children's literature

If you’re wondering how to raise a feminist, Indian publishing houses might have an answer

Young girls are affected disproportionately by everything from poverty to corruption and global warming. Children’s stories should reflect that.

In the children’s book Lachmi’s War, the protagonist Lachmi fights against the evil asura Tobakachi who wants to rule the world. He goes around a village brainwashing people into domesticating their girls, depriving them of education. With the help of the panchayat and a Bal Sena, Lachmi gathers the courage and asks the villagers to get together and fight against the asura.

To make the villagers see sense, Lachmi invokes the idea of women’s liberation and education. Finally, she is joined in her efforts by girls in the village who want to study, and together, they get the men to agree. Once the girls start going to school, the village becomes prosperous.

In the past decade, several Indian publishing houses such as Tulika, Tara and Young Zubaan have used a feminist approach to children’s literature. Lachmi’s War runs with that idea.

One in a series of five feminist picture books published by Katha, Lachmi’s War is the most recent work of author Geeta Dharmarajan, who received the Padma Shri in 2012 for her contribution to literature and education. Like Lachmi’s War, every other book in the Katha series sensitively broaches issues of equality. Whether in Chooo...mantar, Abba’s Day, One Magical Morning or in One’s Own Yet Different, the intent inevitably is to promote equity.

Lachmi's War
Lachmi's War

Leading the way

A non-government organisation, Katha has nearly 30 years’ experience in publishing and education for children in poverty. Dharmarajan, who is also Katha’s founder and executive director, said Katha has always used literature and books that portray women in a gender-sensitive manner.

“Right from the late 1980s and the first issue of our magazine for children from underprivileged communities, Tamasha!, Katha has strived to break stereotypical thinking about gender and social issues and to build strong role models for young girls,” Dharmarajan said.

The new series, she said, proactively promotes the idea that girls are equal. “They are among the few books in the market today that help girls and boys build an equal platform, through stories, thoughtful questions, and games. They encourage girls to grow up self-reliant and confident, not accept a position of inferiority in a caste-ridden, inequitable India.”

Chooo...mantar
Chooo...mantar

In Abba’s Day, gender roles are subverted as children are taught about the dignity of labour: in it, Aisha’s father is a stay-at-home dad, while her mother is the breadwinner. Aisha loves Sundays because she can spend time with her mother and the three can do household chores together.

Similarly, Chooo...mantar, a story about a protagonist who wants to become a singer, is a reminder to families to value girls for their aspirations.

Dharmarajan said, “Girls in Katha books and schools have always taken the lead – they do forbidden things like climbing trees and flying kites, they fight injustice, do well in school, make good friends. But we know that girls only hold up half the sky. Boys have to be active participants if girls have to claim their place under the sun.”

So in One Magical Morning, Jishnu wishes for a son and becomes pregnant. Experiencing something that is intrinsic to the female body makes him a changed man. One’s Own, Yet Different questions gender stereotypes of the older generation through the loving bond between a grandmother and her grandchild.

One's Own, Yet Different
One's Own, Yet Different

The reading levels of these books are matched to the learning needs of young readers – the language is simple, and the tone is direct and reflective without being preachy. Challenging the prevailing constructs of gender in society, all the stories conclude with open-ended questions and a “Think. Ask. Discuss. Act.” section that encourages young readers to engage in thinking and have a dialogue within a peer group.

The stories are available in both English and Hindi, since the books in Katha’s gender series are being disseminated through libraries to primary school-age children, who attend government schools and live in under-served communities, as well as to students attending the Katha Lab School in Delhi.

The series was published with the support of the New Zealand High Commission’s Head of Mission Fund, which aims to develop children as agents of change while promoting female empowerment.

One Magical Morning
One Magical Morning

Since children are visual learners, the books attempt to match illustration and text to ensure that they do not unconsciously internalise the outmoded gender stereotypes reinforced by popular culture.

Dyuti Mittal, an in-house designer and illustrator, considers Katha’s books an important possession for any growing up child, whether privileged or underprivileged. “The illustrations create a world of joy and wonder to bring alive stories for children, with their diverse and rich colours, techniques, characters and designs,” said Mittal.

Some other recent books that were written keeping in mind the premise of gender equality.

Mayil Will Not Be Quiet! (Tulika, 2011)

By Sowmya Rajendran and Niveditha Subramaniana
A resource book on gender for children. In the story, Mayil, a pre-teen, is constantly scribbling and doodling about the world around her, the changes in her body, seeking answers of confusing questions.

The Unboy Boy (Pickle Yolk Books, 2013)

It made waves for dealing with gender identity in an Indian context. In the story, Gagan’s family cannot get on board with the fact that he is not “boy” enough.

Gender Talk: Big Hero, Size Zero (Tulika, 2015)

By Anusha Hariharan and Sowmya Rajendran
It speaks directly to teens on all aspects of gender.

Abba's Day
Abba's Day
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.