• The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories, and the Bangladesh War of 1971

    Author(s):
    Contributor(s): Veena Das
    Pages: 352
    Illustrations: 42 illustrations
    Sales/Territorial Rights: World
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  • Foreword  ix

    Preface: A Lot of History, a Severe History  xv

    Acknowledgments  xxi

    Introduction: The "Looking-Glass Border"  1

    Part I

    1. The Month of Mourning and the Languid Floodwaters: The Weave of National History  31

    2. We Would Rather Have Shaak (Greens) Than Murgi (Chicken) Polao: The Archiving of the Birangona  47

    3. Bringing Out the Snake: Khota (Scorn) and the Public Secrecy of Sexual Violence  67

    4. A Mine of Thieves: Interrogting Local Politics  91

    5. My Own Imagination in My Own Body: Embodied Transgressions in the Everyday  107

    Part II

    6. Mingling in Society: Rehabilitation Program and Re-membering the Raped Woman  129

    7. The Absent Piece of Skin: Gendered, Racialized, and Territorial Inscriptions of Sexual Violence during the Bangladesh War  159

    8. Imagining the War Heroine: Examination of State, Press, Literary, Visual, and Human Rights Accounts, 1971–2001  177

    9. Subjectivities of War Heroines: Victim, Agent, Traitor?  228

    Part III

    Conclusion. The Truth is Tough: Human Rights and the Politics of Transforming Experiences of Wartime Rape "Trauma" into Public Memories  251

    Postscript: From 2001 until 2013  264

    Notes  277

    Glossary  291

    References  293

    Index  309
  • Veena Das

  • Winner, BBC Radio 4's 2016 Thinking Aloud Award for Ethnography

  • "The Spectral Wound is an exceptional book. It has thoroughly explored its subject from every conceivable angle in such a way as to give it a real intellectual richness."

    "It is a pleasure to review books that offer an innovative reading of important areas of recent scholarship. Nayanika Mookherjee’s book throws an epistemic challenge to previous authors and interpretations on the subject."

    "Mookerjee's exemplary and closely argued The Spectral Wound highlights the central conundrum of making wartime rapes public: heroism, implied and acknowledged by the designation birangona, can only be acquired by making your shame public....[An] uncommonly complex and delicately observed study..."

    "[Mookherjee] asks, ‘What would it mean for the politics of identifying wartime rape if we were to highlight how the raped woman folds the experience of sexual violence into her daily socialities, rather than identifying her as a horrific wound?’ That is the central question of this powerful and perceptive book."

    "I would recommend Spectral Wound if issues of women’s history, resilience and narrative are of interest. It is a fascinating (if challenging) read that provides a discerning exploration of a convoluted, tragic, and largely unheeded episode in South Asian history."

    Awards

  • Winner, BBC Radio 4's 2016 Thinking Aloud Award for Ethnography

  • Reviews

  • "The Spectral Wound is an exceptional book. It has thoroughly explored its subject from every conceivable angle in such a way as to give it a real intellectual richness."

    "It is a pleasure to review books that offer an innovative reading of important areas of recent scholarship. Nayanika Mookherjee’s book throws an epistemic challenge to previous authors and interpretations on the subject."

    "Mookerjee's exemplary and closely argued The Spectral Wound highlights the central conundrum of making wartime rapes public: heroism, implied and acknowledged by the designation birangona, can only be acquired by making your shame public....[An] uncommonly complex and delicately observed study..."

    "[Mookherjee] asks, ‘What would it mean for the politics of identifying wartime rape if we were to highlight how the raped woman folds the experience of sexual violence into her daily socialities, rather than identifying her as a horrific wound?’ That is the central question of this powerful and perceptive book."

    "I would recommend Spectral Wound if issues of women’s history, resilience and narrative are of interest. It is a fascinating (if challenging) read that provides a discerning exploration of a convoluted, tragic, and largely unheeded episode in South Asian history."

  • "Nayanika Mookherjee has made visible a scene of gendered violence in the Bangladesh War of Liberation that travels beyond its specific context to historical, theoretical, and lived realities that are global in range and scope."  — Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, author of, An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization

    "Nayanika Mookherjee has produced a brilliant profile of a society grappling with the impact of war centered on rape and its memory. Dealing with rape in war is a political act and memories serve many causes, from the nationalist to the personal. Mookherjee looks at the issue through the lenses of class, culture, and politics, making it one of the most comprehensive and perceptive studies available, as she investigates from within what it means to become an outsider and the socio-political mechanisms that make it happen."  — Afsan Chowdhury, editor of, Bangladesh 1971

    "What happens when a moment of personal violation becomes appropriated as part of the narrative of a new collectivity? In a subtle and multifaceted analysis, Nayanika Mookherjee tracks the consequences, both personal and political, of acts of sexual violence that refuse to be forgotten four decades on from the war of independence."  — Jonathan Spencer, coauthor of, Checkpoint, Temple, Church and Mosque: A Collaborative Ethnography of War and Peace

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  • Description

    Following the 1971 Bangladesh War, the Bangladesh government publicly designated the thousands of women raped by the Pakistani military and their local collaborators as birangonas, ("brave women”). Nayanika Mookherjee demonstrates that while this celebration of birangonas as heroes keeps them in the public memory, they exist in the public consciousness as what Mookherjee calls a spectral wound. Dominant representations of birangonas as dehumanized victims with disheveled hair, a vacant look, and rejected by their communities create this wound, the effects of which flatten the diversity of their experiences through which birangonas have lived with the violence of wartime rape. In critically examining the pervasiveness of the birangona construction, Mookherjee opens the possibility for a more politico-economic, ethical, and nuanced inquiry into the sexuality of war.
     

    About The Author(s)

    Nayanika Mookherjee is Reader in Socio-Cultural Anthropology at Durham University.

    Veena Das is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology at the Johns Hopkins University. 
     
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