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by Ranjana Padhi and Pramodini Pradhan

One seldom gets to hear about women’s resistance in Odisha, be it in resistance literature or history or the discourse of the contemporary women’s movement. It is the redeeming figures of Rama Devi, Malati Choudhury or Annapurna Moharana that have been assigned an aura of respectability for their unique contribution in Odia society.1 Reverence is a catch, especially in a society steeped in feudal patriarchy. Therefore, we need to look at the more ordinary women in the State.

The vibrant presence of hundreds of thousands of women pitted against the mighty assault of state and capital in today’s context of resource plunder in Odisha needs to be reflected upon to locate them in the same Odia society. Who are these women who we meet in the many resistance struggles of Odisha? They are the ordinary women, otherwise largely invisible, trying to hold onto their livelihood, trying to protect it for their children from the rapaciousness of the state and capital. That is their dream in all its ‘ordinariness’. We have seen them amongst the betel vines of Baliapal, in the hills of Gandhamardhan, in the waters of Chilika, in the sandy alluvial soils of Gopalpur. We also see them in the bauxite mountains of Kashipur and Niyamagiri, in the undulating terrains of Kalinganagar, in the paddy fields of Dhinkia, in the forests of Narayanpatna; and even in the deep forest recesses in uniform and with a gun. They are visible in all these places. Not only that. They are ready to face and fight what human beings possibly can. They are exceeding human capacities in saying ‘no’ to what they do not want.

If we were to map out the struggles, in which women have actively participated or continue to participate, two broad patterns emerge: one is popularly known as the non-armed, peaceful, anti-displacement people’s struggle, and the second is the armed Maoist or, what the Odia mainstream media calls, Red Campaigner’s struggle (Lal vahini). The former seeks to protect the existing sources of livelihood from the clutches of capital and state; thereby trying to resist the juggernaut of capital and a state hand-in-glove with it. But the latter proclaims to overthrow that state for the good of the larger populace. It is important to note that though both forms of struggle vary in strategy and aspiration, the majority of the people, so also the women participating in it, belong to the less privileged caste and class of Odia society. This in itself is a marked difference if we compare it with the Gandhian freedom struggle which first brought out the women in Odisha to the political arena.

This article will attempt to locate the role of women in the context of the struggles in Odisha today and to narrate the kind of hardships they undergo as women. Based on some amount of field visits done at specific times and on secondary material, including media reporting, we hope to outline some pertinent questions. The article will also reiterate the most significant question—whether women’s participation in these mass movements is also one step towards breaking the shackles of patriarchy and gaining greater autonomy over their lives.

The Context of the Current Resistance

Economically speaking, Odisha is a peasant society largely dominated by small and marginal farmers. Almost 70 per cent of its population depends on agriculture. Demographically, nearly 40 per cent of the population of Odisha belongs to the Scheduled Castes (16 per cent) and Scheduled Tribes (22 per cent). It is also important to note the spatial dimension of this demography: more than 80 per cent of the STs live in the forested tracts of Odisha which happen to be the mining belt, let us say the Zone of Extraction. So, when land is acquired for mega projects—be it a Missile Test Range, mining or steel plants—and resistances to those take place, the small and marginal peasants, Dalits and adivasis, and most naturally women from these segments, are seen to be at the front.

The process of land acquisition has accentuated across the country since the nineties, precipitated by the reforms characterising the neoliberal regime; and so have the emergence of many resistance struggles. In Odisha, we have been witnessing continuously the valiant resistance of people in the regions of Kashipur, Kalinga-nagar, Lanjigarh/Niyamgiri, Narayan-patna, and Jagatsinghpur. They have been left neglected for decades by the policies of successive State governments and Central governments and now they are being thrown into the vortex of the privatisation and liberalisation of the Indian economy, which essentially means to hand over their sources of livelihood to the corporations—national and international—for profit and expansion of capital. But this is being called and debated in our times as ‘Development’.

The endless debate whether the industrialisation of the State is necessarily to be dubbed as “development” prompts us to highlight the most basic point. In our view, there can be no development without people and the interests of the people being at the centre of that development paradigm. Even as poverty and greater economic distress characterise the outcome of the policies of the neoliberal regime, we do not have to think very hard what the possible outcome can be for a State that has officially 28.17 per cent of its population below the poverty line. But the situation in the south and north of Odisha is rather grim—it accounts for approximately 85 per cent of the poor in the State. (Economic Survey, Government of Odisha, 2010-11) The abysmal poverty of the southern region is characterised by 71.4 per cent of the people of the KBK districts (Kalahandi, Nuapada, Bolangir, Subarnapur, Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabrangpur and Raygada) living below the official poverty line.

It is most natural that people are resisting the kind of development being aggressively pursued as it is a clear denial of their long existing basic rights of food and survival along with a determination to hold on to their autonomy that is deeply linked to their relationship with land and their natural habitat. To be able to drive in this agenda, we see the increasing use of armed forces ever since the late nineties. We have seen the most violent repression in Chilika, Gopalpur, Kashipur, Kalinganagar, Niyamagiri, Jagatsinghpur and Narayanpatna. At many places, the nexus of the administration with corporations and hired lumpens has become the order of the day as we see most recently in the anti-POSCO struggle. And often-times, as a sort of justification by the state of this repression, these movements are being labelled as ‘Maoist’, irrespective of the political ideologies that nurture and sustain them. The purging of Maoism in the State, as elsewhere in the country, is basically the suppression of all struggling people.

The Maoist armed struggle is a form of resistance struggle where, of late we see, the participation of women is on the rise. Again in Odisha, it has grown and is expanding in the tribal dominated forested region, which is characterised by land alienation, deprivation and dispossession with centuries-old history. But for the purpose of the present history, it is the area that possesses most of the natural resources available in Odisha. And the maniac zeal to extract it in the name of development and brutal repression when people oppose it sets the immediate context for popular participation in the Maoist armed resistance. Bulka Miniaka, an elderly leader of the Prakrutik Sampad Surakhya Parishad (PSSP), Kashipur says: “What can be done? Nobody is listening and no other way is credible. We tried peaceful means but the government, administration, police have been successful in breaking them and discrediting them….so young people are feeling let down, even we are feeling so. It is okay. People have found reason in Maoism.”2

The price people pay is humongous: constant combing operations, encounters, surrenders and police intimidation. This is also amply testified when one looks at the ‘encounter killings’ during 2011 January when over 25 people were killed including 10 women and all in the ongoing/proposed mining-industrial belt.

Finally, all forms of political resistance, irrespective of being Gandhian, Maoist, Socialist or Marxist, or even that seeming to be an issue-based struggle against a specific project, have one thing in common. They are blocking the advent of state and capital in usurping their lands, livelihoods and lives. Since women and even children are a vital part of the active resistance, this paper is an attempt to outline the involvement of women in these struggles and what it informs us of the challenges before women in Odisha today. This is likely to contribute to the politics and debates within the women’s movement in India as the role of patriarchy becomes more indomitable for the majority women in the face of intense capitalist assault. A feminist understanding of these events has become the most pressing need in the context of corporate capitalisation and its telling repercussions on various sections of society. Therefore, we seek to make more complex the concept and understanding of what construes women’s struggle as we have known so far.

In Anti-displacement Struggles

During a visit by a team of Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) in November 2011 to the POSCO site area in Jagatsinghpur district, a woman discussed at length with the team what the struggle means to her and how hard they have worked at keeping it going in the face of increasing repression. Jemma Kotokia of Patana village near Gobindpur is 60 years in age. She relates an incident which illustrates the standing and role of women in the anti-POSCO movement:

We were standing on the road at Balitutha bridge from 7 am onwards blocking the way for the police to enter Gobindpur, Patana and Dhinkia. The police had warned that they would march ahead despite our blockade and we were prepared for them. First they fired teargas at those standing at the end of the rally and many women who were at the back ran away to shelter. Then they fired at the middle row and again many of the women ran helter-skelter as the gas was burning the eyes and blinding vision. And when the police saw that we were not budging from our roadblock even after firing teargas at the front row, they fired cycle pellets at us. Many women still have pellets in their bodies. We showed similar courage and resolve in the summer of 2011 when we lay on the hot seashore sand for seven days resisting police entry into our village. If we can do it twice then we can do it always because saving our land and livelihood is more important to us than our lives. If we save our lands today then we ensure a better future for our children and the next generation. If we lose our fight today then we cannot ensure any future for our children and the next generation. This is the background with which each one of us women comes to the forefront to fight POSCO and a State Government that refuses to listen to us or respect our rights. But at times when we hear that come what may POSCO will happen, then I cannot eat or sleep for days. I do not own any betel vine on any private patta land. All my vines are on forest land which have been ours since my husband’s/grandfather’s times. So how can the government say it is theirs to give away to POSCO?” 

There was active participation of hundreds of women in the anti-BALCO movement in the Gandhamardan region in the eighties. Most of these women were adivasi and Dalit women. As a strategy in protest demonstrations and road blockades, women would place their babies on the road right in front of the police and the mining vehicles to oppose their entry to the area.

Jambubati Bijira, a Dalit woman from Dungu-ripali village in the Gandhamardan area, who put her baby on the road, while blocking the road, has this to say:

“The police asked us, ‘Why are you stopping the vehicles?’ We replied, ‘To save our lives, to protect our mountains. We, the Dalits and tribals, all depend upon it. Won’t we all die if you mine it? We don’t care about our own lives, we are doing it for our children. We live on this land.’”

In Kashipur, the dance-song of women has this line, “Maatira poko, mati bina aame bonchiba kaheen?—(Earthworms we are — without earth how to survive?)”3

The voices of Jemma Katokia and Jambobati Bijira are only representative of the hundreds and thousands of ordinary women who have been actively participating in various resistance struggles—from Gandhamardan and Baliapal to the recent ones in Kashipur, Niyamgiri and Dhinkia. These voices also tell us clearly why they are participating in the struggles.

When we look at the class and caste character of these women, we find that they are mostly from the peasantry, tribal, Dalit or fisherfolk communities. Even the landless women have been visible in these struggles. It needs to be noted that in all these communities, women have a direct link to the productive process—whether it is agriculture, fishing, collection of forest produce or even as wage labourers. In a patriarchal society, these women hardly own land or other productive resources, they hardly count in taking decisions in the management of community owned common resources, but they surely are active participants in the economic activities in various ways. Hence their stake in the protection of their land, water and forests are crucial for their own survival. Therefore, they are bound to resist when their resources are being taken away by the corporates aided by the state. It is also important to note that, invariably, in all these struggles, women have expressed the concerns for their children, for the security of livelihood of the future generations. In response to the compensation and rehabili-tation packages announced by the government or companies, women have always asked, ‘What about the livelihood of the child in my womb?’

It is not surprising therefore that we see women always in the forefront of these resistance struggles. They are seen in guarding the barricades, sitting on dharnas, taking out rallies, mobilising protest demonstrations and so on. They are also seen facing the batons and guns when the state forces come down heavily upon the protesting people. In fact, it has been noticed that increasingly women are seen in the forefront when the state is determined to crush these movements by sheer brute force.

In Kashipur, women were attacked by the police many a time. On the day of police firing in 2000, in which three men were killed and many injured, it is the women who confronted the police when the latter forcefully tried to enter the village.

Women were with men when police fired upon the protesting people in Kalinganagar—of the twelve men killed on January 2, 2006, two were women. Before the police firing of 2006, women had faced the wrath of the police several times. About 25 women were arrested after the villagers had clashed with the Additional District Magistrate (ADM), Kalinganagar and the police in 2005. To escape police terror, a large number of villagers—both men and women—had taken shelter in the nearby forests for many days. And it was during this period that two children died for lack of proper attention as their parents were hiding in the forests. In 2010 in one more major attack by the police many women were injured when police fired plastic pellets.

The recent sights in Dhinkia-Gobindpur area, where women and children were lying on the ground facing the armed police force, have drawn the attention of people all over the country.

In many other struggles, which are not known as widely, women have been brutally beaten up by the police, when men flee the villages anticipating police attacks. The assumption that the police will hunt the men and brutally wreak violence is correct. The protectors, who are the women from these families, take on the proxy violence that is both brutal and terrorising.

In addition, they are vulnerable to degrading sexist abuse and molestation. It seems to have become the most routine violence that women face. The pain and anger remains fuelled each time women narrate these experiences.

While women have been in the forefront when it comes to facing the police, they have also suffered repression from the state and non-state forces in many other ways. For instance, people in the anti-POSCO struggle areas are totally in a siege now, not able to go out of their villages for possibility of being arrested. False cases are registered against all those who are participating in the struggle. In such a situation, women and children suffer most.

We have witnessed the same situation of women in the struggle areas of Kalinganagar and Kashipur. Since 2006 people in the protesting villages of Kalinganagar are unable to access the public health centres for fear of being arrested. We know of some cases when pregnant women have visited the doctor secretly for check-ups. There are cases when women have gone to relatives in far-off villages for delivery as they cannot go to the nearby hospital. Even when seriously injured in police firing they haven’t got any treatment. Anganwadi centres have been closed in some of the villages. There was no immunisation of children since the struggle began.

Women have also faced increased hardships when men are killed or arrested. It has become a common practice for the judiciary not to grant bail when people are arrested for their association with the struggles, particularly so when the alleged association is with the Maoists. People are kept in jail for years together. There are instances of men dying in jail before their trial began due to lack of proper medical care. Now there are allegations of rape by the security forces both in Kashipur and Niyamgiri areas.

In Areas marked as Maoist Territory

This being the state of affairs in the non-armed people’s resistance, one can well imagine what would be happening in areas where women are participating in the Maoist struggle. In the last two years or more, even as we go by reports from the mainstream media, we are becoming more and more familiar with the presence of women in the Maoist movement. What we get to know from the mainstream media is the participation of young adivasi girls who join the ranks of the Maoist cadre, who get killed in ‘encounters’, and who surrender before the police for alleged sexual harassment in the Maoist camps. What we don’t get to know is the everyday struggles of women in these areas and the fear and insecurity they live with. The larger question —why are these young girls joining the Maoist movement?—remains unaddressed. We would like to draw attention to some aspects of the Maoist movement and women in Odisha.

As mentioned earlier, a vast majority of the Adivasi population in Odisha are living in extreme poverty and deprivation which is driving them to take up arms against an unjust system. However, the state has responded to this by deployment of more security forces, more police stations, more modern weapons, recruitment of tribal boys as Special Police Officers (SPOs) and so on. It has meant more encounters, indiscriminate arrests, illegal detention and torture, regular combing operations, raiding of villages and indiscriminately beating up people and thereby terrorising entire communities. Women thus have become more vulnerable to violence and insecurities. Several cases of sexual assaults by the security forces have been reported from these areas. On the one hand, people are afraid of further violence if they report these cases, and on the other, they have little hope that they will get justice. Daily combing operations have made life a nightmare for women and girls. The womens situation is no doubt worsening because of the constant presence of paramilitary and military forces. Mobility is severely jeopardised that affects routine tasks as well as economic activities. The threat of arbitrary arrest or sexual violence is omnipresent. Once arrested, the events that follow seem daunting.

Even as investigative reports by democratic rights groups and others reveal the circum-stances in detail, let us have a quick look at a couple of these cases to see how they represent the plight of women in these so called “conflict zones”. The case of ‘surrendered’ women pose newer questions that we need to take cognisance of. Women, alleged to be Maoists, are not always safe even after ‘surrendering’ to the police. Kandri Lohar, allegedly a surrendered Maoist, was rehabilitated by the police by engaging her as a home guard, thereby making her life even more vulnerable. On February 12, 2011, Kandri Lohar and her four-year old son were found dead near the railway crossing of her village in Sundergarh district. Kandri Lohar had joined the Maoists and surrendered in 2005. She had struggled hard to get the promised rehabilitation package meant for surrendered Maoists. It was as late as in 2009 that she was made a Home Guard with a daily wage of Rs 110 and homestead land of four decimil. She used to cycle long distances to work as her house had collapsed in the 2010 cyclone and she moved to her parents. She made several pleas for compensation to rebuild the house.

“On February 11, 2011…Rourkela Police arrested three alleged ULFA men from the railway station. And the same day, at about 11 am, three Maoists (Mohammed Muslim, Nepali Bhumji and Sushanto Mahato) were shot dead in what was purported to be an encounter. One of the Maoists killed, Mohammed Muslim, was a frequent visitor to Kandri’s house and was her friend. The spot of the encounter was only a few kilometers away from Kandri’s village.”4

Next day morning, Kandri Lohar was found dead along with her son. Apparently, she had told her father that she was going to her uncle’s for Saraswati Puja. On her death, the police stated it as the work of Maoists and the Maoists denied their involvement. What was Kandri’s crime and that of her son? These are the most prominent among the many questions that come to mind.

Is a surrendered woman ever safe? Don’t rehabilitation measures doled out by the Odisha Government come with a heavy price too? What could have been her employment opportunities had she not got the job of a Home Guard or even — if we were to pause and think — had she not joined the Maoists in the first place. And finally, what had drawn Kandri and many women like her to the Maoist movement? The last question
is something we need to bear in mind as we look at women across the districts and their living conditions. Already, there are about 40 surrendered girls who are in custody of the police in various places. In many cases, family members have no access to these girls. Even the reporting by the dailies from various districts can be so telling of the threat and insecurity faced by hundreds and thousands of women in districts where anti-Maoist operations are on.

A woman is particularly not safe if a family member or even any relative is with the Maoists. On February 12, 2010, a 20-year old woman was allegedly raped by five or six police personnel. She was part of a group of youngsters who were being herded off by the police when they had come looking for two specific Maoists “Azad” and “Sagar” to village Jadingi in Gajapati district. It was a contingent of 40 SOG Special Operations Group (SOG) and police personnel from the Adava Police Station.

“There was no specific complaint or evidence against the woman arrested. In contravention of the law, the woman was picked up at night, without any female security personnel present. All rules for detention and arrest of women have been broken even though there was no immediate threat from her, and she was peacefully in the midst of routine chores at her residence.”5

She was able to reveal the incident of rape only in August when her father was finally able to locate her in jail and allowed to meet her. Since then, both her father and lawyer have been pursuing the legal case and facing intimidation too. As this case suggests, what construes evidence here becomes difficult if the woman is detained in the same set-up or premises of the accused. Also, the confidence of witnesses suffers when they too are being picked up in these combing operations at random for interrogation and being suspected of either protecting Maoists or happen to be siblings or relatives of Maoists. With the state gaining an upper hand in such conflict zones, the normal process of justice and redressal seem to become virtually nonexistent. Everyday routines involving the mobility of women and children are also deeply affected and this has a direct bearing on livelihood related to outdoor activity like going to the forests or fields or even to the local market for selling forest produce.

The attitude of the police and administration in the event of actual arrest or surrender becomes clear from how they perceive women activists as well as the manner in which senior Maoists are viewed as rapists whose singular interest in the recruitment of young women cadre is that of sexual exploitation. In the psywar that is used to malign radical movements in the perception of the general public, the Odisha Police and administration seem to have repeatedly used the charge of rape, and often against senior people. An experienced senior person of the movement has been named in places, like a couple of girls requesting the police in writing to arrest him. Let us have a quick look at some of the news reports to trace a pattern, if any.

There was an incident reported in a DNA news item of February 12, 2010

from Keonjhar district. The girl’s repeated pleas to stop the harassment fell on deaf ears as seniors in her camp continued to exploit her. She was so frustrated that she decided to surrender. She had further seemed to add that most women cadres face sexual harassment at nights.

The NDTV on January 9, 2011

reporting on the surrender of five young girls — all below the age of 17years—in Keonjhar, quoted the district SP as stating that the Maoists sell dreams to these girls and involve them in crimes. They are then blackmailed and even sexually harassed.

The New Indian Express on March 18, 2011

reported under the heading ‘Juvenile Surrenders’ that the 14-year-old who surrendered to the district police wanted to join the mainstream and hoped that the police would help her resettle. She, who worked under Kashipur and Niyamgiri dalams, said there are many of her age groomed as ‘child soldiers’ and sexually exploited by Chhattisgarh cadres.

When a couple surrendered together, The Telegraph on May 30, 2011

along with other dailies stated that the secretary of the organisation tortured the woman both mentally and physically. He apparently used to send out the husband for various works and tortured the woman physically and mentally. The same news, as reported in


the same day, spoke how the Maoist couple that surrendered revealed sexual harassment in base camp and that the woman had become a victim of sexual and physical harassment by senior cadre in camp.

On July 2, 2011 a Maoist interlocutor was alleged of harassment and betrayal. The Sunday Indian http://www.thesundayindian.com/ reported that serious allegations of betrayal, sexual abuse, and torture were made against Dandapani Mohanty—one of the three interlocutors of Maoists who played a crucial part in the discussion with the State administration for the safe release of the then abducted Malkangiri District Collector, Vineel Krishna. The allegations were raised against him by some of the women Maoist cadres.6

On July 7, 2011 The Times of India titled it as “Two women cadres surrender”. The report said: “Unable to cope with alleged sexual exploitation by their male counterparts and hardship in Maoist camps, two women cadres surrendered to Gajapati district police on Thursday.”


• The stress each time is on young women cadre.

• The ones accused of sexual assault are senior Maoist leaders.

• A couple of reports speak of sexual assault being rampant and in the “base camp”.

• In each case it is the girls seeking police support for rehabilitation.

• In most reports the statements are in indirect speech.

• Not a single other person or institution or body seems to have been interviewed by the press to add any point of view.

• There is seldom any other analysis about how or why these young girls chose to join the Maoists.

• The treatment of these women as political beings having their own aspirations seems totally absent.

So we have a picture where either these women were cajoled and lured into the Maoist camp or rescued by the state. In effect, they have no agency. This effectively wipes out any reason or background that brings them into the Maoist movement. In this manner, the anti Maoist propaganda, orchestrated by the state and its media counterparts, reduces women to sexual beings. They faced sexual assault and now the media is making aware of its readership what actually happens in Maoist camps. The women in any case have no mind of their own, leave alone agency. They are bodies to be assaulted. This also tends to rob away the scope of any constructive criticism one might make of Maoist politics as discussions, even informally, get reduced to whether such news is true or not. Some among us also dismiss it as sheer state propaganda while some others look at allegations of rape as nothing shocking. The notorious press has achieved its goals in defining the parameters of the discussion where women’s political participation gets overlooked by those most concerned too.

Thus, in Odisha, the rapist is either the state or the Maoist. The former never faces trial; the latter is reported through press conferences organised by the same police. And the young adivasi women are yet to be seen as actively engaged in a struggle against forcible land acquisition by the state and capital. If only things were to stop there. But the same feudal benevolent mind-set gets reflected in newspaper discussions, albeit in a different way this time. We have articles that do question the authen-ticity of these allegations but also begin to show deep concern for the future of the young adivasi girls. A report in a well-known fortnightly7 commented in deep anguish as to who will marry these girls. In the absence of any other response to the plight of these women, it is thus male intellectuals expressing grief about how women’s rightful place in marriage has been abrogated because of the false propaganda by the police about adivasi women being raped by Maoists.

The sexual assault of adivasi women needs the urgent attention of all those who seek a society free of sexual violence. Bypassing the daily lived reality of women’s vulnerability to sexual violence in these areas makes all else incomplete, whether it is engaging in anti-displacement struggles in all other ways or informed critiques of the armed struggles.

In the Struggle against State, Patriarchy
and Capitalism

The strength of the struggles in Odisha today is the range of ideological persuasion inherent in their outlook and practices. In all these struggles, the focus has been the protection of people’s land, forest, water—resources that the people are completely dependent on for their survival and livelihood. Our preliminary observations have been that beyond this single focus, any other issue hardly gets attention in these struggles. Other structures or forms of dominance, inequalities and discrimination—such as caste relations, gender relations, unequal land relations etc. remain on the sidelines. While the participation of women in resistance struggles is visible to all, within the struggles and outside, the question remains whether this has led to changes in women’s lives in terms of freeing women from their traditional roles or in any way challenging the patriarchal gender relations.

The question of women’s leadership in Maoist organisations needs as much attention too but our own access to such information and interaction remains limited. This is less discussed in India compared to Nepal.8 The trajectory of any issue-based struggle in particular, through its ups and downs, sees a certain quiet or lull both in times of small victories as well as momentary defeat. As has happened elsewhere in history, women ironically also get pushed into the traditional confines seemingly as a normal part of the social order, an order that goes unquestioned by people’s movements at such grim times. Their valiant participation does not always necessarily imply our beginning to see the freeing of women from the traditional roles of wives and mothers or sisters and daughters. The patriarchal order of the society thus seems to remain largely unquestioned. It is obvious that questioning of patriarchal control does not happen by itself; mass movements at best provide a ground that makes this struggle relatively easier.

The next important question is whether patriarchy is replicating itself in these resistance movements. The entry of hundreds of women in the daily work of movements per se necessitates newer ways of organising all other aspects of political practice. Even during the struggles, women are seen in large numbers in meetings, demonstrations and dharnas but they are hardly ever part of the decision-making bodies. This often used to be one of the active concerns of the PSSP, the organisation spearheading the resistance of the people of Kashipur against the bauxite mining project of the UAIL. This used to be the situation in the Chilika Bachao Andolan or even earlier of the women militantly involved in the struggles against BALCO in the Gandhamardhan region or against the missile test range in Baliapal. The anti-displacement struggles of the last ten years too reflect the same.

Often, accounts of women’s participation in movements are discussed in the absence of tangible parameters. How do we gauge the gains of these movements for women? Other than participation in decision-making structures, it can be reflected also in wages in agricultural work, rights to common resources and ability to garner support from the community or resistance area against sexual violence in conflict times or even routine domestic violence. Isolated incidents of individual assertion seem heartening; however, they do not necessarily reflect the collective taking one step ahead.

Finally, there seems to be an ever widening chasm between the feminism of the privileged and that of the less privileged. Are we prepared to look at the reality of this widening rift? The situation today raises a host of questions for all who are engaged in women’s struggles or writing or deliberating about the status of women in Odisha and elsewhere in the country. Events facing us—one after another—like in Odisha, see the active involvement of women who have always assumed a secondary position within the family and community. Perhaps the contradictions of patriarchy in a class-caste society have been borne by them the most. Yet they are giving the toughest challenge to state and capital in an unprecedented manner.

If we even begin to acknowledge the stakes involved for large sections of these people, the role of all other sections in society can lend more meaningfully to an understanding of women’s position in Odisha today. And one will begin to envisage the horizons of a future that forms the dreams and aspirations of these women. Perhaps we need to revisit the tenets of socialist feminism and enter into ideological discussions with mass movements with the same vibrancy and commitment that characterised the late seventies.

Indeed, there is a dire need to look more deeply into the nature of social and political change that resistance movements represent and more importantly the challenges facing women in Odisha by the hegemony of the state and capital. That itself can possibly broaden the canvas of what construes women’s struggles.

[Paper presented at the National Conference on Women’s Rights in Odisha: Culture, Politics and Development, Revenshaw University, Cuttack, January 22-23, 2012]


1. Both Rama Devi and Malati Devi were freedom fighters. After independence, Rama Devi actively participated in the Bhoodan movement and other social works. Malati Devi was very active in the Praja Mandal Movement and Krushak Andolan in Odisha. She was a member of the Constituent Assembly too. Post-independence, she was active in the field of rural development and education and protection of civil liberties. Rama Devi and Malati Devi were married to the Choudhury brothers who too were freedom fighters—Rama Devi to Gopabandhu Choudhury and Malati Devi to Nabakrushna Choudhury, who later became the Chief Minister of Odisha. Annapurna Maharana is the daughter of Rama Devi and Gopabandhu Caoudhury and she too participated in the freedom struggle.

2. “ Loot of the Land, Livelihood and Life”: A Joint Fact Finding Into Incidents of Crime against People in Odisha, October, 2011. A fact-finding report by PUCL (Odisha), OPDR (Andhra Pradesh), APDR (West Bengal), Human Rights Forum (Andhra Pradesh), Campaign for Justice and Peace (Tamilnadu), APCLC (Andhra Pradesh) and PUDR (Delhi).

3. Felix Padel and Samarendra Das, ‘Out of This Earth—East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel’, Orient Blackswan Private Limited, 2010, New Delhi pages 90-91.

4. “Loot of the Land, Livelihood and Life”: A Joint Fact Finding Into Incidents of Crime against People in Odisha, October, 2011. A fact-finding report by PUCL (Odisha), OPDR (Andhra Pradesh), APDR (West Bengal), Human Rights Forum (Andhra Pradesh), Campaign for Justice and Peace (Tamilnadu), APCLC (Andhra Pradesh) and PUDR (Delhi).

5. Sexual Assault of an Adivasi Woman by Orissa Security Personnel in Gajapati District, A Fact Finding Report by WSS, January 2011.

6. More recently, he was involved in the negotiations with the government on behalf of the Maoists in the cases of the Maoist abduction of the two Italian men in one incident and the BJD MLA, Jhina Hikaka, in the other incident.

7. Samadrusti, published from Bhubaneswar.

8. See http://monthlyreview.org/commentary…There is considerable writing by journalists on lives of women Maoists in Nepal. See, for instance, http://www.himalmag.com/component /content/article/565-a-chapamaars-peace.html

Ranjana Padhi is a feminist activist and researcher based in Delhi. Pramodini Pradhan is a feminist writer and civil liberties activist based in Bhubaneswar.


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