In her introduction to Garrisoned Minds: Women and Militarisation in South Asia, its editor Laxmi Murthy writes: “As in many parts of the world, when underlying causes of conflict have not been addressed, there is no ‘post’ war harmony. Simmering discontent and bitterness in an uneasy ‘peace’ is most-often sought to be suppressed by aggressive troop deployment and repressive colonial laws … This everyday nature of occupation defines the rhythm of life in these margins.”
In the book, twelve journalists explore the impact of such militarisation on the lives of women in four conflict-affected zones in South Asia: Pakistan’s frontier provinces, which share a border with Afghanistan; Nepal during and after its decade-long civil war; Northeast India under the shadow of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act; and the Kashmir valley amidst the overwhelming presence of the Indian army.
The following excerpt, ‘Incomplete Revolution,’ is by the journalist Darshan Karki. It is set during the Maoist Rebellion, an armed conflict between the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the Nepalese monarchy that ruled at the time. The conflict was launched in February 1996, and ended in November 2006, when a peace accord was signed between the government and the communist rebels. Karki explores the issues that plague the Madhesis, who inhabit the Terai—the country’s southern plains—and who are marginalised by the ruling elite and kept out of mainstream politics. Karki writes about the lives of the women in the region, which are relatively untouched by the upheavals of the Maoist insurgency.
During the war, the women’s wing of the Maoist party was actively engaged in ensuring that villages were free from domestic violence, the exploitation of women, child marriage, forced marriage and polygamy. As the Bara district chairperson of ANWA-R, Jwala Sah also led the movement against gender-based violence. As part of the campaign, Maoists would demolish shops that sold alcohol and destroy the liquor. If a man who was alcoholic was found to be beating his wife, the Maoists, according to Jwala, would tie his hands and legs together and dip his head in water until he agreed to quit drinking. If this method did not work, the Maoists would make his wife beat him with a stick. If the man still did not change his ways, he would be tied to a pole and starved for a couple of days. Jwala claims that such measures controlled domestic violence to a large extent.
The Maoists also implemented programmes against dowry. For example, if a girl’s parents were found to be tormented for dowry, the Maoists would marry the couple onstage and make the parents deposit any money they planned to spend on the wedding in the couple’s joint bank account. Further, while expanding the Maoist organisation in Makwanpur, Jwala observed that women in this hilly district would sit, eat and talk frankly in the company of men. In the Tarai districts of Bara and Rautahat, however, the practice of seclusion and veiling or ghumtopratha was widely prevalent. Women in Rautahat, in particular, would not even come out of their houses. This made it relatively difficult to expand the party’s base among women. Initially, the Maoists sought to attract and inform people through the usual routine of singing revolutionary songs and performing skits in local dialects. The most effective strategy, however, turned out to be helping the women with their household work. The Maoists would cut grass, till the land, milk buffaloes and also help the women in the kitchen. In this way, they were gradually able to win the trust of the women of the area.