Academic Hour: The Spectral Wound. Sexual Violence, Public Memories and the Bangladesh War of 1971

With Dr. Nayanika Mookherjee, Durham University

2017.08.24 | Nynne Visbo-Bomose

Date Wed 15 Nov
Time 13:15 15:00
Location Moesgaard Lecture Hall (4206-139), Campus Moesgaard

Following the 1971 Bangladesh War, the Bangladesh government publicly designated the thousands of women raped by the then West Pakistani (later Pakistani) military and their local East Pakistani (later Bangladeshi) collaborators as birangonas, ("brave women”). Drawing Spectral Wound aims to counter the assumption of silence relating to wartime rape and ethnographically map out the circulation of public memories related to the sexual violence of the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 (Muktijuddho). This public memory manifests in the internationally unprecedented state designation of the raped women as birangonas (war heroines) in 1971; an extensive 45 year old archive of visual and literary representations of the raped woman dating back to 1971; and human rights testimonies of poor and middle class birangonas since the 1990s. The book demonstrates that while this celebration of birangonas as heroes keeps them in the public memories, they exist in the public consciousness as what I call a spectral wound. Dominant representations of birangonas as dehumanized victims with disheveled hair, and rejected by their communities create this wound, the effects of which flatten the diversity of their experiences through which birangonas have lived with this violence of wartime rape. Through a year-long fieldwork conducted in 1997-1998 and later in 2011-2013, the book ethnographically examines the circulation of images, press and literary representations, testimonies of rape among survivors of sexual violence and their families, the left-liberal civil society and state actors. It focuses not only on the experiences of women but also of that of men; examines public memory and public secrecy of wartime rape in a post-conflict context rather than seeking to highlight silent narratives; and finally locates the narratives within wider political, literary and visual contexts. In critically examining the pervasiveness of the birangona construction, the book decentres the prevalent understandings of stigma, silence, honour, shame and reparations relating to wartime rape and opens the possibility for a more politico-economic and ethical inquiry into the sexuality of war.

Author Bio:
Nayanika Mookherjee is an Associate Professor (Reader) in the Anthropology department in Durham University. She has published extensively on anthropology of violence, ethics and aesthetics. Her book: The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories and the Bangladesh War (2015, Duke University Press, Foreword by Prof. Veena Das) was among the top two books shortlisted for the BBC’s Thinking Allowed and Best Ethnography Award and is one of the four shortlisted finalist for the Michelle Z. Rosaldo award to be honoured by the Association of Feminist Anthropologists (AFA) at the American Anthropological Association (AAA) annual meeting in Nov 2017. Other publications include co-editing (with Christopher Pinney, 2011) the JRAI (Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute) Special Issue: ‘The Aesthetics of Nation’; the JHS (Journal of Historical Sociology) 2013 Special Issue: ‘The Self in South Asia’; the 2015 Journal of Material Culture Special Issue (Aesthetics, Politics, Conflict). Funded by the Leverhulme Foundation and a one month scholarly residency fellowship in the Rockefeller Foundation in Bellagio, she is completing her book: ‘Arts of Irreconciliation’ (contracted with the Cultural Memory in the Present Series, Stanford University Press). As a British Academy mid career fellow she has been carrying out new research on transnational adoption and conflict. 

She was a member of the executive committee and the ethics officer of the Association of Social Anthropologists of Britain and the Commonwealth (ASA) and updated the ASA ethics code in 2011. She has been a member of the ESRC and AHRC Peer Review Colleges. She is currently a member of the ESRC Grant Assessment Panel, ERC Peer Review College and Ethics committee of the World Council of Anthropological Associations.

CAS, Antropologi