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The absent piece of skin: Gendered, racialized and territorial inscriptions of sexual violence during the Bangladesh war*

  • NAYANIKA MOOKHERJEE (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

This paper addresses how the wombs of women and the absent skin on the circumcised penises of men become the predominant sites on which racialized and gendered discourses operating during the Bangladesh War are inscribed. This is explored by examining instances of sexual violence by Pakistani soldiers and their local Bengali collaborators. The prevalence of these discourses in colonial documents about the Bengali Muslims underscores the role of history, the politics of identity and in the process, establishes its link with the rapes of Bangladeshi women and men. Through this, the relationship between sexual violence and historical contexts is highlighted. I locate the accounts of male violations by the West Pakistani army within the historical and colonial discourses relating to the construction of the Bengali Muslim and its intertextual, contemporary citational references in photographs and interviews.

I draw on Judith Butler's and Marilyn Strathern's work on gendering and performativity to address the citational role of various practices of discourses of gender and race within colonial documents and its application in a newer context of colonization and sexual violence of women and men during wars. The role of photographs and image-making is intrinsic to these practices. The open semiotic of the photographs allows an exploration of the territorial identities within these images and leads to traces of the silence relating to male violations. Through an examination of the silence surrounding male sexual violence vis-à-vis the emphasis on the rape of women in independent Bangladesh, it is argued that these racialized and gendered discourses are intricately associated to the link between sexuality and the state in relation to masculinity.

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This paper develops from my research on public memories of sexual violence of the Bangladesh war of 1971 (Mookherjee forthcoming) funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (New York). I am grateful to Swapan Parekh for permission to use Kishor Parekh's photographs. Thanks to Veena Das for stressing that I analyze the photograph further; to Christopher Pinney, Jackie Stacey and Mark Lacy for their invaluable comments on earlier drafts. This paper was presented at the Centre for South Asian Studies seminar, Cambridge University, and the Religious Studies department seminar, Lancaster University. Thanks to the participants for their questions and comments.

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1 See Mardorossian C. (2002), ‘Toward a new feminist theory of rape’, Signs. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 27:3, 743–75.

2 See Brownmiller S. (1975), ‘Bangladesh’, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. London: Secker & Warburg pp. 7886.

3 For varied analyses between sexual violence and conflict see Das V. (1995), ‘National Honour and Practical Kinship: Of Unwanted Women and Children’, Critical Events. Delhi: Oxford University Press pp. 5583; R. Littlewood (1997), ‘Military Rape’ in Anthropology Today Vol. 13, No. 2: pp. 7–16, April; Enloe C. (2000), ‘When soldiers rape,’ Manoeuvres: The International Politics of Militarizing Women's Lives. Berkeley: University of California Press pp. 108–52; Lorentzen L., and Turpin J. eds, (1998), The Women and War Reader. New York: New York University Press; Stiglmayer A. (1994), ‘The Rapes in Bosnia-Herzegovina’, Mass Rape: The War Against Women in Bosnia. Translations by Faber Marion, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press pp. 82169; Zarkov D. (2001), ‘The Body of the other man: Sexual Violence and the Construction of Masculinity, Sexuality and Ethnicity in the Croatian Media’, in Moser C. and Clark F. eds, Victims, Perpetrators or Actors? Gender, Armed Conflict and Political Violence. New Delhi: Kali for Women pp. 6982.

4 See Yuval-Davis N. and Anthias F. Y., eds, (1989), Woman-Nation-State. London: Macmillan; Agarwal P. (1995), ‘Surat, Savarkar and Draupadi: Legitimising Rape as a Political Weapon’ in Butalia U. and Sarkar T., eds, Women and Right Wing Movements: Indian Experiences. London. Zed Books, p. 31.

5 See R. Fields (2007), Tracing Rape: The Trauma on Slavery in Toni Morrison's Beloved. Paper presented in Women Writing Rape: Literary and Theoretical Narratives of Sexual Violence. Warwick University, 24th April 2007, reading of Toni Morrison's Beloved where she briefly alludes to violation of male slaves.

6 In 2004 large numbers of Iraqi detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison were subjected to human rights violations in the form of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, including torture, rape, sodomy, and homicide.

7 See Nandy A. (1983), The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism. Delhi: Oxford University Press; M. Sinha (1995), Colonial Masculinity: The ‘Manly Englishman’ and the ‘Effeminate Bengali’ in the Late Nineteenth Century, Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press.

8 See Butler J. (1990), Gender Trouble. London: Routledge; Strathern M. (1988), Gender of the Gift. Berkeley: University of California Press.

9 Butler, Gender Trouble, p. 6.

10 Ibid., p. 140.

11 Strathern, Gender of the Gift, p ix.

13 See K. Parekh (1972), Bangladesh: A Brutal Birth. Photographed by Kishor Parekh. Foreword by S. Mulgaokar. Hong Kong: Image Photographic Services.

14 Personal Communication with Swapan Parekh; P. Bartholemew (2008), Close Up: Kishor Parekh. February 2008 World Press Photo Foundation, Amsterdam http://www.enterworldpressphoto.org/editie9/close_up.php?hilow = (click on ‘CLOSE UP kishor parekh’ [accessed 10 November 2011].

15 Published, and frequently contested, official figures vary: the number ranges between 100,000 and 400,000 rapes of women by Pakistani soldiers and their local Bengali collaborators.

16 The government designation of 200,000 ‘war-heroines’ applied to women from all socio-economic backgrounds who had been raped during the war.

17 See Mookherjee N. (forthcoming), The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories and the Bangladesh War of 1971. Durham: Duke University Press; Mookherjee N. (2006), ‘Remembering to Forget: Public Secrecy and Memory of Sexual Violence in Bangladesh’, in Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute (JRAI), 12 (2), June 2006: 433450; Mookherjee N. (2004), ‘“My man (honour) is lost but I still have my iman (principle)”: Sexual Violence and Articulations of Masculinity’, in Chopra R., Osella C. and Osella F. eds, South Asian Masculinities. New Delhi: Kali for Women pp. 131159.

18 In the 1990s, various feminists and human rights activists in Bangladesh undertook oral history projects of rape during the war [N. Ibrahim (1994–1995), Ami Birangona Bolchi (This is the ‘War-Heroine’ speaking), 2 Volumes. Dhaka: Jagriti; Akhtar S., Begum S., Hossein H., Kamal S. and Guhathakurta M. eds, (2001), Narir Ekattor O Juddhoporoborti Koththo Kahini (Oral History Accounts of Women's Experiences During 1971 and After the War). Dhaka: Ain-O-Shalish-Kendro (ASK)]. As a result, many, photographs and narratives of predominantly poor, rural, impoverished ‘war-heroines’ have appeared in newspapers, vis-à-vis interviews and photographs of the middle-class sculptor ‘war-heroine’, Firdousi Priyobhashini.

19 I am grateful to Jackie Stacey for raising this point.

20 See Ali T. (1983), Can Pakistan Survive? The Death of a State. London: Penguin Books; Brownmiller, Against Our Will; M. Guhathakurta (1996), ‘Dhorshon Ekti Juddhaporadh’ (Rape is a War Crime). Dhaka: Bulletin of Ain-O-Shalish Kendra (ASK), 6–8 February.

21 See Eaton R. M. (2001), “Who are the Bengali Muslims? Conversion and Islamization in Bengal’, in Ahmed R. ed., Understanding the Bengali Muslims: Interpretative Essays. Dhaka: University Press Limited pp. 2651.

22 See Ali, Can Pakistan Survive? Ahmed R., ed., (2001), Understanding the Bengali Muslims: Interpretative Essays. Dhaka: University Press Limited; Roy A. (1996), Islam in South Asia: A Regional Perspective. New Delhi: South Asian Publishers Private Limited pp. 131,138, for an account of the various practices of claiming an Islamic identity based on Arabic origins.

23 See Stewart C. and Shaw R. (1994), Syncretism/Anti-Syncretism: The Politics of Religious Synthesis. London and New York: Routledge, for a critique of syncretism and its mechanical assignation of cultural traits. Instead practices of identities are constantly defined in relation to one another, open to negotiation and appropriation.

24 See Anisuzzaman M. (2000), ‘Identity Question and Politics’ in Jahan Rounaq ed., Bangladesh: Promise and Performance. Dhaka: University Press Limited pp. 4565; M. Sarkar (2006), ‘Difference in memory’ in Society for Comparative Study of Society and History pp. 139–168; see Chatterji J. (1998), ‘The Bengali Muslim: A Contradiction in Terms? An Overview of the Debate on the Bengali Muslim Identity’ in Hasan Mushirul ed., Islam, Communities and the Nation: Muslim Identities in South Asia and Beyond, New Delhi: Manohar, for an exposition of the division, exchanges and shifting identities from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries until 1971.

25 See Copelon R. (1994), ‘Surfacing Gender: Reconceptualising Crimes against Women in Time of War’, in Stiglmayer A. ed., Mass Rape: The War Against Women in Bosnia. Translations by Marion Faber, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press pp. 197218.

26 See N. Kabeer (1989), ‘The Quest for National Identity: Women, Islam and the State in Bangladesh’, Discussion paper 268, Institute of Development Studies.

27 Ali, Can Pakistan Survive, p. 91.

28 See Ahmed, Understanding the Bengali Muslims; Roy, Islam in South Asia.

29 Guhathakurta (1996), ‘Dhorshon Ekti Juddhaporadh’ (Rape is a War Crime).

30 Kafer is ‘used to designate non-Muslims, castigate Muslims of different opinion or to draw boundaries when alternative values and practices are explicitly rejected’ (Ewing K. ed, (1988), Shariat and Ambiguity in South Asian Islam. Berkeley: University of California Press, p 2). A similar negative connotation of Kafir was used in apartheid South Africa against blacks (Personal Communication, Justine Lucas).

31 Mascarenhas A. (1971), The Rape of Bangladesh. Delhi: Vikas Publications, p. 10.

32 Rushdie S. (1983), Shame. London: Vintage. p. 13.

33 D. Bartlett (2009), ‘Chinese woo business in Bangladesh’ 30th May 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/8073642.stm [accessed 10 November 2011]. BBC Radio 4.

34 Parekh, Bangladesh: A Brutal Birth. p 2.

35 Eaton, ‘Who are the Bengali Muslims?’ p. 27.

36 Eaton, ‘Who are the Bengali Muslims?’ p. 45.

37 The striking circulation of this discourse of the effeminate, dark, lazy, Bengali Muslims has a remarkable parallel in the Hamitic hypothesis which has ‘contributed to the recurrent violence in central Africa’ (See Taylor C. (1999), Sacrifice as Terror: The Rwandan Genocide of 1994. Oxford: Berg, pp. 55, 61), and in the Rwandan genocide.

38 H. H. Rahmana ed., (1982–1985), Bangladesher Svadhinota Yuddha Dolilpotro (Documents of the Bangladesh Independence War). 16 vols. Dhaka: Gonoprojatantri Bangladesh Sarkar, Tathya Mantralaya (People's Republic of Bangladesh, Information Ministry).

39 Rahmana Bangladesher Svadhinota Yuddha Dolilpotro, pp 23–56; Also see Paxton N. (1999), Writing under the Raj: Gender, Race and Rape in the British Colonial Imagination, 1830–1947. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, p. 121, for various British officials’ descriptions of English women and ‘her golden hair’ who were deemed to have been raped in the context of the Mutiny of 1857.

40 Interview, liberation fighter.

41 See Mookherjee, Remembering to Forget, for a discussion of public secrecy.

42 Das, Veena. 1996. Sexual Violence, Discursive Formations and the State. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 31, No. 35/37, Special Number (September 1996), pp. 2411–2423, especially p. 2412.

43 See MacKinnon C. 1987. ‘A Rally against Rape: Sex and Violence’, in her Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law. Cambridge: Harvard University Press pp. 8192.

44 See Zarkov, The Body of the other man, pp. 69–82, for an analysis of a similar invisibility and absence of the reporting of male rapes in the Croatian media.

45 Doinik Bangla, Special Issue on Genocide, December 1972. Base of the Invaders in Jhenaidah Cadet College.

46 Mehta D. 2000, ‘Circumcision, Body, Masculinity: The Ritual Wound and Collective Violence’, in Das V., Kleinman A., Ramphele M. and Reynolds P. eds, Violence and Subjectivity. Berkeley: University of California Press pp. 79101.

47 Mehta, ‘Circumcision, Body, Masculinity’, p. 98.

48 Ibid., p. 80.

49 This is similar to the sodomizing of Abu Ghraib prisoners with a phosphorous light stick (See Puar J. K., (2004), ‘Abu Ghraib: Arguing against exceptionalism’, Feminist Studies 30 (2), 522534; A. Feldman (2005), ‘On the Actuarial gaze: From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib’, Cultural Studies. Vol. 19 (2), pp. 203–226.

50 See Field's, Tracing Rape.

51 Puar, Abu Ghraib, p. 533.

52 J. Butler (2008), ‘Sexual politics, torture and secular time: A response to Ali, Beckford, Bhatt, Modood and Woodhead’, British Journal of Sociology Vol 59, 1, pp. 255–260.

53 Zarkov, The Body of the other man, p. 73.

54 Ibid., p. 78.

55 Taylor, Sacrifice as Terror.

56 Mehta, ‘Circumcision, Body, Masculinity, p. 98.

57 Butler, Gender Trouble.

58 Barthes R. (1981). Camera Lucida. New York: Hill and Wang. p 5.

59 Hindustan Times collage of ‘Life around Howrah Bridge’, Calcutta, March 1962.

60 Parekh, Bangladesh: A Brutal Birth.

62 See Barthes R. (1977), Image, Music, Text. New York: Hill and Wang; Poole D. (1997), Vision, Race and Modernity: A Visual Economy of the Andean Image World. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, for a discussion of how visual images operate according to an uncoded or open semiotic.

63 Barthes, Camera Lucida. p 21.

64 Ibid. p 41.

65 Enloe, ‘When soldiers rape’. p 112.

66 N. Mookherjee (2007), ‘Research’ on Bangladesh War. Economic and Political Weekly Vol 42, 50, 15–21 December, pp. 118–121.

67 Copelon, ‘Surfacing Gender’, p. 197.

68 See Das, Critical Events; U. Butalia (1998), The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India. New Delhi: Viking Penguin India; R. Menon and K. Bhasin (1998) Borders and Boundaries: Women in India's Partition. New Delhi: Kali for Women.

69 National Board of Bangladesh Women's Rehabilitation Programme (NBBWRP) 1974. Women's Work. Dhaka: Bangladesh Co-operative Book Society Limited, p. 1.

* This paper develops from my research on public memories of sexual violence of the Bangladesh war of 1971 (Mookherjee forthcoming) funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (New York). I am grateful to Swapan Parekh for permission to use Kishor Parekh's photographs. Thanks to Veena Das for stressing that I analyze the photograph further; to Christopher Pinney, Jackie Stacey and Mark Lacy for their invaluable comments on earlier drafts. This paper was presented at the Centre for South Asian Studies seminar, Cambridge University, and the Religious Studies department seminar, Lancaster University. Thanks to the participants for their questions and comments.

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