Himani Sharma

Ph. D Scholar, IGDTUW (Delhi)

Dr Bhavya

Asst. Professor,English and Communication Studies,Dept. of Applied Sciences and Humanities
Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University for Women
([email protected])


The inceptive concept of feminism propounded by Western feminists focused on procuring equal rights for women in European countries. Later on, realizing the homogenous consternation of women globally, it aimed to embrace them by coining the term ‘Global sisterhood’. But postcolonial feminists rejected this strategic alliance based on sexist oppression and urged to intersect it as ethnic-racial-nationality based sexual oppression i.e. multiracial feminism. The present study aims to analyze such sexual violence and social injustice towards third world females, who were violated and victimized due to regional tensions between Pakistan and Bangladesh. The modern People’s Republic of Bangladesh is a recently emerged South Asian country. It was separated from Pakistan in the year 1971 but with it came enormous physical, social and economic chaos. The political conflict between the two nations tremendously traumatized and distressed the women of the present-day Bangladesh. The present research aims to study hegemonic Eurocentric feminism vs. Third World feminism to exhibit the struggle and activism of multiracial third world women who have received insufficient attention in Eurocentric feminist approach in the backdrop of Tahmima Anam’s The Good Muslim published in 2011.

Keywords : Hegemonic Feminism, Third World women, Social Injustice, Pakistan- Bangladesh conflict.

The concept of the Third World emerged when western navigators discovered the ‘New world’, impoverished and disadvantaged than the western industrial and capitalist world. The discovery led to an extrapolated mission of imperialism and colonization encompassing hegemonic control over this new world, labelled as the ‘Third World’. Similar kind of distinction is perceived between feminist interpretations of the ‘First World’ and the ‘Third world’.  It is observed that initially the inceptive concept of western feminism focused on procuring equal rights for women in the European countries which further led to the realization of universal subjugation of women and an embracing attitude towards the Third World women calling it ‘Global sisterhood’. But this attempt to portray women as a universal homogeneous powerless group is openly rejected by postcolonial and Third World feminists, who urged to intersect it as an ethnic-racial-nationality based oppression,

If such concepts are assumed to be universally applicable, the resultant homogenization of class, race, religious, cultural and historical specificities of the lives of women in the third world can create a false sense of the commonality of oppressions, interests and struggles between and amongst women globally. Beyond sisterhood, there is still racism, colonialism and imperialism. (Mohanty, 1988: 77).

Therefore the Third World feminists emphasize to analyse racial, religious and ethnic differences and conflicts which have always been detrimental to feminine sexual purity and further societal acceptance. In the same context Tahmima Anam in The Good Muslim attempts to portray heart wrenching episodes of war time sexual assault and the consequent social injustice towards Bangla women. The first section of the present research article depicts a brief review and comparison between the Eurocentric and Third World feminisms.  The second section presents theoretical insights and textual analysis of Third World feminine sexual trauma. The article concludes objectively highlighting the importance of individual Third World feminine concerns as quite distinctive from the First World cry of equal gender rights.

In order to understand the above-mentioned distinctions in feminism, two theoretical terms i.e. ‘Hegemonic feminism’ or white First World feminists vs. ‘Multiracial feminism’ of Third World women of colour are compared. Chela Sandoval calls ‘Hegemonic feminism’, a Eurocentric approach dominated by white feminists and mentions in her book Methodology of the Oppressed, “This logic of hegemonic feminism is organized around a common code that shaped the work of a diverse group of feminist scholars, including Julia Kristeva, Toril Moi, Gerda Lerna, Cora Kaplan, Alice Jardine, Judith Kegan Gardiner, Gayle Greene, Coppélia Kahn, and Lydia Sargent.” (Sandoval, 1956: 65)  This category of feminism emphasizes sexism as the only and ultimate oppression with an intention to secure equal gender rights. However during late 1960s, feminist organizations like National Organization for Women (NOW), Women’s consciousness raising (CR) groups, Hijas de Cuauhtemoc (Chicana group), Women of All Red Nations (WARN) and Asian Sisters initiated diversified feminist concerns related to Third World females. These exclusive Third World feminine groups included Black feminists, Latina feminists, Mexicans and Asian American feminists’ alliance groups and instead of considering sexism as the supreme and ultimate oppression they talked about racism, classism, and color based sexual oppression. Maxine Baca Zinn and Bonnie Thornton Dill attempted to encapsulate this distinction by suggesting a single term i.e. ‘Multiracial Feminism’:

“While we adopt the label “multiracial,” other terms have been used to describe this broad framework. For example, Chela Sandoval refers to “U.S. Third World feminisms,” while other scholars refer to “indigenous feminisms.” In their theory text-reader, Alison M. Jagger and Paula M. Rothenberg adopt the label “multicultural feminism.” We use “multiracial” rather than “multicultural” as a way of underscoring race as a power system that interacts with other structured inequalities to shape genders.” (Zinn and Dill, 1996:324).

The conceptual framework of multiracial feminism concentrates on the struggle of Third World women (belonging to a particular race) against sexual racial oppression being inflicted upon them from people and structures belonging to a different race. Thus the primary concern in this situation is not fighting for equal rights but calling for justice against physical and mental oppression/molestation because of the difference between their races. In the words of Becky Thompson:

Multiracial feminism is not just another brand of feminism that can be taught alongside liberal, radical and socialist feminism. Multiracial feminism is the heart of an inclusive women’s liberation struggle. The race-class-gender-sexuality-nationality framework through which multiracial feminism operates encompasses and goes way beyond liberal, radical and socialist feminist priorities- and it always has…Teaching Second Wave history by chronicling the rise of multiracial feminism challenges limited categories because it puts social justice and anti-racism at the center of attention. (Thompson, 2002:349).

Here the centre of attention is the Third World Bangla women who had to face dual oppression and trauma caused by external forces as well as internal national policies.

The resident Bangla women were sexually victimized and traumatized during the 1971 political national conflict between East Pakistan and West Pakistan which was caused primarily due to distinct religious and cultural practices, language, food habits, physicality and aesthetic sensibility wherein Bengali Muslims were considered ‘Indianized’, ‘unreliable co-religionists’, ‘half converts’ and ‘nominal muslims’ (Ali. 1983, Roy.1996) The East Pakistanis influenced by Bangla culture and language were shunned by the West Pakistanis who preferred Urdu and Punjabi. The situation became explosive when Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan declared Urdu as the sole national language which disappointed the citizens of East Pakistan and led to a language movement (1952). Secondly, Bengali women were advised to give up the practice of wearing Sari which was considered improper and immoral clothing style as per Muslim religious norms. The politically dominant West desired to modify the language and cultural practices of the Eastern region which seemed to be derived from Hinduism.

The final attempt to degrade East Pakistanis was the refusal of the West to accept the Bengali leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who won the general election of 1970. In spite of sharing power, West Pakistan initiated a secret mission named ‘Operation Searchlight’ and attacked Dhaka University which was a centre of civil movements. Describing Pakistani soldiers’ attack on female dormitory of Dhaka University, the US General Consul Mr. Archer K Blood (Present in Dhaka at that time) sent a secret telegram to his officials and informed, “Rokeya Hall, a dormitory for girl students, was set ablaze and the girls were machine-gunned as they fled the building. The attack seemed to be aimed at eliminating the female leadership since many girl student leaders resided in that hall.” (Blood, 2014). This was the beginning of the nine months Liberation War of Bangladesh (1971) where two groups- Punjabi soldiers of West Pakistan and Mukti Bahini, Bengali guerrilla army clashed with each other.

In the above mentioned national political conflict Bangla women were treated as instruments in the apparatus of national honor and were ultimately deprived of discrete identification. Cynthia Enloe identifies it as licensed sexual violence or ‘militarized rape’ (Enloe, 2000) which acquiesces mass rape of women belonging to opposite race. In the words of Jyoti Puri, “Precisely because women represent the external and internal boundaries of nations and national identities, they are especially vulnerable to violence. In these cases, violence toward women is an attack on the nation or ethnic group that they represent. Indeed, the use of rape as a means to simultaneously violate women of enemy groups and the group itself led feminists to call rape a war crime.” (Puri, 2004:120)

Tahmima’s novel The Good Muslim delineates appalling portrayal of ‘wartime sexual violence’ where Bangladeshi females were treated as ‘comfort women’ with eugenicist stratagem by Pakistani nationalist soldiers, “Some had been raped in their villages, in front of their husbands and fathers, other kidnapped and held in army barracks for the duration of the war.” (Anam, 2011:69).  During the war, Pakistani soldiers established horrific rape-camps for Bangla women and around 2, 00,000 women were sexually exploited. Piya, an eighteen-year-old rape victim in the novel narrates her trauma,

I was captured by the Pakistan Army on 26 July 1971. They came to raid my village…I was put on a truck. Our neighbour’s daughter was with me; She was only fourteen…We were chained to the wall. Someone had been there before us- we saw her name scratched into the wall. She hanged herself, so they shaved our hair and took our saris. Twenty, thirty (men). They took turns. After the other girl died, it was just me…Until the war ended. (Anam, 2011:293).

In addition to Enloe’s classification, another less contemplated fons et origo i.e. ‘eugenicist approach’ is observed here which violates feminine chastity and effectuates selective breeding of a specific race, ethnicity, and nationality: “Eugenistic constructions of national reproduction concern much more than the physical ‘health’ of the next generation: they concern notions of ‘national stock’ and biologization of cultural traits.” (Davis, 2008: 33). In addition to corrupting National honor, another objective was to plant Punjabi Pakistani ‘gene’ in the wombs of Bangla women which will evolve an entire Pakistani nationalist future generation on Bangladeshi terrain. Bina D Costa reveals shocking facts interviewing Dr. Geoffrey Davis of Australia who met prisoners of war in Bangladesh:

B: How did they justify raping the women?

GD: They had orders of a kind or instruction from Tikka Khan to the effect that a good Muslim will fight anybody except his father. So what they had to do was to impregnate as many Bengali women as they could. That was the theory behind it.

B: Why did they have to impregnate the women? Did they tell you?

GD: Yes, so there would be a whole generation of children in East Pakistan that would be born with the blood from the West. That’s what they said. (Costa, 2010).

A distorted version of nationalistic illusion led eugenicist approach coalesced with mass rape of autochthonous Bangla females ensued as the most horrendous crimes committed against women in the 20th century. The physically, mentally, financially and socially incapacitated women perceived no fortification on the Post Liberated Bangladesh in which the first venture of the newly constructed nationalism was to terminate Pakistani fathered foetus. The entire manoeuvre was well contrived in the veneer of national rehabilitation program first by bestowing the title birangonas or ‘war heroines’ to rape victims, “We will rehabilitate you. Back into society…Sheikh Mujib said…you were heroines, war heroines.” (Anam, 2011:69) Secondly by establishing Women Rehabilitation centres for birangonas to recuperate and reunite with families so, “that their lives would soon return to normal, that they would go home and their families would embrace them as heroes of the war.” (Anam, 2011:69) The bonafide aim was to persuade Bangla women to abort antagonist nationalist foetus in the hegemonic patriarchal nationalism endorsed structure. Maya narrates about her volunteer services at Rehab centres, “You thought I was just helping the sick ones but we had a whole clinic at the back…What Sheikh Mujib said? That he didn’t want those bastard children in our country.” (Anam,2011:243) Piya, the face of rape victims refuses to abort her child and disappears, “They forced her. And she is not the only one. Some of the girls don’t want to. But they’re ashamed; they’re told that they’re carrying the seeds of these soldiers,” (Anam, 2011:142) those who were born were already in wretched condition, “The war babies, the children of rape, had been left to junior doctors, the volunteers in ragged tents on the outskirts of town.”(Anam, 2011:244).

The twin endeavours of Bangla political leaders to reintegrate birangonas in the mainstream society were inefficacious. The male freedom fighters enjoyed status and opportunities in public sectors whereas these birangonas received public humiliation and societal disowning. In spite of Sheikh Mujib’s appeal to the nation to accept these birangonas, family members did not welcome them, “They said they don’t want us. Where are we supposed to go?” (Anam, 2011:69). Finally the ultimate appeal of these birangonas to be called muktijuddhas (freedom fighters) was also neglected, “We don’t want to be heroines. We are ashamed. We want to leave our shame behind.” (Anam, 2011:69)

The racial hatred of West Pakistanis decimated these bangle females’ pride as many of them are still struggling to get rid of sexual shame forcibly imprinted on their forehead, “Right now, across the country thousands of women live with the memory of their shame.” (Anam, 2011:213)


Thus, we see that the incidents of xenophobic sexual assault of Bangladeshi women by Pakistani soldiers are irredeemable and the consequent struggle of these multiracial females is much more than a plea of equal gender rights propounded by Eurocentric feminist agenda. The multiple issues in the day to day lives of third world women of color, physically challenged women, poor women, old women, working-class women, Dalit women, lesbians, heterosexual women, and even financially privileged women need to be recognized: “In the first (essay) I wrote, ‘I believe that the oppression of women is the first impression’… Now what matters most is more abstract and totally specific: the closest word to it, justice.” (Segrest,1985: 12).

References :

Ali, Tariq. Can Pakistan Survive?: the death of a State. England: Penguin Books, 1983.

Anam, Tahmima. The Good Muslim. England: Canongate Books, 2011.

Blood, Archer K. Cited in “1971 women victims: Violated and forgotten.” bdnews24.com, 10 June. 2014,  https://opinion.bdnews24.com/2014/06/10/1971-women-victims-violated-and-forgotten/. Accessed 12 Feb, 2019.

Costa, Bina D’. “1971: Rape and its consequences.” bdnews24.com, 15 Dec. 2010, https://opinion.bdnews24.com/2010/12/15/1971-rape-and-its-consequences/ . Accessed 12 Feb, 2019.

Davis, Yuval N. Gender and Nation. London: Sage Publications, 2008.

Enloe, Cynthia. Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives. London: University of California Press, 2000.

Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses.” Feminist Review, vol. 30, no. 30, 1988, p. 61, doi:10.2307/1395054. Accessed 7 Dec. 2018.

Puri ,Jyoti. Encountering Nationalism.  Australia : Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

Roy, Asim. Islam in South Asia: A regional Perspective. New Delhi: South Asian Publishers Pvt Ltd, 1996.

Sandoval, Chela. Methodology of the Opressed. University of Minnesota Press: London, 1956.

Segrest, Mab. My Mama’s Dead Squirrel: Lesbian Essays on Southern Culture. Firebrand Books: USA, 1985.

Thompson, Becky. “Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology of Second Wave Feminism”. Feminist Studies, Vol. 28, no. 3, 2002, pp. 335-60, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3178747. Accessed 9 Jan. 2019.

Zinn, Maxine Baca, and Bonnie Thornton Dill. “Theorizing Difference from Multiracial Feminism.” Feminist Studies, Vol. 22, no. 2, 1996, pp. 321-31, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3178416. Accessed 12 Dec. 2018.



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Drishti:the Sight is a National refereed Bi-annual Research Journal in the disciplines of Arts and Humanities founded in the year 2012 publishing articles in the subjects of English Literature, Assamese Literature, Folklore, Culture.The journal has been enlisted in the UGC-CARE list (Sr.No. 42) in Arts and Humanities section.The journal is dedicated to the cause of young upcoming scholars of the nation.The journal publishes only authentic research articles. It tries to follow the research ethics to the core.