Noted film critic-activist Farhana Ahmed’s new documentary ‘Sisters in Arms’ has been receiving generous praise and appreciation from critics and audiences for its socially relevant theme. The poignantly told story of despair traces the present plight of a number of surrendered women cadres of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). These women, who fought equally with their male counterparts as ULFA cadres in Assam during the height of its insurgency in their youth, are now living in trying circumstances and finding it difficult to make both ends meet. They are denied rehabilitation packages which were made available to surrendered male cadres, and face social stigma. They are having pending court cases and the burden of missing or dead husbands in the family. Still unorganized, they represent a common problem arising from the armed insurgency and the state’s apathy and, to a gender insensitive society plaguing their present lives.
Most of the women cadres who were interviewed for the documentary also alleged discrimination by the leaders of their outfit. “The women cadres are victims of gender discrimination. They are neglected by society and the system,” said director Farhana Ahmed, who has also written the script. “I had the opportunity of coming across these women and I was shocked to see how they are living in absolute penury. They fought like their male counterparts during the height of insurgency, but most of them are denied rehabilitation packages. They also face social stigma,” she said.
During the height of insurgency, Assam government in 1998 came out with surrender and rehabilitation policy for various outfits in order to wean out the misguided youth and hardcore militants back to the fold of mainstream. The scheme offered bouquet of financial help which lured many to surrender arms and join civilian life. However, with passage of time the scheme got mired in controversy with reports of fake surrender staged by security agencies and others for financial benefit.
“Even today I have to go to the court for some cases which are against me even though I am away from the outfit for almost a decade. For me to travel to the court itself is a huge burden as I cannot afford the expenses. I don’t want to involve my husband,” said Phool Dutta from North Lakhimpur, a former Ulfa rebel, in the documentary.
Farhana said her film highlighted the plight of these women in the hope of bringing a change. “I want their lives to change. I don’t want society to look down upon them but to accept them and help them to lead a dignified life,” she added.
The 38-minute-long film is produced by Debakrishna Dutta under the banner of Mufussil Mirror. The film’s executive producer is Sazzad Hussain who has also written the subtitles. Director Farhana Ahmed has also done the research works. The camerawork has been done by Altarik Goni Hazarika. The film’s edited by Hirannya Jyoti Das. The music is scored by Nipon Chutia. Sagorika Sarmah provides the film’s narration.