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.”


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
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Decoding the symbolic threads and badges of one of India’s oldest cavalry units

The untold story of The President’s Bodyguard.

The national emblem of India; an open parachute and crossed lances – this triad of symbols representing the nation, excellence in training and valor respectively are held together by an elite title in the Indian army – The President’s Bodyguard (PBG).

The PBG badge is worn by one of the oldest cavalry units in the India army. In 1773, Governor Warren Hastings, former Governor General of India, handpicked 50 troopers. Before independence, this unit was referred to by many titles including Troops of Horse Guards and Governor General’s Body Guards (GGBG). In 1950, the unit was named The President’s Bodyguard and can be seen embroidered in the curved maroon shoulder titles on their current uniforms.

The President’s Bodyguard’s uniform adorns itself with proud colours and symbols of its 245 year-old-legacy. Dating back to 1980, the ceremonial uniform consists of a bright red long coat with gold girdles and white breeches, a blue and gold ceremonial turban with a distinctive fan and Napoleon Boots with spurs. Each member of the mounted unit carries a special 3-meter-long bamboo cavalry lance, decorated by a red and white pennant. A sheathed cavalry sabre is carried in in the side of the saddle of each trooper.

While common perception is that the PBG mainly have ceremonial duties such as that of being the President’s escort during Republic Day parade, the fact is that the members of the PBG are highly trained. Handpicked by the President’s Secretariat from mainstream armored regiments, the unit assigns a task force regularly for Siachen and UN peace keeping operations. Moreover, the cavalry members are trained combat parachutists – thus decorating the PBG uniform with a scarlet Para Wings badge that signifies that these troopers are a part of the airborne battalion of the India Army.

Since their foundation, the President’s Guard has won many battle honors. In 1811, they won their first battle honor ‘Java’. In 1824, they sailed over Kalla Pani for the first Burmese War and earned the second battle honour ‘Ava’. The battle of Maharajapore in 1843 won them their third battle honor. Consequently, the PBG fought in the main battles of the First Sikh War and earned four battle honours. Post-independence, the PBG served the country in the 1962 Indo-China war and the 1965 Indo-Pak war.

The PBG, one of the senior most regiments of the Indian Army, is a unique unit. While the uniform is befitting of its traditional and ceremonial role, the badges that augment those threads, tell the story of its impressive history and victories.

How have they managed to maintain their customs for more than 2 centuries? A National Geographic exclusive captures the PBG’s untold story. The documentary series showcases the discipline that goes into making the ceremonial protectors of the supreme commander of the Indian Armed Forces.


The National Geographic exclusive is a landmark in television and is being celebrated by the #untoldstory contest. The contest will give 5 lucky winners an exclusive pass to the pre-screening of the documentary with the Hon’ble President of India at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. You can also nominate someone you think deserves to be a part of the screening. Follow #UntoldStory on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to participate.

This article was produced by Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic and not by the Scroll editorial team.