ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Women, Leverage and Peasant Revolutionary Organisations

The Maoist Organisational Field in Telangana

Vast scholarship has found women in revolutionary organisations lacking in bargaining potential, being accorded subordinate positions, and facing sexual violence. This paper refutes such claims of homogeneity in women’s experiences, instead showing, under several structural conditions, that women’s groups exercised power, becoming central to guerrilla movement resilience. Using the case of the Maoists in two districts in Telangana, the author finds that the presence of relatively autonomous women’s groups in the villages generated a collective structural leverage—where women could steer movement actions, bargain for their demands to be met, and influence movement trajectory. Women have become essential to the guerrillas in delivering meaningful social change in the villages and creating robust support systems that can sustain an armed movement, while at the same time generating bargaining power for women.

This article is based on a larger project on resilience in radical movements. The author is especially grateful to Michael Schwartz at the State University of New York, Stony Brook for detailed comments on several ideas and drafts of the paper. It has also gained immensely from insights provided by Naomi Rosenthal and Sharada Srinivasan, and from conversations with Gilda Zwerman and Ian Roxborough.

Much scholarship has focused on the impact on women who participate in armed resistance. This focus has produced a useful portrait of the pressures within guerrilla movements towards sustained clandestinity, evolution toward militaristic-type organisations, and the reliance on a centralised command and absolute compliance (de Volvo 2012; White 2007; Bhatia 2006).

While broader revolutionary movement structures can limit functions performed by women, I find that women are able to exercise leverage and, consequently, gain power within guerrilla movements. Using evidence from the Maoist movement in Telangana, I find this leverage depended on structural conditions for organising autonomous village organisations and, in turn, the ability of the emerging organisations to put forth their demands. This analysis focuses on local sociopolitical and organisational environments, providing insights not only into women’s roles in radical movements, but the dynamics of radical peasant movements.

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Updated On : 14th Jun, 2018
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