Caste Portrayal in Children’s Books
It has been called essential reading for every Indian child, a lively illustrated storybook aimed at raising youthful awareness of the injustices of the country’s caste system, much as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” exposed the indignities of slavery to white America.
Kancha Ilaiah hopes his book, “Turning the Pot, Tilling the Land: Dignity of Labour in Our Times,” will change the way young people see farmhands, barbers, leather workers and others whose jobs are viewed with disgust by upper castes.
“Turning the Pot” is the first Indian children’s book to openly challenge the 3,000-year-old caste system, which ranks professions from scholars to shoemakers in a rigid hierarchy and is reinforced by some interpretations of Hindu theology.
“This book is a weapon for India’s millions of low-caste children who are fighting for respect, just as African Americans did and do in the U.S.,” said Ilaiah, who also wrote the best-selling anti-caste book “Why I Am Not a Hindu.” “How do you change ancient prejudices in any society? You do it through repositioning caste at childhood. If young children are taught respect over a bedtime story or in class, that could help enormously.”
“Weavers discovered how cotton is spun into cloth. Laundry men discovered the country’s first cleaning detergent and saved us from diseases,” he writes. “Farmers nurtured us with cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables. Why not respect those who produce our food?”
“It’s a hugely important book,” said Samphe D. Lhalungpa, chief of education for UNICEF in India, which has bought 3,000 copies to distribute in schools. “The school system has a critical role to play. Every Indian child should read it.”
Shopping nearby, Anahita Singh, 33, who also hails from a higher caste, said she felt that the issues might be painful but that they had to be discussed. “I want my child to grow up as a balanced human being who should never pass judgment based on caste,” she said.
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