From a guerilla fighter to humble Speaker
Feb 18, 2017-Never before in history of Nepal had women occupied the posts of President, Chief Justice and Speaker at a time. By some quirk turn of events, Nepal achieved the feat which raised hope for women to dream and achieve it. One of them is Onshari Gharti, who made history in October, 2015 when she was elected as the Speaker of the Legislature Parliament, becoming the first to hold the highest post in the legislature. One of a few former female Maoist fighters to make a mark after the Maoist party decided to join peaceful politics, Gharti talked to the Post’s Binod Ghimire on her political beginning, her struggle to within the Maoist party, her involvement in the Maoist war and state of women in Nepali politics.
I was born to a lower-middle class family in Madichaur village of Jankot VDC in Rolpa district. Being in a government job, my father was aware that children should get to study. So I could complete my lower grades easily. But when it came to higher studies, there were some problems. We did not have a school in our village or nearby villages for lower-secondary and higher grades.
As there was wide perception within the society that daughters need not go to school, even my parents were reluctant. Completing grade five was enough for them.
We used to walk an hour and a half every day to a school where we studied grades six and seven. Then for secondary level education, we moved to Liwang, the district headquarter of Rolpa. Studying away from home wasn’t common then--at least for girls-- therefore it was hard for me to convince my parents.
Though parents were not against study, it was hard for them to go against the society where people often told them it was useless to provide higher education to daughters.
We joined politics even without knowing what we were doing. Despite being a remote place, our society was politically aware and even my elder brothers were in politics from their early ages. There was a youth club named Jaljala Club, which still exists, seemingly doing a social work. But it was involved in raising political awareness. I used to take part in cultural programmes from the club when I was in grades two and three.
Gradually our elder brothers and sisters started imparting political knowledge to us through songs and dance. They informed us about the social and political discrimination. This gradually pushed us into the politics.
After 1990, all the members of the club formally joined the sister wing of Janamorcha Nepal.
Later Krishna Bahadur Mahara, deputy prime minister and finance minister in the incumbent government, encouraged us to join politics. He is the political guru for a majority of leaders and cadres from Rolpa. There were lots of orientation classes on Marxism, Leninism and Maoism among others which motivated us to become “wholetimers”. This is why there are many women politicians from Rolpa despite the fact it is one of remote districts.
The Maoist years
I completed my School Leaving Certificate examination in 1995 and the same year our school started grade XI. I got enrolled, but the same year our party started people’s war and I went underground. Even before that we were harassed several times by police and cases of public offences were filed against us for fighting against discrimination. So, I can say I was partially underground few years before the launch of people’s war.
Though the party started people’s war attacking in Holeri police beat on February 13, 1996, we had gone underground for guerilla warfare training two months before formally announcing the war. We were around seven women to go underground first. But only I and Tara Gharti went on to become guerilla fighters.
It was a tough call for a woman to go underground at a time when joining regular politics for women wasn’t perceived well in the society. They used to say I was poisoning the society and was involved in “immoral activities”.
Even parents were against it, saying it could end up with death anytime.
But that could not stop me, as I was clear about my goal and what I was doing. My firm belief and sense of responsibility that the society would change and the people of my class would get liberty always motivated me to pursue the cause.
We were joining guerilla war when there was misconception that the guns won’t fire bullets if women use them. Since my childhood I had raised questions against prevailing misconception that women shouldn’t plough field, go to rooftop and speak against males.
While males were fighting against state discrimination and brutality, women had to accompany them while also fighting for their own identity. The guerilla war was obviously tougher for women than men.
Lali Roka, Jaipuri Gharti, Khuma Subedi, Tara Gharti and I were the first batch of women who became “wholetimers” in the initial days from our area. There were discrimination, exploitation and class differences and our prime motto was to end the scourge by changing the political system.
Under its periphery the system led by the monarch was also promoting discrimination against women, Dalits, Janajatis, Madhesis and the poor.
Even within the marginalised community, women were discriminated the most. So we firmly believed that the monarchy had to be abolished to end every form of discrimination. And we did it.
Coming out from home to study secondary education was the first step of struggle I faced as a woman. Convincing the family and society that we can oust the king and create equitable society was another challenge.
Leading the battles
During the underground days people were hardly convinced that women could fight against the state; they never believed women could be fighters. These circumstances sometimes made me question myself: Can I?
As a commander of squad to the battalion during roll calls, male fighters would often laugh at me. They felt women cannot be commanders. Even senior commanders in the party would doubt before issuing directives to us. But with the passage of time, I succeeded in proving that women do not lag behind--be it a war front or politics.
Right from the first raid in Holeri, I have participated in dozens of attack on police and army barracks. I am the only woman fighter who had commanded attack on police.
In early 2002, under my command, we had a successful raid on a police post in Koilabas in Dang district which is the first and only raid on the command of women. There were several ambush attacks that were led by women commanders.
I am the first women to become the battalion commissar from a guerilla fighter. I have worked as assistant commander in some other attacks like in the barracks of Armed Police Force in Satbariya in the same district which is also one of the largest raids on security forces.
In 2002, I was promoted as the battalion commissar with around 500 fighters under me and I was deployed in the East.
The locals who greeted junior fighters never did so to me. They wouldn’t take me seriously. I conducted several political orientations, motivated them to fight against discrimination against them. They gradually felt that I could lead the people.
Breaking the glass ceiling
The people’s movement of 2006, which was organised on the foundation of our decade-long fight against the state, helped us dethrone the monarchy, and we have a new constitution which has several progressive provisions for women. No the struggle should be started for putting these provisions into practice.
From representation, right to parental property to equality in getting citizenship--we have seen lots of progress. But there are some reservations over citizenship. But this can be revised with the need.
I was an only girl child in my school days, now I see more girls in classrooms. The scenario is changing in every field-- politics, civil service, medicine, teaching to name a few.
Among top five state positions, three of us are women, and it’s not merely a coincidence.
This is an indication that our society is gradually changing and the Maoist revolution had set the foundation for it.
What we did as fighters is a landmark movement in the history of Nepal, which proved women are capable of doing all that men can do. It was only after we proved our mettle, security forces in Nepal started giving due priority to infantries.
I often hear that I am in this position of House Speaker because of my husband Barsha Man Pun. This notion prevailed even during underground days.
Therefore during the insurgency, I stayed away from him for two years. He worked in the East and I preferred to stay in the West.
While Pun was contesting from Lalitpur constituency-1 in the first Constituent Assembly elections, he was an unknown face. I was the one who created the ground for him there. People either don’t know this fact or they don’t want to accept this. But we know each other’s contribution in our life. There is a mutual respect and trust between us.
Where I am today matters a lot in my life, as more than what position I hold, it sends the message across that women too can achieve their goals. When it comes to taking over party leadership by women, our fight must continue.
I will dedicate my life in service of the people. I wish for a just society and hope that one day everyone will be equal.
Published: 18-02-2017 09:34