Cornell University

SAP Speaker Series, Ethical Reckoning: Theorizing Gender, Vulnerability and Agency in the Bangladesh Liberation War (Muktijuddho) Film by Elora Halim Chowdhury

Monday, April 29, 2019 at 12:15pm to 1:30pm

Uris Hall, G08

In historical and cultural memorializations of the 1971 war for Bangladeshi independence, the treatment of women’s experiences – more specifically the unresolved question about acknowledgment of and accountability to birangonas, "war heroines" (or rape survivors) has met with erasure or victimization. While official documentation of war time atrocities remains sparse and difficult to access, film, fiction, personal essays and memoir provide a rich archive to personal and national suffering during the War of Independence. Building on the arguments that human rights narratives have the capacity to bolster/impede human rights advocacy and render legible what cannot be verified by raising the possibility and impossibility of recuperating narratives of violence, this paper explores the necessity of an ‘ethical engagement’ with irrecuperable human catastrophe such as the genocide of 1971. Specifically, I analyze Nasiruddin Yousuff’s Guerrilla (2011), a contemporary popular film, which engenders public dialogue on gender, healing and agency and contributes to the broader quest for political and social justice for survivors of 1971. My purpose is not to recuperate the catastrophic past, in fact in itself an impossible endeavor; nevertheless, I argue that an ethical reckoning moves us to reflect upon artistic/filmic abstractions of social abjections as a political project. If we accept that catastrophic loss and harm exceed representation, we can nevertheless strive for an ethical engagement that elicits a deeper appreciation of differentiated agency, vulnerability, and humanity.

Elora Halim Chowdhury is Professor and Chair of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She earned her Ph.D. in Women’s Studies from Clark University, MA (2004). Her research interests are in transnational feminisms, film and culture, and human rights narrative with an emphasis on South Asia. Her recent publications include Transnationalism Reversed: Women Organizing Against Gendered Violence in Bangladesh (2011), which was awarded the Gloria E. Anzaldua Book Prize by the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) in 2012; Dissident Friendships: Feminism, Imperialism and Transnational Solidarity (2016); and Interdisciplinary Approaches to Human Rights: History, Politics, Practice (2018). She serves as the Series Editor to the Dissident Feminisms Series at the University of Illinois Press.  



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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, History



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