Gandhi Jayanti Special Books

What about us?: A reading list for woke Indian children

In July this year, the CBSE announced a 30% reduction in syllabus across subjects for students in classes 9-12, due to the disruption caused by COVID-19. Portions on citizenship, secularism, democracy, diversity, gender, caste and wildlife will not be taught to students in the academic year 2020-21.

If such erasure continues in the years to come, where can youngsters turn to to find out more about the people, events and social movements that have shaped the narrative of their own country? Fortunately, here are some picture books, historical fiction and non-fiction titles that have recorded these stories with imagination!

Understanding the past

Women are often written out of history. Dr Devika Rangachari’s recent Queen of Earth is the story of the ninth-century Odisha queen, Prithvimahadevi. Intelligent and feisty, she is married to an enemy king as part of a power-brokering deal. But rather than wilt, she comes very much into her own and takes charge of the rapidly evolving political situation.

In Supriya Kelkar’s Ahimsa, 10-year-old Anjali’s life goes through big and small setbacks when her mother heeds Gandhiji’s call to join the freedom movement. From having to give up clothes made from imported material to being shunned by the community for teaching Dalit children. Anjali overcomes her own inner prejudices to step forward and do what needs to be done when her mother is imprisoned.

Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability written by S Anand and Srividya Natarajan and illustrated by Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam takes readers through the inspiring life of Dr BR Ambedkar. The book documents several stories that young people will rarely get to read in textbooks, like the Mahad Satyagraha.

Paro Anand’s Being Gandhi takes us back to 1984. Chandrashekhar is a privileged teenager who is trying to find ways to shirk off a history project about trying to live by Gandhi’s philosophy. When riots break out post the assassination of the Prime Minister, he finds himself embodying the Mahatma’s ideologies, unwittingly at first and then with intent. The book reminds us that the Gandhian way is as relevant today as it was in the past, and always will be.

What about us?: A reading list for woke Indian children

Understanding the present

At a time when pourakarmikas are bearing the brunt of the nation’s fight against Covid-19, understanding dignity of labour is crucial. Kancha Ilaiah and Durgabai Vyam’s Turning the Pot, Tilling the Land: Dignity of Labour in Our Times looks at the labour of adivasis, potters and weavers, and traces the immense contribution that they have made to society through the lens of caste, gender and religion. For the youngest of readers, Rajiv Eipe’s Anand is a gorgeously illustrated picture book about a sanitation worker who loves to look good and keep neighbourhoods looking good too.

I remember thinking that the Constitution had little to do with my life when I was in school. Young readers today will not arrive at such a foolish conclusion if they have read The Constitution of India for Children by Subhadra Sen Gupta and Tapas Guha. Written in a wonderfully conversational style, it introduces readers to the constitution and the key figures who helped frame it.

Older favourites
  • It’s never too late to add some of these books to your library
  • Nina Sabnani’s ‘Mukand and Riaz’ is a picture book set against the backdrop of Partition. Vibrant applique work and block-printed textiles have been used to illustrate a timeless story about friendship and loss
  • ‘Bhimrao Ambedkar: The Boy who Asked Why’ by Sowmya Rajendran and Satwik Ghade is just the picture book for introducing young readers to Dr Ambedkar
  • Siddhartha Sarma’s ‘Year of the Weeds’ is an introduction to the harsh realities of life in modern India: corporate greed, government indifference, and a complete disregard for the environment

With the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 being hotly debated, I Will Save My Land by Rinchin and Sagar Kolwankar beautifully depicts a girl’s anxiety about losing her land to hungry machines and tackles the issue of ‘development’ at a cost.

Every Indian girl in this country owes their education to the efforts of Savitribai Phule. In Sangeeta Mulay’s book Savitribai Phule and I, we come to learn more about this education reformist. Two stories run in parallel: Shabri, a young Dalit girl in college in the present day and Savitribai Phule’s life told through fictional diary entries. Both of them face humiliation and hatred for daring to seek an education.

Betiyaan Bhi Chaahain Azaadi by Kamla Bhasin and Shrujana Shridhar is a call to action and azadi for youngsters. Azadi from violence and harassment. Azadi to be who they want to be. Azadi to exercise their rights.The illustrations bring to mind the powerful images of the young women at the fore of the anti CAA-NRC protests from earlier in the year.

What about us?: A reading list for woke Indian children

Being prepared for the future

With the climate crisis looming large, I want to end with Bijal Vachharajani and Radha Rangarajan’s 10 Indian Champions Who Are Fighting to Save the Planet. Meticulously researched and lucidly written, this slim book is packed with inspiring stories of the hard work, dedication and real love that it takes to fight the good fight when it comes to saving the planet.

It’s the same hope, commitment and passion that young people today will need to draw upon to help steer India in the right direction in the years to come.

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 9:31:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/what-about-us-a-reading-list-for-woke-indian-children/article32741750.ece

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