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Bangladesh Liberation War: Narrativization of Trauma in Tahamima Anam's Novel A Golden Age


Bangladesh Liberation War: Narrativization of Trauma in Tahamima Anam's Novel A Golden Age

Mostafijur Rahaman

Ph. D. Research Scholar

Department of English

Aligarh Muslim University

Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, India



The 1971 Bangladeshi Liberation War is one of the most significant and phenomenal events in the twentieth-century Indian subcontinent. This blood-stained historical event constantly lingers in the minds of Bangladeshi people while constructing the Bangladeshi sense of nationalism. Tahamima Anam's A Golden Age is a novel that portrays the liberation war of Bangladesh. In war history, Anam has relocated the traditional presentation of women as exploited, tortured, raped, submissive, and passive. This paper explores the violence during the liberation war through the main characters Rehena, Maya and Sohail. During that period, Western Pakistan's Army vehemently oppressed, subjugated and repressed the Bengali-speaking people of Eastern Pakistan. The War was fought behind the Bengali ethnicity, culture and language. The people of Eastern Pakistan resisted the cultural Hegemony of Western Pakistan, and they chose Bengali over the Urdu language. Here, power is more akin to anything that behaves and operates in a particular manner; it is a strategy rather than a possession as Foucault considers it to be coextensive with resistance, as a constructive component, since it has positive effects such as the individual's self-making, and because, as a prerequisite of possibility for any relation, it is pervasive, present in every sort of social relationship. 

Keywords: Genocide, Liberation War, Politics, War, Cultural Hegemony, Trauma.

What is Trauma?

Trauma is severe injuries or shocks caused by an accident or an act of violence against the law. Trauma used to mean damage, disturbance, or some bodily injury, but now it includes both mental and physical injuries. Sigmund Freud's Moses and Monotheism, Cathy Caruth's Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History, Dominick LaCapra's Writing History, Writing Trauma, and Cultural Trauma by Jeffrey Alexander, are some of the essential works on trauma theory and how it can be used in literature. Trauma theory is Sigmund Freud's area of psychoanalysis that concentrates on trauma, inhibition, and symptom origin. When attempting to define trauma, Freud discusses how it occurs, why people try to conceal it, and where signs appear. So, Freud's theory of the death drive is the main foundation for the concept of trauma. With the publication of Moses and Monotheism, Freud's theory of trauma psychoanalysis not only lives on in the psyches of individuals but also gives Jews a sense of a shared history. Freud said that people who do not act out can heal from trauma. In his book Trauma and Media, Allen Meek opines about Freud's theory of trauma:

In Moses and Monotheism, Freud theorized a trauma that had shaped Jewish identity for over two thousand years. Freud formulated a theory of collective trauma experienced by the Jewish people over long periods of history. This extension of trauma to a theory of history was preoccupied with the tension between the individual (Moses) and the crowd. Moses imposed a demand on his people (Monotheism) that they initially rejected but could not free themselves from over time (18).

The history of Jews is something that Sigmund Freud places a significant emphasis on. In the past, society has neglected to consider the history of Jews. It refers to the after-effects of traumatic experiences. When seen through the prism of trauma theory, traumatic history has a more realistic outlook than disciplinary history. Moses is considered to be the Jewish deity. The Israelites were held captive in Egypt until Moses came along and set them free, at which point he led them back to their own home. The work of Freud symbolizes the break that occurred in Jewish history. As a result, Jewish identity is fraught with suffering. The discontinuity is still there, even though remembering it hurts.

Sociologists are interested in the term because it has a theatrical element. They put cultural trauma over psychiatric trauma in their list of types of trauma. Definition of cultural trauma, as presented by Ron Eyerman "a dramatic loss of identity and meaning, a tear in the social fabric of a relatively coherent group (25).”This idea of cultural or communal trauma reflects the more significant idea of trauma as a catastrophic form of pain and has many of the same characteristics. Media depictions induce and perpetuate ethnic trauma. It should come as no surprise that ethnic trauma is not intrinsically painful; instead, the media is to blame for making it seem that way. In his explanation of cultural trauma and collective identity, Jeffrey Alexander makes the following argument:

Cultural trauma occurs when members of a collectively feel they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks on their group consciousness, marking their memories forever and changing their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways (Alexander

Social groupings, national communities, and sometimes even whole civilizations experience cultural catastrophes. Cultural trauma is a creation of society, not something that occurs naturally. Cultural trauma often follows moral guidelines. Trauma theory investigates distributed self-identity at the most fundamental societal and national levels. Trauma undermines the cohesiveness of a group, community, or culture. The relationship between an individual's misery and group identity presents moral and ethical concerns.

Narrativization of Trauma in Tahamima Anam's Novel

The most horrible event in the past century was the Liberation War of 1971, which imperiled the lives of the civilians of East Pakistan. The extermination of millions of individuals heightened the misery that proceeded with each new day. In the psyches of Bangladeshis, the year 1971 echoes multiple visual details: on the one hand, the death, destruction, and massacre of three million people; the massive violation, disgrace, and harassment of women; the uncountable damage to property at the hands of the Pakistani Army; and, on the opposite hand, the birth of a secular, socialist, and democratic nation on December 16, 1971.

During and after the 1971 Freedom Struggle in Bangladesh, it was found that the evacuees were suffering in secret from brutal attacks and atrocities. The war constituted the ‘testimony of a tragedy…horrifying…story of countless hunted, destitute and dying’ reverberated with realities and ‘faces’ for the nation to know about a changed realm of murdered humanity(Oxfam). This meant that the unspoken cries of the dead were buried and not reported. Ultimately, their struggle and the revelation that they were free from the past's control to painful memories that came in many forms. Genocide is a word that was made up to describe the killing or destruction of a group of people, usually because of their ethnic, national, racial, or religious identity, which causes harm to their bodies or minds. In his 1944 book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, Lemkin uses “genocide” “to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves (79).” The War began at the end of March 25, 1971. West Pakistan surrendered and proclaimed its sovereignty on December 16 of that year, ending the conflict. During a nine-month conflict, this emblem of liberation prompted people to seek a new identity and fresh optimism regarding an improved society.

Since the beginning of time, War has been a source of boredom for people experiencing poverty who are forced to survive it like a fresh scar; it has grown to pierce with the sharpness of its images, causing vandalism and a pressing need for peace and comfort among regular people. People have always tried to control and use other people as pawns to get what they want. Still, modern dictators and other influential people have devised intelligent ways to plan and carry out terrible plans behind closed doors. Mild disagreements inside a country may quickly escalate into a catastrophic confrontation when weapons like missiles, bombs, landmines, and air strikes are used. Bangladeshis did not want to give up the moral, spiritual, and liturgical ideas they got from the West, so splitting Pakistan into East and West was terrible for them. Amartya Sen shows how India's intellectual, cultural, and social traditions are different by making statements like:

Bangladesh's separation from Pakistan was not based on religion since most of the population shared a Muslim identity in the two wings of undivided Pakistan—the separatist issues related to language, literature, and politics (Sen152).

Tahmima Anam was born in 1979, four years after Bangladesh's independence, and began writing her debut fiction while pursuing her doctorate at Harvard. Being a member of the post-war generation, Anam must rely on the tales, academic papers, memoirs, and films of others to complete her work on the War. In an interaction with Star Weekend Magazine, she states, "When I was very young, I used to listen to many stories from my grandmother, my mother, and my uncle" (Anam). The narrative centres on Rehana, who is regarded as "an unintentional hero" (Hong)

The Bengalis' desire for independence gives them hope but makes them more afraid of state terrorism against civilians. The Pakistani Army sends many tanks into the capital to stop the freedom struggle and bombs the university building. They impose curfews in the cities and start murdering citizens in the open. The persecution against Bengali people continues, and "the attack on Dhaka was only the beginning" (Anam)

Sohail's childhood love, Silvi, marries Lieutenant Sabeer Mustafa in the story A Golden Age. Sohail accepts the loss of his love, saying that now is not the time to be sad. He seems more worried about the country's destiny than his affairs. Meanwhile, West Pakistani forces apprehended and incarcerated Silvi's husband on the threshold of conflict. As Rehana chooses to try, Sohail makes a plea on behalf of Silvi, his love. As a result, with the intervention of her brother-in-law, Faiz, an official in the West Pakistani Army, Rehana is capable of releasing Sabeer. The action now switches from Dhaka to Calcutta, with Rehana travelling to Kolkata and working in a refugee camp where Bangladeshi-born people seek asylum to avoid conflict. Rehana and her daughter Maya observe the hardships and helplessness of the homeless people and their quest for identity as they cross the border into a new country. As a result, they return to Dhaka amid a crisis, just as Sohail prepares to take part in another operation.

The incidents recounted in the book A Golden Age offer us a genuine vision of victims at the government's helm, cruelly persecuted for being people of the nation. The vintage visuals portray the grim truth of the unspoken, silent tortures endured by the Bangladeshis during the 1971 War of Liberation. Thus, refugee life here becomes a contradictory agency of both intuitive intensity of getting nationhood and at the same time recognizing the boundaries of the powerlessness and sufferings of living as a stateless, the anguish of living in refuge (Kumar 5-9). On one end, there were massacres and slaughter. At the same time, on the other, Rehana's family assisted victims by alleviating their suffering via a covert operation and providing all necessities, including medications and other reprieve procedures. Regularly, this task is carried out to save civilians from the terrible effects of War. "Ammoo,' Sohail said, 'we have heard reports of refugee camps across the border; they need medicine" (Anam).

Aref, Joy, and Sohail were in unusual circumstances since they had requested a truckload of drugs from the physicians at PG Hospital. Their voyage to Shona was heart-warming. They covertly stashed items in Rehana's house at odd hours, piling and offloading crates of all sizes and calculating the number of boxes left for relief activities. Rehana chose to be silent in their attempts, refusing to intervene or create graves for the sad lads. "If she asked, they would have to tell her they had stolen it.’Good idea,' she said finally, 'bring it all inside" (Anam). The following day, food was delivered in trucks and transported in eight boxes containing milk, grains, dhal, buckets, and shovels in vast numbers, which were stored in Rehana's residence between the bedroom and kitchen, forcing them to walk sideways. On one occasion, the son comments how tough it is to engage in guerrilla fighting for the aid of war victims. His statements expressed his agony due to the secret action he performed for a good purpose. The talk between the brother and sister in the company of their mother reveals a lot about their agency. The patriotism of ordinary individuals in arms, as opposed to Pakistan's treason and dagger operations, imparted them a modern memory of Ovidian's description of 'Simplex, nobilitas, perfidatela cave (Snghvi 8)'.

When the violence came out, people did not go from one storey to the next; the commotion generated on the streets endangered the quiet at home, and even the animals felt insecure. There were also low mutterings cautioning individuals to remove the flags they held on the building's roof since it was prohibited. The sound became more forceful, demanding that the Bengalis shut it down or face the consequences. Maya! Someone cried out, and she dashed to the roof barefoot. Rehana evaluated the food, calculating how long it would last, weighing the piled onions and pumpkin, and finding that it would last three days. After the restriction was announced, additional callers came to Rehana's doorstep. The book A Golden Age depicts the horrific warfare situations in depth. "The Women's Rehabilitation Board will make provisions for you, 'What provisions? Will you give us our families? Will you take us into your homes?" (Anam). The sexual assault victims were assured that the administration would rehab them so that they would be fit to return to society, as the ministry had also guaranteed them by issuing them documentation with the term' heroines.' However, the bereaved ladies refused, stating, 'We do not want to be heroines'" (Anam). Sexual assault and rape combine to create a subversive rape culture that has crept into broader societal structures. It illustrates the chauvinist mindset of men who solely had rage and disdain for a woman's body. As stated by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex:

'There is a good principle that created order, light and man and a bad principle that created chaos, darkness and woman,' says Pythagoras. The Laws of Manu define her as a vile being to be held in slavery. Leviticus assimilates her into beasts of burden owned by the patriarch. The Laws of Solon confer no rights on her. The Roman Code puts her in guardship and proclaims her 'imbecility'. Canon law considers her 'the devil's gateway'. The Koran treats her with absolute contempt (Beauvoir )

Those who killed themselves were the ones who ended their pain, while those who stayed had to fight with every old memory for the rest of their lives to make sense of the broken image that had become entrenched in society and culture and that they were forced to live with. The scenario at Rehana's house grew strained when Sharmeen, Maya's close friend, was missing from the house just one day after the assault. Sharmeen was not just Maya's buddy but also much more. Every day during the girl's stay, Maya traded clothing with her, and all the small things that made her happy brought back memories that made her life more difficult without her friend and partner. Sharmeen was discovered lying in a hospital bed after being assaulted by Tikka Khan's soldiers. Sohail delivered the news that she had been diagnosed with pregnancy and had passed away at the hospital. Maya could not control herself and yelled, "The Butcher of Bengal" (Anam). The wars offer a platform for attacking forces to demonstrate their machismo by raping women and planting their seeds in the wombs of young girls and women to breed. For centuries, they feared these women's war children would contaminate the culture with invader blood. This will be their final victory since the wounds of conflict will live on in the natives' history and beyond. The West Pakistani government can be referred to as cruel maniacs who went on to brigandage, and the impoverishment produced was a part of their criminal lenity that had been established historically via coup d'├ętats (Sarker 324).

Rehana's internal struggles and the nation's identity dilemma are brought into sharp focus during the Liberation War. It is practically impossible to maintain two such geographically, culturally, and linguistically distinct regions bound together without proper governance, as Anam depicts how the dominant rulers of West Pakistan abuse the Eastern parts as a colony. The following sentences from the text highlight this crucial facet of warfare:

Since 48, the Pakistan authorities have ruled the country's eastern wing like a colony. First, they tried to force everyone to speak Urdu instead of Bengali. They took the jute money from Bengal and spent it on factories in Karachi and Islamabad. One general after another made promises they had no intention of keeping. The Dhaka University students had been involved in the protest from the beginning, so it was no surprise that Sohail had got caught up, and Maya too. Even Rehana could see the logic: what sense did it make to have a country in two halves, poised on either side of India like a pair of horns? (Anam)

Using the metaphor of a 'pair of horns,' Anam illustrates the challenge of government and the development of a Bengali identity. Rehana Haque, the novel's heroine, allows us to examine Rehana's journey to discover her unique personality from several angles. She was born in Calcutta and speaks Urdu well; her family is originally from West Pakistan. There is no doubt that she has a soft spot for West Pakistan. Second, both her son Sohail and her daughter Maya have been influenced by Bengali nationalism; hence she must support East Pakistan to protect the interests of her children. Rehana's social-cultural and gendered position within the national setting of East and West Pakistan constitutes her national identity. She is an enigma since she ties to Pakistan's competing political factions. Both an Urdu speaker and a woman, Rehana is predisposed to appreciate the language and poetry of her tongue. The fact that she has a soft spot for the Urdu language raises questions about her commitment to Bengali nationalism since Urdu is spoken in West Pakistan.


In the novelA Golden Age, men are blamed for making women's lives miserable, especially during wartime. Tahmima Anam speaks for Bengali women during the War For independence. She reveals the rigid societal standards and ideas that marginalize women and erase their history. She symbolizes female wartime feelings and tribulations. After nine months of devastating War, Bangladesh wants to secede. The nine months of struggle were an act of making oneself recognized before a global citizenry in order to make voices heard and to be perceived not only as a 'perspective from nowhere' but via a system of what Foucault terms 'power knowledge (May 20). 'Rehena gets her independent Bangladesh. She no longer feels the emotional difference between identities. She is an independent Bangladeshi citizen. Her son and daughter are Bangladeshi today. Rehana illustrates how selfless love triumphs even in adversity.




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