Posts by PratibhaSingh:

    Naxal Women: Challenges that lie ahead

    June 20th, 2014

    By Pratibha Singh.

    War has never been a male domain since women also get drawn into it as combatants, survivors and peace makers. India’s Maoist war which seeks to overthrow the state to establish socialist-communist society is no exception with women being impacted on both sides of the spectrum: as perpetrators and survivors. While many of the Naxal leaders have claimed that their support base has been in its waning phase, they have also deployed a different strategy which focuses on increasing the participation of women in the Naxal cadres. Current reports suggest that sixty per cent of lower Naxal cadres now comprise of women with their numbers steadily increasing. This has raised concerns amongst government quarters which see it as a method to elicit social acceptability in the tribal areas.

    Mapping the movement shows that women have supported it at various levels since its inception in Naxalbari, a small village in West Bengal. In the 60s and 70s women joined the struggle as they were influenced by their male counter parts and were determined to bring about a social change. The class struggle subverted the need for equal participation and rights since most of the women were employed to do courier tasks provide logistical support to robberies, stealing arms and were not entrusted with organisational work. Several women found themselves retreating to their traditional feminine roles and observed that the movement was replete with nuanced gender blind episodes. As it progressed some women found a constricted space to express concerns over their rights since it was subverted by the larger albeit “more important” issue of class equality. In the October 2004 cease fire agreement between the Government of Andhra Pradesh and the Naxalite leaders, none of the women were represented.

    At present, the movement’s support base largely comprises tribals who, driven by their poverty stricken conditions, see no other alternative but to join the Maoists in their war against the State, mining corporations and the upper caste. Shubhranshu Choudhary in his book “Let’s call Him Vasu”, based on the Maoist war in Chattisgarh, has extensively highlighted the various reasons that drive women to join the war. Many pick up the gun to avenge the sexual exploitation they faced at the hands of security forces. Many find Naxalism as a route to free themselves from the clutches of patriarchy and domination from the upper caste. Rebecca, a Naxalite, says “state repression” drove her to take up arms and join the rebels too.” We don’t live this hard life for nothing. I had no choice but to join the revolution. Now there is no looking back,” she says defiantly

    Women’s bodies often become sights of war. The warring sides inflict violence upon women to avenge the treatment meted out to them. It is no different for women caught in the conflict between the State and Maoists. A Naxalite woman could be raped by State forces or suffer torture at the hands of Naxalites if they quit. Rape and sexual abuse is rampant within the Maoist cadres, Shobha Mandi also known as Uma in her latest book,”Ek Maowadi ki diary”, highlights that she was repeatedly raped and assaulted by her fellow commanders”.

    “We had women from 16 to 40 years of age in our group. Almost all those I knew had experienced some form of sexual abuse or exploitation when they had stepped outside their homes to work or at the hands of security forces,” says Rampati Ganjhu, a former rebel commander from the eastern state of Bihar. “These women joined us to seek revenge but things are very different now.” More and more of them are disillusioned and some women in particular are being abused by the male leaders.”

    The tough forest life as a Maoist guerilla saps strength out of many drop outs who suffer from kidney problem, ulcers, joint pain and reproductive tract infections.  This further adds to their hardships when they want to start life afresh.  The societal fabric that exists in the region rarely offers a way for women to be independent and empowered in the cultural and the financial domain. Many women have also brought to fore the mismanagement that prevails in granting rehabilitation packages for those who have quit the movement

    There is also a rapid increase in female headed household since most of the men either lose their lives in the conflict between the State or Naxalite movement or join the Naxalite movement. Women find it tough to cope up in the absence of socio-cultural, governmental and financial support. Kalavati, a Sarpanch leader, from a Gond tribe speaks of her difficulties in implementing construction of roads in her village. The Maoists hinder the project claiming that it would make them more vulnerable to the Indian security forces. This also impacts other developmental and humanitarian initiatives like health sanitation and education due to lack of connectivity. She has devised other alternatives to help alleviate the condition of women in her village like providing them with earning opportunities by cooking and delivering food with the help of government funds. However, largely women have to struggle in the absence of support mechanisms

    Partly to blame is media which contributes towards glorifying the image of women Maoists and this pattern has been observed not only in the case of women Maoists in India but worldwide. Media tends to be transfixed on the image of the woman guerilla and rarely encapsulates the desperate conditions which prevail in the rural hinterlands and in turn propel these women to join the movement. In fact there is only recent emergence of interest in studying the impact of Maoist war on Women in the rural hinterlands of India.

    In order to check upon the ever increasing number of women Maoists, it is imperative that the Government implements policies and introduces adequate safety measures for the women. A woman goes on to impact her entire community therefore it’ s extremely crucial that positive measures are taken to alleviate them from their poverty stricken conditions and at the same time weaken the Maoist support base.

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    Curbing Left Wing Extremism through Mobile Phones

    January 1st, 2014


    By Pratibha Singh.

    A man is interviewed via mobile phone for a report on CGNet Swara.

    In the year 2009, the Prime Minister had very rightly labelled “left wing extremism as the biggest threat to the internal security of India. Since then, the Central Government has tried to address the “Maoist problem” at various levels that include, security , development, administration and public perception.[1]  Though the response strategy has been sound, its implementation leaves much to be desired. In fact a report of an expert group to the Planning Commission of India on Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas[2] specifically highlights that the unrest is growing in states like Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh , Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and part of Maharashtrabecause they are minimally administered. It asserts that “there is a kind of vacuum of administration in these areas which is being exploited by the armed movement giving some illusory protection and justice to the local population”.

    While much has been said about taking “firm action”[3]  after the  Maoist guerrillas ambushed the Congress Party convoy earlier this year,Shubhranshu Choudhary, founder of CGNET Swara has a different way of dealing with what is called the “Maoist problem”. He believes it emanates from a breach in communication between mainstream media and its hundred million strong tribal population. In the world’s biggest democracy, mainstream media is yet to be democratised. After having spent seven years with the Maoists while working on his book, “Let’s call Him Vasu”, he found that a vast number of tribals are turning to the Maoists because there is no one else to communicate with them. A tribal journalist is a rare occurrence, which also explains how language acts as a barrier when news from this part of India rarely makes it into the mainstream media. CGNet Swara, a voice portal system, has given voice to the Adivasis, who come from largely oral communities. “Most of these languages do not have a written script and knowledge is passed on through very strong oral traditions”. Consequently, neither print nor visual media are of much significance for the Adivasis.

    CGNET Swara- How it Works?

    The report on Perception Management in the Indian Army cites thatmany villages remain unconnected by road and do not have electricity. Mobility and manoeuvre are limited to foot in most areas. Where road communications exist, these have to be cleared for Improvised Explosive Devices and roadside bombs. Special boats and water crossing equipment is required to negotiate water bodies. In these conditions, the medium for propagating a viable perception plan would have to be well thought out”.

    Against this backdrop, CGNET Swara, a citizen journalism project enables any illiterate person to record and listen to stories by calling on a designated number from a mobile phone. According to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the total number of telephone connections in India exceeded 91 crore in 2011. Shubhranshu Choudhary along with Bill Thies, who provided the current technology for CGNET Swara, used the ubiquitous nature of mobile phones for setting up this project in the war torn belt of India.

    When a person calls on +91 8050068000, the message goes to a server in Bangalore. The caller then disconnects and waits. Within a few seconds, the caller receives another call which directs him to speak after the beep. Ease and economy are the assets of the system, which enables people from socially backward sections of the society to record their messages at no cost.

    CGNET Swara receives around 400 calls everyday to listen to the reports(number of messages are less than 40). A team of dedicated moderators and volunteers (who come from both rural and urban landscapes) transcribe and verify these messages before publishing them on the CGNET website and other forms of social media. These stories are then picked up by the mainstream media outlets or government officials for action.

    Chhattisgarh Chief Secretary , Sunil Kumar while emphasising the non official nature of the way he uses it has recently said, “I personally find it an effective source of feedback and grievance redressal from the grassroots. I do make use of it off and on”.


    CGNET Swara can become “Google” for India’s poor. It has amplified the voice of those caught in conflict between the State and the Maoist Guerrillas. Largely callers through CGNET Swara highlight governance related issues (or the lack of it). This covers a plethora of issues like absence of teachers from schools, lack of roads and transport facilities in villages, poor condition in hospitals, complaints against private companies, non-payment of wages through rural employment schemes and corruption in the implementation of Forest Rights Act. CGNET also covers large public rallies and gatherings that are organised to raise awareness about individual’s rights and mal-administration in these areas. This platform had also covered the atrocities perpetrated by Salwa Judum, an armed anti Maoist militia.

    There are ample success stories that echo of empowerment amongst the tribals, but one of the most touching stories is that of Pitbasu Bhoi from Ambikapur. On 8th January 2011, a citizen journalist posted an interview with Bhoi who was not paid his wages even after working 100 days for MGNREGA. A week later another citizen journalist ran into Bhoi and discovered that his son died due to non payment of wages.After two leading national dailies , Times of India and the Hindupicked up the story from Swara and followed up , Bhoi was paid his wages on 20 January 2011. He is now a regular contributor to Swara,despite not owning a cellphone himself, (He calls from someone else’s phones)[4]

    Towards building a sustainable model

    Local media needs to be strengthened in a dispersed geography marked by diverse culture and languages such as that of Central India. The CGNET Team at times in conjunction with other development agencies trains citizen journalists caught between the conflict between the State and the Maoist Guerillas. This enables people from diverse language groups to tell their stories. Swara has been training “youngAdivasis to record and convey their concerns over mobile phones”.

    As strange as it may sound, but the government owned All India Radio does not broadcast any news bulletins in a tribal language. The Indian regulations also do not allow community owned radio stations. Swara is now deliberating on launching a radio system at 26.9 to 27.2 MHz which the law allows people to use without licences. Efforts are being made to bring it down to the cost that is affordable for the communities. Besides this, the Swara team is also trying to “scale up its model to include many more dialects and introduce newer services like a special channel on Indian law and one on local medicine”. The latter is already in its experimental phase.

    Role of Women in CGNET Swara

    While Shubhranshu Choudhary is of the view that they never actively promoted CGNET amongst women yet by now there are nearly as many women reporters as men. Women have covered a range of issues which are rarely covered by the mainstream media. Some women who are addressed as “investigative pro” have reported issues like witch hunting and exploitation of children in the tendu leaf industry. These reports have compelled agencies like National Human Rights Commission and National Commission on Child Rights to step forward and amend matters.


    Swara citizen journalists assert that they are not a part of the maoist conflict and say that it exists because of the communication gap in the these areas.Green shoots of self-empowerment and an organised voice in the tribal community of India have perhaps threatened the existence of the Maoist leaders who had garnered their support by exploiting the lacuna in the administrative system.

    The role of media in conflict affected areas is complex yet important in terms of how it serves development goals. As Mr. Choudhary has very rightly said, “Everyone knows that when you are dealing with your own people then roses are more useful than guns. If any one can help create a better communication system, which solves problems, then eventually there will be less need for guns. When small problems get accumulated, they are called big problems”.

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    India’s Child Soldiers: Reality Check

    November 24th, 2013


    By Pratibha Singh.

    I joined the military dalam when I was 13 or 14 years old. I was studying in an ashram school (government run residential school) in eighth standard, when Naxalites came to my hostel. I did not want to go. They said I could study until the 10th standard, but I should go with them. We got training, learnt about landmines and a little karate. (Finally) I had an opportunity to run away… One year after I ran away, both my younger brothers (age 8 and 12) were killed (by the Naxalites in retaliation). They beat my mother and broke her arm. They burned our house and took all our things. (Former Child Dalam member, December 2007)[1]

    The police asked me also to become an SPO( special police officer) but I refused because I did not want to become an SPO and commit heinous crimes. I did not want to shoot and kill people. They do not ask anyone how old they are. Even 14 year olds can become SPOs if the police want them to become SPOs. (Poosam Kanya(pseudonym), former resident of Errabore Camp, December 2007)[2]

    The above two statements exemplify the horror of exposing children to conflict. They find themselves sandwiched between the violence perpetrated by armed opposition groups and the State armed forces. The Government of India is a signatory to the optional protocol on the Involvement of children in armed conflict[3], which was further ratified on 30th November, 2005.

    According to Asian Centre for Human Rights, there are 3000 child soldiers (including State forces and armed opposition groups) in India (as of March 2013), 500 in the State of Jammu and Kashmir and Northeast India; 2500 in the left wing extremism affected areas. These figures form only the tip of the iceberg. The periodic report submitted by the Government of India (prepared by Ministry of Women and Child Development) in 2011 on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict to the Convention on the Rights of Child has not only denied the existence of child soldiers in India but also misrepresented facts regarding sub conventional conflict taking place in various parts of the country. The report states “Even though India does not face armed conflict, there are legislative provisions that prevent involvement of children in armed conflict and provide care and protection to children affected by armed conflict”[4]UN Committee on the Child of rights is scheduled to consider it during its 66th pre-sessional working group to be held in Geneva from 7-11 October, 2013.

    This denial has not only distorted facts but also justified or rather absolved rampant recruitment of child soldiers in the armed opposition groups who are increasingly becoming an internal security threat. While terrorist organisations in India have an unprecedented number of child soldiers in their ranks, there are reports of the state police forces too, having recruited people below the age of 18 years. As per unconfirmed reports, the Chhattisgarh police has recruited approximately 300 “Bal Rakshaks” seven of whom are posted with 4th battalion (engaged in counter insurgency) of Chhattisgarh Police at Mana in Raipur. These reports still need to be verified.

    Considering there is a large number of children in the armed conflict of left wing extremism, which has caused an irreparable damage to their lives, it becomes imperative to analyse what drives so many children to pick up arms. Recently, Muppalla Laxmana Rao aka Ganapathi in a 7000  words letter to party members has admitted having crisis within the party due to lack of leaders not only at the top but also in party ranks. Lack of volunteers for the cause is perhaps driving the Maoist leadership to recruit child soldiers. This is clearly visible in the exceptional number of women and children in the naxal cadres. Around 40 to 60 percent of naxal cadres now comprise of women.

    Maoists also have a policy of forcibly recruiting at least one child from every family. With heightened security in the region, they use children for covert operations, which involve planting and ferrying lethal weapons and explosives. Mass exodus of leaders from Maoist cadres has led to large-scale recruitment of children who are easy to terrorise and manipulate. A top commander of a banned terrorist outfit (on condition of anonymity) revealed to Tehelka Magazine that, “Minors are an easier lot to train. Initially the boys cry but they also fall in line quickly, because they are fresh and smart. By the time they are fully trained, they can serve the party for a long time. We even recruit girls; they are not given arms training. Some freelancers and collaborators recruit minors for us on commission basis”.

    In September 2013, few gun toting rebels abducted eight children and two adults to groom them to make bombs. “They forcibly dragged our children into the nearby jungles and disappeared even as we pleaded for mercy”, says Bilokhan Lohra. His 10 year old son, Pardeshi Lohra was amongst those who were abducted. A week ago, his mutilated body was found dumped near his house, his stomach ruptured and hands torn. The post mortem report has revealed that he lost his life during an explosion. No child of a tribal family deserves that fate. As per the report by Hindustan Times on September 20, 2013, Jharkhand Police has prepared a list of Maoist leaders whose lives are soaked in corruption. The Maoist leaders are busy carving out bright prospects for their own children while putting the lives of other’s children at risk. Some details are:

    • The son of CPI Maoist Central Committee member Pramod Mishra arrested from Dhanbad colliery town of Jharkhand some years ago, is a qualified engineer.
    • Ugeshwarji, sub zonal commander of the CPI (Maoist) leads the operation in the border areas of Bihar and Jharkhand has four daughters, three of whom study in a private English school in Latehar.
    • Maoist Commander Shivlal Yadav’s sons study in a good private school in Daltonganj.
    • Gopal Ganjhu the sub zonal commander sends his two kids to a popular school.

    In left wing extremism affected areas, schools are being targeted to propagate the Maoist ideology. Lessons imparted to young, impressionable minds are distinctly anti-establishment and give a message that a revolution is necessary to overthrow the Government. Government run schools have shut down due to high violence levels forcing the locals to send their children to naxal run schools. This way, many children voluntarily fall into their trap and launch attacks against the State forces.

    Due to lack of state intervention in the developmental paradigm of the region, glorification of war by the naxals and the irreparable psychological damage caused by a long drawn conflict, children are increasingly drifting towards the Maoist ideology. As per Mr. Shubhranshu Choudhary, founder of CGNET Swara and author of “Let’s call him Vasu”, “300 boys of the naxal cadres went to Nayagarh from Chhattisgarh. They walked undetected for 3 months with two guns each on their shoulders. If this is possible in India, then we are headed for a very dangerous situation”.

    India’s denial of the existence of child soldiers in its armed conflict deprives many families of mere hope to receive justice for having sacrificed the lives of their children. At a time when International Court of Justice has given verdicts against terror outfits in Africa for using child soldiers, which has also contributed towards maligning their image, India has perhaps missed the opportunity. Few recommendations that emerge out of the article are as follows:

    • Awareness has to be generated regarding the issue of child soldiers inIndia through media and academic circles.
    • Integrated Child Protection Scheme launched by the MWCD in 2009 already provides care and protection to children affected by or involved in conflict. A comprehensive rehabilitation scheme should be designed especially child soldiers to control their ever-increasing number.
    • Strict action should be taken against individuals or groups who are responsible for recruiting child soldiers.
    • Integration of children into mainstream society through intervention in the field of education and health in conflict zones would be vital.

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    Afghanistan: Roar of the Lionesses

    November 10th, 2013

    By Pratibha Singh.


    War torn Afghanistan is also plagued by terrorism, drug trafficking and warlords who have left the social and political structure of the country in shambles. The proposed drawdown of US and ISAF troops in 2014 has generated great speculation on the likely repercussions on the Afghanistan government and security forces and the possible return of the Taliban and the ripple effect that this could have on other countries. Women in Afghanistan have been the worst sufferers of violence and are generally perceived as the ‘victims’. However, despite the myriad problems faced by them and the innumerable hurdles placed in their path by a conservative society, many women have emerged to rekindle the flame of freedom and fight for a respectable place for women and fellow citizens in Afghanistan.

    Shukria Barakzai is one of them. She has emerged as one of the most powerful women in Afghanistan, also labelled as “the woman who the Taliban and NATO fear”. Currently serving as a Member of Parliament, she aspires to run for the presidential elections in 2014. Barakzai was one of the many Afghanis who chose to stay back and fight for the rights of their fellow citizens when the Taliban took over in the year 1996. She was whipped by pro-Taliban elements on the streets when a male escort was found missing. This kind of abject treatment meted out to her further toughened her desire to run an underground school to promote girl’s education, a very challenging step under the shadow of Taliban fear. One of the first magazines which championed for women’s rights in Afghanistan called Aine-e Azaan (Women’s mirror) was started by her and has gained popularity amongst women who are starting to become aware about  their rights, superstitions and  laws which  often work against women’s empowerment and in several ways dehumanise them.

    One of the biggest achievements in her political career was her election as the President of the Defence Committee which she describes as a “hundred per cent man’s job”. It also led to the resignation of Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardack who could not accept working under a woman. Barakzai also had the opportunity to be a part of a Committee which was designated to write a new constitution for the country where her task was to ensure that women’s perspective and rights are taken into account while framing laws and policies.She has been endorsed with many awards like the International Editor of the Year award by World Press Organisation in 2005 and has been ranked amongst the 100 most powerful women in the world.

    Similarly Malalai Joya, was expelled from the Parliament for her courage to speak up against widespread corruption amongst warlords, drug lords and various politicians. Ranked as the “bravest Woman in the world” by BBC she has openly criticised the US for the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan citing that they had come to her country to “help themselves”. She claims that no country can aspire to be independent with US base on its grounds.  “Raising My voice” was her autobiographical attempt which was later published in US/Canada in the name of “A woman among warlords’. She lives in hiding after encountering several brutal attacks at the hands of Taliban.

    Women who challenge the ingrained stereotypes which indirectly promote misogyny and narrow down possibilities for them to voice their concerns against such cultural practices are rendered “unacceptable” and often severely punished or even executed. Aisha, who gained prominence after she posed for a controversial picture in Times Magazine, was brutally attacked because she tried to flee from her abusive in-laws. Her nose and ears were cut off by her relatives.

    The worsening situation in Afghanistan catalysed the process of migration to neighbouring countries. Susan Firooz, a 23 year old rapper and an Afghan refugee in Iran, highlights the plight of her citizens under the regime of warlords. She cites, “if you walk in Iran you will face engineers and doctors, but in Afghanistan you will face drug addicts, kidnappers and terrorists, it’s all a gift from our neighbouring countries.”

    Women have started to reclaim social and political spaces they were deprived off in the Taliban regime; they are more aware about their rights, educational and health facilities. However it becomes mandatory to also bring the laws in their favour because women who challenge age old traditions are still seen as a threat. Fawzia Koofi, a Member of Parliament who also wishes to run for Presidential elections in 2014 is fighting for a law that criminalises violence against women. She has been accused of promoting “western values”.

    Afghanistan’s strive towards a long lasting peace and democracy should not be undermined. Towards this end, it is essential that women are involved in the decision making process and peace negotiating tables so that a decade’s achievement of democracy, human and women’s rights does not fizzle out. There is a lack of clarity on the roles and responsibilities of High Peace Council (HPC) and Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme. Nomination of Maulvi Qalamuddin, one of the most notorious hardliners in the Taliban regime whose policies incited violence against women if they behaved in an “inappropriate fashion”, into HPC has raised concerns. He claims that Taliban has transformed and has grown more accepting towards technology and women in public spaces provided they “behave themselves”. It is indefinite whether this statement signifies actual transformation or just opportunism.

    Dr. Sima Samar, former Vice President of Afghanistan and Minister of Women’s Affairs mentioned, “People have already experienced Taliban and know their mentality. Especially the young people and the women are able to exercise their rights now.  We had one TV channel when the Taliban took over, now we have 30-40 TV channels, over 400 radio stations, and there are a lot of changes. Taliban supporters are politically and financially weakened”.

    Many women in Afghanistan are charged with a fiery spirit to reform their society which has fractured under decades of violence. They have given men their chance to promote peace, but now perhaps it is time that they step in and ensure that they too be included in the nation building process. As Barakzai has very rightly said, “Democracy cannot be airdropped together with troops of marines. So the first step towards a truly dependent Afghanistan is to remind the people of their self-esteem and give them self-confidence. This is a major challenge. I’m ready for it”.

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