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

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”). Spectral Wound aims to map out the public memories of sexual violence of the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 (Muktijuddho). Nayanika Mookherjee demonstrates that while this celebration of birangonas as heroes keeps them in the public memories, they exist in the public consciousness as what Mookherjee calls 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. 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. In critically examining the pervasiveness of the birangona construction, Mookherjee decentres the assumption of silence relating to wartime rape and opens the possibility for a more poitico-economic and ethical inquiry into the sexuality of war.