PICS: ARUNA RAYAMAJHI
At the office of the Maoist-affiliated All Nepal Women's Organisation, there are stacks of over 700 files containing complaints from Maoist women of mistreatment by their husbands. Hundreds of other cases are never reported.
During their long marches across Nepal during the war, young homesick recruits got into relationships, and the party would encourage inter-ethnic couples to get married. These "shotgun marriages" were good for morale of the rebel army, and forced young fighters to see beyond their own caste and ethnicity.
However, with the end of the conflict in 2006 as the Maoist party entered open politics, many of these relationships had started falling apart. Partners, especially women, started seeing that their husbands were selfish, irresponsible and unethical, and many husbands have left their wives and children to marry again within their own ethnic group.
Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal's son, Prakash, got married to Central Committee member Post Bahadur Bogati's daughter Prabha during the war. When Prakash married again at a ceremony in Pokhara, his father extolled it as a "fusion of old and new".
Prabha herself explains why her marriage fell apart: "Most girls who became Maoists would miss home and when a boy was nice to them they fell for it. They were immature."
Another acrimonious breakup involved the son of Maoist leader C P Gajurel, Sanjiv, who was married to Sunita Pokhrel. Sunita says her mother-in-law always accused her of not bringing enough dowry, and used to taunt her. She was forced to have an abortion, and was evicted from her husband's house after she refused to sign divorce papers.
"Sanjiv came to my room one day and threatened to send female YCLs to bring me in line," Sunita recalls, "he accused me of being pregnant with some other man, and with no hope left I signed the papers."
Attorney Anjita Khanal says the situation is worse for Maoist women abandoned by their husbands because they are in legal limbo. She says: "Their party marriages are not legally recognised, and the courts refuse to register their cases because there is no evidence they were ever married."
Even when the party has tried to deliver justice, it has made the problem worse. When Hemraj Gharti of the Dang district committee married again after having two children, he was evicted from the party. Gharti then abandoned his second wife as well, and has settled in Kathmandu. His three children from two wives are stranded in Dang with no means of support.
PLA Company Commander, Comrade Badala, says Maoist men who have abandoned their wives and families took their cue from Chairman Prachanda and his "fusion" speech justifying his son's second marriage. Badala, who is Dalit, was married to Ram Chandra Paudel by the party in a "people's marriage" in Lamjung. Says Badala: "When I found out he had married someone else, I called my husband. He said he had returned to his own caste."
Documentary films have been made about Nepal's women guerrillas, photographs of them handling assault rifles have been printed in international magazines. They formed one-third of the PLA and fought alongside the men. In many cases the female guerrillas showed greater bravery in battle, and many were killed in action.
Maoist women raised arms against injustice, but are now themselves victims of injustice. They waged violence against class enemies, but have become victims of domestic violence.
Shanta got married to Hari at age 16 during the war. She gave birth to her first baby in a cave in the mountains, and was wounded in battle a few months later. On being reunited with her guerrilla husband, she found out he had eloped with someone else. Hari has since been promoted to a senior member of the Magarat State Council. Shanta sells trinkets by the wayside in Butwal.
Aruna Rayamajhi is with the Maoist-affiliated Revolutionary Journalists Organistaion. A longer version of this article
was published in Himal Khabarpatrika.
"He told people I was a witch"
When Lokendra GC, Comrade Bijay, made an official request with the party in Rukum to marry me in 2002, the war was at its most intense. When I rejected his offer, Lokendra threatened to commit suicide.
He was lonely, and stressed out by the conflict. He wanted companionship and intimacy. But now that the war is over and he doesn't need me anymore, he is threatening to commit suicide if I don't sign his divorce papers.
It isn't as easy as it is for the men folk for us women to leave our spouses, children and homes. I always believed that marriage is not just a physical relationship, it includes children, society and a family's future.
In 2005, while fleeing an army attack in Singje of Rukum, I fell and was badly injured. I needed a husband to take care of me, but he wasn't there for me, he had found someone else.
After the ceasefire in 2006 and verification, I became a Section Commander and Bijay became a Battalion Commander. I thought he might change his mind and come back to me, so I applied to be in the cantonment in Rolpa where he was. But my husband started threatening me, saying he could "do anything" if I refused to divorce him. He even accused me publicly of being a witch.
There are many like Bijay in the party who pay lip service to the revolution. The voices of women like me are drowned in this patriarchal society.
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More than half the sky, EDITORIAL
Womanpower stays home to teach, as manpower migrates, WILKO VERBAKEL in SINDHUPALCHOK
"I wanted to murder whoever did this to my daughter", DEWAN RAI