Birangonas and Thugs: A Critical Engagement with Mookherjee’s Spectral Wound
In Nayanika Mookherjee’s The Spectral Wound, she studies women who have been sexually violated during the Bangladesh War and the ways society sensationalized these women and how that has affected their lives after the war. The women, called Birangonas or war heroines, become a sort of mascot for the war. Mookherjee spends chapter eight of the book studying the images depicted of the Birangonas and the affects it had on the women. What she found that was that the images created an amalgam of what a rape survivor is supposed to look like to the public. Disheveled hair, torn cloth and sad expressions became a stereotype. The images not only created a stereotypical figure but also a stereotypical story. People around the community were surprised to learn about the birangonas continued lives, that they still worked, were still married. Mookherjee argues “we must not construct the birangona as a spectral alterity; we must focus on what the women themselves want to say through their fragments and challenge any attempt to homogenize their memories and experiences.”
This resonated with my research of volunteerism in Baltimore. Many of those I interviewed mentioned the type of images used in the media to portray residents of Baltimore. These images created stereotypes that some volunteers carried with them in their service. One woman mentioned that that its difficult for her to convince friends to get into volunteer work in West Baltimore because they’re so afraid to drive into the city.
The archetype of the thug in Baltimore is comparable to the archetype of a damaged Birangona woman because both remove the autonomy of telling one’s own story. These images are widespread and powerful, they cause the public to keep a distance from their true stories and life experiences. Furthermore, they perpetuate the homogenized image of young people in the city, of Birangonas.