‘War’s unwomanly face’ is the title of a Russian translation. But the practice of women guerillas in the ongoing People’s War shows that war is very much in the nature of women. One kind of war is against the wishes of not only women but also the broad masses over the world. Another kind of war is the inevitable one that each and every member of the common masses is to wage, either with or without arms.
In fact women do war in their daily lives for obvious physiological, cultural, social and economic reasons. On the broader level they are making ‘war’ to counter ‘war’, hand in hand with the other oppressed sections of the masses. So war is not ‘unwomanly’. It is either anti women, or, for and by women. The feelings of women guerillas in war shatter the myth of its ‘unwomanly nature’.
Here are some accounts of women guerillas participating in war in Andhra Pradesh. When asked about their military experience, the women activists in the squads ranging from District Committee Members to Squad Members came out with their accounts in an emotional and self assured tone.
Most of the women comrades in extreme war areas meet with an encounter with Greyhounds, SSF or the district police, within a maximum period of six months of their recruitment. Their primary experience is quite valuable for them, because it enables them to shed doubts and makes them confident.
Let us start with the experience of a woman comrade of the DCM rank.
I was in kitchen duty in a camp when the enemy encircled us from three sides. Initially I thought it was an accidental fire. I saw someone in civil dress coming out of the bushes near the kitchen. Mistaking them to be the villagers, I began calling to them. It was the enemy and they started firing on me. The bullets were buzzing all around me. I would have died if they hit me. The firing was rapid. I was shocked and stood still. It did not strike me that I have to fire. I took cover behind a tree only after the commander told me. I fired one bullet. Everyone retreated to a distance of fifty yards. I was struck in between the enemy and my comrades. Later I retreated in their cover firing.
Another comrade of DCM rank said, When I first saw the enemy I was not clear what to do. I only know that I have to fire when we see the enemy. I was on sentry duty and saw the enemy heading towards our den. The den was at a distance and I thought it was time to go to inform them. So I fired with the .410 musket. The police ran to the other side of the road and opened fire. Meanwhile my comrades started and advanced by cover-to-cover firing. All of us retreated.
A section commander in a Platoon says, Four months after I joined the squad, there was firing. The police came very near and opened rapid fire with an AK 47. I thought I am going to die. The squad was scattered. There was no command. The commander alone fired two bullets. The police chased him. The bullets were shattering the stones. I was holding an 8 mm single round weapon. I thought a while, took cover and fired one bullet. The butt and the barrel bent and got stuck. So I was sure I would fall into the hands of the police. As I was thinking what to do if I fall, I remembered what I read in ‘Jung’ (the military magazine of the then CPI (ML)[People’s War]). Accordingly, I thought I would remove the pin of my grenade and put it like a booby trap below my body. By that time the police firing stopped. They were loading their magazines. I took the chance and escaped by rushing.
The experiences of these two senior comrades tell us that ‘despite being women’, as the bourgeois myth goes, they showed excellent presence of mind with no previous experience to count upon. They not only rescued themselves but also retaliated and confused the enemy. In the course of their increasing political understanding and having more and more such experiences, they developed to leadership level. They themselves commanded such firing incidents in the process.
Normally women are considered to be ‘delicate’ and ‘fearing’ any untoward incident. Perhaps it is so as long as they are in a certain social framework. Once they are out of it, we see that they are full of courage, initiative and have an unrelenting will-power. Here are some more instances.
The comrade who told the present account was sleeping when the police opened fire. She was the commander of the defense batch. She immediately woke up and gave the caution, for ‘covers’, as she put on her shoes. The defense batch advanced five to six steps and the police again started rapid firing. The police occupied the covers of the sentry and the defense batch in parallel positions. So the defense batch took positions then and there itself and started firing. Thus the whole team retreated safely.
Three of our organizational squads were together on an occasion. I was the commander of the camp. The terrain was full of mountains. The police came and opened firing when I went to relieve myself. I immediately ran back and by that time everyone took cover and were firing. I too joined them. A police batch came in between the sentry and us. Another batch went up the hillock from another side. The clamor mine with the sentry did not work. So the sentry batch retreated by firing in the opposite direction. I took the command and conducted the firing. First we made the leadership batch retreat. Later our batch retreated. Everyone retreated fast. I was left with another comrade. As we were retreating another police batch attacked from one side. So we started firing towards both sides and started retreating on to a big hill.
This is yet another example of women commanding and protecting the whole batch.
With their extraordinary will-power and revolutionary zeal, women are breaking age-old convictions of the feudal society. In the following incident, it was later known that the police commented, ‘we thought women could be got hold of easily. But despite being women they countered us courageously’.
In this incident the squad commander and one more comrade were having a bath. As she was washing her clothes they heard a sound. The second comrade was just about to remove her clothes. The commander told her to see where the sound was coming from. She enquired and the police responded with fire.
I was in the stream below and my clothes were up on a branch. My kit, weapon and pouch were also on the top. I gave a caution to fire and was wondering how to take my belongings. First I managed to take my pouch and then took the weapon. I loaded it and started firing. This made the police go one step back. I saw that there is no chance to retreat since the stream was quite deep and slippery. I started to get down slowly and turned back to fire one more bullets. Meanwhile a bullet hit my hand and there was heavy bleeding. So I handed over my weapon to my comrades and retreated. The situation made me recollect the sacrifices of the heroic women guerillas. I understood the importance of sacrificing ones life for the sake of the people in the People’s War. Though initially the situation made me apprehensive, I gradually mustered courage.
The incident did not stop at this point. The police continued combings in various batches. The guerilla batch was going through a field after giving first aid to the commander’s wound.
We did not have proper covers and the police saw us. A village woman saw the police and cautioned us. Firing started. Though my hand was paining I fired two bullets. I could have fired more but my weapon got stuck. So I tried to retreat in a fast run and fell down. Later all of us got down into a stream and retreated.
Speaking about an encounter in which a senior comrade and three others were martyred, a section deputy commander of a Platoon gave the following account:
Firing suddenly started and was rapid. As the firing started the three of us in the first group became one batch and opened fire. I continued rapid firing until the magazine in my rifle was empty. The police did not move an inch from the down position as we were firing. The comrades in the second group either fell or died because of the rapid firing. We were at a distance. We decided that it is not possible to protect our comrades. Moreover my magazine was empty. So I had to retreat.
In yet another incident, the police saw the village youth who went to get water for the squad. They followed them and reached the den. Three policemen opened fire in a high kneeling position. One comrade near the sentry was injured.
Recollecting the experience, a comrade said, ‘I loaded my sten but it got stuck. In fact all the comrades were sleeping and only three of us had to start the firing. I later realized that I did not remove the safety pin of the weapon. I removed it and fired and thus retreated. A police constable died in this incident.
The patriarchal society sees women as mere tails of men. Here is an incident where a woman guerilla continued her fight in the people’s war after she saw her husband die. The commander ordered the comrade to fire the clamor mine when the police opened fire on the place where the squad was resting. She tried in vain. She informed the same to the commander. The commander asked her to try again. She tried once again in vain. So she was asked to come back. As she was returning she saw her husband lying in a pool of blood. She was shocked and stood still for a while. There was rapid firing from the enemy and she fell down. Later she managed to get up and retreat with the help of a comrade.
Malaria is a routine matter for the guerillas. For the women guerillas this is an added factor with their given biological routine. On one occasion the police gave a surprise when they reached the squad that was immersed in dancing with the villagers. They advanced in bending position. The women comrades in the squad courageously faced the situation and retaliated without loss.
Women guerillas were not only good at countering the enemy but also in attacking them. Here are some accounts of women who participated in raids. A woman comrade had a heavy discussion with her comrades before she was assigned reccy for a raid. Her colleagues were apprehensive of her identity, because of the short hair and other such things. It was her strong will that persuaded them to keep aside their doubts. The comrade was in the assault group in the raid. She did the reccy three times before the raid.
We faced unexpected problems in the raid. The police were sleeping inside the building. There were glass pieces on the compound wall. There were two entrances. The bunker of the sentry post was on the other side. So we changed the plan on the spot. We managed to send one comrade up the wall and got the door opened. All of us went inside. We were ready with three mines in case the enemy got alert. We put three mines to the room where the police were sleeping and blasted them. The building collapsed. The jeep near the ‘A’ sentry post was destroyed. The police inside the building started shouting. Two policemen died and two more were injured. The policeman on ‘A’ sentry left his SLR and fled. We were slightly late in taking hold of the ‘B’ sentry and he opened fire. So we lost the chance of seizing the weapons inside the building.
The comrade adds, Initially I was hesitant whether I could lead the assault group or not. This raid gave me the self-confidence. Nine women guerillas participated in this raid.
In another raid on a police station, there were fourteen women out of the total of forty. Two women were in the ‘A’ assault team and two in the ‘B’ assault team.
I was in the ‘A’ assault team. We were to clear the sentry downstairs and the SI’s room and destroy the communications. I was in the team for clearing the sentry. Our team opened fire and started the raid. We entered the station. We killed the sentry when he opened fire. We occupied the ground floor and tried to blast the mines we arranged. But they did not burst. As a last resort we got the mines from the sentry and blasted it. All the mines blasted at a time with a big sound. The vehicles were damaged. We took control over the station and seized as many weapons as we could. By that time we received information that additional forces were reaching the spot. So the whole team retreated at high speed on motorcycles. All the women comrades fulfilled their tasks with great enthusiasm in this raid.
The same comrade was part of an opportunity ambush team in which five of the eight members were women. It was a sudden opportunity. The team blasted the mines already planted at the spot. A team even made a flank attack and hit the enemy. The comrade was part of the flank team.
These are only a few accounts of the participation of women in the ongoing People’s War. These reveal not only the revolutionary spirit but also the military capability of the women.
As ‘secondary citizens’ in a semi feudal and semi colonial country like India, they get ‘empowered’ when they join the class struggle and the armed struggle. The empowerment is not merely because of weapons. It is because of politics, Revolutionary politics. There is a continuous struggle against all aspects of patriarchy, however subtly it may get reflected. This give confidence to the women to come out as equals with their male comrades. Unlike the revisionists who mostly seek to keep the women in their traditional role, either in the name of being over protective or by turning a blind eye to traditional customs that act to keep women in chains. With the deep feudal prejudices in India unless the women are encouraged to come out on equal terms with their male counterparts and away from their traditional roles patriarchy can never be thoroughly combated. The women interviewed here are a shining example of how women can come forward in the course of the revolution.
Volume 6, No. 3, March 2005