SYEDA GHULAM FATIMA

When I met Fatima for the first time, she struck off as a lovely, graceful lady. At the same time, she managed to command respect from everyone at the Bonded Labour Liberation Front. Now, those are a few signs of a great leader.

Fatima was very comfortable in front of the camera too. I did an RTVF Documentary class with Debra Tolchinsky and found out how hard it is to get great cast for a documentary. Fortunately, Fatima knew how to be present in front of a camera. Her awareness of herself subjected to the camera is awesome. When we lacked in our interview with ex-bonded laborers, she would chip in to bring genuine thoughts and emotions from them. She takes her time. She’s very charismatic.

It’s not surprising, especially after all the media coverage that she received after her feature in Humans of New York. That includes her receiving the Clinton Global Citizen Award in 2015.

Fatima holds a picture of her with John Kerry during the ceremony of Aurora Prize, 2016.

We had the chance to Skype with a producer from VICE, Fazeelat Aslam, who has worked with Fatima since 2011, for a feature doc, and got to know how much dedication Fatima has for the cause. We found out from her that even after all the travels and threats Fatima faced, Fatima continues to work on the grassroots level more confidently than ever.

An ex-bonded laborer confides in Fatima.

The picture above shows a man, from Bahwalpur, south of Pakistan, intimately tells how he managed to leave one of the brick kilns alone without his family. He fears that his family may not think he is alive anymore. Fatima hears these stories every other day. I feel that it takes out-of-this-world dedication to keep fighting this good fight.

Just like any research, things change for the better or worse. We faced a few bumps along the way, considering how delicate access can be for this subject matter and of course, the weather. We have a few surprises too (pictured below).

The man, finally, together with his family strikes a liberation pose with Fatima.

When Brandon Stanton suggests that Fatima leaves Pakistan and operate BLLF from overseas, she smirked at the idea. She is here to finish what she started.

Us with Fatima and one of her managers (Neha, far left, me, in the middle, and Ammar, far right)