By Daniel Nelson

Birangona

Birangona

Image by Komola Collective


Another is “fallen women”.

It might seem callous to react to those few words rather than to an appalling, unforgivable mass crime, but the words jolted me.

Hearing again about the use of sexual violence against women in the 1971 war is of course shocking, however many times you have read about it. It always will shock. But as if that itself was not bad enough, to hear one of those who was raped talk of “lost honour” is salt in the wounds.

It is not her honour that was lost: it’s the honour of the perpetrator. It is not she who has “fallen”, but the Pakistani soldier or his accomplices and his officers, for such wide-scale atrocities do not happen without official sanction.

The short, moving performance at south London’s Lost Theatre commemorates these Birangona: Women of War, who were made to pay for East Pakistan’s determination to stand up for itself. ('Birangona' means 'brave woman'.)

It is an intelligently conceived and executed tale told by Moryom, a young woman who loves the taste of tamarind and the smell of her mother. Co-writer Leesa Gazi’s superb performance is reinforced by shadow puppets and filmed interviews, taken from first-hand accounts by survivors who she filmed in Bangladesh in 2010.

Many people probably won’t be keen to see a play about such a bleak topic, and it always sounds ridiculous to say you “enjoyed” a presentation that deals with a disturbing subject, but it’s sensitively done and these stories need to be heard, remembered (“When a Birangona woman dies her story dies with her”) and discussed.

This production by the Komola Collective, an arts company started in London by Gazi and three other women, has succeeded in doing that.

They say they “want to revisit history. Challenge social taboos. Unearth myths. Retell known stories. Question accepted beliefs.” Fighting the idea that women who are raped have lost their honour is a good start.

·         Birangona: Women of War is at The LOST Theatre, 208 Wandsworth Road, London SW8 2JU, until 20 April. On the door  £13/ £11 concessions; online: £14.62/ £12.37 conc

 

·         Komola Collective