Overcoming the silent archive in bangladesh: Women bearing witness to violence in the 1971 "liberation"war

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

6 Scopus citations


This chapter is part of a larger project that I have undertaken to reconstruct through oral history, fieldwork, and archival research the history of survivors-men and women in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India who participated in, experienced, and suffered but lived to tell about the violence in the war of 1971. I intend to write a "public biography" (Bar- On 2002) of survivors in order to rethink issues of religious communalism, nationalism, and violence in postcolonial South Asia as well as engage the ambiguity of history evident in event and narrative. By "public biography" I mean a text that incorporates the investigation of violence at a theoretical level as well as through autobiographical testimonials of survivors. By "survivors" I mean both victims and perpetrators, because in a strange, problematic way they were bound together; and it is by framing them together in the context of violence that we can begin to understand what happened in the war of 1971 fought by Pakistan, India, and the Mukti Bahini (Bengali militia founded and supported by the Indian government) that led to the creation of Bangladesh. Here I focus on a small segment of my larger project-the historiographical silence concerning gendered violence in the war and the mechanisms used by both state and society in Bangladesh to keep the experiences of the victims secret. Specifically, I am interested in the politics of active national forgetting of the violence committed against women. I ask the following questions: Should we not interrogate the patriarchal society that has colluded with the government to marginalize women's voices? Can we move beyond the official silence and create a new space of understanding the meaning of violence and the human cost of war? I conclude by looking at the pain of women to highlight it as a possible site for generating a new regional history of postcolonial South Asia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationWomen and the Contested State
Subtitle of host publicationReligion, Violence, and Agency in South and Southeast Asia
PublisherUniversity of Notre Dame Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9780268041250
StatePublished - Dec 1 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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