Dr. Yasmin Saikia Receives the Oral History Association’s 2013 Book Award

Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh coverThe Oral History Association awarded their 2013 Book Award to ASU”s Dr. Yasmin Saikia for her 2011Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh. Dr. Saikia’s work focuses on the survivors of the 1971 war fought between India and what was then East and West Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh, where it is remembered as the War of Liberation. Pakistani and Indian soldiers and Bengali militiamen raped and tortured women on a mass scale. In Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh survivors tell their stories, revealing the power of speaking that deemed unspeakable. They talk of victimization—of rape, loss of status and citizenship, and “war babies” born after 1971. The women also speak as agents of change, as social workers, caregivers, and wartime fighters. In the conclusion, men who terrorized women during the war recollect their wartime brutality and their postwar efforts to achieve a sense of humanity, suggesting a way to reconcile and heal the unresolved trauma. Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh sheds new light on the relationship between nation, history, and gender in postcolonial South Asia, by not only interrogating the making of a new nation, but simultaneously posing a challenge to 1971 historiography in South Asia and highlighting main “absences” in the official and unofficial histories offered so far.

The Oral History Association selection committees described Dr. Saikia’s, as well as her co-recipient Sean Field’s books as “model community studies that counter nationalist and “official” histories, but they also provide more universal insights about interviewing about sensitive topics in sensitive situations, how individual trauma affects families and communities, how the powerless assert their agency and question immorality. Both books have global relevance in helping us understand the impacts of injustice, the courage of ordinary people, and provide some attempts at recovery by documenting the hidden stories that re-orient the history of these places.”