A discussion of this article: Mookherjee, Nayanika. "‘Never again’: aesthetics of ‘genocidal’ cosmopolitanism and the Bangladesh Liberation War Museum." Jour. of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.):S71-S91, 2011.
After reading this article about the liberation war museum in Dhaka, which I cannot reproduce but will quote from as fair use, I wish to comment on one lacuna in this report.
The author, Dr. Nayanika Mookherjee, has some illuminating observations about how the museum came together through official as well as NGO support and about its function as a national memorial to the 1971 war. She wrote:
"...When the BLWM was first set up in March 1996, one of its main agendas according to the board of trustees was ‘to build a museum that would house artefacts, objects and documents depicting the struggle and agony of the people during the Liberation War in order to carve out a nation’ (Chowdhury 2010). ...In 2008, the Bangladesh government allotted a larger piece of land for rebuilding the BLWM with proper facilities and modern amenities. [p.S72]
"...The BLWM has become metonymic with the heroic feats, sacrifices, and losses endured during 1971. Before it was set up, some artefacts of the liberation war were found in the Bangladesh national museum but most documents were lost in the twenty-five years of free Bangladesh during military governments. [p.S74]
"...The Museum has around 14,719 war-related objects, including photographs, newspaper clippings, documents, and items used by the freedom fighters and martyrs – contributed by their families and the broader public – which are housed in six galleries. However, the Museum can only display around 1,300 objects owing to space constraints...In spite of the public policy by the government and the presence of the public memories of the wartime rapes, there was initially no inclusion of this violent history apart from a written text mentioning that ‘200,000 mothers and sisters were violated’.
In the course of time other photographs of women raped have been included in the Museum. Notable among them is Naibuddin Ahmed’s well-known and widely circulated photograph (Fig. 4) of one raped woman covering her face by her hair." [p.S76]
"...The text in English beneath this image highlights the ambiguity that surrounds the issue of wartime rape: For the most part, this issue has been brushed aside, since it requires us to look within ourselves, at the strictures and structures of our own society as well as to condemn the brutality of the other. Clearly the ambiguous figure of the birangona (the shamed one) cannot be easily contained within a generalized glorious narrative of the nation. [p.S77]
"...Alongside the exhibits, the Museum has also become an important space for programmes which feature testimonies and video-recorded accounts, as well as the role of professional storytellers – historians, filmmakers, and novelists. As a result, in December 2007, it recorded the testimonies of eight ‘war heroines’ from Sirajganj. In commemorating for the first time [my emphasis] this unacknowledged loss of the genocidal event of 1971, twenty-five years after the independence of Bangladesh, the BLWM has emerged as a ‘memorial museum’ (Williams 2007: 8): that is, a specific kind of museum dedicated to a historic event commemorating mass suffering...." [p.S77]
Comment:These excerpts reveal the drift of the author's analysis. She is sensitive to cultural gender complexities by calling attention to the longtime obscuration, in media and public displays, of the horrors experienced by the (formerly E. Pakistani) Bengali women at the hands, guns, and knives of both Pakistani invaders as well as from those of the razakar traitors. These latter were men who sided with Pakistan against the Bangladeshi liberation movement that was fighting for freedom from Pakistan and forge a new nation. She thus claims that, by finally acknowledging the other half of the populations' agonies during the struggle--the sufferings of women victims--the liberation war museum finally has indeed become a truly national memorial.
However, I beg to differ that this museum, at least as described by the author, is fully expressive of the Bangladeshi nation because she has left out the choto lok, the lower urban classes of Dhaka (invoking the national capital city as an example). Their participation in the liberation war, their written and painted expressions about it and about the winning of it by the mukti bahini (liberation fighters)--which is how they viewed it--appear to have been ignored by the upper class cadres who created this museum. Looking over her description of collections of artifacts, photos and posters for instance, one misses reference to photographic evidence about the ricksha drivers, owners, and artists. They too were affected by and participated in this war, through the medium of hand-painted depictions on the rickshas shortly after the war ended, in 1972. War art subjects included mukti bahini battling uniformed Pakistani soldiers, Pakistani rape scenes, even ocean warfare of battleships and airplanes. There is no evidence that museum officials bothered to display photographs from 1971-72 of post-war ricksha paintings that, besides war scenes, variably depicted peaceful scenes -- such as school children celebrating around the new flag, or even a backboard painting of a Bangladeshi astronaut planting their new flag on the moon. There appears also to be no museum display recall of the old postwar headquarters of the Mukti Joddha (liberation war) group, a small building by the side of a small road somewhere in Dhaka (probably in old Dhaka), with its vibrant and violent ricksha-art style of painted signboard, shown here:
Mukti Joddha HQ in old Dhaka, as of 1987 (my photo). If signed by the artist,
a signature wasn't apparent, but it resembles other mukti joddha backboard paintings
by famed artist, R. K. Das.
Current Liberation War Museum in Dhaka, occuping an old residence.