Volume 5, No. 10, October 2004

 

Interview with Com. Parvati

(Com. Parvati is a senior leader of CPN(M) ó Editor)

 

PM: We see womenís participation in Nepalís peopleís war in a very big way. This is a significant achievement. How did the CPN(Maoist) achieve it.?

Parvati: First, we should notice that in Nepal, the left movement has been quite strong. Because of this factor, leftists have been quite bold in bringing their women to streets, be it revisionists or be it revolutionaries. Now having said that, though we had women coming into the streets, they could not advance mainly because revisionists did not want to go beyond legal struggle and the revolutionary party had not yet undertaken practical implementation of their revolutionary theory. So there was a big gap between theory and practice, so as a result what happened was that the women in their young age were very active, but once they got married they eventually became either the wives of leaders or vanished into oblivion. Thus marriage became a patriarchal left institution for producing good efficient wives for the male communist leaders at the cost of loosing women cadres in communist movement. But because the left movement was active, you would get fresh group of women coming and again vanishing. This cycle of vicious circle got asunderd with the initiation of Peopleís War in the year 1996. It unleashed the fury of women so far locked up in legal and trivial struggle.

Objectively you should also know that in Nepal, the main productive force constituting of males, migrate to either Indian cities or urban areas within the country, leaving their wives behind to survive in a very isolated, rugged and very difficult terrain in rural Nepal with a very little infrastructure. The women in Nepal are in fact like de-facto women headed households. They are married but literally living on their alone most of the years taking care of children and old parents. So you can virtually say that women are running peasantís economy in Nepal. But the feudal patriarchy headed by the King not only denies her identity but also robs away her labour by denying her right to parental property.

And many times, what happens is that, due to absence of wives from husbands lives for long period they are easily co-wived. There is hardly legal protection as light punishment is given (if complaint is registered) eventually condoning the second marriage. So there is lot of anger ready to burst out which PW is able to tap. Even without organizing them, they would just come because the situation is so bad.

And subjectively, our Party has always been active in women front even when we had not launched PW. We were in fact the first ones to stop the first beauty contest held in Kathmandu in 1990. Similarly regular protests against rape and all kinds of pornography had been held in different parts of Nepal. And we had been regularly celebrating 8th March with political statements. Especially during the Panchayat system, when all the political parties were banned, everybody would look forward to 8th March, where they could pour out their political statements. So there has been a culture of the womenís movement. One very interesting thing I observed in Nepal is that we donít have male and female divide as much as in western countries or may be even to some extent in India. In our 8th March demonstrations you will find quite number of men shouting slogans along with women. In fact when we go and fight against beauty contests men accompany us.

The most radical rupture the PW was able to bring in womenís lives was that it broke women away from the family shackle. This has strong impact on womenís lives resulting in unleashing their hidden talents and capabilities. The very act of rebellion against this oldest family institution has set in a chain of reactions. The first chain of reaction is seen in the new marriage system, which is based on love chemistry established in the field of action and the ideological alliance. The second reaction is seen in the way they saw their reproductive function Earlier even among the communists no matter how many times they may raise their fist for womenís liberation and shout against male chauvinism they would eventually go for male lineage, thus pushing their wives to bear male children. Earlier they would have 3, 4, or more children till they had male child or even the most conscious women would have at least two children before the PW started. With the initiation of PW this has changed drastically. The number has been reduced to one Very rarely you come across two. Also there is no question of waiting for a son now. So, in the Nepalís context, itís a big leap!

With base areas in our strong hold rural areas we are able to practically implement equal rights over parental property. Similarly we are able to give equal status to women, in fact in many cases they are given first priority thus we are able to practice what we preach. We have guaranteed special rights of representation in peopleís power. We have now number of women model villages called Mahila Namoona village where women have right to their parental property, where they work in co-operative form in their fields, collective fodder collection system, and where they execute construction activities such as making rest houses for travelers, investing their collective money on small productions. So these models show that we are serious about womenís issues.

The peopleís courts too have been instrumental in enhancing womenís confidence in PW where the general masses particularly those belonging to oppressed ethnic communities and dalits have been getting quick and fare judgment against their tormentors under the watchful eyes of the womenís militia which give protection to peopleís court. Earlier not only women but even men had to travel far to fight a case in the court, which meant losing property to pay for the endless procedure of justice, now the peopleís court is right in front of their villages giving instant judgment.

And another point of attraction is the field of peopleís army. The militia and Peopleís Liberation Army (PLA) has become an attracting point for women. Earlier the entry point for women in the movement had been mostly through the cultural front. But now the military front has become an attractive point of entry for women to join PW. The very act of joining the military field has tremendous transforming effect on women. All of a sudden from a totally unknown, submissive woman she has now become confident independent fighter. She looks no less smart than urban educated women. She is increasingly becoming political and philosophical. When you are dealing with death and life most of the time, this is bound to happen.

The protracted nature of PW allows women not only to change the society but also change themselves. In a pre-capitalist country like Nepal where absolute monarchy reins the state power, the journey to communism is a long one! The protracted nature of PW allows the revolutionaries, particularly the women revolutionaries whose cultural level is at lower level than male revolutionaries for a long period of transformation.

Our Party considers women as basic revolutionary force (the first to be oppressed and the last to be liberated) who will not only work for revolution but will also fight against counter revolution, thus carrying the banner of continuous revolution. Thus the policy of CPN (Maoist) has been to encourage womenís participation in PW.

PM: You were talking about one interesting point, about military and women. Even the bourgeoisie in the past and present day also never allowed women to be part of the military. Communist movements are trying to bring women into the military can you theorize on this? From the beginning the notion of women is - physically weak, muscularly. How do you visualise them being fighters?

Parvati: If we want to fight against bourgeois we should hit them at their weakest point. Their weakest point is women because they say they want to give freedom, equality but in practice they are always deceiving women or at most giving it in form but not in essence. Itís not that the bourgeoisie donít bring women into such military activities. But not in the same strategic way as we do. They do it as a last resort. And that too as a symbolic act, reducing them to be decorative piece and using them as auxiliary or as reserve force, never taking them as strategic force. Thus they are used in logistics works, as typists, nurses, intelligence operators etc but rarely used as fighters in the field. I think it is to do with their ideology, because the whole bourgeois system is sustained from womenís oppression. They cannot afford to separate women from the kitchen for military operation for too long.

Take the case of Americans, they are deploying women but they seldom send them in the battlefield. There have been one or two cases where women have been sent to the front. But such experience has resulted in diverting menís attention away form the real fight. While not fighting women combatants are looked upon as sexual objects to be gratified and when in combat they are looked upon as weak delicate women to be protected from the harsh fighting life. This results in underestimating the strength of women combatants in both the situations. There was one such case of a woman called Private Jessica Lynch who was captured by Iraqi militia. There was a big propaganda exercise made by USA in its attempt to rescue her as an act of heroism!

PM: I think the bourgeois world also recruited women into the military because of the feminist movement or womenís movement. In some services, that too in some gender stereotyped jobs

Parvati: Yes, most of these Scandinavian countries have done that, because there the womenís movement is quite strong.

PM: You were telling about the objective conditions and the inevitability of women joining pw. At the same time what are the conscious efforts from the Partyís side? Like how did you apply mass line in brining women into mass organizations and the Party?

Parvati: One thing is that from the Partyís side there has always been attempt to mobilize women whenever it was possible. In Nepalís context, we have various women related festivals, like Teej, it is the time when women come out and sing songs and dance. Although a religious occasion, this occasion has been used by women to weave their own songs of oppression related to domestic violence, male domination and oppression of women by the feudal culture. This sentiment we took over from them and we started using these platforms to politically educate them in attacking feudal practices. Everywhere in the villages and urban areas these kinds of attempts were made. Secondly, cultural programmes have been encouraged because such programmes attract the attention of women in particular due to its perceptive appeal, which is then used as a means to gain access to their life and to teach them the key issues of poverty which is the cause of their misery and deprivations. In fact womenís front has been one of the most active front before PW started. It laid foundation for reaching masses. After the initiation of PW there has been developments in two fronts. In base areas we are consolidating the capacities of women to make them more economically and socially productive by making them literate, involving them in small-scale handy-crafts such as shawl making industry, dry food factories, co-operative farm works, paper making industry etc. We are making them good leaders by involving them in running peopleís council at different levels. We are involving them in peopleís court. In white areas we are sending them as organizers and as fighters to mobilize the masses and to protect the masses from the enemies.

The campaign against liquor has been time and again conducted. Similarly campaign against bar women being used as sexual tools in urban areas have been continuing. Recently our woman front All Nepalese womenís Organization (Revolutionary) gave a nation wide "Band" on the occasion of 8th March in 2004 against rape, torture and murder being perpetuated by the old state and against US intervention in Nepal. This was the first time in Nepalese womenís history that a nationwide call was being given by a womanís front. The band was completely successful.

PM: In one of the issues of the Worker, there was a write-up on mass line campaign in Nepal. It is very interesting. Please elaborate about this campaign with regard to the womenís movement.

Parvati: There has been conscious effort by the Party to make new culture in base areas and other strong hold areas. New festivals like Peopleís war initiation day, martyrís week, Maoís birthday are being celebrated with lots of gifts being exchanged. In these activities women are found most active as they run mess, restaurants, selling their products made in small-scale cottage run by the Party. All this give mass character to such celebrations thus preparing ground for more masses to be mobilized on new cultural values. Community based works such as Parma system of exchanging labour in plantation and harvesting seasons which has been in practice for long has been given boost by spreading it in other fields such as collecting fodders, and fuels from forest. Much old culture activity has been adopted with new inputs and with progressive values imparted. Take the case of Mayur dance in Rukum, Rolpa, which is exclusively menís dance today even women are participating in it. There has also been campaign to militarize the masses. This we are able to do so more efficiently because we have strong womenís militia present in our strong hold areas. In far western region we have even cultural company which gives their programs as they march along, thus giving cultural programme a mass and military appearance. This campaign has become so popular that the old state is propagating their joining this campaign and other militia programme as abductions and kidnappings done by Maoists. We have also developed the concept of one member, one house; one village one organization thereby multiplying our memberships in mass fronts. Today most of our women fronts are not only self sufficient but have more money with them because our women are not only actively engaged in productive works but also are good at keeping good records of its saving without wanton spending.

There has also been conscious effort to organize the families of soldiers and army of the old state. Our women militia regularly visits them who help them in their hour of needs, such as catering to their fieldwork in peak agricultural season. They then slowly give them political classes to dissociate their husbands from joining the old force and to join the Maoist force. There has been conscious effort to mobilize children under Bal Sangathan, thus preparing ground for the continuation of the movement and mass mobilization.

PM: What are the problems manifested in women because they are deprived of political and ideological education since ages. How are you trying to resolve this?

Parvati: The most blatant manifestation seen among women due to deprivation of political and ideological education is their silence in the meetings. They seldom participate in political discussions. Women hesitate to take initiative. The question of initiative is related with them being deprived of their share of parental property. Males are expected to be leaders right from their childhood so that they can protect their right to their lands. Because women are not associated with any property, the leadership quality is not required of them. This problem of leadership and developing political and ideological level can be tacked at two levels, one at organizational level and another at a practical level. Women should be given responsibility where policy related works are involved, together with facilities to develop her political and ideological capacity. At practical level, women should wage inner struggle in terms of marrying late, and even if married she should avoid having children or postpone having one. They should be daring to take their own independent work, which may take them away from their husbands for long period. It is with this in mind that womenís department has been created to develop leadership among women so that they can reach policy-making body in all the three fronts, the Party, the army and the front. At mass level providing equal parental property to women will create atmosphere for developing leadership quality right from home, which can later be tapped by the Party to give political and ideological education.

At present, womenís leadership quality is fast developing in military front. Women are successfully proving their worth by showing that they too can live bravely and die bravely and that they too can command the fighting force. The main challenge for the Party is to channelise this leadership quality to political and ideological field.

PM: Ideological and political deprivation is there among women. So how are you tackling that?

Parvati: In order to test the ideological and political deprivation it is important to test their present level of understanding of their outlook in various fields. Our Womenís department had issued a set of questionnaires related practical and strategic issues comprising of 9 headings (please see the end note) to women cadres operating in Party, army and front levels. The answers have now been received of which synthesis is now on the process. One should also realize that ideological and political level of the cadres in general would depend upon how the Partyís inner line struggle is being carried out. If it is being carried out with the correct orientation it can lead to healthy development of ideological and political consciousness of the cadres thereby leading women cadres too to develop in this field. It is also important to impart regular classes on the latest political development in the national and international arena fusing it with MLM theory. This can also be tackled in bringing out regular magazines, bulletins, weekly papers together with talk programmes on relevant subjects. All these have been taking place at various levels. The Party has been very conscious of the importance of bringing women to policy-making bodies. The recent incorporation of more women in Central Committee of CPN (Maoist) is a welcome step. Similarly women have been incorporated at Politburo level too. Today in CPN (Maoist) there are nearly 10% of women comrades at both Central Committee and Politburo level. Now the balls are in womenís court to prove their worth as ideological and political leaders!

PM: In the article on leadership question in Nepal, you mentioned about class struggle, inner party struggle and inner struggle. We can understand about class struggle but it is interesting to know about the inner party struggle and inner struggle. Please elaborate on this?

Parvati: Let us be very clear inner party struggle is there in every healthy functioning Party. The point is how to identify such struggles in the field of women and gender relations within the Party. Let me tell you one example of how to understand the attitude of communists towards women in communist movement. There is one section who consider their participation as having strategic importance and constituting of basic revolutionary class. They are willing to accept and guarantee special rights of women. And hence strives to transform the structure of the Party, the women and gender relation based on this principle. There is another section who may agree this in principle, but in practice sees women as secondary force thus relegating them as practically necessary for mobilizing the masses. For such people, any changes they try to bring in organization structure or women or gender relation will be cosmetic, formal and skin-deep. For example let us take the question of remarriage. Everybody agrees with it. But in specific issues the differences crop up showing differences in outlook. Take the example of the definition of family of martyr. We place high value on celebrating martyrís week programme in Nepal where we invite families of martyrs to give speeches and to give them gifts. There was a debate whether once martyrís family remarried (with the notice of the Party) if he or she had the right to represent as martyrís family on martyrís week programme. Those with conservative out look had tough time accepting them as martyrís family.

Similarly, there is tendency of taking womenís leadership formally, as some thing imposed by the Party. In such case higher authority (specially males) will not take pain to help women to exercise their leadership in the organization they are leading. As a result women have to struggle doubly to establish their leadership in their respective fields. Firstly, to gain recognition. Secondly, to exercise her leadership. But those who take womenís participation strategically they have been found very sympathetic, and willing to wait for the development of leadership qualities in women.

PM: what about the inner struggle you are mentioning? Are you telling about the struggle with the self?

Parvati: No, self-struggle everybody has to undergo as a routine, be it in revolutionary life or evolutionary life. Let me be specific about inner struggle although I have mentioned it above! One thing we must understand is that the main tendency in most of the Parties, which is undertaking PW in this difficult unipolar world, is generally the rightist tendency. Having said that, rightists cannot come in a bold way (as they can be easily exposed), so they take the form of dogmato-revisionsist tendency. Letís take the question of reproduction in revolutionary life. The rightists will say I want to take a break from revolutionary life because I want to bear children. Such blatant statement would draw the attention of the cadres as being rightists and finding excuses for running away from the movement. So how does one hide this? By being dogmato revisionist. The dogmato-revisonist tendency is seen by romanticizing the bearing of children as yet another front where women can prove their mettle in class struggle. But in practice, all this revolutionary romanticism looses its heat when practical problems of bearing and bringing up children start hindering the combat life of the cadres amidst fierce class struggle. This eventually results women to take back seat in the revolutionary movement. The revolutionary line in this aspect sould be to discourage reproductive activities as yet another front where sacrifice is needed as much as one would sacrifice oneís life for the sake of movement. Having said that one cannot impose such sensitive emotional issues on couples. Only political consciousness and the development of PW can generate such self-voluntarism in this field. Hence this issue should be dialectically handled; preventing, or delaying or bearing children depending upon the level of political understanding of the couples (specially woman cadre), their position in the organization, the safety of the place where they are operating etc.

PM: In this society patriarchal ideology so deeply penetrates that it operates also within women. So because of this patriarchal ideology, starting from lack of initiative, lack of self confidence, some petty feelings all those things women, I think may not be right to generalize but women easily accept male leadership but at the same time they have problems to accept their female colleagueís leadership.

Parvati: Yes it does have effect on women in terms of underestimating themselves and overestimating men.

PM: Those things I consider as inner struggle. I mean fighting patriarchal ideology within ourselves.

Parvati: Yes women are often themselves victim of patriarchal ideology that is deeply ingrained within them. I have seen females who get scared when one talks of womenís oppression and label one as being feminist. They often try to suppress the fight against womenís oppression in the name of fighting against class oppression. It is another form of dogmato-revisionism whereby one emphasizes on class, physical work and redness at the cost of gender oppression, mental work and expertness without looking at their dialectical relationships between them.

PM: Taking the class exploitation side is a heroic thing, but taking womenís exploitation is, you know, compared to that an inferior thing.

Parvati: I think one need not feel defensive when talking of womenís oppression. This is because we are waging PW, and that takes care of the class struggle. In fact in such a situation if we do not address womenís oppression in the name of addressing class question then we may become left sectarian and isolated from rest of womenís mvement.

PM: This point is very important. In the same class we are discussing, we are not going out of that class. If one is being branded as feminist that is wrong.

Parvati: Yes it is wrong to brand revolutionary women as feminist if one raises issues related to patriarchal oppression within the PW movement. Such labeling may stand valid if one is raising the banner of patriarchal oppression without primarily addressing the class oppression.

PM: This also obstructs womenís development.

Parvati: Gender insensitivity becomes a hindrance when there is unhealthy inner party struggle. In such a situation it can have a very negative impact on women. Women begin to be used against each other, not on the basis of ideology but on the basis of petty personal differences. Instead of discouraging low cultural values that are generally prevalent amongst women they are used to polarize the cadres and masses. Husbands will try to coarse their wives to align with their side, and wives may be lured with power to influence their husbands to switch sides. Marriage itself may become tool to perpetuate unhealthy inner-party struggles whereby women are lured to marry comrades on the basis of not ideological unity but on the basis of increasing the strength or attaining power.

PM: Just to co-opt, forcefully co-opt.

Parvati: Yes.

PM: What is the reaction of the state? Targeting movement physically, militarily to dissuade women from joining the protracted peopleís war.

Parvati: It has become very difficult for the old state to check the movement politically, so they are resorting to brutal means. They are arresting women, raping them, killing them. The RNA canít tolerate to see young women fighting and rebelling. In fact they feel loss of masculinity to see women taking arms because they have deep notion that arms are for men to handle and it is the men who are supposed to protect their women. So in the beginning they were raping women to prove impotency of male Maoist fighters. But in the field when they found that women indeed fought bravely, they started taking them seriously as a result they are being killed (and additionally raped) in combat at the same rate as male fighters.

RNA is highly sexist in their outlook. This can be reflected in the way they use rape as a means to expose Maoist movement by forcing surrendered women to say that they have been raped and used as sexual instruments by the Maoist men. Such condition was never imposed on male Maoists when they agreed to surrender. So this way they are using rape as an instrument to scare away women from Maoist movement.

PM: How are you taking the question of NGOs. NGOs have a very big influence on the society. How you are tackling the question of NGOs in Nepal.

Parvati: Earlier we had problem with NGOs but now we donít have much problem with them now. With militarized masses and the instant judgments given by peopleís court, masses are no longer influenced by the evolutionary, reformed methodology used by the NGOs. On top of it the brutal repression unleashed by the old state machinery leaves them no space for their method of functioning. Their class alliance approach to any problem becomes immediately exposed before Maoists who use class approach to solve problem at the spot.

PM: What about the problems in the social sphere like liquor or trafficking of women into India and all those things. How you are tackling them?

Parvati: In our country we have a particular community called the Badi community. They are basically dalit class; within dalits also they are the most oppressed community. They were traditionally entertainers for the feudal society. But now with feudalism eroding they have switched into prostitution. Many of them are now joining the PW. Similarly, there is Tamang community in Kavre district near Kathmandu valley, which has been historically providing prostitution for the Ranas in the olden days, and are now providing for the Indian market at present. But the spread of PW and creation of Tamang Mukti Morcha has created awareness amongst themselves about the ill effects of their profession. Now the same community are providing good fighters for the PW. From these examples I want to expalin that those who are in this profession know very well what is good for them and what is bad for them, but are forced to take this profession out of cumpulsion. The PW has given them powerful alternative to live for. Rather than killing themselves every night they have now chance to show that they too can be socially useful, responsible and to live a dignified life and dignified death. Earlier before the PW started we used to solve this problem in a peace meal manner, but it was not so effective. Today we are also able to identify and punish the traffickers much faster than the old state. Regarding tackling liquor problem, once we had movement against liquor consumption at the national level, which forced the then government to meet some of our demands. Since then such activities have been taking place at the local level. We have not banned liquor but have adopted controlling measures, such as punishing those who sold liquor, punishing those who drank in public place, or punishing those who disrupted peace in their drunken state.

PM: To solve the problems and gender based discrimination, what are the organisational efforts, like you have this womenís department in the party. What is the organisational structure of the womenís department how does it function?

Parvati: We have womenís work at two levels. At the mass level we have womenís front known by All Nepalese womenís Organization (Revolutionary) which has its presence throughout the country at various levels. At the other end we have womenís department directly under the Central Party which is basically a policy making body to develop leadership qualities of women in all the three fronts, the Party, military and the united fronts. So this department is basically a think tank, it is not an organizational structure with hierarchical subdivisions that will function like other fronts. However womenís departments have been created in PLA, students front as according to the necessity felt by the Party. One may say if womenís department represents theory then the womenís front represent practice. It acts as a bridge between the front and the Party. As earlier mentioned above the womenís department had issued set of questionnaires relating to their strategic and practical problems, so that a policy paper can be made based on this exercise. Similarly it is preparing study course for women and is bringing out collection of articles written by senior comrades on women. The Department has been engaged in giving classes to women working on all three fronts at various levels.

PM: What is the specific syllabus for women? Like for general cadre, general masses we are having general political, economical philosophy like that. So for women, what is I think is for those who are working in womenís organisation they need to know about the origins of patriarchy, private property land all those things. So that will be a specific syllabus. Otherwise what is the specific syllabus for general women, women working in all fronts.

Parvati: We have a schooling department, which is preparing syllabus for general course such as philosophy, scientific socialism and political economy. Besides this, separate syllabuses are being prepared for women and oppressed nationality. Our efforts have always been to relate womenís issues with the political lines that are adopted. For example take the case of developing democracy in the 21st century, which has been adopted by our Central Committee, we have to see how this question is linked with the question of status of women.

PM: Collecting material regarding womenís question.

Parvati: Yes we have already translated the material provided to us by your Party. And we have also translated material received from Peru. And we are still looking out for more materials to be translated.

PM: What is the role in cultural organisation. Formally and informally. And how are raising the consciousness at the cultural level?

Parvati: I told you, we have tried to demarcate certain villages as womenís model village where we are introducing new cultural values, such as raising children collectively, collecting fodder collectively. We are also creating new culture of celebrating martyrs week, initiation day of PW, birthday of Mao as socially, politically eventful days. We have broken barrier of cast, religion, ethnicity in marriage, today Brahmin cadre is marrying dalit, similarly people from Himalaya are marrying people of Terai region. Today re-marriage is not a taboo. Similarly the concept of impurity attached to menstruation has given away instead it is being looked upon sympathetically. With the functioning of local FM radio, creativity of local cadres and masses are being aired in terms of propagating new songs, poems or stories, new developments in agriculture or breeding etc.

PM: What do you feel about the present condition of the International communist movement and the womenís liberation?

Parvati: I think the present condition of International Communist Movement is good (ICM) specially those one who are coming together on the basis of sound political ideology. And wherever the PW is flourishing backed by matured ICM, womenís issues have been given due importance. I think Nepal is one such best example. Similarly experiences of women in countries who are waging PW are enriching the ICM. So it has benefited both.

PM: Greetings to Nepalese people and NCP(Maoist) on behalf of PM.

 

 

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