Nations, Neighbours, and Humanity: Destroyed and Recovered in War and Violence

Yasmin Saikia


Remembered experiences of violence, humiliation, and loss suffered in the 1971 war of Bangladesh provide potent material for rethinking a new narrative bonding victim and perpetrator communities in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Taking the war as my entry point and using the method of oral history, I explore perpetrators’ memories, in order to understand how love for nation and hatred toward enemies provide justifications for violence. Violence was done in the name of nationalism. Today, the states of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh refuse to acknowledge the ‘disastrous’ memories of the war in their national histories. The silencing of the experiences of violence, however, does not mean that victims and perpetrators can forget them. Rather, they are haunted by the ‘hidden’ memories of violence. More than four decades later, the personal, remembered memories lead perpetrators to question their actions and search for meaning of ‘sacrifice’ made on behalf of nation. As well, they grapple with the issue of ethical responsibility to victims, which they failed to uphold during the war. This leads to the emergence of an awareness of the loss of insāniyat (humanity) in violence. The humanistic turn of memories of perpetrators enables the recuperation of the capacity to see the Other and take responsibility of the violence. The reassembling of insāniyat is a way forward for making connections and creating connectivity beyond divisive nationalism. This way of thinking announces a decolonial narrative in contemporary South Asia. The possibility of a free human community in South Asia is aspirational, as perpetrators testify.

(Funding for the research for this article was provided by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions Visitor Support Scheme)

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