Historicising the Birangona: Tracing the past, present and future trajectories of the Bangladesh war of 1971

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6:00 pm to 7:30 pm
Virtual Event
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Nayanika Mookherjee


In December 1971, in an internationally unprecedented move till date, the Bangladeshi government publicly referred to the women raped by the Pakistani army and their Bengali and non-Bengali collaborators during the Bangladesh war of 1971, as birangonas (war heroines). There exists a public memory of wartime rape since 1971 till today through the innumerable literary and visual representations of the birangona as well as testimonies. This lecture examines the processes through which birangonas have been historicised, the testimonial processes through which narratives of sexual violence is recorded and the limited lens of silence, voice, shame, honour and stigma, through which sexual violence is commonly understood. By calling into question the figuration of the ‘traitor’ – the enemy within - the lecture will reflect on the past, present and future trajectories of the Bangladesh war of 1971. This will allow us to reflect on the theorisations of genocide and irreconciliation within historical and contemporary contexts.


Nayanika Mookherjee (FRSA) is a Professor of Political Anthropology in Durham University and Co-Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies. Based on her book The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories and the Bangladesh War of 1971 (2015 Duke University Press), in 2019 she co-authored a graphic novel and animation film Birangona and ethical testimonies of sexual violence during conflict and received the 2019 Praxis Award from the Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists. In 2014 she was awarded the Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Samman (for overseas Indians) at the House of Lords (October 2014) for her social anthropological contribution on gendered violence during wars. She has published extensively on anthropology of violence, ethics and aesthetics including editing and contributing to journal special issues on ‘The Aesthetics of Nation’ (2011), ‘The Self in South Asia,’ (2013); Aesthetics, Politics and Conflict (2015) and On Irreconciliation (2022). She has had fellowships with ESRC, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, British Academy, Leverhulme and the Rockerfeller Foundation at Bellagio. She is finalising her manuscript Arts of Irreconciliation and as a British Academy fellow is carrying out research on transnational adoption. She did her BA (Honours) in Politics in Presidency College, Kolkata, India; her M.A. in Sociology and Anthropology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India and her Phd in Social Anthropology from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.


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Organiser: 7th March Foundation and SOAS South Asia Institute

Contact email: ssai@soas.ac.uk