This post appeared on The Bookwallis Facebook page for the theme, Voicing the Silences in Children's Literature. .
Read part one here...
In my experience as a library educator, working with children from grades 2 to 12 and with my own children, I find that while they are enthused to read books about war/ conflict/ violence, particularly stories about World War II and the Holocaust, they are hesitant to pick up books about Indian history.
Were Indians heroic? Really?...their expressions seem to say. Yes they were!!
Who stood up and fought to bring us the freedoms we enjoy today? Did the common people join in the freedom struggle? Did small actions matter? Who suffered and still suffers terrible human rights atrocities within our own country? Does India need a ‘lives matter’ hashtag too?
As educators, we need to extend our children's awareness beyond the history textbooks and connect them with books that bring history alive and give them s/heroes they may identify with.
When I read Fawzia Gilani Williams' article, shared on The Bookwallis last week, I went AHA!! I wasn’t familiar with the term ‘internalised oppression’, but I knew exactly what she meant as I read her explanation. I was guilty of just this, and although I could see it in my students, I hadn’t recognised this in myself. To put it very simply, 'Internalised Oppression' is self-hatred...in this case, the disbelief that we have history that matters, leaders and s/heroes who are just as significant as those from another country, leaders who inspired the world.
So while we open the world to our children through books, it is important to also help them read books about incidents and people closer to home as well. Build a pride and understanding of our own history as we learn the history from across the world. Share the pride and the joy in the victories and learn from the mistakes of the past.
Here is a list of a few books on this theme set in India:
1. THE RAIN by Swati Raje; illustrations by Chandramohan Kulkarni
Villagers of different faiths live peacefully in Anandpur, until a stranger plants a seed of religious intolerance in their minds all over the naming of a proposed lake. The story escalates from peaceful co-existence, to heated discussions, to one-upmanship and finally to violence. It is the children who pray not just for rain but also for communal harmony. This book is very pertinent today, as each religion in this wonderfully secular land, is holding on their own beliefs as truth and denying or ridiculing those of another.
2. RED by Sagar Kolwankar
When a little boy finds a red kite on the ground he flies it high, against the blue sky marvelling at the red against the sky. The colour brings him much joy as does his kite. But suddenly the blue turns dark, rumbling and angry. When bombs come down on people, on roads, on houses...he finds that the ground is red. Probably remembering the joy Red brought him, he draws a smile and then flies the slightly dirty and torn kite up into the sky...spreading a bit of hope and joy. A poignant picture book about hope in the face of devastation.
3. THAT NIGHT by Bijal Vaccharajani; illustrated by Shrujana Shridhar
Little Chaitu is woken up by loud angry voices demanding her father show himself to prove that he isn’t "...."! With fire and smoke raging in the area her friend Kabir lives, Chaitu fears for the safety of her family and friends. A poignant story given today’s climate of religious intolerance and fear.
4. THE NIGHT DIARY by Veena Hiranandani (12+)
A young girl narrates the events of the Partition of India and Pakistan through letters written to her mother, in a diary. Right from her initial confusion when the partition is announced, to the heartbreak of leaving a life and home that she knew, to the trauma of their journey on foot across the border, and the adjustment to a different life in India.
5. AHIMSA by Supriya Kelkar (11+)
When her mother decides to join Gandhiji’s call for ‘one freedom fighter from each family’, Anjali is shocked to find that her mother will be answering his call. She learns about Ahimsa...Gandhi’s call for a non-violent struggle. When her mother is jailed, Anjali steps up to continue her efforts with securing an education for the Dalits, to ensure her mother's efforts continue. Set during the Quit India movement, this book touches upon the freedom struggle, caste discrimination and Hindu-Muslim tensions. "Even a small number of dedicated people can alter the course of history."
6. THE NARAYANPUR INCIDENT by Sashi Deshpande (9+)
Set during the Quit India Movement in 1942, in a sleepy village Narayanpur, where nothing happens…or so it seems. When Babu and Manju’s father is arrested and their brother Mohan goes underground, their mother takes them to live with family friends in Narayanpur. Bored, Babu and Manju keep their eyes and ears open to pick up clues of all that is going on in this seemingly sleepy part of India. A wonderful story about how Indians, even in the smallest villages, took a stand against the British and contributed to the Freedom struggle.
7. VICTORY SONG by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Set in 1939, Bengal. When Neela’s father doesn’t return from his trip to Calcutta in a week as promised, she sets off in search of him. Her father had gone there to join a protest march, but she soon learns that he has been arrested for his participation and will be deported to the jail in the Andaman Islands. She is determined to rescue him before that. While this story about a snippet of the freedom struggle as seen through the eyes of a 12 year old, Neela the fiery protagonist also raises many questions a young girl may have that are just as relevant today.
8. NO GUNS AT MY SON'S FUNERAL by Paro Anand (13+)
Aftab is like any other teenager, who loves his friends, family and cricket. When he meets Akram, he is impressed by his dashing good looks and the excitement around him. His youth blinds him to how dangerous Akram is, and Aftab is soon lured into a group of youngsters being groomed to be terrorists. Set in Kashmir, with militancy raging...this book is a must read. A Bal Sahitya Puraskar winner and on the IBBY list 2006...this book has made my students very uncomfortable. Out of discomfort often arise questions, and discussions...I cannot recommend it highly enough.
9. THE GRASSHOPPER'S RUN by Siddhartha Sarma
This Sahitya Akademi Award winning book is set in 1944, when the Imperial Japanese army invaded British India from the east, via Burma. When a bloodthirsty general orders the massacre of people in a tiny Ao Naga village, killing the grandson of the chief, his best friend studying in Calcutta decides that he needs to avenge his death, together with a small group of Naga tribesmen.
10. THE BATTLE FOR NO.19 by Ranjit Lal (12+)
When eight school girls from the hills, on a tour of Agra drive into Delhi on the day Indira Gandhi is assassinated, they run into a violent crazed mob that pulls their driver out of their vehicle and slays him. Fleeing the crazed mobs they run into the first suitable house they could find...unfortunately one marked by the mobs as it belongs to a Sikh millionaire. It seems empty, but is it? The girls come together, harnessing their wits and courage to fight the rioters, all the time wondering about the thin line between right and wrong.
Many of the books listed above raise questions. As an educator it is imperative to try and answer those questions by keeping channels of communication open and leading the children on to further reading...both fiction and non-fiction.
Read Fawzia Gilani-William’s article here... https://www.facebook.com/thebookwallis/videos/3365221666893100/ )
Sagar Kolwankar talks about his book Red here: https://www.facebook.com/thebookwallis/videos/522702071733609/