A journey of relationships between women dealing with war, violence, and daily 

prejudice to heal and create the future 

with unconditional love

In December 1971, East Pakistan became the independent nation of Bangladesh after a nine-month war with West Pakistan. During the Liberation War, the Pakistani army adopted the rape and torture of Bangladeshi women as a military tactic across the country and in camps built throughout Bangladesh. Over nine months of conflict, the Pakistani military and their local collaborators raped and made sex slaves of an estimated 200,000-400,000 Bangladeshi women and children. 

Faced with a massive population of hundreds of thousands of survivors of rape and torture, the new Bangladeshi government, only six days after the end of the war, publicly honoured every woman and child subjected to rape in the War as Birangona (brave woman or war-heroine). However, after the assassination of the founder of the nation in 1975, everything went horribly wrong for them. In daily life, Birangona were ostracised and attacked, seen only as symbols of politics and violence rather than as women and freedom fighters. 

Rising Silence is the first documentary feature by Leesa Gazi, a British Bangladeshi actor and playwright and founding member of a theatre group Komola Collective dedicated to telling stories from women’s perspectives.

 

In 2010, Leesa met with 21 Birangona women in Bangladesh. She then started collecting their accounts to document their stories, and from this, working with Komola Collective, a theatrical piece emerged. 

She later co-wrote the play ‘Birangona: Women of War’. In 2014, Leesa recorded reactions and discussions to the play in Bangladesh. The Birangona she met, after watching their own stories on stage said, “You heard us, but now we need you to know us”. 

Leesa then found herself drawn into close relationships with nine Birangona women. In 2015, these women brought Leesa into their homes and villages, beyond history and politics, to share in their lives and experiences as women. They showed her the vital importance of creating an intimate journey of wisdom gained from the fearless generosity of sharing. 

They remain defiant as freedom fighters, citizens, daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, and grandmothers. By living, they overcome and grow beyond the monsters of war and daily prejudice that refuse to accept their human capacity to heal on their own terms. This they do with extraordinary courage and the most profound expression of love. 

Freedom Fighter Birangona Amina Begum, Ranishoinkul

Photographs by Shihab Khan

Freedom Fighter Birangona Tepri Bewa, Thakurgaon 

Freedom Fighter Birangona Raju Bala, Sirajganj 

Freedom Fighter Birangona Hlamrasong Babupara, Mohalchhari

Freedom Fighter Birangona Jabeda Khatun, Shohagpur

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