to women as if it does not concern them. This is manifested in not reading literature on women’s issues, and not taking part in implementing programmes given by the women’s mass front. Sometimes this covertly is seen in the form of being overprotective about safety of women cadres when it is not warranted and by undertaking women’s mental work on their behalf. This is also seen in their sticking to old traditional division of labor, without relinquishing their monopoly on mental work and relegating women to everyday drudgery work. Not wanting to give up their privileged position they tend to discourage promising wives from taking up independent work, which would take them far off from their husbands.
POLITICAL LINE AND THE QUESTION OF WOMEN&RSQUO;S LEADERSHIP
It is the correct ideology and policy of the communist party that will determine the quality of women communist leaders produced and the path of women’s liberation. It was the correct political line of the Bolshevik Party headed by Com. Lenin that produced fine women communist leaders like Alexandra Kollontai, Clara Zetkin, Inessa Armand, Krupskaya, etc. It was the correct political line because of which communist women leaders like Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg were able to evolve the concept of celebrating 8th March as International Working Women’s Day every year globally, the decision being taken by the first international socialist women’s conference in Stockholm in the year 1910. And it is being followed by not only communists but also the bourgeoisie (in their own way) even till this day.
It was the correct political line of Com. Rosa Luxemburg of exposing and struggling against Bernstein in her book “Reform or Revolution” and later her struggle against Kautsky that brought her to the notice of revolutionary communists of the world. She dared to warn Lenin that bureaucracy may breed in the structure of the Party if the question of centralism and democracy are not understood in their dialectical relationship and under the specific condition of the individual country where it is applied. With the occurrence of counter-revolution in previous socialist states and with the tendencies of bureaucracy which seem to sap revolutionary parties engaged in PW time and again, her warning seems to have relevance even today.
Similarly it was the correct political line carried by Com. Mao which heralded Cultural Revolution that unleashed women’s fury. It was a woman who put up the first poster denouncing Liu Shao Chi heralding the revolt against rightist headquarters. It was the Cultural Revolution that unleashed Com. Chiang Ching’s suppressed leadership quality making her one of the resolute fighters against the capitalist roaders until her death (or murder?). One must also remember that in the period of occupation of headquarters by the rightist Liu Shao Chi, he was the one who ordered women to go back home in order to solve the unemployment problem that was looming large. It was the rightist policy, Perestroika, and the capitalist policy of Deng which slowly introduced commercialization of women thus bringing back prostitution, gambling, beauty contests etc. in Russia and China.
Having said all this, let us not forget that just as women themselves are divided into different classes, so are the communist women divided along rightist, centrist, and revolutionary lines. Due to anti-working women’s liberation policy taken by the rightist and centrist line, those women who belong to these lines are eventually marginalized in their own parties and remain exposed outside the party because of their anti-women’s stand. Whereas those women who stood by the revolutionary line even while failing to make revolution in their own country remain popular. Take the case of Rosa Luxemburg, who is the most popular woman communist leader so far. She was killed before she could realize her dream; this all the more enhanced respect for her as a devoted woman communist leader in the communist world. Similarly it was the tough stand taken by Chiang Ching who defended Mao’s revolutionary line even in her captivity until her death in revisionist China that made her the defiant heroine.
It is interesting to observe that revolutionary communist women have always been on the offensive when they are fighting against the revisionists. The reason may be because they are painfully aware that revisionism breeds bureaucratization, which in turn strengthens patriarchal values, ultimately negating women in politics.
It should be noted that in third world county like Nepal, where class differentiation is not sharp enough, inner-party struggle may often appear in the form of gender, ethnic, regional struggle. Hence the gender issue becomes quite an important component of the class issue. In such a case dismissing the gender issue as an alien force will ultimately affect class struggle.
PRIVATE PROPERTY AND THE QUESTION OF WOMEN&RSQUO;S LEADERSHIP
It is time and again seen that women masses do come in a tide to participate in revolutionary movements producing some potential women leaders. But this tide along with the prospective women leaders seems to recede once the revolution is completed or is defeated. The chief reason behind this phenomenon is the existence of the concept of private property. As long as private property remains women will always have to go back to tend individual household activities, maintaining private property for men, no matter how many social revolutions take place. Hence the concept of continuous revolution until one reaches communism has strategic relevance for women, because it is only then that private property gets abolished, unleashing the creativity of women. That is why it is important to make conscious efforts by revolutionary parties of the world to create a conducive environment for developing revolutionary women communist leaders so that they can play a role as catalyst agents in arriving at communism. Hence the question of developing women communist leaders cannot be left to chance, they need to be consciously nurtured, cultivated and safeguarded.
SOME EXPERIENCES OF WOMEN&RSQUO;S LEADERSHIP IN NEPAL
Realizing the importance of revolutionary women and their role in the communist movement, CPN(Maoist) has come forward with some encouraging results. Today there are several women in the Central Committee of the Party. There are dozens of women at the regional level and hundreds in the district levels, and several thousands in the area and cell levels in the Party. In the People’s Liberation Army there are many women commanders, vice commanders in different sections within the brigade, platoons, squads and militia. There are separate women’s sections in the brigade: women platoons, women squad teams, women militia teams functioning in the field. In the United Revolutionary People’s Council, which is an embryonic central people’s government organizing committee, there are four women out of 37 members. Women’s participation in all levels of People’s Councils has been made mandatory.
Just to give some idea about their participation in different fields, let us take the Western region of Nepal. This region alone has 1500 women’s units. The total number of women membership in the women’s mass organization is six hundred thousand. In the military field there are ten women section commanders in the main force, two women platoon commanders in the secondary force and several militia commanders in the basic force. The team commander of the health section of the battalion force is a woman. The women there have started a campaign called “One village, one unit, one house, one friend.” This has helped in organizing and politicizing village after village. Similarly in the field of production, there is a campaign called “Where there is contact, there is organization; where there is organization, there is production.” Hence women are also involved in production activities. They are actively involved in conducting people’s courts where informers, drunkards, gamblers, womanizers, and cheaters are punished. In such trials usually local women militias are actively involved together with the villagers. Hence one can say the objective basis for producing women leaders in various fields are ripening in western region.
Today more and more women are encouraged to rebel against their oppressive marriages, and politically incorrect marriages. Take the case of Com. Shilpa, who was first a commander in a guerrilla squad and later a sub-regional committee member of the Party and vice-chairman of a district level people’s committee. She had a heroic death while laying an ambush against the reactionary armed forces in May 2002. She dared to denounce and divorce her husband who had reneged against the revolution after being captured. There is an increasing trend of widow remarriages [condemned by orthodox Hindu tradition, ed.]. The definition of the family of martyrs has now been extended to those wives of martyred comrades who have remarried without forsaking the revolutionary cause. This has indirectly helped widows of martyred men to remarry without feeling guilt. Take the example of Com. Shilu, the commander of the historic women jail breakers in Gorkha in March, 2001. She has remarried another comrade after losing her husband Bhim Sen Pokharel who got martyred while giving protection to Com. Basu, the first martyred politburo member of CPN(Maoist). There have been cases of husbands and wives being given challenging works. It is worth mentioning that Com. Phul Maya BK, who was a section commander of a battalion in the historic Dang Barrack attack on November 23, 2001, was martyred along with her husband Com. Bijok in the same battle. Also it is worth mentioning that the political commissar for the Satbaria barrack attack in Dang in April 2002 was a woman. In the course of promulgation of the Emergency and military mobilization many husbands, wives and sons and daughters have been martyred, this also indicates the level of politicalization of the family in Nepal.
From the above it can be concluded that the importance of revolutionary women’s leadership in the communist party has strategic importance as they are a reliable, long term and mass based force which will help push the communist movement from New Democratic Revolution to socialism, and from socialism to stateless and propertyless communism where complete women’s emancipation is guaranteed. Taking on the relationship between communism and emancipation of women, Inessa Armand has rightly said that if the emancipation of women is unthinkable without communism, then communism is unthinkable without the full emancipation of women. The concepts of right to rebel, cultural revolution, continuous revolution, overall revolution, mass based politics etc., all have strong appeal and application for women because of their double oppressed status. Their double oppression and the continued false promise of equality given to them by the ruling class (including the revisionist left parties) keeps them alert and on their toes to check any counter-revolution or revisionism, because they have seen the gains of women’s rights slowly eroding with every capitalist stand taken by the party in both Russia and China.
The Communists should be politically aware that if patriarchal values are not checked periodically through rectification campaigns then it may slowly breed bureaucracy in the party. The result of bureaucracy in the party is that it gets cut off from the masses. Once the party becomes an end in itself, serving the interest of its own existence, it will eventually strengthen revisionism. This will result in the party becoming the vanguard of the exploiting class instead of the exploited class, thus losing both class and gender perspective.
For the communist movement to flourish it is not enough to produce individual outstanding women communist leaders such as Rosa Luxemburg or Clara Zetkin, but also equally important to produce women communist companions like Krupskaya and Chiang Ching, who were leaders in their own field, who stood by their husbands who were leaders of the communist movement. They were not only providing their husbands with comfort and companionship but were also actively engaged in two-line struggle in the party. We also need women like Jenny Marx who stood by her husband like a rock in the hours of political and personal turmoil, and helped him in whatever capacity she had. For in order to preserve the gains of revolution and its continuous advancement, we need to not only produce revolutionary women leaders but also equally it is important to sustain and preserve revolutionary communist men leaders. Let us not forget that it was also revolutionary men like Karl Marx, Engels, August Bebel, Lenin, Mao etc. who provided deep analysis of women’s oppression and have shown the path of women’s emancipation.
Also it is important to note that just as communist women know that for every gain in the proletarian people’s power there is a relative gain in women’s power, similarly communist men should know that the revolution and the gains of revolution can only be preserved and furthered when more and more women join and lead the revolution. Similarly just as the proletarian movement needs the input of all those who have rebelled against their class outlook, similarly the proletarian women’s movement needs the input of all those who have not only rebelled against their class outlook but also against their stereotyped sexist outlook. Hence the alliance between revolutionary men and women is not only to be desired but is also historically necessary. This is all the more necessary in producing revolutionary women communist leaders.
Lastly it is important to note Mao’s remark “keep being dissatisfied, the world belongs to the dissatisfied.” This is all the more true for women revolutionary leaders who have to tread a longer and more complex path of class struggle, inner-party struggle and inner-struggle.
Interview to People’s March
PM: We see women’s participation in Nepal’s People’s War in a very big way. This is a significant achievement. How did the CPN (Maoist) achieve it?
Parvati: First, we should notice that in Nepal, the left movement has been quite strong. Because of this factor, leftists, be it revisionists or be it revolutionaries, have been quite bold in bringing the women to streets. Now having said that, though we had women coming into the streets, they could not advance, mainly because revisionists did not want to go beyond legal struggle and the revolutionary party had not yet undertaken practical implementation of their revolutionary theory. So there was a big gap between theory and practice. As a result, what happened either was that the women in their young age were very active, but once they got married, they eventually became the wives of leaders or vanished into oblivion. Thus, marriage became a patriarchal left institution for producing good efficient wives for the male communist leaders at the cost of losing women cadres in communist movement. But because the left movement was active, you would get fresh group of women repeatedly coming and vanishing. This vicious cycle got asunder with the initiation of People’s War in the year 1996. It unleashed the fury of women so far locked in legal and trivial struggle.
Objectively you should also know that in Nepal, the main productive force constituting of males, migrate either to Indian cities or to urban areas within the country, leaving their wives behind to survive in a very isolated, rugged and very difficult terrain in rural Nepal with very little infrastructure. Nepal, in fact, has something like de-facto women-headed households. They are married but literally living on their alone most of the years taking care of children and old parents. Therefore, you can virtually say that women are running peasant’s economy in Nepal. Nevertheless, the feudal patriarchy headed by the King not only denies her identity, but also robs away her labour by denying her right to parental property. And many times, what happens is that, due to absence of wives from husbands’ lives for long period they are easily co-wived. However, given the fact that there is hardly any legal protection, if at all complaint is registered, no punishment or very light punishment is given eventually condoning the second marriage. So there is lot of anger ready to burst out which the PW is able to tap. Even without organising them, they would just come, because the situation is so intolerable.
Subjectively, our Party has always been active in women front even before the launching of PW. We were, in fact, the first ones to stop the first beauty contest held in Kathmandu in 1990. Similarly, regular protests against rape and all kinds of pornography had been held in different parts of Nepal. And we had been regularly celebrating 8th. March with political statements. Especially during the Panchayat system, when all the political parties were banned, everybody would look forward to 8th March, where they could pour out their political statements. So there has been a culture of the women’s movement. One very interesting thing I observed in Nepal is that we do not have male and female divide as much as in western countries, or may be even to some extent in India. In our 8th March demonstrations, you will find quite a number of men shouting slogans along with women. In fact, when we go and fight against beauty contest men accompany us.
The most radical rupture that the PW was able to bring in women’s lives was that it broke women away from the family shackle. This has strong impact on women’s lives resulting in unleashing their hidden talents and capabilities. The very act of rebellion against this oldest family institution has set in a chain of reactions. The first chain of reaction is seen in the new marriage system, which is based on love chemistry established in the field of action and the ideological alliance. The second reaction is seen in the way they saw their reproductive function. Earlier even among the communists no matter how many times they may raise their fists for women’s liberation and shout against male chauvinism they would eventually go for male lineage, thus pushing their wives to bear particularly male children. Earlier they would have 3,4, or more children till they were having their male child or even the most conscious women would have at least two children before the PW started. With the initiation of PW, this has changed drastically. The number has been reduced to one—now very rarely does one come across two. In addition, there is no question of waiting for a son now. So, in Nepal’s context, it is a big leap indeed!
With base areas situated in our strong hold rural areas, we are able to practically implement equal rights over parental property. Similarly, we are able to give equal status to women. In fact, in many cases they are given first priority, thus we are able to practice what we preach. We have guaranteed special rights of representation in people’s power. Now we have a number of women model villages, called Mahila Namoona villages, where women have right to their parental property, where they work in co-operative farms in their fields, collective fodder collection system, and where they execute construction activities, such as making rest houses for travelers, by investing their collective money on small productions. These model villages show our seriousness on women’s cause.
The people’s courts too have been instrumental in enhancing women’s confidence in PW, where the general masses particularly those belonging to oppressed ethnic communities and dalits have been getting quick and fair judgments against their tormentors under the watchful eyes of the women’s militia, which give protection to people’s courts. Earlier not only women, but even men, had to travel far to fight a case in the court, which meant losing property to pay for the endless procedure of justice. Now the people’s courts are right in front of their villages to give instant and proper judgments.
And another point of attraction is the working field of People’s Liberation Army [PLA]. The people’s militia and PLA have become points of attraction for women. Earlier, the entry point for women in the movement had been mostly the cultural front. Now the military front has become an attractive point of entry for women to join PW. The very act of joining the military field has tremendous transforming effect on women. All of a sudden from a totally unknown, submissive woman she has now become confident, independent fighter. She looks no less smart than urban educated women do. She is increasingly becoming political and philosophical. When most of the time you are dealing with life and death, it is bound to happen.
The protracted nature of PW allows women not only to change the society but also to change themselves. In a pre-capitalist country like Nepal, where absolute monarchy reins the state power, the journey to communism is bound to be a long one! The protracted nature of PW allows the revolutionaries, particularly the women revolutionaries, whose cultural level is lower than that of male revolutionaries, for a long period of transformation.
Our Party considers women as a basic revolutionary force (the first to be oppressed and the last to be liberated) who will not only work for revolution, but will also fight against counter-revolution, thus carrying the banner of continuous revolution. Thus, the policy of CPN (Maoist) has been to encourage women’s participation in PW.
PM: You were talking about one interesting point, about military and women. Even the bourgeoisie in the past and present day also never allowed women to be part of the military. Communist movements are trying to bring women into the military, can you theorise on this? From the beginning the notion of women is—physically weak, muscularly. How do you visualise them being fighters?
Parvati: If we want to fight against bourgeoisie, we should hit them at their weakest point. Their weakest point is women. Because they say that they want to give women freedom and equality, but in practice they are always deceiving women, or at the most giving these in form, not in essence. It’s not that the bourgeoisie do not bring women into such military activities, but not in the same strategic way as we do. They do it as their last resort. And that too, as a symbolic act, reducing them to be decorative piece and using them as auxiliary or as reserve force, never taking them as strategic force. Thus, they are used in logistics works, as typists, nurses, intelligence operators etc. but rarely used as fighters in the field. I think, it is to do with their ideology, because the whole bourgeois system is sustained from women’s oppression. They cannot afford to separate women from the kitchen for military operations for too long.
Take the case of Americans. They are deploying women, but they seldom send them in the battlefield. There have been one or two cases where women have been sent to the front. But such experience has resulted in diverting men’s attention away from the real fight. While not fighting, women combatants are looked upon as sexual objects to be gratified and when in combat they are looked upon as weak delicate women to be protected from the harsh fighting life. This results in underestimating the strength of women combatants in both the situations. One such instance was called Private Jessica Lynch who was captured by Iraqi militia. There was a big propaganda exercise made by the USA in its attempt to rescue her as an act of heroism!
PM: I think the bourgeois world also recruited women into the military because of the feminist movement or women’s movement, in some services, that too in some gender stereotyped jobs.
Parvati: Yes, most of the Scandinavian countries have done that, because there the women’s movement is quite strong.
PM: You were telling about the objective conditions and the inevitability of women joining P\V. At the same time what are the conscious efforts from the Party’s side? Like how did you apply mass line in bringing women into mass organisations and the Party?
Parvati: One thing is that from the Party’s side there has always been attempt to mobilise women whenever it was possible. In Nepal’s context, we have various women related festivals, like Teej: it is the time when women come out and sing songs and dance. Although a religious occasion, this occasion has been used by women to weave their own songs of oppression related to domestic violence, male domination and oppression of women within the feudal culture. We took over this sentiment from them and we started using these platforms to politically educate them in attacking feudal practices. Everywhere in the villages and urban areas, these kinds of attempts were made. Secondly, cultural programmes have been encouraged because such programmes attract the attention of women in particular due to its perceptive appeal, which is then used as a means to gain access to their life and to teach them the key issues of poverty which is the cause of their misery and deprivations. In fact, women’s front has been one of the most active fronts before PW started. It laid foundation for reaching to the masses. After the initiation of PW, there have been developments in two fronts. In base areas, we are consolidating the capacities of women to make them more economically and socially productive, by making them literate, involving them in small-scale handy-crafts such as shawl-making industry, dry food factories, co-operative farm works, paper-making industry etc. We are making them good leaders by involving them in running People’s Council at different levels. We are involving them in People’s Court. In white areas, we are sending them as organisers and as fighters to mobilise the masses and to protect the masses from the enemies.
The campaign against liquor has been time and again conducted. Similarly, campaign against bar women being used as sexual tools in urban areas have been continuing. Recently our woman front, the All Nepalese Women’s Organisation (Revolutionary) called for a nationwide bandit (shut-down) on the occasion of 8th March in 2004 against rape, torture and murder being perpetuated by the old state and against US- intervention in Nepal. This was the first time in Nepalese women’s history that a nationwide call was being given by a woman’s front. The bandit was a complete success.
PM: In one of the issues of the Worker, there was a write-up on mass line campaign in Nepal. It is very interesting. Please elaborate about this campaign with regard to the women’s movement.
Parvati: There has been conscious effort by the Party to promote new culture in base areas and other strong hold areas. New festivals like people’s War initiation day, martyr’s week, Mao’s birthday are being celebrated with lots of gifts being exchanged. In these activities, women are found to be the most active as they run mess, restaurants, selling their products made in small-scale cottage run by the Party. All this gives mass character to such celebrations, thus preparing ground for more masses to be mobilised on new cultural values. Community based works such as Parma system of exchanging labour in plantation and harvesting seasons, which has been in practice for long have been boosted by spreading it in other fields such as collecting fodders, and fuels from forest. Much old cultural activity has been adopted with new inputs and with progressive values imparted. Take the case of Mayur (peacock) dance in Rukum, Rolpa, which was exclusively men’s dance. Today even women are participating in it. There has also been campaign to militarise the masses. We are able to do this more efficiently, because we have strong women’s militia present in our stronghold areas. In far western region, we have even cultural companies which perform cultural programs as they march along, thus giving cultural programmes a mass and military appearance. This campaign has become so popular that the old state is propagating their joining this campaign and other militia programme as abductions and kidnappings done by Maoists. We have also developed the concept of one member, one house; one village one organisation, thereby multiplying our memberships in mass fronts. Today most of our women fronts are not only self-sufficient, but have more money with them because our women are not only actively engaged in productive works, but also are good at keeping records of the savings without wanton spending.
There has also been conscious effort to organise the families of police and army of the old state. Our women militia regularly visits them and help them in their hour of needs, such as catering to their fieldwork in peak agricultural season. They then slowly give them political classes to dissuade their husbands from joining the old force and to instead join the Maoist force. There has been conscious effort to mobilise children under Bal Sangathan, thus preparing ground for the continuation of the movement and mass mobilisation.
PM: What are the problems manifested in women, because they are deprived of political and ideological education since ages. How are you trying to resolve this?
Parvati: The most blatant manifestation of problems seen among women due to deprivation of political and ideological education is their silence in the meetings. They seldom participate in political discussions. Women hesitate to take initiative. The question of initiative is related with them being deprived of their share of parental property. Males are expected to be leaders right from their childhood, so that they can protect their right to their lands. Because women are not associated with any property, the leadership quality is unsolicited from them. This problem of leadership and developing political and ideological level can be tackled at two levels: one, at organisational level and another at a practical level. Women should be given responsibility where policy related works are involved, together with facilities to develop their political and ideological capacity. At practical level, women should wage inner struggle in terms of marrying late, and even if married she should avoid having children or postpone having a child. They should be daring to take their own independent work, which may take them away from their husbands for long period. It is with this in mind that Women’s Department has been created by the Party to develop women’s leadership so that they can reach policy-making bodies in all the three fronts- the Party, the army and the front. At mass level, to provide equal parental property to women would create atmosphere for developing leadership quality right from the home, which can later be tapped by the Party to give political and ideological education.
At present, in military front, women’s leadership quality is developing in rapid pace. Women are successfully proving their worth by showing that they too can live bravely and die bravely and that they too can command the fighting force. The main challenge for the Party is to infuse this leadership quality with politics and ideology.
PM: Ideological and political deprivation is there among women. So how are you tackling that?
Parvati: In order to test the ideological and political deprivation it is important to test their present level of understanding of their outlook in various fields. Our Women’s Department had issued a set of questionnaire related with practical and strategic issues comprising of 9 headings2 to women cadres operating at Party, army and front levels. The answers have now been received of which synthesis is on the process. One should also realise that ideological and political level of the cadres in general would depend upon how the Party’s inner line struggle is being carried out. If it is being carried out with the correct orientation, it can lead to healthy development of ideological and political consciousness of the cadres, thereby leading women cadres too to develop in this field. It is also important to impart regular classes on the latest political development in the national and international arena fusing it with MLM theory. This can also be tackled by bringing out regular magazines, bulletins, and weekly papers together with talk programmes on relevant subjects. All these have been taking place at various levels. The Party has been very conscious of the importance of bringing women to policymaking bodies. The recent incorporation of more women in Central Committee of CPN (Maoist) is a welcome step. Similarly, women have been incorporated at Politburo level too. Today in CPN (Maoist) there are nearly 10% of women comrades at both Central Committee and Politburo level. Now the ball is in women’s court to prove their worth as ideological and political leaders!
PM: In the article on leadership question in Nepal, you mentioned about class struggle, inner party struggle and inner struggle. We can understand about class struggle but it is interesting to know about the inner party struggle and inner struggle. Please elaborate on this?
Parvati: Let us be very clear that inner party struggle is there in every healthy functioning Party. The point is how to identify such struggles in the field of women and gender relations within the Party. Let me tell you one example of how to understand the attitude of communists towards women in communist movement. One section considers their participation as having strategic importance and constituting of basic revolutionary class. They are willing to accept and guarantee special rights of women and hence strives to transform the structure of the Party, the women and gender relation based on this principle. There is another section that may agree with this in principle, but, in practice, sees women as a secondary force, thus relegating them as a mere practical necessity to mobilise the masses. For such people, any changes that they try to bring in organisational structure or women or gender relations will be only cosmetic, formal and skin-deep. For example, let us take the question of remarriage. In general, as a principle, everybody agrees with it. But when any specific issue comes, the differences crop up showing the differences in outlook. Take the example of the definition of family of martyr. We place high value on celebrating martyr’s week programme in Nepal, where we invite families of martyrs to give speeches and to give them gifts. There was a debate, whether once martyr’s family remarried (with the knowledge of the Party) if she/he had the right to represent as martyr’s family on martyr’s week programme. Those with conservative outlook had a tough time to accept them as martyr’s family.
Similarly, there is tendency of taking women’s leadership formally and to look at this as something imposed by the Party. In such cases, higher authority (specially males) will not take pain to help women to exercise their leadership in the organisation that they are leading. As a result, a woman has to struggle doubly to establish her leadership in her particular field—firstly, to gain recognition; secondly, to exercise her leadership. But those who take women’s participation strategically, they have been found to be very empathic, and willing to wait for the development of leadership qualities in women.
PM: What about the inner struggle that you are mentioning? Are you telling about the struggle with the self?
Parvati: No, everybody has to undergo self-struggle as a routine, be it in revolutionary life or evolutionary life. Let me be specific about inner struggle, though I have mentioned it above. One thing we must understand is that the main tendency in most of the parties, which are undertaking PW in this difficult unipolar world, is generally the rightist tendency. Having said that, rightists cannot come in a bold way (as they can be easily exposed), so they take the form of dogmato-revisionsist tendency. Let’s take the question of reproduction in revolutionary life. The rightists will say I want to take a break from revolutionary life because I want to bear children. Such blatant statement would draw the attention of the cadres as being rightists and finding excuses for running away from the movement. So how does one hide this? By being dogmato- revisionist. Romanticising the bearing of children as yet another front, where women can prove their mettle in class struggle, is another dogmato-revisonist tendency. But in practice, all this revolutionary romanticism loses its heat when practical problems of bearing and bringing up children start hindering the combat life of the cadres amidst fierce class struggle. This eventually causes only the women to take back seat in the revolutionary movement. The revolutionary line in this aspect should be to discourage reproductive activities as yet another front where sacrifice is needed as much as one would sacrifice one’s life for the sake of the people’s movement. Yet, one cannot impose such sensitive emotional issues on couples. Only political consciousness and the development of PW can generate such self-voluntarism in this field. Hence, this issue should be dialectically handled; preventing, or delaying or bearing children, depending upon the level of political understanding of the couples (specially, woman cadre), their position in the organisation, the safety of the place where they are operating, etc.
PM: In this society, patriarchal ideology so deeply penetrates that it operates also within women. So, because of this patriarchal ideology, starting from lack of initiative, lack of self-confidence, some petty feelings, etc. used to crop up. Though, I think, it is not correct to generalise, yet women easily accept male leadership, but at the same time, they have problems in accepting their female colleague’s leadership.
Parvati: Yes, it does have an effect on women in terms of underestimating themselves and over-estimating men.
PM: Those things I consider as inner struggle. I mean fighting patriarchal ideology within us.
Parvati: Yes, women are often themselves victim of patriarchal ideology and that is deeply ingrained within them. I have seen women who get scared when one talks about women’s oppression and label one as being a feminist. They often try to suppress the fight against women’s oppression in the name of fighting against class oppression. It is another form of dogmato-revisionism, whereby one emphasises on class, physical work and being red at the cost of gender oppression, mental work and being expert without looking at the dialectical relationships between them.
PM: Taking the class exploitation side is a heroic thing, but taking women’s exploitation is, you know, compared to that an inferior thing.
Parvati: I think one need not feel defensive when talking of women’s oppression. This is because we are waging PW, and that takes care of the class struggle. In fact, in such a situation if we do not address women’s oppression in the name of addressing class question then we may become left sectarian and isolated from rest of women’s movement.
PM: This point is very important. In the same class we are discussing, we are not going out of that class. If one is being branded as feminist that is wrong.
Parvati: Yes, it is wrong to brand revolutionary women as feminist, if one raises issues related to patriarchal oppression within the PW movement. Such labeling may stand valid, if one is raising the banner of patriarchal oppression without primarily addressing the class oppression.
PM: This also obstructs women’s development.
Parvati: Gender insensitivity becomes a hindrance when there is unhealthy inner-party struggle. In such a situation, it can have a very negative impact on women. Women begin to be used against each other, not based on ideology, but based on petty personal differences. Instead of discouraging low cultural values, that are generally prevalent amongst women, they are used to polarise the cadres and masses. Husbands will try to coerce their wives to align with their side, and wives may be lured with power to influence their husbands to switch sides. Marriage itself may become tool to perpetuate unhealthy inner-party struggles, whereby women are lured to marry comrades based on not ideological unity, but based on increasing the strength or attaining power.
PM: Just to co-opt, forcefully co-opt.
PM: What is the reaction of the state? Targeting movement physically, militarily to dissuade women from joining the protracted people’s war.
Parvati: It has become very difficult for the old state to check the movement politically, so they are resorting to brutal means. They are arresting women, raping them, killing them. The Royal Nepal Army [RNA] cannot tolerate to see young women fighting and rebelling. In fact, they feel loss of their masculinity when they see women taking arms, because they have this deep notion that arms are for men to handle and it is the men who are supposed to protect the women. So, in the beginning, they were raping women to prove impotency of male Maoist fighters. But in the field, when they found that women indeed fought bravely, they started taking them seriously; as a result, they are being killed (and additionally raped) in combat at the same rate as male fighters.
RNA is highly sexist in its outlook. This can be reflected in the way it uses rape as a means to expose Maoist movement by forcing surrendered women-Maoist to say that they have been raped and used as sexual instruments by the Maoist men. Such condition was never imposed on male-Maoists when they surrendered. So, this way they are using rape as an instrument to scare away women from Maoist movement.
PM: How are you taking the question of NGOs? NGOs have a very big influence on the society. How you are tackling the question of NGOs in Nepal?
Parvati: Earlier we had problem with NGOs, but now we don’t have much problem with them. With militarised masses and the instant judgments given by people’s courts, masses are no longer influenced by the evolutionary, reform methodology used by the NGOs. On top of it, the brutal repression unleashed by the old state machinery leaves them no space for their method of functioning. Their class alliance approach to any problem becomes immediately exposed before Maoists, who use class approach to solve problem on the spot.
PM: What about the problems in the social sphere like liquor or trafficking of women into India and all those things? How you are tackling them?
Parvati: In our country we have a particular community called the Badi community. They are basically dalits, and within dalits too they are the most oppressed community. They were traditionally entertainers for the feudal lords. Now with feudalism eroding, they have switched into prostitution. Many of them are now joining the PW. Similarly, there is Tamang community in Kavre district near Kathmandu valley, which has been historically providing prostitution for the Ranas in the older days and are now providing for the Indian market at present. But the spread of PW and creation of Tamang Mukti Morelia [Tamang Liberation Front] has created awareness among them about the ill effects of their profession. Now the same community is providing good fighters for the PW. From these examples, I am intending to explain that those who are in this profession know very well what is good for them and what is bad for them, yet they are forced to take this profession out of compulsion. The PW has given them the powerful alternative to live for the humanity. Rather than killing themselves every night, they have now the opportunity to show that they too can be socially useful, responsible and live a dignified life and have dignified death. Earlier, before the initiation of PW, we used to solve this problem in a piecemeal manner, but it was not so effective. Today we are also able to identify and punish the traffickers much faster than the old state. Regarding tackling liquor problem, once we had organised movements against liquor consumption at the national level, which forced the then government to meet some of our demands. Since then such activities have been taking place at the local level. We have not banned liquor, but have adopted controlling measures, such as punishing those who sell liquor, punishing those who drink in public place, or punishing those who disrupt peace in their drunken state.
PM: To solve the problems and gender based discrimination, what are the organisational efforts, like you have this Women’s Department in the Party. What is the organisational structure of the Women’s Department and how does it function?
Parvati: We have women’s work at two levels. At the mass level, we have women’s front known by All Nepalese Women’s Organisation (Revolutionary) which has its presence throughout the country at various levels. At the other end we have Women’s Department directly under the Central Committee of the Party and it is basically a policy making body to develop leadership qualities of women in all the three fronts: the Party, military and the united fronts. So this department is basically a think-tank, it does not have an organisational structure with hierarchical subdivisions that function like other fronts. However, Women’s Departments have been created in PLA and in students’ front, according to the necessity felt by the Party. One may say, if Women’s Department represents theory, then the women’s front represents practice. It acts as a bridge between the front and the Party. As mentioned earlier, the Women’s Department had issued a set of questionnaires relating to their strategic and practical problems, so that a policy paper can be made on the basis of this exercise. Similarly, it is preparing a study course for women and is bringing out collection of articles written by senior comrades on women. The Department has been engaged in giving classes to women working on all three fronts at various levels.
PM: What is the specific syllabus for women? Like for general cadre, general masses we are having general political, economical philosophy like that. What, I think, is for those who are working in women’s organisation they need to know about the origins of patriarchy, private property, land all those things. So, that will be a specific syllabus. Otherwise, what is the specific syllabus for general women, women working in all fronts?
Parvati: We have a schooling department, which is preparing syllabus for general course such as philosophy, scientific socialism and political economy. Besides this, separate syllabus is being prepared for women and oppressed nationality. Our efforts have always been to relate women’s issues with the political lines that are adopted. For example, take the case of developing democracy in the 21st century, which has been adopted by our Central Committee, we have to see how this question is linked with the question of status of women.
PM: Collecting material regarding women’s question?
Parvati: Yes, we have already translated the material provided to us by vour Party. And we have also translated material received from Peru. And we are still looking out for more materials to be translated.
PM: What is the role in cultural organisation, formally and informally. And how are you raising the consciousness at the cultural level?
Parvati: I told you, we have tried to demarcate certain villages as women’s model village where we are introducing new cultural values, such as raising children collectively, collecting fodder collectively. We are also creating new culture of celebrating martyrs week, initiation clay of PW, and birthday of Mao as socially and politically eventful days. We have broken barriers of cast, religion, and ethnicity in marriage, today Brahmin cadre is marrying dalit, and similarly people from the Himalayas are marrying people of Terai region. Today re-marriage is not a taboo. Similarly, the concept of impurity attached to menstruation has withered, instead, it is being looked upon sympathetically. With the functioning of local FM-radios, creativity of local cadres and masses are being aired in terms of propagating new songs, poems, or stories, new developments in agriculture or breeding etc.
PM: What do you feel about the present condition of the International Communist Movement [ICM] and the women’s liberation?
Parvati: I think the present condition of International Communist Movement (ICM) is good, especially those movements that are coming together on the basis of sound political ideology. And wherever the PW is flourishing, backed by matured ICM, women’s issues have been given due importance. I think, Nepal is one of the best examples. Similarly, experiences of women in countries which are waging PW are enriching the ICM. So, it has benefited both.