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Rinki Bhattacharya hopes her book will empower women.



Rinki Bhattacharya...........crusade against domestic violence

AFTER MORE than 20 years of listening to women share their experiences of domestic violence, after collecting many "powerful, moving stories" from victims who needed to share and find belief, and after making her own way out of an abusive relationship, Rinki Bhattacharya decided that a book needed to be written to break the myths about the "silent crime" of domestic violence.

Rinki Roy Bhattacharya, ex-wife of the late Basu Bhattacharya and daughter of noted filmmaker Bimal Roy, knows how to wield the power of the written word. Through a regular column in Mumbai's Mid-Day newspaper, she repeatedly dealt with the issue of violence against women.

Domestic violence

"But the media has its limits. There's only so much you can do in a newspaper column," she says. "So I started collecting the stories, documenting everything I heard and saw about domestic violence."

It was in the mid-1980s that the idea of putting these stories into a book came to her. She sent in her manuscript to a well-known publisher, who initially reacted favourably. Many months later, they changed their minds and returned her document, "totally mutilated". "But I'm a documentarist at heart, so I kept at it, writing, recording," she says.

And almost two decades later, Sage Publications decided to publish these oral histories in an edited volume titled Behind Closed Doors (Sage Publications, 2004), dealing with domestic violence in India.

"The book is in a sense a sequel to a film I made in the Nineties," says Rinki. "There's been an overwhelming response to it across audience segments." The narratives of battered women are interspersed in the book with essays by scholars and activists, combining journalistic and academic approaches.

"While there is no longer that silence or disbelief that once surrounded the issue, there is still very little support for women who face violence within the home," she says. "There is still so much sanctity attached to marriage and family life, that very few women actually seek support or attempt to escape the situation."

`New hope'

The book, she hopes, will dispel some of the "myths" about domestic violence and empower more women to break the silence. For instance, the violence cuts across barriers of class and caste. "Many women think it is something that happens only among the working class," she says. "So there's a lot of denial that women in upper classes go through before they see that they too are victims." When talking to poorer women, Rinki found that even they thought that women in well-to-do families would never have to deal with domestic violence. But with education and wealth also comes isolation, and women rarely connect what is happening to them with the notion of crime. In addition, "educated" women also feel a greater sense of shame that keeps them from "coming out".

`Long way to go'

"We've definitely made progress over the 20-odd years that I have been working in the area, but we are still not geared up to provide a good safety net for the majority of abused women," notes Rinki. Groups such as Nirmala Niketan and Nari Kendra in Mumbai, Sakshi in Delhi, Vimochana in Bangalore and Asmita in Hyderabad have made a difference to some women. Police are more sensitive, the special Crimes Against Women (CAW) cells have helped to some extent. But not enough. "Where is the visibility for such issues in the public environment?" asks Rinki. "When you travel abroad, you find posters on the tube, in bus stops, that encourage women to report abuse, providing helpline numbers and addresses. But here the sources of support are still invisible to most of the women who need it."

Rinki feels that we need to educate women more about the possibility of such violence. "I was really pleased when a woman picked up my book, telling me she wanted her young daughters to read it and understand that this could happen to anyone. But this is certainly not the book I would have wanted to write, or expected to write," she says, without regret. "When I began writing, I thought I would write a thriller, or a romance, maybe...and yes, I suppose this is a thriller - of a different kind."

USHA RAMAN

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