LAHORE: “War destroys the vulnerable and unfortunately the individual sufferings of non combatants are seldom highlighted,” Dr Yasmin Saikia, author of Women, War and the Making of Bangladesh. Remembering 1971, said at the launch of her book on Tuesday. The book was launched at Forman Christian College.
Dr Saika, a professor of history at the Arizona State University, explained that the book is about families with memories of violence and trauma, “missing in the archives of history of the war.”
The book records the sufferings of Bengali and Bihari women, some of them raped and tortured during the 1971 war. The author said she had interviewed 250 families over 10 years. Those interviewed included those directly affected by the war. Some of them were perpetrators of sexual violence.
Dr Saikia said she wanted to focus on the war as traumatised women’s experience and not as a War of Liberation, as widely accepted by the Bangladeshi public. She said from the day that she had started writing the book, she had consciously tried to avoid avoided writing a particular type of history. “I tried to persuade these women to speak up about their personal experiences, including the war babies,” she said. She said some of the women had lost their citizenship and for some writers their credibility.
She said during her interviews and conversations, more than 100 women avoided the word rape, while affirming the fact. “This was because over 40 years, nobody had addressed their plight with dignity,” she said.
Dr Saikia said that a senior Pakistan army officer had admitted that the history of the ‘71 war was “a legacy of lies.”
She talked about how the victims and the oppressors spoke to her at length about the inhumanity.
She said it was while writing this book that she had learned that “only when we transcend ‘me’ and ‘you’, we can learn the lessons of history.”
Mahfoozur Rehman, the Bangladeshi deputy high commissioner to Pakistan, had been invited to speak at the event, but was unable to attend it. Through a statement sent by email, he praised the author for ‘looking for heroes’ in people. He compared her efforts to those of Rabindranath Tagore. Some of the guests criticized the book for mentioning the sufferings of Bihari women along with the Bengali women, saying this diverted attention from the real issue. To this, Dr Saikia responded, “My book tells the story of all victims.”
Dr Yaqoob Khan Bangash of the Oxford University Press and FC College recalled how reading some excerpts from the book read in his class, had resulted in a heated debate among the students, most of whom he said were reluctant to admit that the rapes and torture Pakistani military was accused of actually happened.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2012.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly quoted Dr Bokhari as saying that the book did not serve history. This has been corrected. The error is regretted.