Column
‘Biranganas’ will get freedom fighter status

16 Oct 2015

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Bangladesh government has published a gazette notification on October 12 having a list of 41 ‘Biranganas’ who were sexually assaulted and persecuted by the Pakistani occupation forces and their local collaborators, recognizing them as freedom fighters for their contribution in the liberation war.

These ‘Biranganas’ will now be entitled to all state facilities and allowances at par with other freedom fighters. Sheikh Hasina-led government decided on October 13 last year to recognize ‘Biranganas’ as freedom fighters.

 

Estimates of those raped by the Pakistani forces and their local collaborators in 1971 vary from 200,000 to 400,000.
Bangladesh parliament unanimously passed a resolution conferring the status of freedom fighters to the ‘Biranganas’  (war heroines), a term used for the unfortunate rape victims of 1971, entitling them as well as their children to state facilities. The government has already begun finalizing the list of Biranganas and the task will be completed in phases.

 

The exact number of women sexually assaulted and persecuted by the marauding Pakistani forces and their local cohorts, mostly Jamaat, during the nine month long liberation war in 1971 is not known. The numbers vary, but the gruesome story they tell continues to remain as heart breaking as these were more than four decades back.

 

Estimates of those raped by the Pakistani forces and their local collaborators in 1971 vary from 200,000 to 400,000. Dr Geoffrey Davis, a physician who worked in Bangladesh following the liberation war on request by World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that the commonly cited figures were ‘very conservative’ compared to real numbers.

 

The perpetrators of brutalities conducted night time raids sexually assaulting women in front of their family to punish and terrorize the freedom fighters. Girls and young women were kidnapped 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.

 

Time magazine reported on the plight of women 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 Dhaka 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 slipped into India, some killed their babies and some killed themselves.

Sacrifices of the Biranganas and their contribution in liberation of Bangladesh can hardly be belittled. It has been a national failure that the contribution of these war heroines did not get recognition before.

 

Women war victims did not receive due honour from their family and society. Most of the families considered loss of chastity a shameful act and treated the unfortunate rape victims unfairly, terming them loose character.

 

After the war, the rape victims went through a second ordeal. Doctors at the rehabilitation centers in Dhaka reported 170,000 abortion of pregnancies and 45,000 war babies born as a result of rape. 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 girls into the community, testify the large scale on which raping occurred’. It also said that the Pakistani army officers not only allowed their men to rape but also enslaved women for their own comfort.

 

After the liberation, the unfortunate rape victims were seen as symbol of social pollution and shame. The founding father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, called the rape victims ‘Biranganas’ (heroine), but later this term assumed a different connotation and served as a reminder that these women were socially unacceptable as they had been sexually violated and dishonoured. The term ‘Birangana’ soon degenerated and came to be associated with ‘Barangana’ which in Bengali means prostitute.

 

The official strategy of marrying these Biranganas off and encouraging them to be seen as war heroines failed as few men came forward to marry them and those who did expected the state to provide a large dowry. Biranganas who did marry were usually ill-treated and the majority of men, after having received dowry, abandoned their ‘Birangana’ wives.

 

Sacrifices of the Biranganas and their contribution in liberation of Bangladesh can hardly be belittled. It has been a national failure that the contribution of these war heroines did not get recognition before. People ill-treated these women as if they were sexually assaulted for their own fault, not ready to accept that rape was used as a war weapon by the marauding Pakistani forces to crush the liberation war.

 

Considering the ordeal and indescribably intense anguish that these women had to go through, Sheikh Hasina-led government has initiated measures to accord recognition to these hapless women as freedom fighters and extend state facilities to them and their children. The initiatives taken by Sheikh Hasina in this regard deserve accolade from all sections of people, both within the country and abroad. Thanks to her, war heroines of 1971 will henceforth get the same honour, dignity and respect as their male counterparts.




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