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Tag Archives: children's literature

Filling the Gaps: Talking About Kashmir and Conflict

It’s always hard to talk about the darker side of things. Sadness, fear, anger — we don’t really have conversations about any of these things, and when there are children involved, it’s harder. We try to protect younger people by shielding them from painful information, forgetting that despite their age, they’re living the same reality as we are. It’s becoming more important for children to have a space where they can get simple answers to their questions, and learn more about things happening around them. Let’s consider Kashmir. Children are often exposed to the idea of Kashmir as a once-idyllic, now unsafe tourist destination. But why is it unsafe, and what does that mean for the people who live there? Who is fighting whom and why? What is Kashmir’s relationship with India? The answers are usually left hazy, filled in by garbled information gleaned from peer groups or media.


Books are usually helpful sources of information, helping us grasp what’s going on and the nuances of issues. While there are now some brilliant books adults can read about ‘sensitive’ issues like communal violence, or Kashmir, children’s literature willing to feature the same topics tends to be rare. There are few pieces of work for children emerging from Kashmir by Kashmiri authors, and this is worrying. Is it a result of mainland publishers wishing to avoid the potentially ‘disruptive’ narratives which may challenge the existing political status quo? Is it an extension of the suppression of freedom of speech that Kashmir has had to face multiple times over the years? Or is it because the authors do not have the words or the inclination to make such ‘adult’ topics accessible to children? But then, why aren’t there more pieces of writing which feature Kashmir, if only as a backdrop?


We do not have the answers to these questions, unfortunately. But what we do have is courage, brimming from a few women, braving censure to the point of even getting their books banned. They are writing about Kashmir as a real place instead of merely a hell-hole of violence or a lost piece of a blissful past; and of violence as a real thing, fueled by acts carried out by real humans, rather than faceless groups or monsters. While realistic fiction depicts the reality of oppression, historical fiction and fantasy can be clever methods of opening heavier topics up for discussion, while still maintaining a reasonable distance.


Here are some books we think might help to start the conversation with younger people, so that they can begin to form their own opinions.



For Very Young Readers



Okus Bokus, Onaiza Drabu (2019)

It’s never too early to explore different cultures, and for a Kashmiri youngster curious to explore their cultural heritage, Onaiza Drabu’s Okus Bokus is a great place to start. Essentially a picture book, with adorable illustrations by Ghazal, it takes the reader through the ABCs of Kashmiri tradition and cultural markers. Written in the classic style of grandmother’s fireside tales, it follows two small Kashmiri children Billa and Munni as they learn about their traditional food, art, music and even some folklore.

Drabu’s driving force was a desire to hold on to the Kashmiri language and provide representation to Kashmiri children in the literary mainstream. But her Okus Bokus, with its attention to the finer details, such as what kind of bread is to be had at specific times of the day, also has the potential to become an important archive of Kashmiri daily life, preserving in type the cultural traits which may have disappeared across generations.


For Independent Readers 

Historical/Fantasy Fiction




The Night Diary, Veera Hiranandani (2018)

This book by Veera Hiranandani shows a child’s eye view of the experience of living with communal violence and surviving. Nisha and Amil are twins living in Mirpur Khas with their Hindu family and a Muslim cook, called Kazi, who is almost family. Their mother, who died giving birth to the children, was Muslim — a fact which had forced the young couple to leave their homes to avoid censure. Everything seems perfect until Partition is declared and the historic riots start breaking out. The children are no longer safe, with men breaking into their house to demand the date of their departure from the new Pakistan. The family then makes an arduous trek across the desert, risking their lives to reach the ‘new India’. Hiranandani keeps the story feeling real, only becoming idealistic in certain places, with her mentions of absolute communal harmony in Mirpur Khas before the Partition.


The book also explores themes such as loss of a parent, religious identity and the internal turmoil that is caused by visible violence that seems to have no rhyme or reason. Nisha’s love for Kazi plays on the reader’s own emotions, forcing one to imagine leaving behind a part of themselves. The scenes of the riots are not excessively graphic, which allows squeamish readers to continue reading while still learning of real incidents which still influence the politics of the country today.




The House That Spoke, Zuni Chopra (2017)

15-year-old Zuni Chopra’s fantasy is an important addition to this collection, because this a young adult author writing for her peers, making difficult themes more accessible. The spell of magic she weaves into her tale works to cushion the effects of the ‘darkness’. Kruhen Chay, the shadow demon bringing discord and despair to the valley, is an embodiment of the religious and cultural persecution people face in Kashmir. The constant presence of the Indian army, and bombings wiping out entire neighbourhoods, form the grim background of the story. It acquaints readers with a display of political force and power that is so everyday to Kashmiris, that the surprise often lies in survival.


Chopra uses nature symbolism to depict the condition of the state, with picturesque descriptions of a lush valley changing to those of decaying chinar trees and holy lakes turning black as the story goes on. In the middle of all of this lies the house that is magic itself, imbued with enough enchantment to be able to trap and hold the darkness underground. Zoon, the young protagonist, is destined by her bloodline to be the Guardian of Kashmir. Aided by the sentient furnishings of the house, she is soon drawn into a battle of the light and dark in an attempt to save her own life and all that is good in her world.





 Queen of Ice, Devika Rangachari (2014)

This historical fiction, told in fairytale style by Devika Rangachari, unravels the story of Didda, the “ruthless queen” of Kashmir. Didda, despised by her father for being lame, is born with greatness predestined in her star-charts. Her childhood, with only a vicious cousin and heir apparent Vigraharaja for company, suddenly becomes much happier when she befriends Narahavana and Valga, who is also her faithful carrier. After the death of her husband, then-king of Kashmira, she uses her intelligence and cunning to establish herself as regent to her minor son.


Determinedly quelling rebellion, she then orchestrates a series of take-overs. After the untimely deaths of her son and grandsons, she finally becomes the true monarch. It’s an exhilarating story of a strong woman from the past, who made no compromises on living on account of her disability. Set in the backdrop of a snow-clad Kashmir, Didda’s tale extends the story of conflict backwards into the tenth century, throwing light on the present day situation. Demonstrating how political conspiracies work, it helps readers understand that though conflicts manifest at local levels, they are most often brought into existence by the maneouverings of authority.


Realistic Fiction 



No Guns at My Son's Funeral, Paro Anand (2005)

Paro Anand is one of the few authors writing unapologetically about Kashmir’s internal conflict and its impact on the children there. The protagonist Aftab, is like any other teen: curious, with implicit trust in the ones he loves, yet likely to withdraw at the slightest rebuff. His boredom with his life, and teenage angst towards his family, make him vulnerable to recruitment by a militant outfit run by Akram, a ‘firangi’ from outside Kashmir, who seeks to ‘restore peace and harmony’ to the valley. Led by the casual murderer who is also his hero, Aftab soon loses sight of his love for his family and friends, eager to please the charismatic Akram, who cares for no one. By the time the young boy starts having doubts, it’s too late.

The poignant character of his older sister, who realises the futility of violence after the tragedy happens, is a sharp reminder of the fall-out of such incidents. Descriptions of police brutality, militant training, and follower induction tactics are crystal clear. It’s a book meant to make the reader think about the children caught in the crossfire, and the price they have to pay for their innocence.

All of these books, while not always speaking of the same events or places, have a common thread in the experience of conflict. At first glance, the events of The Night Diary may seem widely disparate from those in The House that Spoke, but the question is, are they really? Recurrent patterns, such as the loss of a parent, unexplainable violence affecting regular life and communal sparring egged on by those in power tie together Nisha and Zuni’s lives, even though they exist in different timelines, in different geographies. Most of the young protagonists have lived with violence, and are ready to share their stories with others of their age. Perhaps, it’s time we let them.


Seven Children's Books of 2019 About Social Justice


Our favourite childhood stories tend to stick with us forever. For children who grew up on a steady diet of Panchatantra or Jataka Tales, animals are prominent characters in the books they loved. More than the animals’ adventures, one remembers the way that the stories made one feel, and the lessons they taught. There were lessons of curiosity, persistence, discipline, risk-taking, and problem-solving that reinforced values of friendship, empathy and compassion. Growing up, one realises how much power these stories hold and how they shape one’s understanding of the world.

Looking back, it's easy to notice how children’s books have reflected attitudes in our society about diversity, power relations among different groups of people, and various social identities. The visual and verbal cues children pick up from books influence their ideas about themselves and others. Books can reinforce positive values, and teach accurate information about people of various identities. Books about social justice often allow children insight into what it feels like to encounter discrimination. To raise responsible children, we need to teach them about people outside their immediate family and neighbourhood. On the other hand, some children grow up not seeing themselves represented in any of the books they read. It is important to fix this so that children from various backgrounds can see their lives reflected in the stories they engage with.

Young Zubaan hopes to create socially conscious and politically responsive books for children of all ages. This commitment has led us to seek out books that inspire conversations about social justice and encourage children’s passion and action around the anti-caste struggle, feminist organising, LGBTQ rights and environmental protection, among other subjects. Here is a list of our favourite children’s and young adult books published in 2019 from India, that explore social action and foster critical-thinking:


1. Guthli Has Wings 

Age Group: 6+

Category: Picture Book

Guthli Has Wings

On the face of it, Guthli is like any other child; she talks non-stop, loves to draw fairies and has a chicken for a friend. However, she becomes very upset when she isn’t allowed to wear a pink frock for Diwali, and is asked to wear her ‘boy’ clothes. Published by Tullika Books, Kanak Shashi’s latest book Guthli Has Wings attempts to familiarise children, parents and educators with the concept of gender identity. Gender identity, a complex subject that has multiple connotations has been broken down to suit the understanding of a child. In an interview with The Hindu, Kanak explains how she developed the concept in 2010 when she was working with school children, and among many other things that struck her, the performative aspect of gender drew her attention, “This whole process starts fairly early in life — probably right from the moment an infant starts perceiving the world and forming ideas about it. I just wanted to create something that subverts this whole process.”


2. Ten Indian Animals You May Never See in the Wild

Age group: 8+

Category: Non-fiction

Ten Indian Animals You May Never See in the Wild

This book tells the survival stories of ten of India’s rarest animals. A few have made a heroic comeback from the very brink of extinction; others have not been so lucky and are spiralling to their inevitable doom. Award-winning novelist Ranjit Lal writes an engrossing account of how human activity has driven so many beautiful animals out of their natural habitat. A part of the new non-fiction series — The 10s — published by Duckbill books, this book is perfect for children to understand that the need of the hour is to coexist in harmony with the natural world.


3. My Country, My Government

Age group: 10+

Category: Reference

My Country My Government

What does the Prime Minister do? How are judges chosen? In My Country, My Government Rohini Oomman takes on and breaks down the complicated functioning of the Indian government into bite-size nuggets of information. From the formation of the Indian Constitution to today’s election system, this book tackles complex subjects in a clear, easy-to-understand way with exercises and explanations. Learning about the way the government works can help awaken a child’s sense of social responsibility. An experienced and well-known educator, Rohini has put together an informative guide which helps children understand how the government functions, while also helping them realise how politics governs every aspect of life.


4. Maa (Hindi)

Age Group: 12+

Category: Fiction


Kancha Illaiah Shepherd, a well-known political theorist and anti-caste activist authored Maa, which details the story of a young professor at a university. The professor, who belongs to a shepherd community, fondly recalls how his mother fought against caste atrocities and mobilised the people of his community to rally against the discriminatory and casteist attitudes prevalent in his village. Published by Eklavaya, Maa has been illustrated by Lokesh Khodke and Shefalee Jain. It is an essential read for parents, educators, teachers who wish to sensitise young children about the caste-system and for young adults who wish to read an inspiring story of how a lower-caste woman mobilised her community to struggle against inequality.


5. The Case of the Missing Water (Multilingual)

Age Group: 12+

Category: Fiction

Case of the Missing Water

In the middle of summer, the tank in Ranj’s village dries up and the villagers are left with no water. Most families have left the area and classrooms in the school that Ranj attends are half-empty. There is only a dried-up stream running through the village, the birds and animals have left too. Frustrated at the state of affairs, Ranj and her friend Sapna have fixed their mind on finding the missing water. Will they succeed in their mission? Find out in this book written by Shalini Srinivisan and illustrated by Upamanyu Bhattacharya.


6. Pops

Age group: 10+

Category: Fiction


Seven-year-old Varun has never met his father and only seen photographs of him in the wedding album. Varun meets his father ­— the Man —  for the first time in the court after his mother files for divorce. When the court mandates that the father meet Varun every month, he is scared and angry. But why does the Man keep bringing gifts for him? Why does climb trees like a monkey? Why does he keep saying 'Pop! Pop! Pop!'? As if Arun could ever start calling this strange Man 'Pops'!

Published by Duckbill books and written by Crossword Book Award winner Balaji Venkataraman, this book delves into the complex emotions experienced by a child when his parents are estranged. It is also a great reminder for children who come from single parent families that they aren’t alone and loving families come in all different shapes and sizes.


7. Behind the Lie

Age Group: 10+

Category: Fiction

Behind The Lie

Behind The Lie

Valli and Ramesh live under a cloud of fear because of their father, who has a frightening temper. Their mother suffers the brunt of their father’s violence and is unsure about how to escape the vicious cycle of abuse that she is stuck in. Will this ever change for them? This is a moving story about how a family fights domestic violence with some quick thinking and a little help from their neighbours. Written by Asha Nehemiah and illustrated by Aindri Chakraborty, this book is extremely relevant for children who have undergone similar experiences as it can help them identify the triggers or situations in which the triggers or situations in which domestic violence may be present. And reading a story of how another child came forward and sought help may encourage other children to do so, too.




Zubaan Publishers and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation are offering a number of grants for the year 2019 to young researchers from the eight northeastern Indian states and neighbouring areas. These grants offer a small fund to prepare a research papers/essays/translations, etc, on the themes detailed in the call below.


Grant Details

This research grant, in its second year now, aims to encourage young writers and researchers to contribute to the diversification of knowledge production. It is set against the broad framework/themes mentioned below, which will be examined through the lens of gender in 'the Northeast'.

This year, we are looking for applications for research under the themes of:

1. Memory: Exploring the relationship between memory and history; the importance of oral histories and testimonies; the ways in which both private and public memory live on and find articulation; the importance, for communities, of preserving ‘contentious’ memories and the reluctance of states to ‘allow’ such memories to survive; the role of memory in healing; unpacking invisible hierarchies in memory.

2. Migration: The role of migration and migrants in shaping new histories and cultures; migration as the search for a future; migration as flight in times of war or ‘natural’ disaster; migration and cultural production, for example, food, cuisines, literature, songs, stories; migrants and ‘settlers’.

3. Children’s Literature:
a. Translations or adaptions of oral folklore or folktales; reimaginings or repurposings of traditional stories through a gendered lens; and histories, analysis and research on the same.

b. Research papers on children’s literature, learnings or accounts of library projects, community engagements, and alternative or independent educational initiatives (or independent narratives from within formal education spaces).

The idea behind the grant is to provide financial and academic support to young researchers who may wish to look into particular aspects of the histories, politics, and/or cultures of the northeastern states in relation to gender and the outlined themes.

The research papers must be written in English. In subsequent years the grant may open up to other languages, but for the moment it remains limited to English. All papers written with the support of the grant will be published electronically by Zubaan Publishers Pvt. Ltd on various digital platforms. They may also be compiled in print form, at a later stage.

The papers may be academic research papers, long-form journalistic essays or long interviews on a particular subject, thematically aligned with the call. Hybrid or creative forms are welcome.

[Note: Research papers which are a part of an ongoing or recently completed PhD thesis will not be covered by this grant.]


Eligibility criteria

1. If you are from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura and are less than 40 years of age, you are eligible to apply. The research grant is also open for applicants from hill regions in the districts of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Dooars area.

2. Fluency in writing and reading English is necessary.

[Note: If you feel that you fit into the eligibility criteria and have an interesting proposal to discuss, one which may not be in English but has the scope of being translated/adapted, please write to us at projects@zubaanbooks.com before submitting your proposal.]

3. You must commit to researching and writing a 10,000 words (minimum) essay. The grant also allows for the development of graphic narratives, extended interviews, creative works such as fiction writing or photo essays in lieu of the essay, all within a specified timeline.

[Note: Since we have a limited number of grants available, we would like to encourage applicants who can commit to submitting the first drafts of their work within four months of selection.  Please apply ONLY if you feel you can fulfil this criteria so as to not deprive other deserving applicants.]


How to apply

Interested persons should send their applications, including the documents  mentioned below, to projects@zubaanbooks.com by 6 June 2019: 

1. Send in a grant proposal (maximum two pages) which clearly describes the research project you wish to undertake (the subject of your research as well as the methodologies and mediums you intend you use), which sources you will tap (primary and secondary), and a proposed timeline.

[Note: If you need any guidance/format for writing a proposal, please write to us at projects@zubaanbooks.com.]

2. Submit a writing sample of roughly 500 words or a two-page spread of a graphic story, or an extract from an interview transcript done by you.

3. Grant proposals may be creative and do not need to be written in academic language.

4. Submit your CV and any other relevant information about yourself that you think is necessary, including proof of age.

5. Two names of referees, ideally people with whom you have previously worked.


Shortlist and selection of grantees

All grant proposals will be screened by a selection committee. The committee will prepare a shortlist based on certain criteria and may wish to interview some candidates. Interviews can take place by Skype or phone or in person. The committee will then decide and the candidate will be informed. The committee’s decision will be final.



The first draft of the selected papers is expected in four months after the methodology workshop, details of which are mentioned below. Papers may need to be revised after the first draft depending on the feedback. Depending on the feedback, a month may be given for the required revisions.



The fellowship carries a grant of INR 35,000, less applicable taxes.

Payments will be made in two instalments: 25 per cent on approval of the project and signature of contract, and the remaining on the completion of the study.


Methodology workshops

All successful candidates will be required to attend a preliminary methodology workshop, which will be held in the late July or early August, as well as a mid-term online review where they will present a draft of their work in order to get feedback from peers and resource people. In the time remaining for the grant, candidates will be required to take the feedback on board and to finalize their papers.

Interested candidates can send in their applications to projects@zubaanbooks.com.

The last date of submission of application is 6 June 2019. Shortlisted candidates will be informed by the first week of July 2019.

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Zubaan is an independent feminist publishing house based in New Delhi. We publish academic books, fiction, memoirs and popular nonfiction, as well as books for children and young adults under our Young Zubaan imprint, aiming always to be pioneering, cutting-edge, progressive and inclusive. For more information, log onto www.zubaanbooks.com.

The Sasakawa Peace Foundation addresses the diverse and complicated issues that human society is encountering in the 21st century. SPF and Zubaan Publishers Pvt. Ltd work together on projects linked with cultural production, writing and literature in Northeast India. For more information, log onto www.spf.org.

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