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Dr. Nayanika Mookherjee: Birangonas (War heroines) of the Bangladesh War and Graphic Ethnography: Towards Ethical Testimonies of Sexual Violence during Conflict

In December 1971, in an internationally unprecedented move till date, the Bangladeshi government publicly referred to the women raped by the Pakistani army and their Bengali and non-Bengali collaborators during the Bangladesh war of 1971, as birangonas (war heroines). There exists a public memory of wartime rape since 1971 till today through the innumerable literary and visual representations of the birangona as well as testimonies. This lecture examines the processes through which birangonas have been historicised, the testimonial processes through which narratives of sexual violence is recorded and the limited lens of silence, voice, shame, honour and stigma, through which sexual violence is commonly understood. By calling into question the figuration of the Birangona, the lecture will reflect on the role of graphic ethnography in renarrativising the Bangladesh War of 1971.

Dr. Nayanika Mookherjee is a Professor of Political Anthropology in Durham University and Co-Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies. Based on her book The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories and the Bangladesh War of 1971 (2015 Duke University Press), in 2019 she co-authored a graphic novel and animation film Birangona and ethical testimonies of sexual violence during conflict and received the 2019 Praxis Award from the Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists. In 2014 she was awarded the Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Samman (for overseas Indians) at the House of Lords (October 2014) for her social anthropological contribution on gendered violence during wars. She has published extensively on anthropology of violence, ethics and aesthetics including editing and contributing to journal special issues on ‘The Aesthetics of Nation’ (2011), ‘The Self in South Asia,’ (2013); Aesthetics, Politics and Conflict (2015) and Recent publication is the JRAI 2022 Special Issue: On Irreconciliation (2022, JRAI).