Maoist, Guerrillas, Men and Women:
A View into the People’s War in Nepal
“…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
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
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
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
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.