Grim life for India's women Maoists

GIRIDIH (India) • A shiver runs down her spine each time Anjali Hembrom recalls the abuse she endured during six months spent with heavily armed Maoist guerillas in their "liberated zone" deep inside India's remote forests.

Ms Hembrom, 20, was kidnapped four years ago after the rebels swooped on a tribal village in Jharkhand, looking for recruits.

Taken to their "liberated zone" inside the jungles where the Maoists reign supreme, Ms Hembrom endured repeated rapes for refusing to join their ranks before staging a daring escape.

"I still wake up with cold sweats in the middle of the night," Ms Hembrom told Agence France-Presse in an on-camera interview in Giridih town, her face silhouetted for fear of being identified.

While Ms Hembrom says she was forced to join the Maoists, hundreds of women have willingly joined up to fight, desperate to escape grinding poverty in their deeply patriarchal communities.

While they risk sexual abuse if captured by security forces, the women fighters are frequently raped by their "brothers in arms".

"They must have joined the cadres with lofty revolutionary ideas," said Ms Hembrom.

The Maoists, who dominate thousands of square kilometres of the "Red Corridor" stretching across central and eastern India, claim to be fighting for the land rights of marginalised tribal communities. Their insurgency has claimed around 10,000 lives and is considered India's most serious internal security threat.

Ms Hembrom's account of life inside Maoist camps resonates with a former cadre who has talked about rampant sexual violence in her autobiography. In Diary Of A Maoist, Ms Shobha Mandi, who surrendered in 2010, says she was repeatedly raped by her commanders.

The women fighters, believed to number about 4,000, are mainly used for cultural or support activities but many had weapons training.

Ms Dayamani Barla, a 49-year-old woman tribal activist and political leader who was briefly jailed for aligning with the Maoist cause, said women are often driven to join the rebels for money and food. "Also, the Maoists have a certain Robin Hood kind of allure. The whole idea of taking on the rich and mighty appeals to women who have experienced some kind of exploitation at the hands of either the police or the landlords," she said. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2015, with the headline 'Grim life for India's women Maoists'. Print Edition | Subscribe