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Maoist, Guerrillas, Men and Women: A View into the People’s War in Nepal
Senta Erbe

“…Before our eyes, a woman of remarkable eloquence and diction spoke of a country in which a fearless people fought in unison against the greatest threat of all…ignorance and inequality….” Author on Li Onesto’s presentation of the People’s War in Nepal. (March 2004)

In the United States, men and women live a lifestyle that is inconceivable to most other people in the world. For many of us, our lives are organized, juggling school, work, family, relationships, etc. We live under a political, economic, and social system that allows us a lifestyle in which basic liberties are backdoor thoughts to most of us. This is not to say that the United States does not have its fair share of issues and problems, but for the most part, the privilege we enjoy is largely taken for granted.

However, there are countries in the world in which the civil liberties enjoyed by Americans are denied to other people. Just think about a society in which you couldn’t go to school, were forced to marry at an early age, and live in die in poverty-not Venice Beach poverty, but poverty forcefully induced on to you by a government that does not care for the welfare of the masses, but only the comfort and prestige of the elite. The following should give you an insight into your own privilege, and a look at the way that one too many people in this world still live, and how we, in the U.S, have advanced but left them behind without a second glance back.

In 1996, in the country of Nepal, located northeast of India, and deeply embedded in the Himalayas, a cry for equality rang in the ears of its rural peasants. Weary of centuries of feudal reign, Nepalese peasants began to act upon their desperations concerning the centuries-old political and social conditions of their country which had resulted in complete socio-economic inequality based on gender. Women and their children compose the subordinated group. In Nepal, women are second hand citizens to men, deprived of the basic freedoms of property, education, and reproductive rights that we in the U.S. have come to see as a natural way of life.

Armed with both the principles of Marx and Mao Tse Tung, rudimentary weapons consisting mainly of sticks, spears and some archaic American made shotguns, these men and women slowly grew into an organized peasant militia acting on behalf of the starving lower classes. They became guerrillas fighting for “The People’s War”. They became the Maoist of Nepal.

The Maoist movement, which initially started as a small formation of peasants, rapidly increased its numbers as their visions for a better Nepal began to take shape. Continuing to organize themselves moving across the countryside, they were able to recruit more men and women. Before long, the Royal Militia started feeling the heat of the guerrilla movement, and began reciprocating with their own means of retaliation richly funded by American interests in Nepal. Ugly as it may seem, there is an American economic interest in Nepal, especially in the arms industry that has found a new market to supply a Royal Army trained and supported by the elite to attack the peasants that have chosen to take a stand against their oppressive social order.

The Maoist have challenged and inspired their countrymen to question a monarchy that not only supports a feudal system, but has concentrated the limited resources of that country to a “chosen few” while the majority suffer from famine, disease, ignorance, and despair. Whilst the elite have enjoyed an inherited existence of luxury, comfort, and options, the country folk linger from day to day, hoping to have enough food to eat.

Nepal is not the only country that has seen feudalism. Europe had a feudal system for much of its history; however, what makes Nepal unique is that within the last decade a drastic socially ideological change has occurred in the minds of the Nepalese people. A change so drastic in such a limited timeframe, that a special consideration must be addressed to this change. Now, under a feudal system, patriarchy dominates; women are second hand citizens, a monarchy prevails, and an economic relationship exists between fief and landlord. Because of Nepal’s unique geographical location, deep in the Himalayas, the land is difficult to farm to the point that enough food production will exist to feed its entire population. With a ruling Monarchy, land is sectioned off, and Landlords (appointed by the monarchy) divide the land within small patches; the fiefs that farm the land are unable to grow enough food to feed their families. This causes great economic distress, and as a result, many of the men migrate to India to find work.

As for women, some parents have found it necessary to send their daughters to work at Indian brothels. After families sell their daughters to pimps in their brothels, they face new and bitter decisions. They can either pay the landlord the heavy taxes they have not paid, or they can choose to feed their families. Now, not all the young girls are forced to go to brothels; some go on their own account, but the majority of Nepalese women are married off before that particular fate bestows them. However, it does happen, and when it does, the fate of the women that have been sent to brothels is that they will acquire HIV, AIDS, or other sexually transmitted diseases. These women will live the rest of their lives untreated. This is due to the lack of funds and medicine, as well as the fact that these women’s social status isn’t high enough to grant them the expensive privilege of life and good health. In these brothels, there is physical and emotional abuse, in the form of rape, body mutilations, and infanticide for the illegitimate babies of these women. However, the Maoist fight to end this miserable lifestyle.

“The People’s War” has but one goal-equality for men and women, and the hope for a Democratic Government that will ensure the social and economic survival of all Nepalese people. As it stands now, a monarchy reigns in Nepal, with total control of all resources and based solely on a patriarchal mentality. The most astonishing aspect is, that within this short period of time, more and more people are shifting their mental gears to a more equal state of being, a more egalitarian mind frame that supports the development of women in society, promoting what westerners would consider a more “civilized” lifestyle. This is where I begin to focus on the involvement of these phenomenal Maoist women.

Nepalese mentality has lingered on the ideologies that women play second-hand citizens in their country. Limited to reproduction and domestic responsibilities, Nepalese women have been concentrated in the homes of their parents and later to the homes of the husbands they were assigned to. Few Nepalese women are literate, and most are limited within their education. Nepalese view the birth of females like, “watering a neighbor’s tree. One has the trouble and the expense of nurturing the plant but the fruits are taken by somebody else.” In fact, most women are encouraged to breed, and better yet, to breed mostly male children. In Universities, males dominate the classrooms, for their female counterparts have already been assigned a different fate. The few women that do complete high school are discouraged to continue with a higher education.

A feudal system supports the ideology that girls are only useful in their childhoods, for they serve the household of their parents, but when they reach a marrying age (the initiation of a menstrual cycle) they then become the free-hands in another’s home. This denial of education to women has not only enforced the patriarchal dominance of that society, but has also encouraged female subordination, and has denied Nepal the fruits of many talented and intelligent people solely based on their gender. However, it is important to note a key element to most ideologies-the economic structure of that particular society. Now, because Nepal is feudal and underdeveloped, most Nepalese people count on farm production to sustain them. If the heads of households are unable to provide food and basic living necessities for their children, they will be forced to ensure the survival of their offspring in some way. For men, this means working in the fields of another, somewhere in the city, or migrating to India to find work there. For women, the most logical solution is to marry. Since women are not allowed to take an active role in the work force, then their options become more limited than that of men. There is a significant impact to this mind set, and the following is an example that will demonstrate an important point. Think about this: a peasant family in Nepal consisting of two parents, their two sons, and three daughters, are misfortunate enough to see an unproductive season on their land. There is not enough food to feed the whole family. The parents have a dilemma: they love all of their children, but can’t feed them all enough food to ensure their health. They have to choose who will get the food. They pick the boys, because for the survival of the family, the boys must eat, because they are the ones that are going to be able to work, and carry on the family name. If the boys don’t live to flourish, then the family will die off because they live in a society that does not value women enough to train them and to allow them to work and help their poor families survive. This can lead, as mentioned above, to the selling of daughters to brothels for profit and survival of the family.

The Maoist recognized this impairment. However, during the first phase of their movement, they had separated the genders, and found it difficult to accept the leadership of women. Now, their options are limited. This is a poor country, with little to no resources. The Maoists are the poorest members of this country, therefore the weapons they have are their hopes, ideas and the loyalty they feel towards their comrades in arms. Nonetheless, it has not been long that the Maoist have understood the advantages of equalizing women with men. For without the complete involvement of the women, they would not be able to achieve their goals fully and truly impact Nepal’s socio-economic hierarchy. Without the complete involvement of women, the “People’s War” would not likely succeed, and the Royal family, supported by American, Chinese, and Indian interests will continue the rule that allows this unequal lifestyle. As a side note, I want to emphasize that the U.S has economic and political interests in many countries, only most people are not aware of what exactly it is that our tax dollars are supporting. But alas, this is a point that is ugly and not well received, for soiled American hands are usually gloved and forgotten.

Further, with this new recognition, the women of Nepal are now slowly lifting themselves out of their subordination. Idealistic and hopeful of a chance to have control over their lives, Nepalese women have joined the Maoist movement with all the vigor and determination shown by their male counterparts. Women guerrillas are now encouraged to get educated, are supported by their comrades, take leadership roles, and are encouraged to marry later in life. With these opportunities, Nepalese women are slowly taking the reigns alongside men. They are taking the title of “Maoist Women” as best as they can, for they too have been subjected to a mentality that has always treated them, their mothers, their grandmothers, and every other female as a second class citizen.

For the Maoist, recruiting the folk they needed for their movement was not only about getting the men to change their mode of thinking. But it was about changing the way the women thought and saw themselves in their worlds. When a subordinated person feels the oppression of their life, and sees that same oppression thrashing their loved ones, a consuming hopelessness can take hold of them.
If an oppressed person lives in a society in which the set social and cultural structure demands their oppression, and are unable to fight the oppressor, a movement that screams “equality” and “justice for all” will awaken and explain the necessity of non-conformity. This is crucial for social change, and it is also one of the most important strategies the Maoist have taken to convince their countrymen to fight for what is fair and for what is right.

However, it is important to note that hostilities still exist and although great advances have occurred, most of the Nepalese men that fight as Maoist are still unable to fully accept the empowering role that their women are taking. Remember that in Nepal, for most of its history, the social stratification of genders and class has led to the social conditions that they are now facing. But, as time goes by, and as the Maoist movement strengthens and strategies are planned and actions taken, their movement has endured and it has grown.

One day, I hope to hear that the Maoist and their “People’s War” won what they are fighting for. I hope to hear about the brave people that gave their lives to this cause, and know that I, in my western home, rooted for and supported them as best as I could. I encourage you to “google” a search on Li Onesto, the American journalist whom has faithfully covered the issues of Nepal and the position that woman are now taking. Her articles are accurate, honest, and give voice and face to the people and their movement.

Senta Erbe is a Sociology and Women's Studies major. She will continue her studies at University of California, Irvine and hopes to earn a law degree.





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