ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Time of the Writing, the Hour of Reading

The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories and the Bangladesh War of 1971 by Nayanika Mookherjee, Durham: Duke, 2015; pp 325, $26.95, paperback.

This essay is expanded from a discussion organised by Dina Siddiqi and Seuty Sabur of BRAC University,

Nayanika Mookherjee acknowledges that The Spectral Wound has taken “a long time” (xxi) to write. She tells us about the early morning “thought struggle,” as well as the ethical challenges involved in crafting this work.

At the time she started her research, there were no major English language works on the birangonas, the officially sanctioned term for victims of rape during the 1971 Bangladesh independence war. In the intervening years, several researchers have begun looking into similar terrain, possibly intellectually and emotionally inspired by elements Mookherjee also cites in her journey. These elements include the Ain o Salish Kendra oral history project, the Nilima Ibrahim book and related works Ami Birangona Bolchi (I am Birangona Speaking), the codification of the birangona in plays and films, and the evolution of a visual literacy (we may say scepticism) that has led anthropologists to go back and look at some of the iconic “horror” images produced in the aftermath of the 1971 war. This visual anthropology has included works that problematise the male gaze on the birangona, as in Sayema Khatun’s Muktijuddher His-Story: Ijjat o Lojja (His-Story of Liberation War: Honor and Shame) in the Rahnuma Ahmed (ed), Public Anthropology series. Ahmed herself has parsed Naibuddin Ahmed’s iconic image of a rape victim (“Distances,” New Age, 26 March 2008), and that reading can be productively placed alongside Mookherjee’s rereading of Naib Uddin’s photographs.

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