Armed with a Master’s in business journalism from New York University, she has written exclusive stories and features on topics that land on the intersection of business and human interest for digital platforms in the US and India. She has also worked with The Economic Times as a financial market correspondent for three years.
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Ramen Deka has lived many lives in the course of a lifetime. One as a young idealist, one as a militant, one as an escapee, and one as an icon for local youth to look up to. From drilling fear in the heart of his enemies to making paper bags, he has done it and seen it all.
Ramen Deka is a former trained United Liberation Front of Assam(ULFA) militant.
46-year-old Deka was born in Ramjhuri village, Darrang district of Assam. Born in a very poor household, he lost his father when he was 2 years old. He grew up with his mother and brothers.
The economic and social problems faced by him and many others in his village made him very angry as a youngster. When Deka was a teenager, a militant organization was taking the idealistic youth of Assam by storm. After giving exams for his 12th grade, he decided to join in.
“ULFA showed me lot of dreams,” said Deka. On 11 October 1989, Deka joined the ULFA. A committed and loyal rebel that Deka was, he quickly grew through the ULFA ranks to become a district organizer after attending a month long political training. After taking up the position, he got into recruiting members into ULFA. By 1993, he was the regional chief secretary, district in-charge of ULFA.
In July 1993, he was caught by the Indian army. Deka was put in jail for a year.
Imprisonment had done nothing to transform Deka’s militant mind. After a year, when he was released, Deka ran back to join ULFA. This time, he was lethal. He underwent a three-month militant army training, ready to do more damage to the perceived enemy lines than ever before. While externally, he was training harder, internally his conscience was juddering. But it was too late in the game for him to quit, or so he thought.
In 1999, he was caught again by the Assam police. This was the time, when many in the militia were giving up arms to surrender. He found support from the SP of Assam police. This time, Deka was in jail for only three months. On 15 August, 1999, he officially surrendered.
“They helped me divert my mind away from militancy. They said, if we surrendered, we would be given lot of opportunities and would be rehabilitated. But later, nothing of that sort happened,” remembered Deka.
Deka was shocked when the government turned its back on surrendered militants. Deka was mentally depressed. He could not find social acceptance and neither did he want to go back to the path he had abandoned.
“Many who had surrendered had done a lot of disgusting activities. So people in the society feared us even after surrender. They believed we were signs of omen. They said, because of you, police has tortured innocent members of our families. We don’t know what you are up to now.”
Driven to desperation, Deka took to alcohol and a year went by in this stupor. A year later, he along with other former militia, found Ex-ULFA Coordination Committee to demand their rights from the government.
After a decade-long fight, Deka received a letter from the government, asking for a list of 300 members of his organization. These members would be sent for a vocational training to Bangalore. Deka was part of the 220 Ex-ULFA-members team that arrived at The Art of Living International Ashram in June 2012 for a month-long vocational and leadership training.
“I thought to myself, Government had promised rehabilitation but they have put us in this ashram,” shared Deka, “What training will we get here in this kind of environment? We used to get up early, do exercises and meditation. I thought, 10 years, I have done enough exercises. I don’t need all this. The first 10-12 days, I was very disturbed and felt out of place.”
“But then some transformation was taking place already by some grace which was beyond my mind,” Deka added.
“I told my friend that now that we are here for a month and we cannot even run anywhere, I will see what they are teaching and I will learn everything they teach. I will give this training a fair chance.”
By the end of the training, Deka was left with tears. “I cried and cried. It dawned on me, during and after the training, what life was really meant to be,” said Deka, “This training should have come much longer before in my life. I told the Assamese government, I don’t need any kind of rehabilitation.”
A Hero Returns Home
“When I returned home after the training, I took the first Nav Chetna Shibir or Breath Water Sound Workshop ( a breathing, stress relief and meditation workshop) in my village,” Deka said.
“People were so happy. They had never experienced anything like this. But more than that, they were surprised by the transformation they witnessed in me. They said- ‘Kaun sa Ramen gaya tha aur kaunsa Ramen wapas aya hai’.”
Deka sums up the difference in his experience of being a militant and a reformer.
“When I was in ULFA, people showed respect out of fear but now they respect me out of love. This is my message for those who are still on the path of violence that here (on this spiritual path) you will get all that you are looking for and you will also find love and respect,” said Deka.
Deka became an Art of Living instructor in August 2016. “Going by my earlier life, I have seen what power this knowledge has. I want to spread this knowledge that transformed my life so much. I feel more people out there need this.”
Former Militant Turned Local Voice of Wisdom
Deka has become the go-to person for any and every problem in his village and district. He is the president of the local club committee in his village. He is also the secretary of Milijhuli Enterprises, a small co-operative that runs a supplies business along with goals for social development. He acts as the executive member of the local Hospital management committee. He presides over the weekly market’s development committee.
In the near future, Deka wants to reduce usage of plastic bags in Assam and replace it with paper bags, the training he received in the Art of Living Ashram in 2012.
“I have Sri Sri to thank for this new life,” said Deka, referring to the founder of The Art of Living. Deka also fondly remembers the contribution of Sanjay Bihari, a senior Art of Living faculty who has extensively worked with militant groups in Bihar and North East India.
“Seeing him, I thought, if he can transform such hard core militants and criminals, then why cant I do my bit to make this world a better place? That was the point, I decided to give my life to this cause,“ Deka said.
May his story inspire and give strength to many such other souls to make a fresh start in life. If he can, you can too. It’s never too late in life for anything good. May the best of life be with Ramen Deka in the times ahead.