Ami Birangona Bolchi
March 17, 2014 8:03 PM   Subscribe

I am not as self-righteous as the way I am talking to you all. Actually I never got the opportunity to express myself. I grew up with my head bent, occupied the lowest place in my family and was surviving under the radar as a member of my family. But later I met a woman who was like a mother to me, and she told me that I was an amazing woman, a hero. I may not have the body of Joan of Arc, but I have sacrificed what is most precious to me – my womanhood, for my country. But you will never see our names engraved in a tower. The reason for this omission is likely their own shame. They could not protect me from the hands of disaster. In what face would they applaud the fact that I am a war heroine? I have been ridiculed and shamed in cruel and heartless ways, but somehow a power greater than me has helped me keep my head high.
Rape survivors of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War were given the title "Birangona": an attempt by the first president of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, to respect the sacrifices of these women that sadly backfired. Ami Birangona Bolchi by Bangladeshi academic and social worker Nilima Ibrahim, published in 1994, chronicles first-hand stories of these women, grappling with the tension between their status and their lived experience. Recently there have been multiple translations of Nilima's work, as well as more interviews and poetry as well as an upcoming British stage production.
posted by divabat (8 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Another case of a huge number of people (residents especially of Bangladesh, but also other Bengali-speakers) being almost invisible to Euro-Americans. A population equivalent to that of the USA. A significant culture - not just "Indian" - and lost in our thoughts.

I'm not being accusatory or white-guilty about this. It's just that with our global culture, it is a blessing to be exposed to so much representation on the part of peoples such as the Bengali community, yet also being aware of so many other regions - and their art, their literature, their cinema - and not being able to have the time to begin to understand how all these people live.

This community is especially important to the First World, as they may become the first major victims of rising sea levels.

I'm wearing a T-Shirt of Ganesha. From a local Gamelan group I used to play with. Some call it appropriation. I don't; I don't mind praying to him, even though my path is Buddhism.

Wow, that was a wandering post. Sorry; it's late.
posted by kozad at 8:56 PM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

it's always amazing to learn things about your own culture and history that your parents won't tell you about (hah).

thanks for sharing divabat!


(and kozad, great comment. To add on some of my own experiences, being a Bangladeshi-American has always been a bit of a tightrope. As a child, I would get frustrated trying to explain exactly where Bangladesh was on a map... ha.

Furthermore, our culture is still so young that those who lived through this period–in my case, my parents and the older people of the community–still aren't able to fully explain it, because they're still living the immigrants' hustle and [maybe] trying to craft their own narrative for their kids and the younger folks in the community.)
posted by raihan_ at 9:08 PM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

being almost invisible to Euro-Americans.

Really? In 1971, former Beatle George Harrison produced a live three album set "The Concert for Bangla Desh" and even wrote a song about the genocide:

"Bangla Desh, Bangla Desh
Where so many people are dying fast
And it sure looks like a mess
I've never seen such distress
Now won't you lend your hand, try to understand
Relieve the people of Bangla Desh."

So did Joan Baez.

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger had discussions about it.

"In fact, the United States had been intervening squarely in the middle of Pakistan’s affairs from the early years of that country’s inception, with Nixon himself a driver of the American policy."

Of course this was during the Cold War when Pakistan was an ally of the West "when President Richard M. Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger, his national security adviser, vigorously supported the killers and tormentors of a generation of Bangladeshis."

The Hindu Genocide in Bangladesh was hardly invisible to Euro-Americans, it's just that the victims were on the wrong side of the Cold War.
posted by three blind mice at 5:39 AM on March 18, 2014

Invisible in the sense of not provoking much, if any, public reaction, certainly. It wasn't totally ignored and there were certainly articles and news reports (as in the TV news segment imbedded in the "sadly backfired" link, for example), but it remained a very minor issue at best.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:45 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

thanks for this, divabat
posted by bitteroldman at 6:23 AM on March 18, 2014

three blind mice, fair enough, but none of those you mention have any resonance with folks under thirty -- the generation swarming all over LA, NY, and DC and programming pop culture as well as pop news and pop politics.

I teach undergraduates; I don't even want to estimate how wrong they'd be if anyone asked them where Bangladesh was, or how it became a state ... even if they do have their parents' George Harrison records on vinyl.
posted by allthinky at 8:11 AM on March 18, 2014

This was a gaping hole in my history education, thank you divabat for posting this.
posted by ambrosia at 8:11 AM on March 18, 2014

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