i am happy to be able to pass on this brief interview with Hisila Yami, nom de guerre Comrade Parvati, of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). While i am wary of some features of the revolutionary movement in Nepal (see here or here for instance), i am also inspired by aspects of the struggle there, and especially by the theoretical contributions Parvati has made in her essays Women’s Leadership and the Revolution in Nepal and her Interview with People’s March (both of which were published along with a commentary by Butch Lee in the Kersplebedeb pamphlet People’s War Women’s War, no longer in print).
i am reposting this from the blog Fire on the Mountain.
Interview with Hisila Yami
Conducted by Jorun Gulbrandsen and Johan Petter Andresen
Hisila Yami is a central committee member of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). Yami was a minister in the interim government until the Maoists withdrew in August 2007. She has written many articles about women’s liberation. The most important are collected in the book “People’s War and Women’s Liberation in Nepal”, ISBN 81-904039-0-7. Published by Purvaia Prakashan, India.
Red!: Is it possible for the working women in the third world to achieve liberation without people’s war?
Hisila: Never before in the history of Asia has the number of women joining the people’s war been so huge. At the same time, we must keep in mind that there is a strong left movement in Nepal. The background for this is that the position of women is very bad. More than 80% live in the countryside. Because of lack of income, the men go to find cash jobs in urban areas or in foreign countries. The women stay behind and take care of the farm and the children. The feudal system does not give the woman the right to own land. There are no openings for her. Her life is between the house and the water source. She is married away to the in-law family at an early age. Normally, she cannot visit her own family more than once a year. By the time she is 35 she is a grandmother and her life is finished. If she tries to go to the city she ends up sexually exploited. So the people’s war gave openings for women.
Politically we made this a point. During the war against the colonisers in 1816 the women fought bravely. The party used this as an example that women can fight. In 1944 there was a united woman’s effort to fight against the Rana system. The party was formed in 1948 and all the fronts were formed. Through these examples from history we showed that women have played, and must play, a central role.
Already in 1995, one year before we started the people’s war, we made a rule that there must be minimum two women in each unit. A unit had between 5 and 11 members.
In the period of the first people’s uprising in 1990 it was normal among communists that the husband worked as a full time party worker while the wife worked as a teacher and took care of the family. But we broke that rule in 1993-4.
There are many concrete reasons for the women to join the PLA. The were oppressed by the police, or the families sent the women to avoid them from getting raped by the enemy. Many women also saw PLA as a possibility for another type of life, a better life.
You should know that also before the people’s war, the left was strong in Nepal. The 8th of March has always been celebrated. There was of course a gender ground for that. The left started working with women’s liberation at an early stage. It was the women’s mass organisation that first made an independent program for women’s liberation.
The women’s fronts were very active in 1996. The attacked the men who wasted time playing cards and drinking liquor. They also attacked men that bashed women. Another example is the protests against beauty contests in the urban areas.
Right now the front is organising a wide women’s front for a federal republic. We always look for a united front in our political work.
Red!: What do you think are the main achievements during the people’s war in Nepal pertaining to women’s liberation?
Hisila: Because of our intervention the government was forced to amend many feudal laws. Many NGO’s were also forced to do work directed at women. And the state started employing women.
In the liberated areas the women are now given the right to property. Even now, in other areas, the women have to return their parent’s property when they get married.
We have introduced the right for women to get married again when the husband is martyred, and we have introduced the right to divorce and remarry.
The women in the liberated areas are getting justice through the people’s courts. The formal state organs are expensive and take a lot of time.
We have also politicised women. We have taught them that they have to fight against the state, the police and the military. When you fight, you learn about state oppression in practice. When the enemy rapes women, it teaches them about the gender character of the state.
The party was generous to promote women’s leadership fast. In connection with the reorganisation of the party in August, the central committee was downsized to 35 members, and there are now only two women in the central committee. But the reorganisation upgraded women’s representation and positions in the lower levels of the party.
Our demand is that 40 % of those employed by the state must be women.
Red!: What did you find were the main methods that you applied to achieve your goals?
Hisila: In the autonomous regions we made sure that many members are from the local areas. We needed to develop their social skills. They were often more interested in PLA, and the possibility of a lot of mobility. And their uniform gave them a good feeling. PLA was more technical work and made it easier for them to partake. Another positive factor was the collectivity in the PLA. Collectivity is a very important part of their culture.
We also used the method of positive discrimination of dalits and women. In running of the autonomous regions we had the rule of minimum 20 % dalits and 40 % women in leading organs.
Red!: How do you combat males oppressing females in the party and the PLA?
Hisila: The women are more vocal now at every level. One of the reasons for the promotions is exactly that the women are more vocal. But still it is a problem at every level for women to get heard.
We have also had deviations because of our cultural heritage. One example is when a politbureau member had an extramarital relation with a central committee member. The man was given more punishment than the woman.
In two line struggle: there is a tendency to pit women against women. But there is also a tendency to treat women differently than men, something I have experienced personally. When my husband Baburam Bhattarai was taken action against in 2005, this was given a political motivation, but when I was taken action against, the reasons given were my negative influence on him.
Red!: How do the women organise within the party and in the party leadership?
Hisila: When the women are in the women’s front they all work together. But in the party the women do not get together.
Red!: What are your immediate goals in the struggle for women’s struggle in today’s context?
Hisila: We should do away with the feudal system. The feudal system gives nourishment to the mini-kings in the households, and it reinforces the idea of the son as more worth in the family.
To attain this goal we are developing a united republic front of women’s organisations.
We are working for the implementation of the positive steps that were made with the interim constitution.
We are also working for the government to put priority on employment, education and health. This is especially important for women as they have a higher percentage of illiterates and are more exposed to illness, for example reproductive diseases.
We are also working for proportional elections instead of first past the post in connection with the elections to the constituent assembly. In this connection our demand is that 50% of the representatives shall be women, and that dalits, ethnic and national minorities also shall be proportionally represented. [Since this interview the Maoists have made a compromise with Nepali Congress where the elections to the constituent assembly shall be 60 % proportional and 40 % first past the post. The constituent assembly will decide the form of the state and the election procedures for the federal republic.–Red!]
Women communists can be a good rallying point to develop unity. When you see sectarian violence, you see that the women get be attacked because they bear the babies. The women can be invoked to be a uniting force in developing the new federal system.
We are encouraging a new generation of leaders, and here we must have continuous leadership development of new women leaders.
Red!: What do you think are the main achievements for women after the peace agreement in November 2006?
Hisila: The question of citizenship right. Before there was male linearship. Now the child gets citizenship if the mother has no husband. Another positive step is that when women and dalits buy land they don’t have to pay normal taxes.
Red!: What role do the various family structures among the different ethnic groups play in oppressing women in Nepal?
Hisila: In the Hindu family the concept of purity is very important. The parents want their children to get married very early to avoid her having sexual relations before she is married.
Red!: Nepal is entering the first phase of a national democratic revolution. What are the main aims for women in this phase?
Hisila: Women should be brought into the productive force. Today they are still the ones that stay behind. The right to parental property is also a central question. And they should have access to health services. Today a lot of time is spent doing household work. A lot of infrastructural work needs to be done to reduce the time used on household work. A lot of energy is waisted because of the lack of infrastructure. There must be put much more effort into education. There are less than 10 % girl pupils in the schools.
Now, in the autumn of 2007 the peace process is getting stretched out. This has led to some negative tendencies that have been detrimental to women. There is a tendency to reverse the achievements from the people’s war. There is a tendency that men dare to oppress women more openly. That’s one reason why we want to achieve elections to the constituent assembly as soon as possible.
Another example of the tendency to reversal is that some places they are reintroducing dowry again. And lastly I could mention that reactionaries that fled during the people’s war are returning and that we have witnessed an increase in wife bashing.
During the people’s war the PLA were active all over the rural areas. Now the situation is more evolutionary. Now there is a certain disillusionment. The PLA is now stationed in the cantonments. People are missing the collective life where the PLA played a central role. People are returning home and the situation is not as positive in the field. Some are a bit disappointed.
This is also a reason why we want to go forward as fast as possible–so that we get more results to show. It’s a very painful process right now.
Red!: How large is the women’s front that supports you?
Hisila: All Nepalese Women’s Association (Revolutionary) has approximately 10 000 paying members.
Red!: Which texts do you use for developing the general theory of women’s liberation in Nepal?
Hisila: We use among others F. Engels book on The Family, The State and Private Property, Women and Socialism written by Bebel, a collection of writings by Marx, Engels and Mao. We also use collections of articles written by our own comrades.
Red!: How will you avoid the valiant female liberation soldiers sacrificing their lives as cannon fodder for a male dominated party leadership and a male dominated state that ends up oppressing women as in Russia, China, a.s.o?
Hisila: It’s very much connected with political deviation. Political deviation will also affect the situation for dalits and women. The main line is the central issue, and this is the only way to avoid counter revolution.
Red!: What is your view on the relationship between class struggle and women’s liberation?
Hisila: They are very close. Women were the first to be oppressed, and will be the last to be liberated when class oppression ceases. So the test of whether class oppression still exists is if women’s oppression still exists or not.
Red!: Can the working class get liberated without the women in the working class taking the lead in the liberation of the working class as a whole? What would this mean concretely in Nepal?
Hisila: The litmus paper is whether the women get the leadership or not. In Nepal we say that the mass organisations should have 50% women in the leadership. But the party is an ideological organisation and this rule should not apply.