“Woman Rebel” will be shown on HBO—of all places—on August 18 at 8pm and repeated on August 26 at 11:45am. This 45 minute documentary on “Silu”, a battalion commander of the Nepalese Maoist guerrillas, is a reminder that other television networks have stepped in to fill the void created by PBS after the Bush administration turned it into an arm of the “war on terror”. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, shows like Frontline and POV continue to serve the war aims of an out of control national security state.
HBO, the home of Tony Soprano and Larry David, has shown its mettle by airing a sympathetic documentary about one of the world’s least covered liberation movements. Even for an unrepentant Marxist like me, this glimpse into the motives and personality of a woman warrior was eye-opening. Except for the written word, my only exposure to the Nepalese freedom-fighters has been an altogether charming rendition of The Internationale on Youtube.
Silu was born Uma Bhujel into a desperately poor farming family in the Gorkha District, where her father worked the fields of a rich landlord. Her sister Kumari was married off at the age of 12 to a man who beat her constantly. After finding life intolerable, she went off into the woods and hung herself. Uma joined the Maoists at the age of 18 and rose to the level of commander. After the Maoists entered the peaceful and legal political arena, she became a representative to the constituent assembly.
She tells her story in a soft-spoken and undramatic fashion, allowing the power of her story itself to draw the listener in. In some ways, she reminds me very much of Rigoberta Menchu, the Guatemalan indigenous peasant leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.
While Silu was fighting to topple the monarchy, her brother was serving in the Royal Army. Her brother, mother and father are interviewed as well. One of the most affecting moments in the film involves Silu telling the interviewer what she would have done if she had come face to face with her brother in combat. It takes three cuts for her to compose herself sufficiently to say that she would have had to follow her party’s agenda, even if that meant fratricide. Considering what happened to her sister, it is understandable why Maoist rebels, including the forty percent of the ranks who were women, would not let anything get in their way.
Kudos to HBO for scheduling this hard-hitting documentary and kudos as well to director Kiran Deol, a young female film-maker who demonstrates once again that the greatest drama today is found in real-life rather than in fiction.