Only recently, as International Women's Day was observed throughout the world; the demise of freedom fighter Ferdousi Priyabhashini just two days before the day we celebrated womanhood, and the preparation to commemorate our Independence Day within a few days create both a sense of loss and joy in our hearts and minds.
We already need to address the way in which to date Birangana is understood, as a victim of the war, and less a freedom fighter, though the entire purpose of giving them an identity, post liberation, was meant to allow people to understand the involvement of women in our history, as brave and sacrificing, in much the same way as a male 'Bir' has been hailed, as victorious and independent.
Yet, this very act that has resulted in an unsilencing of wartime rape, causes for the rise of a culture of 'khota' (scornful remarks that remind one of an unpleasant event), as Nayanika Mookherjee writes in her 2015 book, The Spectral Wound.
She follows the women of Enayetpur who were brought to Dhaka in 1992 to testify their stories and demand justice through the trial of Ghulam Azam, alleged War Criminal during the liberation war of 1971. The moment these women's experiences were publicised, their 'public secrets' were plunged into the memories of the individuals who had decided to accept these identities and move past them or live with it in silence.
Breaking this silence and ensuring that the memories of these events be regarded not as something to be scornful about rather as the experiences of Brave Women, as connotated by the term Birangana, is the wish and work of many. Thus, in the 2018 Ekushey Book Fair, Fayeza Hasanat, talks about the importance of her translation of Neelima Ibrahim's book, Aami Birangana Bolchi, which has been published by the name: A War Heroine, I Speak.
Dr Fayeza Hasanat, who has also translated Rupjalal from Bengali to English, shares that she had read the piece as a student in the '90s and as time went by, realised that there was more to the accounts of the seven Biranganas than just their stories.
“As a gender conscious person, and as a woman, I read the book again, as I grew older, not much wiser, and I understood that the book needed to be translated,” shares Fayeza.
When asked about the image of the Birangana as the dishevelled looking, scared with undone hair, torn clothes on a bent over hidden posture, woman, Fayeza elicits as to exactly why it was necessary that this Bangla book be present in the market in English. She explains that she wanted to bring this book to the youth a chunk of whom are likely to be avid readers of English, and unless they understand and embodied the lens of trauma and the lens of wartime that are essential to the creation of the Birangana identity, there will be little change in the way people view and reproduce the Birangana and her role as victim of war, to earn sympathy and empathy from others through a broadcast of torture, trauma and pain.
Moreover, Fayeza discusses that, “The discourse of gendered language is what is upheld in the categorical creation of the Birangana.” Once they are recognised as freedom fighters, they can choose to live their lives a little more proudly, and all the more courageous for the nation, not having been excluded from realities, normalcy and dailyness, as rape, even on the body it is coerced upon, inherently makes one, especially, the women, entitled to shame. So moving away from the possibilities of shame and towards a more positive understanding of Birangana, not just in the minds of particular segment of population, but nationwide and then globally, will only come about with more public conversations about the issues.
Ferdousi Priyabhashini's public evocation of bravery when she declared herself as a Birangana, remains exemplary, because both Bir and Birangana, fought with their bodies, says Fayeza. The creation of the difference to acknowledge the experiences of a male and female body becomes indeed important to understand the effects of the wartime history on individuals. The only thing that is pleaded of people is to be understanding and more aware about the implications of the term Birangana, and in turn be respectful and grateful for their presence and lives because they fought for many thousands of others who can call themselves citizens of Bangladesh.