Narrating a People's History of 1971: FORGIVE BUT NOT FORGET!

Silences of history can best be conceptualized as “the unintentional or purposeful absence or distortion of documentation” of historical events and the narratives present around them (Sakia 35). History thus is just a partial account of the past, however with the state’s manufacturing of history, it becomes the final product and is memorialized. The state works effortlessly to generate and strengthen some historical narratives, while at the same time these same narratives hold bundles of silences within them. The very presence of these “silences”, allows marginalization of certain groups to take place, thus it makes the societies remember their past inaccurately and differently from the way they actually happened.


The 75 years of Pakistan’s history is marked with a lot of silences, this can particularly be seen in the silence of the mass abduction of women that took place at the Independence and the massacre of Bengalis that took place at the hands Pakistani military officials during the 1971 war. The history of the Partition is very difficult to discover, however little do we know about the partition, is from the stories that exists “told and retold inside so many households in India and Pakistan”. Even from these narratives, there is seldom about the honor killings, rape and abduction of women, the little we do know about violence “relates only to men of the “other” community” (Batalia 44). On the other hand, Saadat Hassan Manto, who was witnessing the psychological trauma unfold in close quarters, shares an insight in one of his short stories ‘Khol Do’, that not only the men from other community but men from the same community were using women as a means to avenge “national honor”. Moreover, to avoid rape and forced conversions, many women jumped into wells, even their own fathers and husbands killed them in the name of “honor”, so that they could not be impregnated with the seed of the other religion. Therefore, in the name of honor, societal and religious norms compel and inhibit the survivors to forget the “experiences of gendered violence” (Batalia 48). Secondly the 1971 war is remembered very differently from the way it actually had happened. The memory of the war is “buried deep under mounds of denial, amnesia, and obfuscation” (Khawaja 2021). The inner history of the war is largely hidden, the silent history largely belongs to the women who were a subject of sexualizion and marginalizion in the war. The stories of these Bangladeshi women survivors evoke a sense of humanity in us because in their stories of survival “we survive as humans without the flag of nationalism” (Sakia 37). The 1971 war was the result of the ethnic and religious hatred of the West Pakistan towards the East Pakistan. The human tragedy in 1971 was overwhelming, mass rape of Bengali women occurred at the hands of West Pakistani military men. They perceived Bangladeshi as ‘Indian-like’ and considered it their due to undo the national malise through the act of rapping women. Faiz Ahmed Faiz remembers the tragic events of 1971 in his poem 'Dhaka se waapsi par’ “How many monsoons will it take to wash away its patches of blood” (Faiz 1971). Immediately after war ended, Commission under Justice Hamood ur Rahman was appointed to investigate about Pakistan’s military involvement in the war of 1971, however to this date the findings of the report have not been made public, thus the history remains silence.


Therefore, in our efforts to recover the silences of history, we should try to go beyond the text and “consider a different narrative authored” by people who have lived through those events. These narratives should be shared through the tradition of “oral storytelling”, and a conscious attempt should be made to catalog and preserve these individual stories. Moreover, based on the testimonies collected educational products such as animated videos and documentaries should be curated through which this research cannot only be made accessible to academics but the mass majority as well. Perhaps by using their memories as a resource, we as students of history and citizens of Pakistan can understand the dominant stories revolving around the ‘silenced events’ much better.

In conclusion, it is important to question the state-sanctioned history that has been manufactured by the state, otherwise, there will remain bundles of silences of history and unnarrated narratives will remain unthinkable and unknowable. This should be done while evaluating and analyzing the gaps that have been created by postcolonial nationalism and religious politics.





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