News from Wednesday 4th July was taken from The Guardian
In the summer of 2010, I started work on a project about women who had been involved in uprisings and revolutions around the world. The little that is written about women and conflict tends to focus on them as victims of abduction and rape. I wanted to find an alternative narrative, and to discover how their spirit of defiance lingers on in their lives today.
I initially spoke to women who fought with the North Vietnamese Armyagainst the US, then I spent a year in Bangladesh on a Fulbright scholarship, tracking down women who had been involved in the 1971 war of independence. I was looking for people who had actually fought in the war, or who had served as anything from spies to weapon-smugglers.
The following June, I met this woman, Rounak Mohal Dilruba Begum, in the semi-rural town of Bogra in western Bangladesh. When my interpreter and I came to her house, she sat us around her bed and launched into her story. Some of the women I had spoken to had been wary of this foreigner coming into their homes, but Rounak was one of the biggest characters I’ve ever met: effusive, outspoken and brave.
Her mother was single, so Rounak had to work and help bring up her brothers and sisters. Because her mother was unmarried, Rounak wasn’t allowed to marry either; but she didn’t want to anyway and hasn’t to this day, which is unusual in Bangladesh. At the start of the liberation war, she recruited and trained men to fight: being a woman in a position of power was incredibly unusual. As she put it: “I’m rough and tumble and nothing can stop me.”
After two months, the West Pakistani army came to her village and burned down several homes. People blamed Rounak’s activities and told her to go to India, lest the village be attacked again. Once there, Rounak went to a refugee camp and cared for children and the poor. I tried to capture who she was and how she felt about her life, what her story meant to her – and me. Clothed in a white veil, with the light streaming in, she looks beautiful.
I often use the image to open exhibitions, because she is almost faceless and could be any of a number of women I spoke to. But at the same time, she is decidedly herself: short in stature but big in conviction.