Women were forty percent of the Maoist rebel army in Nepal's civil war, a fact that caught Kiran Deol's eye and inspired her documentary, Woman Rebel, since picked up by HBO. Here's what she told us about it.
At first, Deol (with whom, full disclosure, I went to college, though we did not know each other well) spent a summer in Nepal and then wrote a novel about the women of the Maoist army for her senior thesis. She was particularly interested in how these women differed from the passive images of women in the developing world usually seen in the Western world.
Then, a day after college graduation, she hopped on a plane back and began trying to gain access to a female rebel soldier for a documentary on the topic. It was 2006, a moment in the conflict where the rebel army hadn't yet demilitarized, but a peaceful resolution was on the horizon. She ended up spending the better part of three years filming.
The film focuses on Silu, a high-ranking female soldier whose brother is fighting for the government, forcing her to contemplate whether she would kill him if the two met in battle. She concludes she would.
Why was she fighting? At least in part to change the society that had led her sister to commit suicide because of an arranged child marriage, where girls from untouchable castes couldn't drink the same water as others, and where the trauma of rapes by government forces in villages was fresh. "The level of entrenched injustice is so understood to be a part of the culture that it's almost a given when you talk to people there," says Deol.
There are scenes in the film where Silu sternly commands troops made up of both men and women. Deol says she was "surprised to hear that women felt a measure of equality within the army, that they had the same opportunities as men." She added that there were other perspectives in the war, including people forced to join the Maoists and children being conscripted.
Many wondered whether the relative parity would end when the war did, but after a peace agreement began integrating the rebels into the government, Silu was elected to the national assembly. There, the Maoists' parliament reps were one third female.
The situation has stagnated somewhat since then, after a political breakdown led to the Maoists leaving the government last year. And social change is far slower; when Silu's mother is asked if she wants a grandson or a granddaughter, she replies, "A son, of course." (Silu has since had a son.)
HBO came to Deol when Woman Rebel was shortlisted for the Oscars; the film airs tonight on HBO2 8pm Eastern, and will also be On Demand.
"I'm going to be at home watching it every day," jokes Deol. "It's gonna be, Entourage and Woman Rebel, Entourage and Woman Rebel...."
Woman Rebel [Official Site]