Women Writing on the Liberation War of Bangladesh

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Rifat Ahmed Riyad

The Liberation War of Bangladesh, the most significant event in the history of the country, affected the lives of around 70 million people during those nine months of 1971. Both women and men wrote down their experiences of and feelings about the independence war of Bangladesh. Below is a list of five women writers, whose narratives on the liberation war helped us see the war from a different perspective and have a comprehensive view of it.


Obviously, Jahanara Imam’s name will always come first when we’re talking about female writers and the Liberation War. Born on 3 May 1939, she is well known to us as the mother of the martyred freedom fighter Shaif Imam Rumi. She is most widely remembered for her efforts to bring those accused of committing war crimes in the Liberation War to trial. She’s also a renowned writer whose wartime autobiographical book, Ekattorer Dingulee (Of Blood and Fire), documents the details of everything that happened from March to December of 1971. Through her descriptions, we come to know how people from all walks of life of the then East Pakistan bravely faced the Pakistani military and put an end to the nine-month-long bloodshed. Jahanara Imam was honoured with the Bangla Academy Award in 1991. The Shaheed Janani died of cancer in 1994.


Begum Sufia Kamal is another writer through whose writing, many stories of the liberation war came to light. Her Ekattorer Diary recalls the atrocities committed by the Pakistani army. This poet, litterateur, social activist, and feminist was born on 20 June 1911 and died on 20 November 1999. She was the first woman to be given a state funeral in the country. Sufia Kamal was awarded the Bangla Academy Award (1962) and Ekushey Padak (1976).


Selina Hossain is one of the most prominent women writers of Bangladesh. Her famous novel, Hangor Nodi Grenade, is about our Liberation War. According to Kabir Chowdhury, the novel, “Set in a remote, riverine, rural area of southern Bangladesh, dealing with illiterate common men and women, achieves a commendable integration of theme and style, and brilliantly highlights the essence of all that is heroic, noble, and glorious in our liberation war.” This 73-year-old writer won all major national awards and is the current chairperson of Bangladesh Shishu Academy.


Dr Nilima Ibrahim was a Bangladeshi educationist and social worker. She is well known for her portrayal of raped and tortured women during the Bangladesh Liberation War in her famous book, Ami Birangona Bolchi, which compiles the testimonies of seven women who were raped during our War of Independence and survived; seven among the estimated 200,000-400,000 of them. Dr Nilima Ibrahim was born on 11 January 1921 and was a professor in the Department of Bangla at the University of Dhaka. She was honoured with Bangla Academy Award (1969), Ananya Literary Award (1996), and Ekushey Padak (2000). She breathed her last on 18 June 2002.


Rabeya Khatun is another important woman author of Bangladesh who has written over 50 novels and more than 400 short stories. Born on 27 December 1935, she wrote about the Liberation War in her book, Ekattorer Noy Mash. She and Jahanara Imam jointly brought out a magazine for women, named Khawatin. A good number of her works has been adapted into films, namely Dhrubotara (2003) and Megher Pore Megh (2004), both of which were directed by Chashi Nazrul Islam. For her contribution to Bangla literature, Rabeya Khatun received Ekushey Padak (1993) and Bangla Academy Award (1973).


All these women writers were born at a time when women had little or no access to formal education because of the prejudices prevalent in the patriarchal society. They overcame all the barriers set by society and expressed themselves through their writing. It’s only because of their works that we know what Bangladeshi people—especially women, went through during the Liberation War of Bangladesh.


Riyad identifies as a cinephile. He loves travelling, listening to music, and learning foreign languages.

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