How many of you have heard of the term ‘Birangona’, let alone know the faces described by this exceptional word? I’m guessing not many, which is sadly true even if you happen to be a Bengali – especially if you are a second or third generation British Bengali like me. Up until three years ago, I would have been puzzled by this word. Because despite declaring myself to be a feminist at the age of seven, despite having worked for human rights charities – specifically women’s rights charities – locally and globally since the age of fifteen, despite being a Bengali woman whose parents and grandparents witnessed and survived the traumatic birth of the country I trace my origins from, I had never heard of this term or the hundreds of thousands of women whose faces and lives it strives to represent. A dire ignorance which, to my great shame, I was only awakened from three years ago in the most unexpected of places – a small, dark theatre in the outskirts of Wimbledon, London.
In May 2014, I was asked if I wanted to see a one-woman play called Birangona: Women of War. I shuddered and shook my head. I was dealing with the abuse of women in my day job – the last thing I wanted to do was spend my free time watching a play on that very topic. But after some persuasion from friends who had agreed to see the play, I gave in. It was a decision that would rock my perceptions of my ancestral homeland and its people and has since changed my life irrevocably.