Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh

Remembering 1971

Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 16 photographs, 3 maps Published: August 2011

Author: Yasmin Saikia

Asian Studies > South Asia, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, History > Asian History

Fought between India and what was then East and West Pakistan, the war of 1971 led to the creation of Bangladesh, where it is remembered as the War of Liberation. For India, the war represents a triumphant settling of scores with Pakistan. If the war is acknowledged in Pakistan, it is cast as an act of betrayal by the Bengalis. None of these nationalist histories convey the human cost of the war. Pakistani and Indian soldiers and Bengali militiamen raped and tortured women on a mass scale. In Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh, survivors tell their stories, revealing the power of speaking that deemed unspeakable. They talk of victimization—of rape, loss of status and citizenship, and the “war babies” born after 1971. The women also speak as agents of change, as social workers, caregivers, and wartime fighters. In the conclusion, men who terrorized women during the war recollect their wartime brutality and their postwar efforts to achieve a sense of humanity. Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh sheds new light on the relationship among nation, history, and gender in postcolonial South Asia.


“An important intervention in the discourse around 1971. It examines and demonstrates clearly the brutality of war as experienced by various marginalised groups, especially women, and the ongoing routine violence of the silencing of their voices.” — Salman Adil Hussain, Dawn

“[H]ighly readable…. The book is written in a lucid style and the stories told by the women make for compelling reading…. [B]ecause it is a product of an eclectic research methodology that includes rich ethnographic fieldwork alongside more traditional archival sources, the book would serve as a wonderful teaching tool in graduate courses on memory, oral histories, and the making of archives.” — Chitralekha Zutshi, H-Net Reviews

“In Yasmin Saikia's groundbreaking and provocative book, Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh: Remembering 1971, she challenges a number of cherished and inherited "truths" regarding the Bangladesh War of Liberation in 1971…. I commend the author for her careful analysis of militarism as a system and the cultivation of hate within it that gradually dehumanizes the Other and makes violence banal.” — Elora Halim Chowdhury and Devin G. Atallah-Gutierrez, Human Rights Quarterly

“Saikia lets ordinary people speak for themselves – and in so doing, she humanizes a story that’s usually told as a struggle of nations. Together, she and her interview partners make us think anew about the possibilities for remorse, recovery, and forgiveness.” — Elizabeth Heineman, New Books in Gender Studies

“Saikia raises the rather pertinent, often forgotten, issue of women getting caught up in the cauldron of war and then, once the battlefield activities are over, being either ignored or deliberately pushed to the fringes of the societal order. Saikia’s comprehension of the history of the 1971 war leaves nothing to chance…. Saikia’s professionalism comes touched with empathy.” — Syed Badrul Ahsan, Asian Affairs

“Saikia’s Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh: Remembering 1971 makes a significant contribution to the war literature by documenting the untold stories and the unaccounted suffering of Bangladeshi women…. [P]erhaps the most significant contribution Saikia’s book makes to the 1971 war literature is that it breaks the exclusive claim by Bengalis on the experience of violence during the war by documenting the experiences of both Bihari and Bengali women as well as women of other ethnic and religious backgrounds…. Saikia’s book is a thought provoking read for scholars and students in the fields of Women and Gender Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies, and South Asian Studies.” — Hannah Sholder, South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal

“These are compelling lessons to learn and reflect on…. this book is an informative read because it lays the framework for an important historical event that hasn't received its fair share of ink. It also explains these events in the context of the suffering of its victims; their apolitical testimonies a reminder that war has no winners.” — Aparajita Saha-Bubna, Warscapes

“Yasmin Saikia’s book is an important intervention in the discourse around 1971. It examines and demonstrates clearly the brutality of war as experienced by various marginalised groups, especially women, and the ongoing routine violence of the silencing of their voices. Saikia documents women’s voices and highlights their agency and the multiplicities of their role in the conflict.” — Chapati Mystery

"…create[s] a view of history and violence that is rarely seen in scholarship." — Tim Horner, Journal for Peace and Justice Studies

“From victims and perpetrators, women and men, Yasmin Saikia has gathered first-person accounts of the gendered violence of the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence. No one else has met this challenge, and few will be able to think about the future of South Asia without reference to her extraordinary account, which is at once bold and evocative, clearheaded and hopeful.” — Bruce B. Lawrence, co-editor of On Violence: A Reader

“This outstanding book offers an entirely new perspective on the dynamics of the Bangladesh war of 1971, focusing on the memories of Bangladeshi women. Full of pathos, it is an indictment of societies indifferent to women’s suffering, even when women become targets of violence. It will be welcomed by readers interested in genocide, women’s issues, political violence, and especially by those South Asians who witnessed the horrors of 1971 firsthand.” — Rafiuddin Ahmed, author of Religion, Identity, and Politics: Essays on Bangladesh


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Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Yasmin Saikia is the Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies and Professor of History at Arizona State University. She is the author of Fragmented Memories: Struggling to Be Tai-Ahom in India, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xv

Glossary of Terms xix

Part I. Introducing 1971

1. The Told and Untold Stories of 1971 3

2. Creating the History of 1971 34

Part II. Survivors Speak

3. Victims' Memories 109

4. Women's Services 158

5. Women's War 186

Part III. A New Beginning

Postscript: Lessons of Violence 215

Notes 279

References 243

Index 299
Sales/Territorial Rights: World exc South Asia

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5038-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5021-7
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