Gender in Indian Children’s Books
Via The Hindu
“I had a question about King Dasharatha. I didn’t get the part when he says he wants a son to ‘carry’ his name…Why didn’t he want a daughter, I asked Amma… (Jhansi Ki Rani and Queen Velu Nachiyar) were also daughters and ruled kingdoms, right?”Mayil, the 12-year-old protagonist of “Mayil will not be quiet”, carelessly scribbles this in her diary. Still, when she learns that her mother is to take up a job when her father loses his job, she is upset. She is also uncomfortable with the fact that now her dad and her grandfather will take turns cooking.Are there gender stereotypes in children’s books? The Guardian recently published an article on gender imbalance in children’s literature and the representation of female characters in it. It dealt with the skewed ratio of male to female protagonists in books for children and young adults.Says Anita Roy of Zubaan Books, a feminist publishing house, “I think it’s safe to say that the kind of gender imbalance that you see in Western children’s books is there in Indian ones as well.“Notice how most superheroes are male,” points out Naresh. R, a Chennai-based storyteller. “There are more male protagonists in Indian children’s books. I don’t know whether that is good or bad. Maybe, male heroes do sell well,” he says. But it really doesn’t matter who the protagonist is. It is fine as long as you have the kids hooked on to your story, he feels.Suzanne Singh, managing trustee, Pratham Books, says, as a publishing house, Pratham Books is conscious and aware of the role its books play in the lives of the children who read them. As responsible publishers, they are careful not to promote discrimination or bias. Both male and female characters in books published by Pratham Books are equally curious, feisty, naughty and resourceful. Says Suzanne, “We do not slot our characters based on gender and we tend to reject manuscripts that do so either overtly or otherwise. Our focus is to create engaging, lovable characters that kids can relate to universally.”
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