AN INSIGNIA OF A FORCED WINTER
Director: AJIMESH SAHA | INDIA
Two victims of Myanmar genocide who have never met in person, fall in love. They are separated by an international border between India and Bangladesh. With much difficulty, risking their lives they finally meet and get married. But the situation turns dangerous as they start living together with their new-born baby in the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh. Will they be able to move out of the camp, the condition of which is deteriorating every day? Will they be able to find a home ever?
In a dark summer night of 2012, Abdul, a Rohingya Muslim, escapes genocide perpetrated by the Myanmar army. In a small fishing boat, he flees to Bangladesh but couldn’t live there for long due to racial attacks by the local people. In search of a new hope and life, he tries to cross over to India but gets caught at the border. His story almost ended there. However, somehow he manages to sneak into India. But India doesn’t want any Rohingya Muslim refugee.
The film captures him at this juncture and follows his journey in India where he lives as an illegal immigrant. He works with Sabber, a fellow Rohingya Muslim in an NGO in New Delhi dedicated to the cause of Rohingya refugees. They source video news clips from Myanmar as evidence of the atrocities of the Myanmar military on Rohingyas and publish them on their website.
As he deals with his inner and outer conflicts of living a life of statelessness, India passes the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act in the parliament which is alleged to be targeting the Muslim population of India especially the illegal Muslim immigrants. Violence and protests break out across the country. All of a sudden, in one night the Rohingya Refugee camp in New Delhi is burnt down. Almost fifty Rohingya families who also escaped genocide become homeless all over again with nowhere to go! This devastates Abdul along with the entire community. On the other side, in a bid to cross the Myanmar border, Abdul’s father gets caught and is sent to a prison.
Abdul was virtually in touch with Rujina, another victim of genocide, over the phone. Rujina escaped with her family from Myanmar and has since been living in the world’s largest refugee camp near Cox Bazar in Bangladesh. Abdul and Rujina have never met with each other. They interact over the audio and the video calls and eventually fall in love. This gives Abdul a sudden purpose in his life, a reason he wants to live for. Not knowing when they could meet, Abdul and Rujina accept each other as husband and wife as they get married online secretly.
In the meanwhile, the Indian government’s apathy towards Muslims leads to an unprecedented protest against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) across the country. The situation for Rohingyas becomes volatile in India. The Home Minister of India states in the parliament that Rohingyas should be confined at one place and that the state has full authority to deport them. The order is followed by the deporatation of five Rohingyas families to Myanmar. This creates panic in the entire Rohingya community. Abdul fears that he might lose Rujina forever. He decides that no matter what happens he wants to live his life with Rujina and he sets off to meet with her. But there lies an international border in between, the same border where he was once caught and almost killed. Somehow, he manages to reach near the border area of India and Bangladesh but couldn’t cross as the entire area gets completely sealed due to tensions between locals and immigrants. Devastated he returns to New Delhi. Rujina calls him to inform that her parents are forcibly trying to get her married to someone else. This breaks Abdul and he loses all his hope to see her again in life. Risking his life, he once again sets off to meet with her.
After a palpable tension, Abdul and Rujina finally meet with each other in Bangladesh and get married. The film follows them as they start living in the world’s largest refugee camp.
The Bangladesh camp is an isolated, enclosed concentrated camp where more than a million Rohingya refugees live. No one is allowed to move out of the camp at any cost. They don’t have any freedom over there with no basic human rights. The Bangladesh government doesn’t want Rohingyas either.
Amidst all this turmoil, Rujina gets pregnant and expects a baby. In the Bangladesh camp, just before the Covid onset, Abdul & Rujina are blessed with a baby boy. Together, they find another reason to live.
But the situation inside the Bangladesh camp gradually turns volatile. Being an enclosed concentrated camp, where more than a million Rohingya refugees live, it has become a breeding ground for ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army), a rebel Rohingya group who are forcibly recruiting fellow Rohingyas for their army. They are also extorting money from Rohingyas and are raping their women. Abdul lives in constant threat now. He fears that any day, anytime he could be picked up from his home and would be forced to join the rebel army and could be killed. He is also afraid of Rujina that she might also be picked up by the rebel army and anything can happen to her. He doesn’t want his son to grow up in such a hostile environment and is now desperately trying to move out of the camp and go to another country- may be to Malaysia or come back to India.
Will he be able to do so? What will be the future of his son? Will he grow in the hostile camp? Will Abdul be forced to join the rebel army? Will the family be able to find a home ever?
The world is slowly turning into a planet of refugees. There are more than 70 million people across the world who have been forcefully displaced from their homes and are living in extreme vulnerable condition as stated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). As per it, Abdul is from the world’s most persecuted minority community, a victim of ethnic cleansing who never had any citizenship right in his own country. His community doesn’t have access to basic human rights such as education, healthcare, employment & freedom of movement. As the world celebrates 21st century, a chunk of human population has been living a life of slavery and bondage for the last seven decades.
In mid 2017, thousands of Rohingyas were fleeing genocide and crossing over to Bangladesh and India. Through a chain of events, I met with Abdul. On our first meeting, his story really moved me. A young man who has escaped genocide, almost lost his life, now finds himself in the middle of nowhere. He sneaked into India for a new hope, a new life but has become more devastated and lonely. The trauma of statelessness tore him apart. When I envisioned the film, one thing which hooked me was how life treats him from here? What will happen to him? Will he be able to find his home ever? And thus I started shooting him.
It has been more than three years now that I have been closely following him. Over the years, I have gained unprecedented access to his life and his community. As the shoot progressed, Abdul has gradually taken me to the macro aspect of the tragedy which destroyed millions of lives forever, how United Nations has repeatedly failed them, the verdict of the International Court of Justice, the domestic & geo-politics of the entire region and most importantly the traumatic condition of refugees living all over the world.
Abdul has even been denied the right to love because he doesn’t have any identity, any legal document to show which country he belongs to. And finally, when he fights for his love and finds his home in Rujina, the situation becomes shockingly worse for him. And therefore, his story should reach to the world immediately. It could take him out of his present situation and can immensely help him in his quest for a home and a life.
I am an independent filmmaker and script writer based out of New Delhi, India. A self-taught filmmaker, I have been working as a director, researcher and scriptwriter for National Geographic Channel, Fox Traveller, CNBC, NDTV & Doordarshan. I have also made documentaries for UNICEF, UNDP and several ministries of Government of India. One of my short films- “Does God exists where Alisha lives?” won the certificate of excellence award conferred by the Information & Broadcasting Ministry of India. This (An Insignia of a forced winter) is my first Independent film.
At present, the film is under production. Due to global pandemic, the shooting has been stalled as India and Bangladesh is under complete lockdown right now. The production plan entirely depends on how soon the pandemic gets over in these two countries. However, broadly the tentative production plan is as follows:
Pre-Production- July’2017- February’2018
Production- March 2018- March’ 2021
Post-Production- April’2021- December’2021
Will start sending the film to various film festivals from January’2022.
Total Budget in Euro- 1,45,000 Euros
The film is under production right now. Abdul the main protagonist has moved to Bangladesh and is living with his wife and son in the world’s largest refugee camp. Due to the extreme hostile situation inside the camp, he wants to desperately move out of the camp and go to Malaysia or comeback to India.
The film will further follow him in his journey to explore if he will be able to find a home for himself and his family ever. At present, due to the global Covid pandemic, India and Bangladesh is in complete lockdown state and therefore the shoot has been stalled. The status of production depends on how soon the pandemic ends.
At present, I have edited three important sequences from the film and have been applying for various funds across the globe. The film has already won the seed grant of $1300 USD at the Let’sdoc fellowship Programme 2019. The film has also won a pitch award of 2000 Euros conferred by Global Film & Media Initiative and Cherrypix Post Production Award at Docedge Kolkata’2020.