ULFA women free from fetters of patriarchal society

ULFA women free from fetters of patriarchal society

Women leaders and cadres in the ULFA had an “honoured position and were, in general, free from the fetters of the traditional patriarchal society”, claim the rebel group\'s leaders in a new book.

Guwahati: Women leaders and cadres in the ULFA had an “honoured position and were, in general, free from the fetters of the traditional patriarchal society”, claim the rebel group's leaders in a new book.

“On joining the ULFA, we lost all sense of being the weaker sex as we wore the same uniform, followed the same training assignments and completed the same chores and assignments,” ULFA’s lone woman ‘executive member’ Pranati Deka, who belongs to the faction currently in talks with the government, is quoted in the book “Crime, Women and Justice” by journalist-author Indrani Raimedhi. Deka, the ‘cultural secretary’, points out that women were “'working in high responsible position and all were soldiers-not just men and women”.

“Our training was gruelling and none of us women backed out with any excuses... I would go so far as to say that the position of women in the organisation was better than in civil society,” she adds. Raimedhi points out in her book that there is a strong public perception that women ULFA militants were simply care- givers, hewers of wood and drawers of water and often comfort women but it cannot be denied that they were efficient emissaries who spread the outfit's mission.

“The induction of women was a tactical strategy of the ULFA leadership and they formed only 12 to 15 per cent of the membership but they underwent arms training and carried out subversive anti-national activities. Therefore, I wanted to find out what made perfectly normal, law-abiding women leave their homes and families to challenge an all-powerful state,” the author says.

The outfit's chief of women’s wing Kaberi Kachari, also wife of ‘chairman’ Arabinda Rajkhowa, points out that ULFA women proved to be invaluable during army operations All- Clear, Rhino and Bajrang. “With great skill, courage and stamina, we women ensured supplies of food, medicines and weapons reached the camps. It was a task that demanded stamina, presence of mind, courage and organisational skills,” she says.

Kachari, who now edits an Assamese literary magazine ‘Pratishruti’, however, rues that men in the outfit do not acknowledge their efforts and “this is a bitter fact”. She further points out that the trajectory of the outfit from a band of idealistic men and women out to create a new Assam to a terror group was mainly due to the indiscriminate enlisting of cadres in later years. “A cadre must be aware of political ideology before he holds a gun and the selection of new recruits did not conform to the old, strict norms,” Kachari adds.

Referring to marriage among the cadres, she says that the leaders wanted them to lead a normal life in spite of the adverse circumstances and “we organised several mass weddings and also had training camps for the new wives where rules, duties, their role in working for the common good and sharing in communal living were highlighted”. The ULFA did away with caste, creed, prejudice in the marriages of its cadres, points out another senior member Runima Chetia Choudhury, wife of the outfit's 'foreign secretary' Sashadhar Choudhury.

The book, however, deals just not with insurgency but began with the idea to analyse the circumstances that lead women to crime and destroy families along with the underbelly of Indian society where women struggle to cope with neglect, deprivation and a life blighted by crime. “I visited several jails in Assam, met social activists, jail authorities, lawyers, psychiatrists to piece together the multiple stories of women offenders who broke the law along with those who staked all to defend the law,” Raimedhi says.

The book deals with two groups of women who are placed at two spectrums of the law - the group that upholds the law through their work as police officers, lawyers, forensic specialists and the other group who break the law by committing crimes.

“One aspect that emerges with great clarity and unanimity is that women who uphold the law come from privileged backgrounds and have availed of opportunities for academic and personal growth but those of the other group are poor, illiterate, marginalised and often abused,” the author says.

The common thread, however, that binds them is - just as there are few women in the legal profession and in the police force, women offenders too form a tiny percentage of the overall prison population in India, she adds.

By Durba Ghosh

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