restricted access Appendix C: In a Different Voice: Some Afterthoughts on Violence
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254 Appendix C In a Different Voice Some Afterthoughts on Violence It is a privilege to participate in this conference dealing with religion, violence, and women in South Asia (held at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in March 2004). And it is an honor to be asked to offer my comments at its conclusion. Having listened to papers for almost two days, I find my task challenging and nearly impossible. The presentations were professionally accomplished, extremely rich in detail, and also highly diverse , ranging from micropolitical modes of resistance in Sri Lanka to alternative forms of agency in Burma to multiple strands of violence in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India. The presenters were well-trained academics in a number of disciplines, including anthropology, political science, and history. Given the enormous wealth of information and its breadth of scope, I forgo the endeavor of offering an overview of the conference , which would force me to ascend to a high level of abstraction or adopt a detached bird’s-eye view. Such abstraction is always dubious ; it is especially so in the case of a conference whose main topic is “the effects of violence on women in South Asia.” What were and are these effects? All the papers in some way addressed this question. But I was particularly struck by one that dealt with the effects of violence perpetrated on women in the so-called liberation war of 1971 in Bangladesh. Since, in my view, violence is not simply an empirical occurrence nor an abstract category, but a traumatic happening that befalls or “violates” concrete victims and is experienced by them as such, I want to dwell on this particular paper, which for me, sums up the basic issues of the conference. Some Afterthoughts on Violence  255 The title of the paper is “Overcoming the Silent Archive in Bangladesh : Women Bear Witness to the Violence in the 1971 Liberation War.” The presenter, Yasmin Saikia, is a historian who hails from northeastern India, just north of Bangladesh. In her paper, Yasmin reports on horrendous acts of violence, including rape and mutilation , committed against women in 1971 by militants from both (or all) sides of the conflict—crimes that were subsequently suppressed in the interest of national unity and security. To overcome this repression , or what she calls the “silent archive” of violence, Yasmin interviewed a large number of women who had been victimized in 1971. Many of the women she approached were willing to cooperate and thus, at long last, to “bear witness to the violence” they had suffered. The paper is replete with detailed stories of acts of violence against women: killings, rapes, humiliations. In the middle of this historical narration, however, something happened that was not part of the story and was not written down in the paper: the presenter’s voice suddenly faltered, as if seized by an inner trembling; she could not go on and had to stop and collect herself. A well-prepared and professionally crafted text suddenly was invaded by a subtext that had not been prepared or planned. Thus, perhaps unintentionally, in reporting on female victims in Bangladesh, Yasmin herself “bore witness” to the meaning of violence as violation and inflicted suffering. This moment in the presentation—this invasion from elsewhere —reminded me of another occurrence not long ago that also involved a woman presenting an account of violence against women. A few months ago, I attended a conference in Shillong in northeastern India (the very region of Yasmin’s original home). The conference dealt with “identity construction” in general and focused particularly on South Asia, which today is the scene of many forms of violence. Some of the most horrible acts in recent times were committed in Gujarat, the home state of Mahatma Gandhi. During the past two decades, I have been a frequent visitor to India, and a large portion of my time was spent in Gujarat, and especially in the city of Baroda (which became a home away from home). At the Shillong conference, a female colleague from Gujarat, Gita Viswanath, presented a paper titled “Constructing Communal Identities: A Case Study of the Gujarat Carnage.” Gita teaches English literature at the University of Baroda, where I had come to know her during my repeated visits. 256 Appendix: In a Different Voice Since the events discussed in her paper were still fresh in everyone’s memory, her panel attracted a large audience that followed the presentation in...


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