Girls in the war

A visit to the hill districts of Dailekh, Kalikot and Jumla in west Nepal in February 2003, three weeks after the declaration of the ceasefire between government and Maoist forces, reveals that the much-touted female involvement in the Maoist movement is ethically problematic for the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN-M). An analysis of conversations with girl cadres of the CPN (M) also reveals that the unresponsiveness of the state in post-1990 Nepal, and the limited ability of civil society to press for change, has greatly helped to attract girls to the logic of violent revolution.

The girl had a soft, childish face and a singsong voice. "What do you think they will do?" she asked the driver of our pickup truck. "The army will recognise us at once if we go by ourselves. There is a ceasefire, and both sides have said they will not do anything to each other, but what does that mean?"

She wanted a lift past the army check post into Dailekh bazaar.

The driver hesitated. The girl leaned against his window, playing coyly with the side mirror. Glancing at the back, she noted an empty seat. "Both sides have said they will not do anything to each other, but what does that mean?" she said again, in an entreating voice. "You know they will take one look at our shoes and recognise us". Women of the CPN (M) wore closed shoes so that they may walk easily, and when need be, run. Local women wore sandals.

The girl stood out as a Maoist cadre in other ways as well. She and another younger girl in her company were wearing plain kurta-surals and no jewellery. The other girl's hair was cut in a rough modern style, and she had covered her face with a bandana. Both were carrying backpacks. This was an area where women and girls dressed in traditional clothes and finery, and would more likely be carrying loads of grass or firewood on their backs.

The driver of our vehicle could hardly refuse the girl's request: he had to ply these roads often, and could not risk the enmity of Maoists. He told her that they could get into the back of the pickup. This they did, but then, just before it started off, the girl who had spoken jumped out of the back and came into the vehicle and sat next to us.

In the next 45 minutes, as we wended our way up the rough road to Dailekh bazaar, she spoke openly, and amicably, about herself and about her experience in the CPN (M). She was, she said, 17 years old. "I will be 18 soon", she added quickly, and repeated, "I am almost 18". Her friend, she said, was 15. They worked in a team as motivators for the party, going from house to house in Surkhet district talking to people about the movement.

Now that there was a ceasefire, she was on her way to visit her family. She had not been back in the year that she had been working for the party. She had three brothers, all older. "I am the only daughter. And I am the only one who joined the party".

She spoke easily, as though she were used to talking to strangers. She did not mind our questions, and even welcomed them: "I will tell you anything I can". Her family did not mind her joining the party, she said, though they had wanted her to finish her studies first. She had dropped out of the ninth class to join the movement. She said she enjoyed her work for the party.

Martial training was only given to the army wing of the party, she said. "And for those who request it. I did not take any physical training, though I could have, if I had asked for it". She did not carry any weapon, she said, though during the state of emergency, between November 2001 and August 2002, all cadres were given socket bombs for their safety. "We were all trained how to pull out the pin, throw the bomb and run away. You have four seconds before it explodes. We all had one bomb each. I carried mine with me, and almost used it once, against the army, but did not". At the end of the state of emergency, most of the cadre stopped carrying socket bombs. "Now there is no difficulty at all in moving around and doing our work. But earlier, during the emergency, things were hard".

Did the party pay her for her work? "No!" She laughed. "We get 150 rupees a month for soap and emergency expenses, but we have to support ourselves". She ate for free at the houses of people, like most Maoist cadres.

She said that her party bought firearms from communist parties in India and the parts used for socket bombs from the border town of Nepalganj. Nepalis living in India supported the party. She had not heard of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, an organisation of several Marxist parties from around the world that has been vocal in claiming Nepal's Maoists as Nepal's Maoists have been in claiming them. She could not say whether it provided any military support to her party.

Her mind was on the ceasefire. "Both sides have said they will not do anything to each other. What do you think that means?" she asked again and again. The code of conduct agreed upon by the government and the CPN (M) states, among other things, that both parties will allow the unrestricted movement of people. She agreed that the need for peace was urgent, and that the destruction of power plants, telecommunications towers and other infrastructure by the CPN (M) in the past year had harmed the country. "The people have suffered", she conceded.

Then, looking out of the vehicle, she suddenly became anxious. "Is that the army camp out there? Shall I get out here? What shall I do?"

After some fretting she decided that it would be safer for her to stay in the pickup. She signalled to her friend at the back to take the bandana off her face, and then she became tense as we approached the army check post.

Outside, an army man strolled over to the vehicle. The girl stiffened visibly as he circled the pickup, scanning the passengers. The driver got out to register the vehicle number, and the army man moved away, but still the girl kept her head down. "I will tell you later", she hissed when I asked her name.

Once we got on our way, she lifted her head and asked the driver, "Dai", using the Nepali word of respect for any older male, "They will not stop us again, will they?"

When he said no, she turned to us and said, "My name is Binita. My home name is D Kandel, but my party name is Binita".

She went back, then, to answering our questions in her open, unassuming manner.

Was it hard for her to live such a rough life? "There are lots of women in the party", she said. "There is even an all-woman company". A company had three platoons; and each platoon consisted of 45 armed personnel. "Even the commissars and commanders of that company are women", she said with pride. She herself had never seen the all-woman company, but she had heard about it: it was stationed in another part of Surkhet district.

Comrade Binita got touchy when we asked if she had ever killed anyone. "I have not done anything", she said quickly. "Who knows what would happen if I had to. But I probably will not have to". Neither had she witnessed the killings carried out by her party members. "I have never even recommended that anyone be killed. Our work is to motivate people". She talked to villagers as she had been trained to by the leaders.

Her work was dangerous but she had never been apprehended by the security forces. "When you see them, you think it is better to die than to fall into their hands, so you run". She laughed. "What happens when you run is, the bullets land either in front of you or behind you. You just keep running. Once I sprained an ankle jumping across a ditch. They were shooting from above, and I did not know what to do. So I jumped".

"What did the party do if its cadres were wounded?" There were doctors in every platoon, she said. And if they could not treat the wounded, the party would send them to the district headquarters, or if that was too dangerous, to India.

She had no regrets about joining the party. "The movement is changing so many things", she said. The only thing she wondered about was whether she should not return to school for her School Leaving Certificate (SLC). "Maybe afterwards, if there is peace, I could go back and complete my SLC", she said. Then added, "Though it will be odd. I will have lost a year or more".

How did that matter?

"I would feel embarrassed being older than everyone else".

Does she feel, we asked, that girls like her are being used by the party? There are examples of women activists who worked for the political parties in the panchayat era when party politics was banned for 30 years, who had given up their 'bourgeois' education in order to help their parties – only to find that they were unqualified to hold top posts when democracy was finally won in 1990. "Will the men of your party not take all the top posts as soon as they get a chance?"

Comrade Binita shook her head – no. "It is not like that", she said. "Women and men are equal now".

"Then why are there no women in the Maoist negotiating team that is meeting with government representatives?"

Her face suddenly darkened. Quietly, and sounding puzzled, she said, "I do not know".

As we neared Dailekh bazaar she repeated what she had said earlier, more to herself than to us: "If there is peace, I could get my SLC. That is the only thing my family pressures me to do. I should do it. It would be good if I could do it".

She and her young friend got off in Dailekh bazaar, and headed off with thanks.

Comrade Binita and her companion were the only female Maoist cadres we were to meet in Dailekh district. Some of what she had said to us was in line with available information about the CPN (M): the party was divided into a political wing and a military wing. From early on, the party has made claims that women comprised one-third of its cadres. This has not been independently verified. Neither is it clear what positions the party's females occupy – whether there is space in the party for women in leadership positions, or whether the majority of the party's female cadres fill the bottom ranks. The presence of females in the military wing has tended to come to most attention, but there has been little opportunity for independent analysts to examine whether or not these women merely served as "cannon fodder". Neither is it known what percentage of these female recruits are underage girls. The nature and scope of female involvement in the party can only be studied after the party comes fully above ground.

Girls at war
From our travels, however, it would seem that the CPN (M)'s claims to enjoy the wide participation of women are exaggerated. As we wended our way north from Dailekh bazaar on foot, through the villages of Dullu, Dandibandi, Sukhatiya and Raraghat in Dailekh district, we met Maoist cadres at every stop but they were all men or boys. The vast majority of them were of the Bahun (hill Brahmin) caste. In Kalikot district as well, there was not a single woman cadre among the Maoists we met. In Pakha village of Kalikot district, the CPN (M) Area Secretary Comrade 'Sandesh' assured us that his party had many women cadres. He repeated the claim that the party had an all-woman military company, though the one he was talking about was based in Rolpa district, due east, the birthplace of the Maoist movement. And he said that his party had been working hard to end discrimination against women.

"There is a local practice of segregating women when they are menstruating and after they have given birth", he said. "These women used to have to stay apart, in sheds. Now we have put an end to that practice. Even when women are having their periods or have given birth, they are kept in the house, and are no longer barred from the hearth and other ritually pure places". He added, "Just next door, a woman gave birth to a son yesterday. Today she is cooking fish for us".

He laughed when we suggested that perhaps she would enjoy her rest better, and said that it was important to eradicate the notion of impurity that traditional culture imposes on women. This was part of a larger movement to rid society of superstition and religious faith. Comrade Sandesh insisted that his party was truly different from the other political parties. The lack of women in the Maoist negotiating team did not indicate discrimination within the party, he said. "Can only women represent the interests of women?"

Some of the social drives that Comrade Sandesh mentioned were evident along the trail. The anti-alcohol campaign led by the All Nepal Women's Association (Revolutionary), a "sister organisation" of the CPN (M), had driven the consumption of alcohol underground: many people now drank in the privacy of their homes, and they did not dare create a commotion in public, as they earlier might have. Card playing too was done surreptitiously. Past the village of Sukhatiya in Dailekh district we saw men playing a game of carom. Had the Maoist cadres been present, they told us, they would not be able to idle about so openly.

The spirit of these social drives was unmistakably youthful, and the behaviour of local motivators and cell members exuded Red Guard zeal. In his 40s, Comrade Sandesh was one of the older Maoist cadres we met. He reprimanded us when we referred to porters as 'bhariya' (literally, 'bearer'), and asked us to call them 'helpers' instead. At the end of our meeting, he fed us some trout that the woman who had just given birth had cooked. "This is the culture of the communists", he said in an oddly bracing mix of hospitality and menace. "We share everything that we have".

This was the kind of pedantic, big-brotherly leadership, it was evident, that attracted the following of the ideologically fervent youths of these parts.

As we approached Jumla district, we were assured by male Maoist cadres that we would meet female comrades along the way. "There are many of our women along that stretch" we were told at almost every stop. In several places we were told we had missed them by a day; they were said to be putting up plays and cultural programmes, or attending rallies in villages nearby. There would not be many women in the military wing in these parts, we were told, but there would be political workers along the way for certain.

The female Maoist cadres that we did meet at long last turned out to be girls and not women. They were walking in a scattered group along the trail an hour down from Tatopani village, in Jumla district, having staged a play the day before in a nearby village. We spoke to one girl, as two younger girls sat by listening. All three were unsure in their manners and shy. As we talked, we were quickly surrounded by passing villagers, and a uniformed boy who greeted the girls energetically, with raised fists and firm handshakes, accompanied by greetings of "lal salaam" ('red salute') stopped by. Comrade Jamuna, the girl we spoke to, said she had been in the party for only four months. The other girls were even newer to the party; they had joined only two months ago. At first they could not remember the names the party had given them in order to protect them, and initiate them into their new life. After consultations, they finally told us that their party names were Pragati and Sangeeta.

"What had you been doing before joining the party?"

Comrade Jamuna shrugged. "Nothing". She had never attended school, though one of her brothers was a graduate and another one was studying in class seven. "Even my sister-in-law has passed her SLC exams", she said with pride. Comrade Jamuna, however, used to do housework: cutting grass, working in the fields, gathering firewood. She said, "There was nothing interesting to do at home, so I decided to do party work. I wanted to join the revolution". She was 15, she said, and from nearby Nuwakot village. Then she retracted her age, "I am 18". "She is 15", said one of the village women who was listening in on our talk. "And the other girls are 12 and 13".
"I am 18", Comrade Jamuna insisted.

"You were born after my son", said the woman. "He is not above 15".

I asked the other girls what their ages were, and they agreed that they were 12 and 13.

Comrade Jamuna said that she worked in a team that reared chicken and sheep for the party, and grew potatoes, corn and green beans. There was one male cell member in the group, whom she referred to as 'dai' and three girls altogether, amongst whom she was the only cell member. Cells were the most local-level unit of the CPN (M), extending all the way to small neighbourhoods.

But was this not exactly the kind of work she was doing for her family? We asked if her family disapproved of her work for the party?
"Why should they disapprove? They are happy for me", she said. Her brothers had not joined the party, but her family, she said, was different from most village families. "They do not say that a daughter must get married. They agree that things should change".

Did other village women support them?
She said yes.
And did she enjoy her work?
She nodded yes. "There was nothing to do at home".
Did she feel that perhaps girls like her were being used by the party?

She said no. Then, for no reason, she said in an exhorting tone, "We must not feel discouraged. There is no reason for that. We must realise that there is nothing to be discouraged about".

The involvement of girls in the CPN (M) raises problematic ethical questions for the party: girls of 12, or even 17, are simply too young to know if they are being exploited by those more powerful than they. They are certainly vulnerable to emotional manipulation and sexual abuse by men within their party. To add to this is the danger from the security forces that they are exposed to. In a country where half the population is below the age of 20, it is to be expected that the young would be targeted for politicisation. Yet the CPN (M) must accept its culpability for recruiting children, including girls, not just to forward its politics but to fight its war.

At the same time, it is obvious from talking to these girls that joining the CPN (M) was the best option that was available to them. They have been denied any meaningful participation in the rural societies that they live in: most of them have not been formally educated and are not fit for employment as teachers, government workers or staff in the non-governmental organisations that used to be active here in development work. These girls cannot participate in local government bodies because of age, inexperience or gender discrimination. There are few social movements at the grassroots that they might involve themselves in, and the other political parties have not carried out programmes that may have sparked their youthful imaginations. There is simply no means of expression, in these areas, for their desire for advancement, other than to answer the Maoists' call. There is no less militant option by which they might exercise their agency.

The failings of Kathmandu
The broad context for the participation of girls in the CPN (M) is, then, the non-responsiveness of the state to long-overdue demands for women's legal equality, political participation, and social and economic empowerment. The post-1990 period has witnessed the proliferation of social movements in Nepal, among them the nascent women's movement. Yet, because these movements are yet to mature, they have had limited success in forcing the state to respond meaningfully to the widening democratic aspirations of ordinary citizens.

So scattered has the women's movement been in Nepal, many feminists would contest that such a thing even exists. Shova Gautam of the Institute for Human Rights Communication, Nepal, expresses the prevailing sentiment of many feminists when she says, "Nothing will come of the women's movement. The women affiliated with the political parties will only take up an issue if their party raises it. They do not independently pressure the leadership of their party. Then there are the women activists of the NGO movement, who will only take up an issue if they can make a 'project' out of it, and get funding for it. There are too few real women's activists, who will take up issues based on the logic of rights".

Yet there is no doubt that there was the intention, in 1991, to launch a broad-based women's movement with the formation of the Mahila Dawab Samuha (the Women's Pressure Group). This group was composed of a coalition of women leaders and activists from the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML), the Nepali Congress Party and smaller centre/left parties, and some prominent unaffiliated women. The left politician Sahana Pradhan was its chairperson. The group first came to prominence by galvanising public outcry following a spate of rapes of young girls in Kathmandu valley in 1990. After that, by the admission of its own members, the increasingly bitter rivalries between the political parties pushed the group into dysfunction.

Since then, the women's movement in Nepal has drifted into the hands of a variety of actors. These include the women's wings of the major political parties, whose struggles begin with internal discrimination in their parties. They form two camps composed, loosely, of 'bourgeois' or liberal feminists and 'progressive' or leftist feminists. Just as important are the growing numbers of 'star' activists based in Kathmandu, such as advocates Shanta Thapaliya, Sapana Pradhan Malla and Meera Dhungana in the field of public interest litigation, or Meena Acharya in economics and Seira Tamang among scholars. Though leftist feminists would pointedly disagree, the NGOs providing services for women's social and economic empowerment have also contributed towards the cause of gender equality. And mass-based local initiatives such as the mothers' groups of west Nepal have also helped to carve a greater social space for women in rural communities.

Because these efforts are scattered, and sometimes fitful, they have not coalesced into an articulated women's movement of any kind. This has allowed the state to respond lethargically, and often insincerely, to women's demands for equality, making three scant concessions in the course of 12 years.

The first of these came in 1997, when the minority Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) government established the Ministry for Women, Children and Social Welfare. Though leftist feminists lauded this move as an effort to support women's rights, many liberal feminists viewed it as a token gesture that would ghettoise rather than mainstream women's issues. In its years in operation, the 'women's ministry' has had mixed success: its most notable work was perhaps done in drafting a bill for women's rights, a bill which was not without its share of critics. Since then it has gained the unfortunate image as a convenient place to provide employment to the women activists of the party in power.

The state's second concession to the women's movement came with the passing of the 11th amendment to the civil code in 2001, after six years of protracted struggle by legal activists. In 1995, Meera Dhungana filed a writ petition at the supreme court asking that the term 'son' in clause 16 of the civil code's inheritance law be repealed as it discriminated against daughters: prevailing inheritance laws allowed a woman to inherit paternal property only if she was over 35 and unmarried. By contrast, all men over 18 enjoyed the right to inherit paternal property in Nepal's system of angsha, or birthright inheritance.

In a tellingly conflicted response to Dhungana's petition, the supreme court ruled that the clause in question did discriminate against women, but that repealing it would grant women dual rights to inherit their parents' and husbands' properties, and would thus discriminate against men. The court ordered parliament to submit a 'just' bill within one year, but it also tacked on a note that changing current laws could "affect" the "patriarchal order" of the country. The ruling warned: "Society cannot accept it when social values are changed suddenly".

Though mixed, this ruling did force parliament to do something to address gender inequality in the civil code. In 1997, the Ministry for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs submitted the bill for the 11th amendment to the civil code, popularly known as the 'women's bill', to parliament. The rights it granted women were limited: most controversially, inheritance rights were granted only to unmarried women, who would have to give up their inheritance upon marriage. The bill also proposed stiffer punishments for rape, and the legalisation of abortion for married women with the consent of their husbands, or for women who had suffered rape or incest.

The women's movement was divided over the bill. It did not touch on most of the 54 discriminatory laws in the constitution and in the civil code that had been identified by the NGO Forum for Women, Law and Development. Nevertheless, liberal feminists tended to favour the bill, arguing that further concessions could be won in the future to consolidate the bill's limited gains. Leftist feminists, however, wanted it defeated so that parliament would be obliged to draft a more progressive set of bills covering the issues of inheritance, rape and abortion. The women's wings of the CPN (UML), the United Leftist Women's Group and the Nepal Women's Association demonstrated against the bill, as did the by-then mostly inactive Women's Pressure Group.

In any case, parliamentary action on the 'women's bill' was delayed for years due to the rapid succession of governments. When the bill finally came up for discussion in December 2000, the parliament's Law and Justice Committee sent it for discussion to the grassroots level. This was a clear indication of ambivalence: in 10 years of democracy, no other bill had been sent for discussion in this manner. Over the course of several months, however, the bill received resounding support at the grassroots level. It was eventually passed in 2001 with a few amendments. It was received with mixed reactions by the women activists.

The third and final concession of the state to the women's movement was the formation of the Women's Commission in 2002. This commission, headed by Durga Pokharel [who??], has yet to be activated, and it is uncertain how much more effective it will be than the near-defunct Ministry for Women, Children and Social Welfare.

That the incipient women's movement has had such limited success should not be of surprise. Social activism is very young in Nepal: the human rights and environmental movements, the language and janajati movements, the dalit rights movement and the demands of smaller pressure groups in areas such as human rights are only now beginning to gain pace.

Sickles and automatic rifles
The reasons for this are clearly rooted in the country's authoritarian past. Though philanthropic works have been performed traditionally through private donations, yagya offerings and guthi services, modern social activism in Nepal began as late as the 1930s, as individuals critical of the Rana regime took their political consciousness to action. Tulsi Mehar introduced Gandhi-style spinning wheels, and was arrested for it. Kathmandu intellectuals got together to start libraries, for which they met with prison sentences. BP Koirala's (leader of the Nepali Congress who became the first elected prime minister in 1959) father famously sent the tattered rags of a poor man to the Rana prime minister Chandra Shumshere, and had his properties confiscated. Home schooling began to take place in secret. Shukra Raj Joshi in Kathmandu valley, Yogmaya in the eastern hills, as well as other religious reformists called for justice in their religious discourses. By the time the political parties formed in the 1940s, 'subjects' all over the country were organising their defiance, giving voice to widening left/liberal aspirations to citizenship.

With the formation of the political parties, activism got channelled against the state. Through the 1960 royal takeover and the consolidation of the panchayat system in the 1970s, political activism began to overshadow social activism. Nepal is witnessing the legacy of this today.

"There was not, in panchayat times, what we today call social activism", says advocate Gopal Siwakoti Chintan, one of the growing numbers of forceful, targeted social activists to emerge since 1990. "There was social service, led by those in the palace. Then there was political activism, which was limited to organising against the state". Though the underground political parties also did 'sectoral work' – calling for cultural reform in relation to gender and caste, for example – their main goal was to topple the panchayat system. All social causes were secondary, he says.

The sudden proliferation of social causes after 1990 seems to have caught the political parties by surprise. The janajati movements and the dalit rights movements have taken place at the peripheries of the political parties, rather than at their centres. The environmental movement has had to battle, at times fiercely, with successive democratic governments: the anti-Arun III campaign in 1993 engendered much ill will when it successfully pitted the local people of the Arun valley against the central government for control over water resources. This was perhaps the first example of truly successful social activism in Nepal.

The main challenge now, says Chintan, is to consolidate the gains of the social activism of the past decade. His view is that effective activism can only take place through community organisations, run by local people who are accountable to their own communities and have the greatest moral authority to steer social movements.

One such example was the summer 2000 movement to free bonded labourers in far west Nepal, the Kamaiya Mukti Andolan, led by the community NGO, Backward Society Education (BASE) which has mass membership of former bonded labourers. Dilli Raj Chaudhary and other leaders launched the organisation with literacy classes and other social services traditionally considered 'NGO work'. They gradually expanded into advocating the end to bonded labour at the local and district levels. To do so, they enlisted the support of human rights organisations such as the Informal Sector Service Centre, and international donors and development agencies that were willing to fund their cause.

When met with resistance from the local administration, BASE shifted its advocacy efforts to Kathmandu, successfully combining street-level activism and a savvy media blitz with the selective high-level lobbying of individual politicians. Ironically, BASE's success earned them the enmity of the CPN (M), for bonded labourers had been an easy source of discontent that the Maoists could tap. BASE is now focusing on the rehabilitation of the freed labourers, warding off the CPN (M) at the grassroots level and lobbying the government and international donors in order to provide the services that fall under the ordain of 'NGO work'.

Given the fledgling state of social activism in Nepal, then, it would be difficult to argue, as even feminists do in moments of frustration, that the women's rights movement has failed; rather, one could say that it is gradually coalescing. The scattered loci of women's activism today are the women's movement. It may not look like much of a movement, but it is undeniably more powerful and broad-based than it has ever been. However limited its gains, the women's movement, for example in the 11th amendment that grants some property rights to women, has helped to slowly make joining the radical fringe a less appealing option for those who want change.

To most of the women of Nepal, of course, such a gradualist view smacks of complacency. The indicators of women's status in Nepal have been consistently appalling: women have far lower literacy rates than men; women are not recognised for their economic contributions; women suffer from poorer nutrition than men, and two-thirds of women of reproductive age are anaemic; women here suffer one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. In a country where 42 percent of the population lives below poverty level, women constitute the vast underclass. Indeed, Nepali women would be very well served well by increased pressure, worldwide, to include economic rights in all charters on human rights, for the conditions in which they live arguably betrays criminal disregard on the part of the government.

This has undeniably strengthened the logic for violent revolution in grassroots Nepal. Further along our walk into Jumla district, past the village of Tatopani, we passed a large group of girls the age of Comrades Jamuna, Pragati and Sangita. They were returning from a wedding of two CPN (M) members. They were all wearing red teekas on their foreheads to mark the festivities, and looked very much like schoolgirls anywhere on a picnic or outing; the occasional greetings of "lal salaam" were the only indication of their political bent.

We fell into a conversation with one of these girls, who was dressed like her comrades in a simple kurta-sural. "The girl and the boy both have to like each other", she said, trying to explain her party's views on marriage. "Then the party will hold a ceremony for them". This entailed an exchange of garlands, and some singing and dancing afterwards, she said.

The girl was, again, very young: she said she was 16. She was originally from Kalikot district and had been working in Jumla district throughout her year and a half in the party. She was in the armed wing, she said, though nothing in her bearing gave off any hint of militancy. She was curious about my mission, and asked why I was unmarried, and how my family accepted my travelling with men. "It is the same with us", she said enthusiastically when I told her that women must be ready to travel in any condition if they are to have the necessary mobility for their work. She said, "We too have to travel with men for our work".

What was she doing before she joined the party?

"Nothing", she said, "I was at home, spending my days cutting grass". This was a story that had by now become routine coming from the girl cadres of the CPN (M). Joining the party had offered them perhaps the best chance available for wider social engagement.

The girl said she had received physical training, including on the use of firearms. She was not involved in the Maoists' November 2002 attack on Khalanga town, headquarter of Jumla district, one of the clashes that with its end-game brutality is thought to have pressed the government to agree to the ceasefire. But the girl was willing to go to war if her party instructed her to.

With a soft tone that belied the hardness of her message, she said, "That is why I joined the movement. You see, there used to only be sickles and grass in the hands of girls like us. And now there are automatic rifles".

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Himal Southasian