Historically, rape of women during the war is seen as a ‘by-product of war’. Women, who are considered as carriers of culture and their bodies as symbols of the nation to be defended by men, are especially vulnerable during the battle where their very identities as women come under threat. Through this common tactic rape has been used as a means of humiliating the enemy and breaking their spirit. It has also been used as a form of genetic imperialism as the forcible impregnation can undermine national, political and cultural solidarity, changing the next generation’s identity and confusing their loyalties. Pakistan Army knew these factors very well. Thus they had adopted rape as one of their prime strategies while combating against our brave freedom fighters in 1971 and consequently during the Liberation War around 2,00,000 to 4,00,000 innocent women were raped by the occupation forces and their associates either in the army concentration camps or in their own houses. After the war when these women came back home, most of them had to undergo a terrible situation. Albeit the new country recognised such rape victims publicly as Birangona or war heroine, many of them had committed suicide after losing their dignity and hope of life. A very few families had accepted them after aborting child. They kept everything secret and married off their daughters. Being excluded from their families and abandoned by the society rest of these unfortunate women had begun a lone battle to survive. Since then whenever people speak about them, they only mention their numbers. Over the years their contributions were unnoticed, agonies were overlooked and stories were unheard. British-Bangladeshi director Leesa Gazi has shed light on their dormant ache with a view to breaking this long quietness and featured the untold stories of Birangona women in her documentary film ‘Rising Silence’.
Produced by Komola Collective, Openvizor and Making Herstory, the film projects its director Leesa Gazi as the presenter who travels to different places in a quest to meet the rape victims of the Liberation War. Initially it seems like a personal journey which gradually turns into a collective trip discovering some wonderful emotional accounts. Leesa Gazi goes to Kolkata’s Barasat where war heroine Jharna Basu Halder has been living since 1978. Jharna recalls the day when a local collaborator brought a group of Pakistan Army in their Bagerhat’s house. Bursting into tears she tells that how she had to undergo that inhumane incident only to save her family. Following the end of the war Jharna couldn’t bear to live in fear. One day after finding that collaborator at her school she decided to leave the country with other members of her family.The next destination is Thakurgaon’s Ranisankail Upazila where three sisters Amina Begum, Mukhlesa Begum, and Maleka Begum live in. They were actually four sisters. All of them were captured by the occupation army and kept imprisoned in a camp for six months where they were tortured brutally. Budhi, the youngest sister among them, died shortly after the Liberation War owing to internal hemorrhage and infection. After the completion of the war their villagers didn’t accept them. They were beaten up and thrown out of their house by the police and the local people. Thus three sisters couldn’t observe any religious ritual for their deceased younger sister. It took 43 years for them to finally arrange a milad during the shooting of ‘Rising Silence’. Now Amina Begum alone lives in their house as her younger sisters Mukhlesa Begum and Maleka Begum died respectively on September 10, 2016 and October 5, 2018.
Photo: Shihab Khan
Leesa Gazi visits Sirajganj’s Shodanandapur to depict the unfortunate tale of two friends Rajubala and Shurjo Begum. Raju describes how she witnessed the murder of her 2-year-old child before being raped by army soldiers in front of her husband. Following the end of the war she was ostracised by her in-laws though her husband stood by her. After more than 40 years of independence, Rajubala felt happy as finally the government recognised the Birangona women as freedom fighters. Shurjo was married off overnight as the villagers warned her father about the probable consequence of army attack. But marriage couldn’t save her as she was taken away by the Pakistan Army. For the rest of her life Shurjo could hear the sound of the Pakistan Army’s boots and see them coming. Rajubala died on December 11, 2017, and Shurjo Begum died on March 14, 2017.
Then the presenter of ‘Rising Silence’ takes its viewers to Khagrachari’s Mahalchhari to introduce them with war heroine Chaindau Marma who had to experience inhumane torture for six months in 1971. She was taken from one camp to another camp as a sex slave! Her incident testifies that even the indigenous women of this country couldn’t save them from the lust of Pakistan Army. While giving her interview Chaindau Marma was failing to remember the past incidents due to her old age complications. She died on July 29, 2016.Thakurgaon’s Tepri Bewa’s story is quite an exceptional one. She was married at the time of the War but her family had to give her to the soldiers to save their lives. At the time of her release she was pregnant. Her family and villagers wanted her to abort the child, but she decided otherwise. Tepri Bewa took it as her fate and she didn’t find any reason to deny her innocent child. Her son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter feel very proud of her.
While visiting the Bidhoba Polli of Shohagpur in Sherpur Leesa had an encounter with Al-badr member Monowar Hossain Mohon. Inclusion of his short interview has twisted the film for a while.
‘Rising Silence’ concludes with the tale of Rijia Begum. Her husband went missing during the time of war. She was caught when she went out looking for him. A couple of days later she was found unconscious in a dump-yard. Rijia has a daughter and grandchildren and she lives with them in capital’s Fakinnir Bazaar Slum. She works as a cleaner in a local market. Libertarian Rijia doesn’t hesitate to express her mind. She wants her place in history.
Photo: Shihab Khan
Every Birangona woman has a story to tell. None of them was tortured due to their personal enmity. They had to sacrifice their dignity for the greatest cause of this nation. Yet these luckless rape victims had to struggle throughout their life in their own way. In most cases neither their family members nor the local people stood beside them. The state recognised them but couldn’t provide them a better life for long years. Being the daughter of a valiant freedom fighter Leesa Gazi has felt their agonies and filmed their tales. She met with 21 Birangona women in 2010 and started collecting their personal accounts to document their stories. In 2013, she returned to Bangladesh and brought a theatrical venture on them. By the time Leesa developed a close relationship with these Birangona women. As a result they invited her in their places in 2015. And she responded with her team. During their stay in Bangladesh (37-day long) and India (6-day long) they portrayed these women’s experiences as freedom fighters, daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, and grandmothers.
The whole production team of ‘Rising Silence’ deserves appreciation. The way they travelled across the country and lived with each of the Birangona women and their families in their own setting to depict their lives, struggles, and hopes has made the film reliable. Research advisor Hasan Arif has done a splendid job. The script prepared by Leesa Gazi and Mita Rahman has guided the total work to be a planned one. Director of photography Shahadat Hossain has amazed all with his sensitivity. His camera not only has depicted the scenic beauty of nature but also has captured the emotion of war heroines perfectly. Besides, Shahadat has filmed a number of scenes which has connected the scenes symbolically. Nanda Kumar R has ensured proper gradation as colourist. Sound of ‘Rising Silence’ is natural as sound recordist Ali Ahsan has recorded sounds live. Recording of music also seems smooth. Sohini Alam and Oliver Weeks can be credited for infusing the movie with some rich numbers. Background music (mainly the instrumental versions of the songs) has also complimented the film. Despite the conscious efforts of the music directors to relieve the mental pressure (that the content creates) from the viewers’ minds viewers continue to feel the stress even after watching the movie. There are attempts of providing a bit relief by projecting a few daily life incidents of war heroines but these seem not enough. Editor Tijmen Veldhuizen could concentrate more on this.
The number of living war heroines is decreasing rapidly. Five of the nine Birangona women, who took part in ‘Rising Silence’, died in the post production stage of the film. Thousands of their courageous stories already have lost and hundreds of such stories are still untold. If these are not filmed in time and preserved properly, a significant portion of the history of our glorious Liberation War will disappear forever. Leesa Gazi and her team have realised this fact. Hailing from United Kingdom they have showed their passion for the Liberation War and emotion for the formidable war heroines and their biggest success is that they have succeeded in touching the hearts of the viewers with the same emotion.
Human beings don’t get to know about their full potential in terms of strength, resilience, compassion and power to love until they are tested. Stories of the Birangona women are living evidence of that. Despite their unimaginable sufferings, they are still brave, resilient, spirited and loving. ‘Rising Silence’ is not a movie that tells about rape and inhumane torture rather this is a film about the strength of those women who have stood again on their own feet after facing indescribable brutal physical and emotional abuse. It’s about the sweetness of their hearts and positive will to survive. Thus apart from being a quality documentary film ‘Rising Silence’ has become a testimony for the next generation to realise the actual price that we paid back in 1971 for our hard-earned independence.