17 more Biranganas get recognition as freedom fighters
The exact number of Biranganas or women sexually assaulted by the Pakistani forces and their local cohorts, mostly Jamaat, during the nine month long liberation war in 1971 is not known. The numbers may vary, but the gruesome story they tell continues to remain as heart wrenching as these were 49 years back when these heinous crimes were perpetrated.
The perpetrators of brutalities conducted night time raids sexually assaulting young women in front of their family to punish and terrorize the freedom fighters. Girls and young women were kidnapped from home and kept in special camps where they were raped and gang raped. Many of those held in the army camps committed suicide out of shame for being ‘dishonoured’. Some were killed by the perpetrators.
The government decided on October 13, 2014 to recognize the Biranganas as freedom fighters entitling them as well as their children to state facilities and allowances at par with the freedom fighters. The government has already begun finalizing the list of Biranganas and the task, quite an uphill one, would be undertaken in phases.
Time magazine reported on the plight of Biranganas who were kidnapped and kept in the military camps turned into brothels:
“One of the more horrible revelations concern Bengali women, some only 18, who have been held captive in Dacca’s (now spelt Dhaka) dingy military cantonment since the first days of the fighting. Seized from Dacca University and private homes, and forced into military brothels, the girls are three to five months pregnant. The Army is reported to have enlisted gynecologists to abort the girls held at military installations. But for those held at Dacca cantonment it was too late for abortion. The military has started freeing the girls, few at a time, carrying the babies of Pakistani soldiers”.
Women in thousands were raped and dumped into mass graves, their breasts and private parts chopped off. Abandoned by their families, some among these women escaped into India, some killed their babies and some killed themselves. Women war victims did not get due honour and recognition from their family and society. Most of the families and neighbors considered sexual assault by the Pakistani soldiers and their local collaborators as a shameful act and treated the hapless rape victims unfairly. After the liberation these unfortunate women were seen as a symbol of social pollution and shame. They were humiliated and ostracized by the society.
After the liberation war came to an end, the doctors at the rehabilitation centers in Dhaka reported about 170,000 abortion of pregnancies and 45,000 war babies born. A report from the International Commission of Jurists said ‘whatever the precise numbers, the team of British and American surgeons carrying out abortions and the widespread government efforts to persuade people to accept these unfortunate war victims into the community, testify the large scale on which raping occurred’.
Sacrifices of the Biranganas and their contribution in liberation of Bangladesh can hardly be belittled or ignored. It has been a national failure that the contribution of these war heroines did not get due recognition before. People ill-treated these women as if they were sexually assaulted for their own fault, little realizing that rape was used as a war weapon by the Pakistani forces and their collaborators to crush the liberation war.
Considering the ordeal and intense anguish that these women had to go through, the Sheikh Hasina-led government has initiated measures to accord recognition to these hapless rape victims as freedom fighters and extend state facilities to them and their children. The initiatives taken by the government in this regard deserve accolade from all sections of people. Thanks to Sheikh Hasina, Biranganas (war heroines of 1971) are now getting the same honour, dignity, and state benefits as admissible to other freedom fighters.