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An Untold Story


Anuradha Chenoy

WOMEN, WAR AND THE MAKING OF BANGLADESH
By Yasmin Saikia
Women Unlimited, Delhi, 2011, pp. 304, Rs.600.00

VOLUME XXXVI NUMBER 3 March 2012

Twenty years after the birth of Bangladesh, the three protagonist nations involved in this birth-Bangladesh, Pakistan and India have their own narratives on the event. Bangladesh has a war crimes tribunal (International Crimes Tribunal), Pakistan is reconciled to its break up but still sore with India and India remains triumphal about its own just war. The focus of these narratives is the presentation of statecraft and how best to preserve those crafts. The trials, tribulations and contributions of women in the war in the making of Bangladesh is outside the mainstream discourse. Luckily, feminist scholars like Yasmin Saikia have documented and are re-telling the story of this nation building from an untold point of view. The Bangladesh story has been recounted primarily by men, chronicling male warriors, victors and liberators. As recently, as the November issue of leading popular magazines in India, tales were re-told by various retired generals who witnessed the Indian triumph. The only woman talked about was Indira Gandhi, who took bold steps to order the Indian intervention. Women as rape victims has been a side discourse, and would have remained as such if not for feminist writings internationally and in Bangladesh. Saikia questions the writing of history as official knowledge that started in South Asia as a colonial project and continues today as part of the postcolonial mainstream discourse. Women and the subaltern remain outside this and Saikia makes an effort at re-examining the truth as part of a new politics that links ethics with history. Saikia is a votary of truth reconciliation commissions which have not happened in South Asia. These are important to overcome the amnesia of history and the repressions of politics and also shape the manner, institutions and attitudes to justice. In the absence of such commissions, Saikia turns to recording faithfully the testimonies of some of the women in Bangladesh to show what the debates of 1971 mean and if this can turn into any meaningful discussion in South Asian politics. The book is divided into three sections. The first section talks of the need to tell the Bangladesh war story seen through the eyes of the women victims. It tells in details how the author came to write this book. It shows how difficult it was for the author to find any evidence of women victims in the archives or any trace of them, all of which shows how carefully women ...


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