Journalist-author SWATI BHATTACHARJEE talks to The Thumb Print about her book Dangerous Meye
Please tell us more about your book?
SB: This book is a collection of essays on women, focusing on the ways in which women are threatened, and are themselves seen as threatening by the state, the political parties and their own families. Through various gender issues like violence on women, women’s right to agricultural land and other property, women in political parties and in panchayats, this book explores the ways in which two contradictory forces are at work in society: to give greater autonomy to women, and to keep women in their place. A lot of apparent activity in the name of “empowerment” (such as reserving seats for women in panchayats) is counterbalanced in more subtle ways (such as by giving very little space to women in political parties). The essays identify the challenges women face, and how women meet, or fail to meet, those challenges.
Why did you call it Dangerous Meye?
SB: The book is called “Dangerous Meye.” It is because Mamata Bandopadhyay, the CM of West Bengal, once called an (allegedly) abused woman, “Dangerous Mohila” (Dangeous Woman). That made me question why abused, raped women, who are themselves most vulnerable, are seen as a threat by the state. So much so that such women are often forced to leave their homes and villages along with their families, a pattern well established in West Bengal.
What are the main themes running through your book?
SB: Violence on women, portrayal of such violence in media, women’s right to land, to property, women in politics, women in panchayats, profiles of women who stand out as performers, doctors, scholars.
Please tell us about your earlier publications? A bit about yourself/your career.
SB: I have a PhD in social science from TISS, Mumbai, an MSc in Media Research, Stirling University and an MA in Philosophy, Jadavpur University. I started my career as a trainee journalist in The Telegraph. Now I am with the Ananda Bazar Patrika, editorial section. I was Chief Reporter of the District section for 3 years.
My journalism focuses on poverty reduction and gender rights.
SB: My earlier publications include “A Unique Crime: Understanding Rape in India” (edited), and three collections of essays in Bengali.
How would you assess the status of women in West Bengal?
SB: West Bengal has high incidence of domestic violence and trafficking of women. Illegal hooch dens and organized trafficking rackets are big threats. Child marriage, and early pregnancy and child birth rates are also high. In recent years we have seen better enrolment of girls, but we need to follow that up by reducing drop outs. We have only limited success on that count.
Women’s self help group movement had gained a certain momentum in the earlier years of the Left regime, but has since lost much ground.
Do you think violence against women is on the rise in your state? What shape is it taking?
SB: An analysis of data shows that crime per one lakh women remains steady. There has been no spike in recent years. But the collusion between political leaders and abusers has come to the forefront again and again in many high profile cases, eroding women’s trust in the system.
Swati Bhattacharjee is the Chief Reporter with Ananda Bazar Patrika, Kolkata