Manju Mukherjee

Writing, 1980s

So, that might lead us into Breaking the Silence. What made you decide to put that book together?

Matter of fact, it is somehow- when I was in, I started to work part time there [Dalston Children’s Centre], it’s a children’s centre set up by a very leftist, feminist group of women. And it was my door to work freely and think again about life and women. And, it was the first idea that women will come to the Dalston Children’s Centre, and they will learn photography, as well as, I will lead a workshop to get them write their own thought. But it didn’t take off the ground that way. Then I had to do, approach many of them, all the odd places, because Dalston Children- near the Dalston Children’s Centre, there was Dalston Market, and, I met, a lot of Asian women go there for bargains. And, that is the way I approached them. Some- some of them not very literate to put things together, write, they didn’t have the- They talked to me, I wrote, and then I managed to- Some of them didn’t tell their family. And, I wrote, took it back, and read to them, when they say it’s okay, we published it. But, original idea, photography, and they will do their own thing, it didn’t take off the ground with the only Asian women.

In this interview Manju Mukherjee explains her marriage and arrival in England from India in 1967. Throughout she explains her views on arranged marriage, class, religion and cultural differences within communities on the Indian subcontinent, and religion, gender, class and race in the UK.

With photographer Anna Sherwin, she approached Centerprise for help publishing a collection of Asian women’s writing Breaking the Silence (1984) while working at Dalston Children’s Centre. She had at first hoped to start a woman’s photography group but quickly realised this was not possible due to the restrictions many Asian women experienced in their daily lives. Instead, she talked to women out shopping, in parks or at bus stops and convinced them to write, often anonymously, about their lives. The resulting book, which included translations into several languages, broke new ground in community publishing.

Interviewed by Beth Young.

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Manju Mukherjee
© Sophie Polyviou