Sheikh Abdullah: The Caged Lion of Kashmir, Chitralekha Zutshi

The Kashmiri leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah is one of the best-known and most controversial political figures of 20th-century South Asia. A fierce Kashmiri nationalist, Abdullah is best remembered for opposing the Dogra monarchy’s exploitative economic and political system; securing Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India in 1947; passing revolutionary land reforms as Prime Minister of J&K; and later championing the cause of Kashmiri self-determination – as a consequence of which he was imprisoned for two decades – before coming to terms with the Indian government in 1975. He has been alternately celebrated as a patriot and reviled as a traitor in Kashmir, India and in Pakistan.

In this richly researched and elegantly crafted biography, historian Chitralekha Zutshi transcends these labels by placing Abdullah’s life in the context of critical global developments in the 20th century.

Love Jihad and Other Fictions: Simple Facts to Counter Viral Falsehoods, Sreenivasan Jain, Mariyam Alavi, and Supriya Sharma

Love jihad, Muslim appeasement, forced conversions – these conspiracy theories are now driving everyday conversations in India. Amplified by politicians, cacophonic media coverage, and relentless social media forwards and updates, they have come to be accepted as reality by a large number of people.

But are these claims – that India’s minorities are plotting to weaken the majority Hindu community – based on the truth? Or are they fictions created and disseminated to serve the interest of power?

In this book, the authors interrogate some theories that are part of the landscape of WhatsApp chats and social media feeds of millions of Indians every day. With its clear-eyed and scrupulously argued and researched approach, Love Jihad and Other Fictions is an indispensable antidote to the viral falsehoods threatening to tear India apart.

Post-Hindu India: A Discourse on Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution, Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd

This is a thought-provoking critique of Brahmanism and the caste system in India while anticipating the death of Hinduism as a direct consequence of, what Shepherd says is, its anti-scientific and anti-nationalistic stand. Post-Hindu India challenges Hinduism’s interpretation of history, with a virulent attack on caste politics, and also takes a refreshing look at the necessity of encouraging indigenous scientific thought for the sake of national progress.

The Yellow Sparrow: Memoir of a Transgender, Santa Khurai

Santa Khurai was 17 when she decided to start dressing like a woman. Born male, she had always believed herself to be female, and she claimed her feminine identity fiercely and openly. Her bold act of wearing dresses and make-up in public brought down upon her the wrath of her father, insults and ridicule wherever she went, and, frequently, beatings at the hands of the armed forces who are a constant presence in her native Manipur. But he humiliation and physical attacks did not deter her.

The price she has had to pay is high. Knocking on doors for a job, she found that most times, no one would employ her because of the way she looked. When she eventually found success as a make-up artist, with her own beauty parlour, the stress of her struggles sent her spiralling into drug abuse and penury.

Fighting her way through these troubles, she became involved with the transgender movement, and in 2010, she was appointed Secretary of the All Manipur Nupi Maanbi Association (AMaNA). Since then, she has worked closely with AMaNA and its sister organization, Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India (SAATHII). Today, she is at the forefront of the LGBTQ movement in Manipur, travelling the world to speak for her community.

Of Indian Carpets and Carpetwallahs: An Appreciation, by Jon Westborg

Carpets adorn living spaces across the length and breadth of the country and are appreciated for many qualities – their design, their colours, their “feel” – but rarely their history. Yet, each carpet has a story hidden within its intricate details, and the value of a carpet is determined by what it costs, or by its technical and aesthetic qualities, and the story it carries. Of Indian Carpets and Carpetwallahs: An Appreciation tells the stories of Indian carpets by delving into the histories of an assortment of unique carpets collected by Norwegian diplomat Jon Westborg over his lifetime. It melds history, memory, and aesthetics to create a complete and detailed picture of the Indian carpet-making tradition.

Unequal: Why India Lags Behind Its Neighbours, Swati Narayan

Narayan’s intensive, immersive research shows that India’s leapfrogging neighbours have worked hard to dilute social inequalities. Land reforms, investments in schools and hospitals, and socio-political reform movements aimed at diluting caste and gender discrimination – all of these have wrought change over the decades. Excellent networks of primary healthcare clinics, village schools and household toilets have transformed the lives of citizens in these countries.

In economically booming India, on the other hand, social ills like sex-selective abortion, child stunting, illiteracy and preventable deaths are rampant. Inequalities are stark here – not only between the burgeoning billionaire class and the neglected masses but also among the northern states and their southern counterparts. However, it is in fact the successes in states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala that offer grounds for optimism – India is capable of transformation if governments commit to social welfare investments and bridging social inequities.

Packed with human stories as well as hard data, and shot through with empathy and hope, Swati Narayan’s Unequal is a necessary book for our times.