This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Suparna Banerjee. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

That Which Is Rarely Discussed: The Patriarchy Within The Naxalbari Movement

More from Suparna Banerjee

By Suparna Banerjee

The Naxalite uprising has been since its inception a war waged against the class enemies. Charu Majumder, the frontrunner of the Naxalbari movement declared his “annihilation of class enemies” perspective inspiring a generation of youths who responded to his call. Although there has never been a separate agenda of encouraging women to participate in the struggle, nevertheless, they did so in large numbers.

naxal women
Image source: WordPress

However, the issue of gender equality has always taken a back seat within the bigger idea of class struggle. The Naxal movement did not treat its female comrades at par with that of the males. They were tested at every stage and for every criterion being demanded of its participants. Herein began the struggle of the women cadre both within and outside the group. The state and its instruments used every kind of terror tactics to suppress the voice raised against the state supremacy. One key point needs mention here: The demand for equality between the sexes, though went unheeded among the revolutionaries, it was well received by the state machinery. They maintained the same standard of torture for both male and female while extracting information. It is at the backdrop of all these that I discuss the issue of gender in Naxalism, limiting to the initial years of uprising, mostly in the 60’s and with a special focus on Bengali middle-class girls who were the frontrunners in the movement.

Was there any specific reason for the women to join the movement? No. The reasons that led the men to get attracted to it also led the women. The issue of gender equality and its association with the movement can be discussed in two parts. the first part deals with the issue within the folds of the movement. The second part uses this issue to portray the suppression tactic unashamedly utilised by state machineries from time to time.

The Ideas Of Sexual Liberation, ‘Protection’ And ‘Honour’

It has been argued that Naxalism embraced the idea of sexual liberation as many men and women lived together without marriage. It was initially difficult for these Bengali middle-class girls to find safe shelter in the ‘underground’. Even if they got one, they were exposed to the danger of sexual harassment. They would feel safe only if they got into one of the socially accepted roles like that of marrying their male comrades. Though this kind of incident happened rarely, they were not totally absent. Ashim Chatterjee, a Naxalite leader, mentions that it was obligatory on the part the male to follow the Bhadralok ideal of sexuality, flouting which would be tantamount to forfeiting the commitment to revolution.” It was ironical though. On one side was the declaration of classlessness and on the other the inculcation of Bhadralok notions to protect the female compatriots. This sent a wrong message. The supreme duty of protecting women’s honour made the latter a burden on male counterparts.

Despite these several protections, there were instances of sexual harassment and humiliation within the party. Sumanta Banerjee penned an incident where the woman became a symbol of inflicting violence between the two warring factions of the movement when it got divided on the basis of ideology. A couple became a symbol of the separated factions. The woman was pregnant and was forced to abort her child because her husband belonged to the enemy faction. Being a true revolutionary, it was expected from her to overcome the idea of motherhood and abort the child of a ‘traitor.’ She had to give up her motherhood to justify her revolutionary potential.

Similarly, the Naxalite women whose male counterparts were killed by the police were sanctified in a higher moral position. They were expected to follow the dominant ideas regarding widowhood prevalent in the society, though it is the people of that same society whom they labelled as bourgeois. Thus, they should behave as widows of martyrs. As a result, they faced severe criticism if they tried to cross that line and chose a second partner. It was considered disrespectful to the sacred memory of the martyrs. The ideal role of a dutiful housewife was extended to the revolutionary virtues.

The ideas and subsequent practices of the society were well adopted by the male members of the movement to be imposed on their female counterparts. The middle or high-class Bengali women had to surpass a barrier of perception towards them. They were wrongly thought of as incapable of overcoming the class and its nuances to which they belong. They were tested several times to prove their worth for the ideals that they stood for. One of them narrates a story that goes like this: “They used to test us also. One day I had nothing to eat. For the whole day I starved. They were testing me whether I could bear the hunger and suffer as they did.” Once again the very group that boasts of classlessness could not leave aside its gender framework thereby casting doubt on the capability of its women compatriots. Where women had risen up to the rank of leader, followers revealed no difference between working under a male and a female leader. Trivialising women’s performance of revolutionary violence not guided by male activists was yet another way of demarcating women’s role in the movement as that of only sufferers or victims.

The Valiant Naxalite Masculinity And Suffering Femininity

The state decided to handle the situation from two different angles. On one side were the women directly involved with the movement and on the other were those women whose male partners were active members of the movement. The police, however, made no distinction between them when it came to extracting information. The accused women, proof or no proof, would be arrested, searched by male police, burned by cigarettes in their private parts, electrocuted and raped. Archana Guha narrated her tale in the police custody, “Then I was taken to the torture chamber, and they hung me head down in a crouching position. They had tied me up with ropes and put a rod through my bending knees. Then they started hitting on my feet. Runu Guhaniyogi kicked me with boots from time to time and signed my elbows, toes, nails with his cigarette.”

While the second group would face similar treatment, the reason for which they faced police ire was amazing. They were ill-treated before their male counterparts to force the latter to come up with the suitable answers of the interrogation. Let me narrate an episode. It took place in the year of 1971 in Birbhum district. Ashok Senapati, a well-known, Naxalite leader of the district was caught along with his partner, Runu. Though there are variations in the narrations of what exactly happened. One thing is clear that while Ashok was killed, Runu was tortured and sexually abused in front of him. The mental and physical torture of the male became subservient to his revolutionary virtue when the police failed in its desired objective. Violence through the inscription of suffering, torture and death, is a concrete manifestation of marking the body with power relationships.” Physical torture and sexual assault became a weapon of suppression by the very institutions who were the protectors. However, there is nothing new about it. What is new about the movement is the perception of martyrdom of male and female comrades. While it is an instance of ‘sacrifice’ by the male, it is an example of ‘sexual assault’ for the female. The image construction is that of “the chivalrous and valiant Naxalite masculinity; and the suffering femininity.” Thus, women had to prove their loyalty to the group and their capacity to protect information by retaining symbols of physical violence which acted as sources of legitimation. But the same act never received any recognition of appreciation beyond the label of ‘sexual assault.’

Many highly qualified middle-class girls participated in the movement what they considered could bring the desired political change. Their body became the site of torture, physical and mental assault that bore permanent marks deterring them and future generation from the movement. The bodies were turned into agency aptly used by the state to act as deterrents. Thus, there are two ways in which the bodies of the female comrades attained significance. On one side, they acted as a source of legitimation to display the desired revolutionary personality demanded of the movement and on the other the same body bore the brunt of inhuman state atrocities to deter anti-state voices.

A number of points need mention here. Firstly, the violence on the women participants of the movement, both within and without, has been multi-layered. Secondly, “Women’s experiences of violence during the Naxalbari movement emphasised the point that gendered markings of violence fused torture, martyrdom, suffering and duty on their bodies.” Finally, very simple and common ideas like motherhood were extended to the broader ideas of revolutionary spirit and potential.

The gendered aspect of the Naxalbari movement has remained obscured from the mainstream academic discourse. It was systematically ignored by both, those who were part of the struggle and those outside it. The reasons are not too far to seek. The movement being anti-state in character received widespread negative publicity. In their bid to destroy class enemies they have neglected the gender perspective and encouraged multi-layered inequality in the very system that promises classlessness and equality. Thus, it is a war that women need to wage both within and without to change their position from this ‘sub-human’ condition.

You must be to comment.
  1. G.L.

    Patriarchy is a scapegoat, a word thrown around by feminists to ask for equality only when it suits them. No wonder women don’t ask for equality when they have seats reserved for women on buses. They don’t want equality when they gobble up a man’s life savings in alimony, ruin him with theft in the name of child support, and greedily rob half of his property in divorce cases. Women don’t want equality when they receive lighter sentences for the same crimes committed by men, when they get child custody in 95%of cases, when family courts are so biased they are called women’s courts. Women don’t want equality when they walk free after accusing innocent men in fabricated cases of DV, rape and dowry.

  2. G.L.

    When The Titanic was sinking, why was it announced ‘women’ and children first? Why didn’t women refuse to get off the sinking ship and ask for equality? The men knew they were going to die and could have chosen to save their lives, but didn’t. Shows how large hearted men are and how selfish women are. Equality is only a matter of concern when it benefits women.

  3. Jigsaw

    Civilisation has been built on the bodies of dead men. Men’s mutilated bodies returned in coffins, men’s blood sprayed on battlefields, men’s scattered limbs, men in torture chambers, men held as prisoners of war, men freedom fighters etc. It is men who have suffered throughout history and continue to do so, to protect women. However, women are ungrateful and cunning, and want everyone to believe that they are the victims.

    1. Blimp

      Get lost loser. Who the hell sent men there in the first place? And they sure as hell didn’t do it to protect women.

    2. Avinesh Saini

      A world with no wars and conflicts was never a possibility even if human beings were hermaphrodites who could asexually reproduce.

  4. Avinesh Saini

    So, what is the need of the hour? A separate feminist Naxalite movement which disregards the great patriarch Charu Majumdar cause he never stood for gender equality?

More from Suparna Banerjee

Similar Posts

By Priyasmita Dutta

By Kritika Nautiyal

By India Development Review (IDR)

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below