Strong, fair, sword-flinging prince saving meek, beautiful princesses are prevalent in children’s literature across the world. It’s no wonder, a child grows up they grow up with subconscious beliefs of what men and women can and cannot do, and what they should aspire to be and look like.
By the time they hit puberty and before their conscious mind is even fully developed, these ideas become the ‘truth’ or ‘beliefs’ for them subliminally, and the rest is history…and the present state of the world.
Here enters The Irrelevant Project (TIP) with a goal to interrupt bias, prejudice and stereotyping in spaces of everyday learning. Started by me (Meghna Chaudhury) and my friend (Alishya Almeida) in 2016, the project strives to do justice by its very name: Make gender, color, caste and other fixed definitions of identities simply irrelevant
It gets confusing here – suddenly shifts to first person (?)
Between the both of us, we realized the importance of feminism, inclusivity and diversity awareness/sensitization in this world. We started TIP in 2016 (Aug), starting with a workshop in a government school. Soon, we realized that stories were a powerful tool to influence mindset change which is when we shifted trajectories and decided to enter the world of children fiction. Constant research, discussion with peers, analysis of the Indian children literature diaspora led us to select 5 themes. We then sought the help of like-minded people; champions and believers of an egalitarian society and undertook the ambitious task of writing/illustrating/printing these 5 stories. On the 13th of January, 2018, we finally launched our books and the response to it has been positive and constructive so far.
The stories, albeit simple are highly nuanced when reading with a trained eye. For example, we wanted the stories to be less moralistic and more adventurous, we wanted child protagonists because we wanted children to know that they, themselves, were enough. Our illustrations have also been carefully thought through – we have brown-skinned characters, characters with hair on their body, non-petite children etc.
We do not consider ourselves to be a publisher/bookstore. It is only that our first offering is fiction; we now are actively creating worksheets of our books so that children can continue to interact with our characters and also share research on our instagram page so that interested people can apply these findings directly in their life. You can check it here.
What kind of books have you come up with? Can you give us an insight into them?
As I said, currently we have 5 books. A brief summary of them would be as follows –
- Don’t Pull My Cheeks! ( Theme = Consent) – Bibloo the precocious child who hates his uncle pinching his cheeks, and finds a way to stop him from doing so. We wrote this from the point of view of a child itself, and the theme of the book tries to explore the grey-er areas of touch; example – the fact that a child is taught that an adult is unequivocally right, adds to the confusion in identifying adults who cross personal boundaries. This is why most sexual abusers are people known to the child.
- Big Book of Why (Theme: Curiosity) – Anvesha, the curious kid who loves asking questions like – Why can we not wear short skirts in the temple? We attempted this colorful book from the eyes of a curious child who notices status quo and rules in the society
- Nila and Najam (Theme: Non Gendered dreams) – Two twins from Coimbatore who dream careers that are diametrically opposite to their gender. A recent email to us mentioned how the reader really loved the character descriptions of Nila and Najam; Nila was rational while Najam as ‘soft’, a trait hardly associated with the typical male self.
- The Curious Case of Mohit and Rumi the Rabbit – The story of a plump Mohit who realizes that fat is not a bad word and learns his body size has nothing to do with his talents. We’ve met countless children who feel pressured to look a certain way and the constant media reinforcements do not help! This book tries to offer solace and confidence to a child whose body does not fit the stereotype.
- Annie and Arjun (Theme: Implicit Biases) – We had Annie and Arjun – siblings who are perplexed with the chores assigned at home to them. This book deals with the concept that parents, albeit unintentionally might cater to gender roles and expect gendered behavior from children.
What’s next for TIP? Where do you see yourself in the future?
Currently, we have two set of visions in mind which I would like to sum up as follows –
- Expanding the boundaries of our current work: As mentioned, we intend to be more than just a bookstore. We are creating worksheets/materials/activities surrounding the themes of prejudice. We review research that is currently being conducted to reduce prejudice in early childhood, interpret them and finally, share them in easily comprehensible ways. We want to allow a free flow of information from the research world into the real world because we notice that some findings/activities are not only powerful, they are simple to do. Some are already available on our IG account and we are currently in the process of setting up our blog to continue the conversation.
- Exploring partnerships: We want to collaborate with like-minded educators who would want to explore a co-learning experience with us. This can mean someone wanting to use our books as pedagogical material, someone who wants to convert this into arts/crafts/drama activities and so on.
There can be other visions or projects that we take up in future but one thing that would remain constant is TIP’s aim of disrupting gender prejudices by making them “irrelevant”.