Indian Feminist Authors Create Children’s Book Series To Challenge Harmful Gender Norms

A group of feminists in India are working to chip away at harmful cultural gender norms that do not have a place in the world in 2018. Collectively they are known as The Irrelevant Project, made up of educators, engineers, designers, students, illustrators, entrepreneurs, psychologists and journalists who are passionate about using learning and creativity to stop the cycle of gender stereotypes from being passed down to younger generations. They are doing this by creating a series of illustrated children’s books about relatable Indian characters that contain feminist messages within their stories.

The group was initially founded by Meghna Chaudhury and Alishya Almeida in 2016 who saw an opportunity to bring more inclusive narratives into children’s literature, and the project soon grew into a fully-fledged organization that saw its first five books released to the public in January 2018. As explained on The Irrelevant Project website, they are focused on the intersections of gender, class, caste and religion which are dominant in Indian society, and are a big influence on children growing up, which they say “children mimic as part of learned behavior.”

They also explain in a few paragraphs what they are “troubled by”:

-How children learn to discriminate based on identity, and perpetuate teasing, bullying and other forms of aggression towards one another, as early as age four.

-By an environment that limits imagination. Books and media for children repeatedly reinforce certain narratives which constrict children to thinking in boxes and categories.

While the organization knows there is no one magic solution, they “can make an effort to interrupt various kinds of prejudice we face and reduce its strong hold.”

“We started TIP by running workshops with a few classrooms. In one of them, we introduced two stories and found children understood the point faster than instruction-based exercises. Around the same time, we were reading current children’s literature and felt we needed more voices and representation of experiences we have as children growing up in India. This was our cue, and our prototype stories became the springboard for creating a range of stories,” Alishya told TheQuint.com.

The focus on the younger generation is a smart target, as it if often hard to undo generations of ingrained stereotyping in adults. The Irrelevant Project sees their books as a form of activism, living up to the mantra “the pen is mightier than the sword”.

“We are a constructive protest against harmful stereotypes that exist in this world. We love little humans, we really do. Hence, we have been working tirelessly and furiously to come up with 5 fully illustrated picture books that deal with different topics of inclusivity and feminism. We want little children to read these books now and nurture empathy and awareness of the world around them,” says a description on their Facebook Page.

The organization’s name is alluding to gender, color, caste and other fixed definitions of identities that take hold early on in a person’s life, as they want to make them “irrelevant” to a person’s worth.

“The books use the concept of multiple identities that each person has, and how, emphasizing identities apart from gender, color and race can foster equality,” she continued.

In ‘The Big Book Of Why’, readers are encouraged to question norms in the world. It follows the story of Anvesha, who receives a notebook from her grandfather who encourages her to write down all the questions that come to mind as she moves through the world.

In ‘Don’t Pull My Cheeks!’, a young boy named Bibloo learns he has the right to say “no” to those who want to touch him without asking, despite how innocent an intention might be. Bibloo also grows the confidence to tell his relatives they need to ask if they want to pinch his cheeks, pick him up, etc.

‘Annie & Arjun’ tells the story of a brother and sister who love to play together. But Arjun often has to wait around for his sister as she is expected to do more household chores with her mother. The pair become unhappy with this situation and come up with a clever way to help out with the chores equally.

‘The Curious Case Of Mohit and Rumi the Rabbit’ plays of the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ theme a little, where Rumi takes Mohit, a boy bullied for his weight, on a journey back through his life to remind him of his talents and all the good things about himself.

And finally ‘Nila and Najam’ is a story about twin siblings who talk to each other every night about their dreams for the future. Nila loves robots, maths and science, and Najam dreams of being a school teacher like his own teacher Mrs. Nalini. This book aims to break down the gender stereotypes associated with certain professions.

Meghna’s expertise with psychology and education, coupled with her experience as a teacher meant she knew what children like to see in books and how they learn. Alishya is a queer activist, feminist, and university teacher who created a viral social media photo project in 2013, writing the caption “I need feminism because…” which many women picked up on and participated in. Meghna says the books all encourage critical thinking in children, however they are not designed to simply flip gender roles.

“We’re not saying let the boy do the dishes instead. These books aren’t ones where the princess saves the prince. Maybe they save each other, maybe they save themselves, maybe they come together and come up with a plan to get away safe together,” she told The Quint about how the feminist messages allow readers to think more widely about equality.

Along with each book available for purchase on The Irrelevant Project website, parents can download worksheets where they can continue dialog around the core themes presented. In the future the organization hopes to offer workshops in classrooms and see their books in the hands of more educators as a tool where they can teach about equality and feminism with age-appropriate literature. Here’s to empowering and equipping the next generation of activists who can grow up in a world more equal and safe.

 

 

 

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  1. Pingback: New Coloring Book For Girls Created To Build Up Their Confidence, Imagination And Spirit - GirlTalkHQ

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