It is claimed that nearly 200,000 — 400,000 women and girls were systematically raped and tortured by the Pakistani Army as a war strategy in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.
In 2010, I filmed 21 of these Birangona women’s first-hand accounts at a centre near Dhaka. Birangona means ‘Brave Woman’.
After the interview one woman said, ” what’s the point of telling these stories? Nothing happens.’ And it is true nothing has happened because no one wants to tell their stories.
Post-war Bangladeshi society and successive governments haven’t been able to figure out what to do with them. Although the first leader of Bangladesh tried to rehabilitate these women by giving them the name ‘Birangona’ as a mark of respect and recognition, society rejected them anyway and denied their existence. They were forgotten and so were their stories.
The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict which took place at ExCel London has just ended this afternoon. A silent protest at the Summit, jointly organised by Komola Collective and the ICSF, highlighted the plight of the silenced birangona women, whose stories could not be shared in the official programme of the “Summit” on sexual violence in London. They posed this single question as the fulcrum of their silent protest:
Where Are Bangladesh’s Rape Survivors At This Summit?
Silent demand for an answer to an obvious question
In the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971, more than 200,000 women and girls were systematically raped and tortured by the Pakistani Army and their local collaborators as part of the Pakistani Army’s war strategy. They are the Birangona Women. These women were then ignored by a society where rape is considered to be a source of shame for the victims. So the plight of these women goes untold.
The novelist Philip Hensher, writing in the Independent, frames the history of the birth of Bangladesh against the pain and fury of the hundreds of thousands of protesters of Shahbag Square, now demanding justice for the war criminals of Jamaat-e-Islam. Along the way he remarks on the genocide denial of Pakistan and the efforts a certain “historian” now based in Oxford. This is as comprehensive as it gets.
Since 5 February, Bangladesh has been transfixed by this ongoing, immense protest. Hundreds of thousands have occupied Shahbagh Square in protest at a verdict passed by the International Crimes Tribunal on war crimes committed during the genocide which preceded the founding of the country in 1971. One of those found guilty, Abdul Kalam Azad, was sentenced to death. Another, however, Abdul Quader Mollah, the assistant secretary general of a Muslim party which collaborated with the genocidaires, the Jamaat–e-Islami, was given life imprisonment. The protests which followed, and are still continuing, are led by intelligent and liberal people; they are, however, calling with great urgency for the death penalty to be passed on Mollah and other convicted war criminals.
Nick Cohen with an excellent piece on how the Shahbag demonstrations formed the space for a battle between secular Bangladeshis and Jamaat-e-Islami supporters in a park in Whitechapel. And the ongoing story of how the establishment and Britain’s liberal Left continues to enable fascist streams in political Islam, in particular, Jamaat-e-Islam.
Do I hear you say that Bangladesh is far away and the genocide was long ago?
Not so far away. Not so long ago. And the agonies of Bangladeshi liberals are nothing in comparison to the contradictions of their British counterparts.
The conflict between the Shahbag and Jamaat has already reachedLondon. On 9 February, local supporters of the uprising demonstrated in Altab Ali Park, a rare patch of green space off the Whitechapel Road in London’s East End. They were met by Jamaatis. “They attacked our men with stones,” one of the protest’s organisers told me. “There were old people and women and children there, but they still attacked us.”
Pervez Hoodbhoy is one of the most thoughtful of dissenting voices speaking in Pakistan today. His latest piece is a comment on the reasons behind Pakistan’s wilful disinterest of the events of the Shahbag Uprising.
On February 5, the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) found Mullah guilty in five out of the six charges against him. Known as Mirpurer Koshai (Butcher of Mirpur) because of his atrocities against citizens in the Mirpur area of Dhaka, he was charged with beheading a poet, raping an 11-year-old girl and murdering 344 people. The ICT sentenced Mullah, presently assistant secretary general of the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, to life in prison. For the protesters in Shahbag Square, this isn’t enough — they want Mullah hanged. On the other side, the Jamaat-e-Islami protested violently and also took out demonstrations. But its efforts to influence global opinion foundered in spite of a well-funded effort.
Rajib Haider who blogged under the name of ‘Thaba Baba’ was one of the blogger activists of the Shahbag youth uprising in Bangladesh. Yesterday came news that Rajib was slaughtered in Dhaka close to his home. His throat and wrists were slit, in signature Chaatra Shibir (Jamaat-e-Islam’s student wing) style, and he was left to die.
Ahmed Rajib Haider, 26, was an active participant of the ongoing nonstop demonstrations at Shahbagh demanding death sentences for all ‘war criminals’.
Officer-in-Charge of Pallabi Police Station Abdul Latif Sheikh told bdnews24.com that they recovered Shuvo’s body from Laalmatia’s Palashnagar around 9pm.
He said the face bore signs of slashes. A scarf was wrapped around the blogger’s throat, Sheikh added.
This was not a simple mugging case as police said the deceased’s laptop was found near the body of the architect.
On the BBC Radio 4 show ‘Hecklers’, Gita Sahgal takes on the combined force of the Islamists Tahmina Saleem (Islamic Society Britain), Tariq Ramadan (freelance Islamist), Nazir Ahmed (House of Lords), Moazzam Begg (Cage Prisoners) and Daud Abdullah (Muslim Council of Britain)