Towards 1971 V: Women and the War of 1971

[Part 5 of 6: IIIIIIIVVVI]

[…] men see the abuse of “their” women as a degradation of their masculinity. What counts is not the suffering of the women, but the effect it has on men.

Ruth Seifert, “War and Rape: Analytical Approaches”

All facets of the 1971 conflict and the subsequent nation-making processes had a devastating impact on women, including rapes, exile, displacement, camp-life, loss of family, social ostracization and financial insecurity and the consequent exploitation, and the subsequent silencing of their voices. “Women’s vulnerabilities” Bina D’ Costa reminds us, “increase with the intensity of conflicts” and “rape of the enemy’s women is often strategically used to terrorise the enemy population.” D’ Costa refers to Ruth Seifert’s “War and Rape: Analytical Approaches” to make the crucial point that “rather than considering rape as an aggressive manifestation of sexuality, it must be understood as a sexual manifestation of aggression.” The abuse of women serves as a communication between men of the opposing sides that signals one’s triumph and the failure of the other to defend their women whose destruction is conceived as the destruction of the enemy’s cultural identity.
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Towards 1971 IV: The Enemy Within

[Part 4 of 6: IIIIIIIVVVI]

Marshaling colonial legacies, the post-colonial state seeks to consolidate the nation as a new form of empire, demanding hyper-masculine militarization and territorial and extra-territorial control. This requires the manufacture of internal and external enemies to constitute a national identity, constructed in opposition to the anti-national and non-native enemies of the nation.

Angana P. Chatterji, “The Militarized Zone,” Kashmir– The Case for Freedom

After all, there is little wiggle room in the binaries inscribed onto nationalism or colonialism by current historiography: one resists or perishes; one is either a hero or a traitor.

Sepoy, “The Middle Man”

My uncle’s sister moved from Indore, India to Dhaka when she got married to a man who had migrated to Dhaka during the 1947 partition of India. That would make her and her husband, in Bangladeshi parlance, Biharis, a catch-all pejorative term for those that migrated to East Pakistan during the Partition from various regions in India. Her husband, Shafiq Bhai (pseudonym), built a successful business in Dhaka and was a wealthy man. One evening during the war of 1971, they were visited by Pakistani soldiers. Rumors spread that Shafiq Bhai was collaborating with the Pakistani army. My uncle’s family maintains that accusation to be untrue. In any event, armed men came for Shafiq Bhai and took him and his two adult sons with them. They shot dead all three of them. Then their house was firebombed, killing one of their younger sons and injuring two daughters. From then on, a Bengali friend of Shafiq Bhai’s murdered son guarded the rest of the family, and helped them migrate to India. After they emigrated, their home was looted. After the end of war they came back and married their daughter to the Bengali man who had helped them.
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Towards 1971 III: A Few Good Pakistani Men

[Part 3 of 6: IIIIIIIVVVI]

I hate all armies. Yours, mine—all armies.

-Muhammad Zinnatul Alam, the lone survivor of the Thanpara massacre.1


The main focus of Sarmila Bose’s much talked about book, Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War is the civil war in East Pakistan, and not the international war between India and Pakistan or the Cold War context of the conflict, though they are not completely ignored. Her stated aims are to study and scrutinize how the war of 1971 is remembered, perhaps to illuminate what is willingly forgotten. Growing up in West Bengal, India, Sarmila Bose was familiar with a particular narrative about the conflict: “Our Bengali brethren …once again fight for freedom” from their fellow countrymen from West Pakistan, who “seemed for some inexplicable reason intent on killing them all.” India had played the role of “white knight to the beleaguered Bangladeshis.” The latter claim she deftly dismantles.2 During her research, realizing that something was off, she militated against this narrative (and her Bengali informants). As Naeem Mohaiemen points out in his incisive review of her book, “her fury was of the naïf making a late discovery. What animates Dead Reckoning therefore is that palpable rage.” Having grown up with my own nationalist blinders, I empathize with the rage that comes with the realization that one has let oneself be duped. But Bose’s research and her book, perhaps still guided by the force of the nationalist narratives, “goes so far to the other side as to create a new set of biases, even more problematic.”3
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  1. Sarmila Bose, Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War, Columbia University Press, June, 2011, p97 []
  2. For India’s role in exacerbating the conflict, see Eqbal Ahmad, ‘Notes on South Asia in Crisis,’ Bulletin of Concern Asian Scholars, Winter, 1972. Available online at []
  3. Naeem Mohaiemen, “Flying Blind: Waiting for a Real Reckoning on 1971,” Economic & Political Weekly, vol xlvi no 36, September 3, 2011. []

Towards 1971 II: The Making of a Tragedy

[Part 2 of 6: IIIIIIIVVVI]
Painted on a wall inside my old school.

 Translation: The Ideology of Pakistan: Every nation has a specific civilization and culture. The civilizational and cultural capital of the Muslims of the Subcontinent comes from Islam. This capital, their beliefs and religious rituals, mannerisms, religious and historical literature, literary and technological research, is preserved in their literature and philosophy. On this basis, the Muslims of the Indo-Pak Subcontinent understand themselves to be a separate nation. This was also the reason why two societies, that is, the Hindu society and the Muslim society, came into being in the Subcontinent. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Allama Muhammad Iqbal stressed that Muslims are not a a faction but a separate nation. When with the beautiful efforts of these elders, Muslims came to believe firmly that Congress, established by an Englishman Allen Hume, is an anti-Muslim Hindu organization, they put forth a demand for a separate homeland for themselves. Foundational Principles of the Ideology of Pakistan: 1. The Muslims of the Subcontinent constitute one nation. 2. The Muslims will live freely in accordance with the eternal principles of Islam. 3. The Muslims of the Subcontinent need a free country to retain/maintain their separate/distinct national existence, so that they can make religious, societal, political, cultural, and economic progress. Truth is weary of bodies without soul / The living God is the God of the living.

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