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Kalaratri Appears: Indigenous Women Take-Up Arms in India

“We worshipped the forest god. We got all our firewood from here. This place was green, now it is black with dust…When agricultural land is lost, what are we supposed to eat? Coal?”

— Hemanto Samrat from Gopalpur village, Sundargarh, Odisha, India

Uncharacteristically, the Canadian Press omitted to report the 50 hour abduction last month of a cyclist from Ottawa by Maoist forces in the jungles of central India.  The story was reported with great alarm, however, in all the major Indian papers.

The Canadian had gone missing in the midst of a major recent escalation of violent resistance by the indigenous communist cadres of Chattisigarh that has left up to 50 State paramilitary personnel dead since March 11th, 2017.

Luckily, the “cycling enthusiast”, who in various reports was referred to as a “Canadian social worker” or a “member of the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Center”, was released unharmed and flown quickly back home by Canadian consular officials despite his original intention to make his way to Bangledesh.

Only, he wasn’t a social worker, he was an employee of Canadian High Artic Energy Co., an expert on oil drilling!  No wonder his presence in their region was of interest to the Communist Party of India (CPI), whether he just happened to be passing through on “vacation”, or not.

The drilling of oil and other mining industries are precisely the issue for the indigenous people, referred to as Adavasi, or Tribals, in India.  Their fight is to preserve their way of life in the forest regions in which they have dwelled from time immemorial from despoliation by mining interests.

While Canadian High Artic Energy is not presently active in drilling operations in India, other Canadian companies are.  For example, Saumya Mining recently “signed a Joint Venture Agreement with Lantech Drilling Inc. of Canada to engage and provide specialized services to mining or mineral exploration companies petroleum companies and government agencies”, according to their website.

Saumya Mining boasts that it is a leading Indian Company involved in bauxite, coal, uranium, oil and other mining operations in Chattisigarh and neighboring states; and that it has built its business on “its ability to adapt the working conditions to whatever adversity a site can present”.  In other words, Saumya is a partner in the ferocious war against the indigenous communists which just last week again broke out in deadly violence.

Like an appearance of the Hindu Warrior Goddess Kalaratri, over 200 female cadres of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) emerged from the Jungles of Chattisigarh on April 24th to kill 25 paramilitary soldiers, and in so doing, also shatter much of what remains of the political mythology of the post-WWII era.

Most importantly, the actions of these women challenge assumptions about the political role of their gender. The kind of leadership they represent is certainly not the same as that called for by Ivanka Trump & Chrystia Freeland at the W20 Women’s Summit on April 25th!  They also challenge standard estimations of a woman’s power. The “Jawans” killed were all men who, perhaps not surprisingly, were caught napping!

According to the Hindustan Times, “the Maoists timed their attack during lunch when sentries were relaxed and the main force disengaged their arms. After they received the signal from operatives posing as road construction labourers that the food van had arrived, they took positions on both sides of the road. Unsuspecting, the soldiers considered them laborers. The Maoists waited until almost 80 percent of the troops dispersed for water and food and bolted toward the vans to attack”.

The fact that over 70% of the adivasis warriors who engaged in this attack were women, also poses difficult questions for the post-Ghandhian, post-MLK consensus in the West on the superiority of non-violent resistance.  Arundhati Roy, the Indian Booker Prize winning author, put the question this way in a piece she entitled, Walking with the Comrades:

“I feel I ought to say something about the futility of violence, about the unacceptability of summary executions. But what should I suggest they do? Go to court? A rally? A relay hunger strike? Which party should they vote for? Which democratic institution in this country should they approach? It sounds ridiculous”.

The fact that 99% of the CPI (Maoist) cadres are indigenous tribal peoples engaged in a “protracted people’s war” against the full force of the Indian State; assisted as it is by drones provided by Israel, and helicopter attacks from the air reminiscent of the War in Vietnam; also challenges Stalinist era ideological assumptions.

Not only is this last outpost of communist revolutionary activity found in the jungles, not the cities; but the revolutionaries themselves are not workers nor even peasants; they are “tribals”, even, indigenous women.

And, these indigenous communists are not “Marxists”, “Leninist”, “Trotskyist”, nor “Social-Democrats”; they proudly extoll an ideological eclecticism they call “Marxist-Leninist-Maoist”, which may point the way for the future of the left.

In the end, one may ask whether this episode hearkens back to the matriarchal societies of the North American Iroquois in whose political forms Marx and Engels saw the future of communism. “It will be the same”, Marx wrote in reference to indigenous societies, “but different”.