In late 1971, Bangladeshi photographer Naibuddin Ahmed took a photograph
of a woman who had been raped by the Pakistani army during the Bangladesh
war of 1971 (often referred to as Ekattor
[1971]).1
This photograph depicted
the woman with her disheveled hair and her crossed, bangle- clad fists cover-
ing her face. Smuggled out of Bangladesh (M. Masud 1998), the photograph
drew international attention to the Bangladesh war, through which East Paki-
stan became the in de pendent nation of Bangladesh, and in which rape was
common. Faced with a huge population of rape survivors, the new Bangladeshi
government in December 1971 publicly designated any woman raped in the war
a birangona (meaning brave or courageous woman; the Bangladeshi state uses
the term to mean “war heroine”; see chapter 6 for various connotations of biran-
gona). Even today, the Bangladeshi government’s bold, public effort to refer to
the women raped during 1971 as birangonas is internationally unpre cedented,
yet it remains unknown to many besides Bangladeshis. In 1994, the imam of
Sarajevo of the Islamic Association in Bosnia made a similar (yet little known)
fatwa (proclamation) that women who were raped in the war should have the
position of a soldier, of a fighter (Skjelsbæk 2012, 98–99). Among many other
images, Ahmed’s photograph is iconic, symbolizing the horrors of 1971 and
connoting the supposed shame and anonymity of the raped
woman.2
It is also
one of the most oft- cited and widely circulated visual repre sentations of the
birangona. This image has been used on the cover of an En glish translation
of a Bengali book on women’s oral history of 1971 (Shaheen Akhtar et al.
preface
“A Lot of History, a Severe History”
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