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Voicing the Silence: Exploring the Work of the “Bengali Women’s Support Group” in Sheffield
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This article explores the work of the “Bengali Women’s Support Group”, an active association born in Sheffield (1985) around two charismatic figures: Debjani Chatterjee, an Indian writer and scholar who was born in Delhi and brought up in various Asian and African countries before coming to the UK in 1972, and Safuran Ara, a transnational poet born in Bangladesh, who migrated to the UK in 1975 and recently returned to resettle in Bangladesh. The group gathers women of all ages, generations, and religions, from both sides of the artificially drawn boundary between East and West Bengal. Besides providing its members with support in their daily lives, this informal group has always aimed at empowering and moulding the image of an active Bengali woman, with a prominent voice within the ethnic minority community and the mainstream society, thus upsetting the stereotype of the ‘silent’ Asian woman. In so doing, the group has promoted many initiatives; the most meaningful is probably its lively contribution to the ‘Bilingual Book Project’ (started as a parallel venture in 1989 by Debjani and Safuran, and now called ‘Sahitya Press’), which involves the employment of oral histories and storytelling in order to become visible, to define and redefine one’s identity, by creating a balance between past and present, between the lands of origin and those of new settlement. Starting from orality, proceeding through the written word, the ‘Book Projectì has given life to four bilingual anthologies whose contents and purposes are analyzed in this research.