Illustrator : Asha Dangol
Illustrator : Asha Dangol

History and the birangona

The ethics of representing narratives of sexual violence of the 1971 Bangladesh war.

The exclusion of individual interpretations and social context in human rights modes of employment has worked its way through the process whereby life becomes text becomes genre and has transformed survivor's own interpretation (in public, at least) of human rights abuses. This relationship between facts and interpretation and representation conveys the conditions under which knowledge is constructed and represented.

In December 1971, East Pakistan became the independent nation of Bangladesh after a nine-month war with West Pakistan and their local Bengali collaborators. Faced with a huge population of rape survivors, the new Bangladeshi government – six days after the end of the war – publicly designated any woman raped in the war a birangona (a brave or courageous woman; the Bangladeshi state uses the term to mean 'war-heroine') as an attempt to reduce their social ostracism. Even today, the Bangladeshi government's bold, public effort to refer to the women raped during 1971 as birangonas is internationally unprecedented. Yet the term remains unknown to many outside Bangladesh.

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Himal Southasian