Purnima, a faith healer in Imphal, Manipur, and Ribini, a nurse in a hospital in Assam. Unlikely occupations for women who once lived life on the run: the former as the fearless Nalini, a member of the rebel Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), a crack shot much in demand as an assassin and extortionist, and the latter as Lance Corporal Raisumai of the Bodo Security Force (BdSF), a banned militant separatist organization in the northeast.
In faraway Kashmir, Khalida was just another schoolgirl till 21 January 2007, the day she was found with a bullet through her head—gunned down by the Baramulla police who believed she was going to meet her comrades in the dreaded militant organization, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Or by the militants, who suspected her of double-crossing them? No one will ever know who killed Khalida, but hers is a fate often met by the women of this embattled state.
Since the time that LTTE operative Dhanu, the first known human bomb in India, assassinated former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in a suicide bombing in 1991, women have been crucial operators in insurgencies in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Chhattisgarh and Kashmir. Given the same rigorous training as their male comrades, they carry AK-47s, rob banks, ambush security forces and play the game of subterfuge with amazing élan. Through the stories of Purnima, Khalida, Ribini and others profiled in this book, Rashmi Saksena attempts to get under their skin and fathom what goes into the making of a woman militant. What motivates them to abandon the traditional playbook for girls and embrace the uncertain life of an insurgent, and, equally, how easy is it for them to return to the ‘normal’ world, when age, or the desire for marriage and motherhood, makes them want to give it all up?