“When I asked the women directly whether I should anonymize their names
in my writings, they said that I should use their own names because it is “our
own kotha (words), mela itihash (a lot of history), ja ma tomare ditesi [what
mother we are giving to you (referring to me as “mother,” which is an affection-
ate term used for younger women by older women)].” Nayanika Mookherjee
receives the gift of this mela itihash, and the question that animates the book
before us is, how is she going to bear this knowledge? The gift of knowledge
has been bestowed upon her with the contradictory injunctions— the im-
perative to tell the story and also to not tell the story. Such dilemmas are not
new for anthropologists studying sexual violence in situations of war or riots,
in the streets, or at home. How to navigate the delicate terrain between public
knowledge and public secret in which sexual violence lies? Yet every time one
touches the subject, one encounters it as a fresh problem, for no general solu-
tions or abstract advice will do.
Mookherjee understands well that writing this history is like touching
madness. She writes an account, weaving her experiences with the birangonas
who were subjected to sexual and physical violence during the war of in de-
pen dence in Bangladesh in 1971 and later declared as “war heroines” into a
text that never loses sight of the concreteness of these women as flesh- and-
blood creatures— not some idealized “victims” whose stories will serve a
larger purpose in the name of this or that ideology. The achieved depth of this
book and the theoretical humility with which concepts are drawn from the
veena das
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