“Remembering to Forget:” Public Secrecy and Memory of Sexual Violence in the Bangladesh War of 1971

Authored by: Nayanika Mookherjee

Categories: Violent Conflict
Sub-Categories: Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), Sexual and Reproductive Health
Country: Bangladesh
Region: South and Central Asia
Year: 2006
Citation: Mookherjee, Nayanika. "'Remembering to Forget': Public Secrecy and Memory of Sexual Violence in the Bangladesh War of 1971." Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 12, no. 2 (2006): 433–50.

Access the Resource:

Executive Summary

This article explores the processes through which the “public secrecy” of rape during the Bangladesh war of 1971 operates within the present-day ethnographic context. It examines contemporary commemorations of the war and of women who have achieved local and national fame as rape victims (euphemistically referred to as ‘war heroines’). The article analyses the discrepancy between raped women’s national position as icons of ‘honour’ and their local reception through sanctions and constant khota (sarcastic/censorious remarks expressing scorn and evoking the unpleasant events). By exploring the relationship between scorn, honour, rape, sexuality, narratives of remembrance, and the emergence of ‘public secrets’– and how these are interwoven by the subjectivity of the raped – the article argues that memories of rape are simultaneously located within the ambiguities of revelation and of concealment which are indispensable to the operations of power. In the process the article establishes the relationship between secrecy and memory. Further, a focus on the intersubjective domain of memory provides methodological and ethical tools with which to engage with narratives of the past relating to wartime violence.