During the 1980’s, a large number of youth joined the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), knowing the risks of death in encounters with the security forces, or the hardship to survive in the deep jungles during their training, operation and hideout locations. These cadres, young men between age 17 to 35 are from various backgrounds, and many of them were alumni of prestigious educational institutions in Assam, and they decided to sacrifice their youth for the adamant goal of Assam’s sovereignty. For what may be the reason, the joining of the ULFA outfit in the 1980’s, spoke volumes of their deraigned future, risked not just their lives, but also of their family members, society at large and the state Assam. Over the years, since the outfit became prominent, it has mostly appeared in poor light on news and policy discussions, making Assam one of the most disturbed listed states in India – and insurgency being the root cause of it.
In this article, we bring the introspection from the work of two such ex-cadres of ULFA, who may have been the first few authors to pen some information of the outfit struggle. They joined mainstream life, after being arrested by Assam forces. Most importantly these two authors are some of the educated persons to have invested their youth-life in the cause. Upon realizing what they have missed, or lost and regretted, they have now thrived into producing some of the most important literature in Assam’s history – paving its way to academic and philosophical studies. These publications also reinstated that, after all, the commitment to liberate Assamese people and sovereignty of Assam was met with another truth of betrayal leading to the lost cause.
In Mithinga Daimary’s book “Melodies and Guns”, published in 2006 and edited by Indira Goswami, is a poetry collection. Mithinga Daimary was the Central Publicity Secretary of ULFA when he was arrested. The poems written by him focused on the lives of the militants describing the pain and brutality that they experienced during their stay in various camps while carrying out organizational activities. Many readers and scholars of Assam highly appreciated the poems for its realistic portrayal of the cadre experiences, calling it to be a very raw set of poems ensuring to incite readers with strange feelings, in the forms of expressing great love for humanity but intertwined with the other dark sides of the ULFA ordeal that every cadres are inevitable of. Hence, Mithinga Daimary’s accounts of poems are manifestation of twofold – one, in understanding the cost to which the cadres give their lives for the purpose of a belief in sovereign Assam; and two, the acceptance of brutality that occurs within the cadres organization in collective struggle to achieve the belief, but dismantled by the politics of power play to put up with.
Soon later, the same year, another book titled “Song of the Jungle” by Raktim Sharma was published. It was originally titled “Boranga Ngang”. Raktim Sharma was then the Junior Commissioned Officer of ULFA. In his writings, he explained how the militants took into extreme survival traits while witnessing the death of their fellow colleagues before their eyes. The author in an interview with the Hindustan Times mentioned about living in a constant threat to life under harsh circumstances. Also, quite interestingly Raktim Sharma spoke about the exploitation of the Bhutanese Monarch. And, how at one point, the ULFA cadres are about to help the Bhutanese people in the liberation fight from the monarch. In the interview he said, “…we encountered endless hardships, once our group had to survive without food for over ten days at a stretch. We often suffer from malaria and spine-chilling colds. Of the 15 men, only eight survived after a night’s encounter with Bhutan’s Army cross firing.”
His book reads, how these cadres pass several challenging tough tasks in every stage and every day while adapting to living in make-shift tents in the jungle as well as getting accustomed to unruly food habits. He shares, living in such conditions has led to internal conflicts like how friends turn into enemies over slight differences in ideological thinking, sometimes forced to have dog meat to avoid starvation and bearing chilling cold to pass many sleepless nights. They experience strange encounters with unknown villagers in neighboring borders, who would sometimes treat them with kindness, but mostly attack them anticipating threat to their villages or peripheries. Such countless instances of hardship and sacrifice for a mission that seems impractically viable are some of the debates or internal thoughts that come into realization within the cadres of the outfit, as narrated in Raktim Sharma’s book. It is bound for every cadre to at some point lose the spirit and determination while the struggle continues.
These two books, “Melodies and Guns” by Mithinga Daimary and “Song of the Jungle” by Raktim Sharma, are known to be amongst the earliest archives of ULFA accounts written by ex-cadres themselves. In one of the media reports, it says that, it appears there is a growing trend of ULFA’s ex-cadres writing books describing the disorderly and cruel realities of ULFA’s life from time to time. No doubt, one can definitely search it on social media and find out to be true. So, what is fueling this trend or the urge for them to write? What do readers conceive from these poems and personal stories? It seems like these writers felt the need and the responsibility to bring awareness about the other brutal side of the ULFA’s ordeal, in order to save the youth from following a similar path like theirs, which only involves darkness, betrayal and death.
And, for many who remained in the outfit after the split of ULFA demarcating the groups into pro-talks versus the anti-talks faction, are now known as the ULFA (I) under the leadership of Paresh Baruah – they continue the fight to ‘liberate’ Assam. After reading these publications, do they not doubt if their dreams could be far-fetched or gradually sinking, as these books, poems or spoken interviews make rounds of debates around the life of cadres’ future in question? It is truly a time to introspect as time has changed, and one must try to figure where the struggle truly stands. These are accounts of reality, not mere make-incidents-tales to overrule the struggle’s cause. They are simply not out there for readers’ entertainment, but the intention is for making the shattering reality known to all.
Drawing from the interviews of Raktim Sharma, he further shares that the cadres always continue to keep moving towards deeper jungles and risking their lives against the security forces of bordering countries. And, when the journalist asked Raktim Sharma about the fruits of their services, he claimed that they are only paid meager sums once in a blue moon, or for those who sometimes feel their family needs financial help. They do not call it a salary for their service, so Sharma questioned how it is possible that their leaders lived luxuriously in safe places.
It is shared by some other ex-cadres in media reports that, often when the ULFA commanders hear that members who are looking to quit or escape the camps, they instantly get branded as ‘informers’ and executed in the presence of other fellow cadres to show as the outcome of betrayal and the intention to quit the outfit. Such practice clearly creates dominance of the in-charge commanders. As per reports published in The Hindu in the year 2013, ULFA has shot 10 cadres to death piercing their heads at point blank when they tried to escape. ULFA also executed its top commander Partha Gogoi in Nagaland’s Mon district bordering Myanmar labeling him as a ‘conspirator’ who was believed to have worked with security forces to engineer mass surrender of ULFA cadres. Believe it or not, the deaths can’t tell tales now, but this shows that one who joins the outfit, can ever return alive, and both sides of the roads end in death. It is shown that there’s no escape once the decision is made or a chance to rectify their decision, once they join the outfit. The lives of these cadres or youth with potential talent and a promising future gets compromised forever once they are a part of the ULFA, as there seems there’s no road to exit.
There are some interviews where ex-cadres spoke about the afterlife experiences as well. For those who are able to make a gateway to a normal life, they continue to receive death threats even if they intend to remain anonymous. The threats are also extended to their family members. Some reports confirm that they had face attacks in the past. And, for those family members who try to contact and convince the cadres to return home are also harassed. The fear of living under threat by ULFA affects their attempt to rehabilitate to mainstream life as well.
The accounts of such testimonies in poems, books or spoken interviews cannot be ignored – these are experiences of ordeal lived by them and feared by them. They are finding redemption in the ability to spread awareness in their testimonies. That is the reason why we see the trend of many ex-cadres taking up pen to tell us the truth. The reality is out in the open. It is not a matter of debate anymore. There’s an underlying message to detect. It’s asking for accountability. A life in living is meant for accountability for being free and out of threats. It is in one’s mind to decide one’s own fate. If the past is not reversible, then the future must avoid the past to remain in the future. Afterall, not all roads end in death.
Disclaimer: Mrinmoy Baruah, the contributor of this article is a student at Arya Vidyapeeth College, Guwahati, Assam. Views expressed in this article is a work of personal opinion and research. It is not part of any organizational endorsement.
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