In recent years there has been a lot of dialogue and some obvious progress towards gender equality in the adult world. More women have moved into the work place and public life, young men especially in nuclear families are willing to take on a greater share of domestic chores and gay and transgender people have fought strongly, often successfully, (Recently India’s Supreme Court recognized transgender people as a legal third gender) for greater rights and visibility. Yet when it comes to the world of children – the toys they play with and the clothes they wear (of course if you have them!) – gender continues to play a defining role.Many people especially parents have begun questioning this culture. Some girls like blue, some boys like cooking, some girls like Maths and physics, some boys like cars and fashion and, so on. For some children who do not meet the criteria of the polarised ideal this can lead to feelings of confusion, failure and isolation. As Dr Elizabeth Sweet, a sociologist and lecturer at the University of California observes, “Studies have found that gendered toys do shape children’s play preferences and styles. Because gendered toys limit the range of skills and attributes that both boys and girls can explore through play, they may prevent children from developing their full range of interests, preferences, and talents.”When kids are offered equal choices from an early age, it logically follows that they will continue to expect and demand equality in their personal, social and professional lives. Spurred by this movement and with a hope of making a positive difference, if not increasing sales with another pitch, many toy/clothes manufactures and retailers have joined forces to tackle the issue Some campaigns like Britain’s “Let Toys Be Toys” have been very successful; around 14 retailers have committed to end gendered toy marketing. Here’s a look some at some of the campaigns that are changing the narrative.
Built on the premise that Toys are for fun, for learning, for stoking imagination and encouraging creativity and that children should feel free to play with the toys that most interest them, Let Toys Be Toys is asking the toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys. It is encouraging them to sort and label toys by theme or function, rather than by gender, and let children decide which toys they enjoy best.
Toca Boca makes gender-neutral game apps for children. It has had 70 million downloads in 169 countries, including Saudi Arabia. They are second only to Disney for children’s downloads in Apple’s App Store. (Interestingly, Apple is one of the few retailers to organise children’s apps by age instead of boy and girl categories.)
Sewing Circus is all about clothes that offer choice and childhoods full of discovery, bright colours and fun. They don’t agree with the use of exploitative gender stereotypes to sell clothing, and believe children should have the choice to determine and wear their favourite colour, theme and style.
They are an eco-friendly, mom-owned children’s clothing store that got fed up by the lack of choice in clothing options for their daughters and sons. In 2007, they decided to do something about it and have been turning gender stereotypes upside down ever since. They believe that colors (such as pink and purple) and active imagery (such as firetrucks, tool belts, and electric guitars) belong to everyone and should be mingling, not dividing up along gender lines.
Sick of having to struggle to find girl clothes without bows or glitter, or boy clothes sans Spiderman and T-Rexes, a group of mothers and fashion designers came together to found Clothes Without Borders. Built on the premise that both boys and girls should have access to clothes that don’t rely on gender stereotyping, 10 mothers, at the helm of 10 different children’s clothing brands, took a stand against ‘boxing children in’. Wanting girls and boys to be able to express their broad interests through their outfits, this project is aiming to create a wider range for children to choose from and to help remove the stigma around breaking free of gender stereotyping.
Growing up, we’ve all been at the receiving end of some of these … “You run like a girl”, “She’s a tom-boy”, “My son is a toofan (storm), he will wreck your room in 5 minute”’. From a young age we learn that it is okay for boys to be violent and for girls to comply. Whether addressing children directly, or speaking about them in their presence, grown-ups do not realize how much and how quick young children absorb gender roles, stereotypes and expectations. It’s unfair. And sets limits on what children think of themselves, each other and what they aspire for and achieve. >Here are some commonly heard statements that should encourage a re-think on what is said to or around children.
When a child is born, a quick glance between the legs determines the gender label that the child will carry for life. In India, this phenomena has ruled the lives of children (later adults), creating gender insenstitive and non-inclusive environments, perpetuated by parents, families and communities. Last year, the story of an 18-year-old transgender who was born a girl named Shivani Bhat, now Naveen Bhat— shook the world. It started when Naveen, an American resident, wanted to cut his hair short. His mother believed that girls should have long hair, while boys should keep it short. Next, she confiscated Naveen’s computer, and after going through his phone, she found out that he had a girlfriend. In anger, his parents brought him to India under the pretence of his grandmother’s illness, and confiscated his passport, and abandoned him here. Their decision made news, and shocked many worldwide, while throwing light on how complex a parent-child relationship can get in such situations. While Naveen was able to somehow approach the authorities at the Delhi High Court for help, there are several families who are completely unprepared when it comes to dealing with such revelations. While we wait for the government to introduce meaningful sex education and gender- sensitisation in schools, here’s a list of blogs by mothers across the world who are finding a way to raise their children as children not as girls and boys.
Was I missing a girl child and that’s why I indulged him? I think not. Was I trying to unburden him from the constraints of gender? I think not. I realised that telling him the cliched “Boys wear this, and girls wear that,” wouldn’t work for him. It wouldn’t work for me either. I know from experience that some children do not conform to the conventional gender behaviour and Re is one. Some days he loves dressing his dolls, painting his nails and theirs, wearing a tiara, coloring their hair and throwing tea-parties for them; other days, he roughhouses with his cars and pretends to be a monster or a dragon. Of course, had Re been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no one would expect me to justify anything; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes football or Spiderman. May be there is a more simplistic explanation for all this and we are unnecessarily looking for subtext where there is none. Dressing up is what little boys do. You may think your son is a crusader for wearing women’s clothing in public but actually, he’s just playing a game. He is simply a boy who sometimes likes to dress and play in conventionally feminine ways.
The first time was when he was four and for a few months was pretty adamant that he was going to be a woman when he grew up. The second time was when he was six and asked us to call him by a girl’s name and use female pronouns. The third time was not so long ago when he watched one of his friends transition socially from male to female and said that maybe he should transition too. Over the last four years, some professionals have told us that C.J. is transgender and that we should help him transition socially. But, we never have. Because my mom gut said it wasn’t the right decision. I’m glad I didn’t. Sometimes transitioning is the answer and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes there is no answer. And, sometimes you just keep on living in the middle of the gender spectrum because that is where your child is most happy and healthy.
When I say my daughter is transgender, believe me by Gender mom
As a parent of a young transgender child, I encounter this type of disbelief on a daily basis. My child is five years old, was born anatomically male, and has identified strongly and unvaryingly as female from the moment she could speak. When I tell people that my son is now my daughter, the responses are remarkably predictable. Faces cloud with confusion. People seem to wonder if they’ve heard me correctly. Or they suggest that it’s probably a phase, or that my son is just gay. They tell me that their little boy used to try on his big sister’s dresses, too, but not to worry—it all worked out okay in the end. They are generally very kind and curious. But I can tell that the idea of my child is entering their consciousness like a visitor from an alien galaxy. They walk away from our conversations with stunned and thoughtful looks on their faces, as if they’re thinking, “Did she really just say that?”
“Zero, zilch, nada” evidence to support gender transition of young children by 4th wave now
To take but one recent example, in this recent video that has gone viral on social media, the mom repeatedly insists that her 8-year-old girl “is a boy, regardless.” In fact, in all the recent stories I’ve read, I see no parent entertaining the possibility that their child might change their mind. There is no “might be.” There is no “we know it’s possible s/he will change back.” More and more, we see the label “transgender child” used to define these young kids who are simply exploring who they are. Why don’t people like Gendermom (whom I have to assume are well meaning and loving parents) realize that socially transitioning their kids–using opposite sex names and pronouns, advocating for access to bathrooms and locker rooms, insisting to anyone who will listen that the child is unequivocally not their natal sex–could actually help to trap them in an identity they would otherwise shed?
Ms. G told us she was taken aback by this question, as she knew we were allowing not forcing. She said she’d tried to explain to these other parents that we, the parents, were following Amaya’s lead, and that we were not making Amaya do anything against his will. The parents, according to Ms. G, just couldn’t understand or accept this. My husband Gabriel and I were shocked. We had no idea that other parents could or would ever think we were forcing Amaya to appear as a boy, nor could we imagine doing anything of the kind to our child. All this time, we had been listening to Amaya and doing our best to allow him to be who he was—and then we heard that some other people thought we were forcing him to be that way! WOW! This brought up so much for me about being a parent and the expectations we impose on our children. From the moment they are born, and even way before a child is conceived, we develop an image of who our children will be. We may even daydream about our future children right down to their names, their gender, the things they will do, the adventures they will have, even the hand-me-downs they will wear. But of course there are many variations of being human that challenge our notion of who our children will be. We are all asked as parents to adjust and adapt. Some of these adjustments are easier to make than others.
When Sam transitioned to be the boy he always knew he was, Josie was just seven years old. Wise beyond those years, when asked what she would say if her friends inquired about Sam, she only paused a moment before saying with a confident, front-tooth-missing smile, “I’ll tell them that I used to have a sister, but now I have a brother.” I remember being so proud but also ridden with guilt. As is often the case when families have children with extra needs, siblings can fade into the woodwork; an unfortunate truth that was not lost on our family. Concerns about Sam’s safety, and his mental and physical wellbeing preceded everything else in our lives, often times making us feel like we were drowning in a sea of despair. On the rare occasion we would come up for air, there would be Josie, the smile on her face always providing a much needed ray of sunshine on an otherwise overcast existence we had come to accept as our new normal.
As we tentatively start the process of moving to another part of the country (again) there are several factors to consider. As the parent of a transgender child our first concern is schools. Maybe that’s how it is for parents of gender conforming children but I bet our reasons are way different. While I care about the quality of the education my child is going to get (and I do, I have a doctorate and plan to be a lifelong university geek), the immediate concern is if the school has policies that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children and what does that actually mean to them? Can my daughter use the girl’s bathroom? Will they use her preferred pronouns? What will they do when she starts telling classmates that she’s transgender? Because she absolutely will. Do they have a strict anti-bullying policy that includes LGBT issues? Beyond the policies, is this type of school where she’ll be accepted, not just tolerated?
I’m in an ongoing conversation with a teacher/friend about gender and identity. She shared how her 5 year old son is very into the notion that “colors are for everyone” lately. No “boy colors” or “girl colors.” Any color for any person. In talking about Q and how confining sex and assumptions around gender can be, she suggested the notion (which was really suggested by this wise 5 year old, but not in so many words) that gender is for everyone. As in, any gender for any person. Or every gender for every person. Or whatever gender anyone wants. No restrictions based on stereotypes. It came from the suggestion, by said wise 5 year old, that on a particular day when he was hanging out with Q and folks kept thinking Q was a girl, that maybe, in fact, he WAS a girl that day. None of us really know, he suggested. So wise. And so doable inside of the notion that gender is for everyone. So, I’m going with this conceptualization. I like it and am using it.
In India, where being a woman is synonymous with disparate social status, unequal access to healthcare, education facilities, economic opportunities and sexual violence, it is not surprising that gender-based identity issues are becoming more commonplace. The current trend of equating ‘gender’ with ‘women’ understandably dominates the literature on the subject, yet, civil society has witnessed almost no shift towards gender equality, reiterating that being anything but a boy in India comes with severe implications. The inability to terminate practices of feticide, honor killings, dowry and most recently- “chronic sexual abuse” is often regarded as an impediment to the nation’s progress, and continues to be attributed to the strongly male-oriented bias that is woven into the country’s social fabric. In fact, campaigns and government-led initiatives like “beti padhao, beti bachao” and “girl child education” that aim to bring about behaviour and mindset change, garner plenty of media attention, but fall short in addressing challenges faced by a large section of our urban society- female street dwellers. As a member of the Robin Hood Army (RHA), an organization that distributes food to the homeless every weekend, my interactions with footpath dwellers highlight some of the most tragic problems that a city’s street children are left to deal with. One such story is that of a little girl called Rageshwari. March 22nd, 2016: It was nearly 6 pm on Sunday and our RHA volunteers were out on the streets distributing food near Marine Lines Station, when a group of little boys ran up to us just as the distribution was about to come to a close. Usually, when we have a handful of meals left, we group children with their siblings and ask them to share the food amongst their family members. Looking at the boys, one of our volunteers Ragun said, “Stand in line next to your brother so that I can hand out the meals, and give one amongst the two of you”. I jogged back to the car to retrieve the khichdis, only to return to a pale-faced Ragun. “I need to talk to you,” she said, and pulled me away from the volunteers who had begun to hand out meals. “What’s wrong?” I asked, puzzled by her serious tone. “These boys aren’t boys”, she told me. “They’re not?” I asked rather perplexed. “No”, she whispered. I then turned around and smiled at the bunch, all looking at us with eager faces. “Guys, lets ask these kids to tell us their names as we give them the food,” I said to the other volunteers. One by one each of the children came forward. “Mandvi… Meenakshi… Sayadhri… Rageshwari” they told us excitedly clutching our hands as though they felt they would be rewarded for stating their names correctly. For a few seconds our whole RHA team stood there, baffled, trying to understand how and why all these little boys had girls’ names. Determined to get to the bottom of this, our volunteers Kaushal and Saloni struck up a conversation with a relative of the young girls. Much to our horror, he recounted a story of a little girl from the same cluster, living on the streets close to these children, who was abducted, and who had evidently been sexually assaulted. Although the details of her whereabouts after the incident were unclear from our volunteers’ conversation with the relative, he did mention that the parents of Mandvi, Rageshwari, Meenakshi and Sayadhri were compelled to disguise their children as little boys to avoid future incidents of sexual abuse. In addition to this devastating story, the relative also mentioned that turning to law enforcement for help would exacerbate the situation as footpath dwellers can barely avail protection from the authorities. “We don’t even have legal housing,” he said… “Reporting this to the cops would only cause more problems for us. Apparently that girl was Rageshwari’s sister,” he shrugged as we looked at the little girl revelling in her meal of dal and rice. This isn’t just a tale of one of the most heart-wrenching incidents that the RHA has witnessed. It is one of the many that never make it into the sea of mainstream media. Our government and society have gone to lengths to ensure that people like ourselves, working, college going girls have a host of preventive measures to choose from in the event of a probable assault. I can download an SOS app on my iPhone that will alert local authorities to come to my rescue, I can Whatsapp-message my location to my family and friends, and I can, for the most part, get through life without ever having to disguise my identity for protection. Gender morphing is an extremely grave alternative to prevent sexual abuse. The plight of children like Rageshwari and her sister is highly disconcerting for two primary reasons:
1) There is a tremendous lack of awareness in our civil society about street dwellers and their problems, especially children
2) The methods to redress social issues relating to girls and women do not always include those that comprise of the marginalized and underserved classes of society
So the next time we prioritize combating violence against girls in India, lets also think of the Rageshwaris and Mandvis that deserve our concern.
Gender equality matters. To the young, fearless and daring new generation, hungry for an equal standing. They’ve been challenging age old mindsets, fighting for a just world and articulating rather fiercely, the recognition of the gender spectrum. Here’s a handful of gender champions who are addressing pressing social concerns in different parts of the world to restructure gender perspectives; towards a humane, equitable and gender-friendly world.
1. Fernanda Gonzalez,11, Mexico
“If I have a message for children my age, it’s that when we all grow up and become adults, we will have the chance to live in equality, and the quality of our social lives will be better than it is now.” – Fernanda Gonzalez. When she was 8, Fernanda wrote “Azul o rosa?” (Blue or Pink), a book that emerged from a school project that addressed the subject of gender inequality. Two years later, it was published by the Mexican Congressional Center for Studies on the Advancement of Women and Gender Equality. Today, at age 11, she lectures at schools and universities, in rural and native communities, addresses lawmakers and was nominated for an international award. She reiterates her message across different platforms telling boys and girls that they have the same rights. She encourages them to strive for their goals, ignoring stereotypes.
2. Freddy Calderon and Damian Valencia, 18, Ecuador
These 18 year old boys started Pink Helmets, a network of young men united against traditional definitions of manhood. The question that led to them to found the Pink Helmets was “Do we really have to mistreat women to be men?” Chauvinist and violent behaviors are widespread phenomenon in Ecuador, where four out of every ten individuals under 15 years say that they have witnessed acts of aggression at home, according to a study by the Training Center for Population and Social Development (CEPAR). For the Pink Helmets, their homes are the most difficult battlefield in which to convey their message successfully. “To my mother I say that she should not be stuck in the kitchen but my family regard me as a crazy person and try to convince me that I am too young to understand life,” recounts Freddy. Young people appear to be more receptive to this message of change. “We do all we can to explain to our friends that they should respect girls and not treat them as sex objects. The task of driving our message home to young people has been easier and they have changed a lot, in fact they have changed a very great deal,” he adds.
3. Hannah Godefa,17, Ethiopia
This is the young activist called upon the United Nations to come up with a tangible plan to end the discrimination that prevents millions of girls worldwide from getting an education. The turning point for Hannah was at age 7, when she became friends with a girl her age during a visit to her grandmothers home in Axum. On her departure she realised that her friend wouldn’t be able to be in touch with her as she has no pencils or materials to do so. Hannah went on to create a resource mobilisation project called Pencil Mountain that delivered over half a million school resources to children in Ethiopia. At the age of 15, she was appointed UNICEF national ambassador to Ethiopia and has been visiting Ethiopia and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa to promote equality and the benefits of girls’ education. “There are so many cultural barriers for girls [that] prevent them from receiving education and many economic factors that families have to consider when they are choosing whether to send their boys to school or whether to send their girls to school. So, all the odds are stacked against them. That is why we have to target them and support them and protect them,” says Godefa.
4. Jazz Jennings, 15, USA
“I’ve always known exactly who I am. I was a girl trapped in a boy’s body,” said Jazz, the 12 year old transgender activist who encourages teenagers “to be yourself!” Jazz is any other teen who uses social media to change the world for transgender youth. One of the most influential teens of 2014, Jazz has been living as a girl for 9 of her 15 years. Her parents say Jazz, assigned male at birth, was diagnosed with gender dysphoria (then called gender identity disorder) as early as age 3. Jennings and her mother Jeannette both stress the importance of parental acceptance at the beginning stages of their child’s gender dysphoria. If the parent does not recognize and accept their child, the result could be tragic. Jazz is one of the first transgender teens who is doing her part for transgender visibility.
5. Anoyara Khatun,18, India
Anoyara was 12 years when she was trafficked to Delhi and forced into domestic labour, a hell hole she ran away from after a year later. The transition from victim to victor was quick, that defined her work as a young activist. She went on to devote her life to protecting young girls being trafficked and fighting for the equal rights of the girl child. Backed by a batallion of children, Anoyara has managed to save at least 50 minor girls from child marriage. Her work for equality for girls has been widely recognised, the biggest honour coming from the Malala Foundation. Today, Anoyara is the leader of 80 children’s groups across 40 villages in Sandeshkhali, India and has become a role model in her village and the adjoining areas.
6. Madina Dadaeva,16, Kyrgyzstan
Madina is an 11th grader from the multi-ethnic Uch-Korgon village and works on a project to reduce forced marriages. “Currently, I am working on a project which will bring about changes in my school in terms of gendered justice. It is called ‘Stop Marriages That Are Forced by Parents’. After discussing the problem with my teacher, we came to a conclusion that about 30% of female classmates are forced into arranged marriages after graduating from our high school, losing their right to continue studies later on. But I believe that we will be able to decrease this number and this will become my own small contribution to improving society!” Madina and her peers will serve in their school years as mentors and informal counselors for conflicts at their schools and communities and will lobby for the values of a free and democratic society. They are identifying gender inequality problems, drafting action plans to improve the situation, implementing and reporting on them. They have also helped to draft the course manual “My Safe and Peaceful School”, which is now taught by teachers across the Kyrgyz Republic to reach more than 8,000 students. Madina is part of the “Promoting Gender Justice and Empowerment of Young Women” project (By the UN) working on gender equality, gender-based violence and the empowerment of girls.
Philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler was the first to call gender ‘performative’. She said, “The tacit collective agreement to perform, produce, and sustain discrete and polar genders as cultural fictions is obscured by the credibility of those productions – and the punishments that attend not agreeing to believe in them.” (Gender Trouble, 1990.) Among children, the creation and sustenance of one’s gender expression is continually monitored by the punishment of exclusion and shame. No-one is, of course, born a girl or a boy.
The loss of innocence is not, as adults commonly romanticise, by a child’s exposure to the world of sexuality. The trouble lies in unambiguously dividing between a state of not knowing (innocence) and the state of knowing (coming of age), between childhood and adulthood where the adult knows better for the child. The adult does not know better for the child, not unless it has to do with playing with fire or a sharp knife. The adults barely know better for themselves! Even as grown-ups, we are constantly in a flux of not knowing, knowing, and not knowing again. Coming of age may popularly be a linear narrative in our films, but in our lived reality are we not constantly falling and rising, sometimes with knowing, but mostly with not? A child approaches the world with open curiosity. An adult approaches the world of the child with fear and anxiety. Child-rearing becomes a long-drawn exercise in rigorously training the child to adopt the adult’s fears, to bear the heavy cross of the adult’s own failings and sense of loss. It is this gradual learning to negate and disappear the natural expression of self and sexuality that ought to be called the loss of innocence.
In her heartfelt personal article, Not Knowing, Katherine Bernard quotes her mother from over the phone with the breadth of a country between them: As for the part of you that makes us uncomfortable, well, you need to come clean. Is this just something you are doing, or are you gay? When you are asked to ‘come clean’ about a ‘part of you’, it is an act of shaming. You are struck that there is something about you that is dirty, that you are made out to be hiding. Bernard grew up and fled to the other side of the land (or the other way around), but she still finds she can’t not remain a part of her mother, and the shame can’t not remain a part of her. “Shame is easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that if other people see it will make me unworthy of connection?” said Brené Brown, scholar and research professor on shame in her famous TED talk on vulnerability. “Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behaviour. Shame is I am bad, guilt is I did something bad,”she distinguishes. I remember, as a child, being admonished to “sit properly” when I sat with my legs splayed. It taught me what parts of my body must be covered up. Once, on a school trip I joined a gang of boys in a round of air gun shooting, and while we were walking back proud, the headmistress commented loudly to the other teachers, “She’s very aggressive.” Was that how I learned that trying something new made me too aggressive?
Shaming as a way of teaching a child how to be is casual and considered normal. Though now that my playmates are the parents, I don’t feel the confusion of the child, but am privy to the fear behind the violence. The parent is afraid their precious baby will be bullied or denied the security of regular social life if they aresniffed out as being different – of looking and acting like they are not one of ‘the others’ – and especially if they are ‘different’, unconsciously or innocently. But how can the attempt to protect someone from violence cause you to inflict violence on them? Is our violence somehow better than theirs? Perhaps disciplining through violence within the family prepares a child to expect the same from the rest of humankind. The post-pubescent years are easily the worst for a gender non-conforming child – the world of sexual awareness is an onslaught, overrun by messages teaching sexual conformation in appearance, practice, beliefs and lifestyle. A girl who has got away with dressing in typically masculine clothing or playing and hanging out with boys is at this age pulled away from her natural inclination in a series of violent acts from the family and school authorities – ranging from verbal shaming to physical punishment. Even her peers might bully her for being odd. (And where did they learn to bully people for being different?) The little cousin of a friend of mine was considered a bit of a problem child because she insisted on always dressing ‘like a boy’. She also demanded to be addressed with the masculine pronoun. This game of hers was entertained till puberty, after which I would hear stories of how she has begun to act strangely asocial, and how the family was tired of her ‘crossdressing’ game. I recently met her at my friend’s wedding: she had grown into a handsome butch/trans person albeit a markedly reticent one. She talked to no-one the entire time, and hung in the background.
Internalising the forbiddance of ambiguity, the unwillingness to allow free expression of gender, the control and limiting of boundaries (often one’s own, the older we grow) can reveal one thing: the fear of vulnerability. This fear of being exposed is linked to a deep sense of fear and shame (ask Brené); that there is something wrong with me, therefore I must not reveal myself, I must try to blend in and ‘pass’. And so those who identify as women strive to make their armpits hairless, learn to dress themselves to camouflage their ‘boy hips’ or their belly fat, and get used to having their opinions ignored. Those who identify as men learn not to cry, use everyday violence to establish their authority, and avoid wearing vests in public if they don’t have bulging biceps. And how insidiously this invulnerability of gender expression can steer invulnerability in sexuality and relationships. Girls are taught one thing: do what it takes to embody sexiness, and everything will be okay. Boys are taught, well, to ‘be boys’. And so the players are made and the game is played in the ring of invulnerability. I just gave a warm stranger the shirt off my back, writes Bernard in Not Knowing. The stranger is someone she meets at a party. Warm and safe, he is decidedly male and heterosexual. She, on the other hand, he is curious about. In casual conversation, he asks her for a version of ‘coming clean’. Does he know that if she does she will be standing naked and vulnerable, a place she has grown up being taught is worthy of shame? We teach children that vulnerability is wrong; if you are just yourself you’ll never get anything done. And in doing that, they learn to believe that what they truly are, what they want to do or be, is not good enough, not worthy enough. That perhaps they themselves are not good enough or worthy enough. That they should be something other than themselves to be deserving of respect and acceptance. While striving to be ‘more’ and ‘do more’ can be commendable and satisfying, it can’t be the only merit we revere. How about teaching our children more of “hey, you are enough”. You are enough.
Gender inequality is not funny. Yet sometimes, the best way to shake us out of our tranquility and lack of proactiveness towards the glaring atrocities faced by children due to their gender is with humour, sarcasm and dark wit. Cartoonists and illustrators alike have done the job many can’t do, advocating for the rights of little humans and repeatedly emphasising that childhood must have no gender. Here are some cartoons and illustrations that show just how gender hostile our society is towards children. Gender preferences in the womb
Naveen Bhat (born Shivani Bhat) discovered the extremes to which his parents could go to force him to behave like a proper girl (Naveen is a non-binary person) when he had to approach the Delhi High Court for protection. In the aftermath of the Orlando attack, Naveen in an e-mail interview with Valay Singh, recounts how he coped with a hostile family and society to claim his right to live as he wants to.
It’s a very nice sounding name! If I may ask, what made you choose this name for yourself over what I imagine must have been several options?
Thank you! I went by Shivy initially, because that was the nickname my friends gave me. However, when I came back to the US, it started to get more and more uncomfortable for me. I knew I wanted an Indian name, because I still wanted to recognize and be connected to my Indian roots, so when I was searching for Indian names I was searching for more gender neutral names. Even though Naveen is more masculinized than feminized, it resonated with me. It also means ‘new’, which I like, because essentially, this is a new start for me in my life.
When was this and are you used to it by now?
I picked this name about a month or two after coming back to the US. I’m pretty used to it! However, sometimes I’m afraid somebody’s going to call me by my birth name which hasn’t happened so far, so that’s good.
For many parents and children, gender-stereotyping becomes a ‘natural’ way of life. They treat girls like ‘girls’ and boys like ‘boys’, do you think this constraints both the girl child and boy child in their holistic growth, this boxing based on sex(male or female), do you have experiences you would like to share about this?
Sex categories have been widely used to assign gender and gender roles to people starting from their infancy. There is so much pressure to conform into these set constraints that are developed and constantly reinforced in society, and honestly I think it is incredibly unhealthy. It seems ridiculous to me that people assume a baby’s favourite toys, hobbies, colors, etc. by the shape of their genitals. It seems nonsensical when looked at from an outside perspective, yet it is so normalized in society. It can also be harmful for individuals whose sex category does not fit into a distinct binary. Dictating how children should and shouldn’t behave and be interested in based on a binary societal interpretation of gender and sex category is harmful to children’s development, and it inherently sets up a very patriarchal power dynamic between the masculine and the feminine (which we associate with male and female respectively). I personally was not allowed to express myself freely and get involved with activities/subjects that truly fit my interests, as they did not fit into the traditional feminine role that someone assigned female at birth should do.
As you well know that largely, India is an extremely conservative society. It is difficult to talk about sex education with children and the state doesn’t even allow it in schools. there’s a lot of suppression even about straight sex forget homosexuality and transgender aspects. In such a situation, what should be our strategy to inform and educate people?
I sometimes feel as though The US and more ‘western’ or ‘European’ countries are seen as progressive, which I think is a false image that they want other countries to believe. I think there are a few issues that contribute to the lack of education and the stigma that surrounds sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Before British colonization of India, sex was not a taboo topic. Infact, the sexual imagery carved in the architecture of many historic Hindu temples can be seen as precolonial artifacts that give evidence to the fact that sex was not taboo. Conservatism around topics of the body, including sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity are very European concepts that still permeate within modern Indian society. Creating safe spaces free of judgement, whether it be online or in person are incredibly important. Unwanted pregnancies, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s), corrective rape, etc. happens when people are not educated and do not have access to resources with which to educate themselves. It is the lack of information that causes problems, because people will try to get answers for their unanswered questions through their peers, or through non-credible sources which spreads inaccurate information which inevitably causes more harm in society. It is shown that areas that have good sex education, resources for reproductive health, and education about other ‘taboo’ topics such as homosexuality and gender identity, do statistically better than other areas. I think because it is such a hush-hush topic, there should be more resources readily available near/in educational systems for students to access. There should be more student groups that congregate to talk about such issues. There should be a group effort to break down the shame surrounding these issues in order to encourage people to educate themselves, and none of this is possible without talking about these topics on as many platforms possible.
Do you know about the prevailing socio-legal situation for transgender people in India, what do you think about it? Why do you think governments deny basic rights to transgenders and homosexuals?
I think the legal documentation surrounding transgender rights means well, but without the education surrounding it, positive change is going to be a slow and difficult process. When I was in India, the police that were protecting me claimed to know what ‘transgender’ was, but they misgendered me constantly and still treated me like a girl. I was also forced into the gender binary, even though the law protects non-binary individuals such as myself. The Indian legal system is left over from British colonial rule, and as a result, it is not inclusive of all types of people. Even here in the US, our basic rights as queer-identified folxs are not held to the same standards as a cisgender heterosexual (cishet) person is. As a bisexual non-binary transmasculine person, I am seen as an abomination by the conservative people in power. Because personal bias is always a factor in every aspect of life, people make judgements based on people they do not know, and as a result, us queer-identified people are heavily discriminated against in the social, economic, and political spheres of life.
As a child, what in your view is the basic support and understanding one needs to confidently and healthily form one’s gender identity?
I think that we need to analyze how we raise our kids. We need to deconstruct gendered toys, clothes, and activities and let kids form their own interests independent of societal pressures. It seems ridiculous to me that parents confidently assume their children’s interests, toys, fashion sense, future careers, sexual and romantic orientation, etc. by the shape of the children’s genitals. It is highly unnecessary and restrictive on many levels. Kids form their understandings of gendered activities by advertisements, what they see in TV/movies, the genders of children depicted on the packaging of their toys, etc. It is important for parents to constantly encourage their children to try many activities and come up with their interests themselves. This creates a safe space wherein children are encouraged to grow and develop without feeling unsafe or pressured by parental figures to conform one way or another.
What is the difference between the USA and India in your view when it comes to LGBT and Q issues and concerns?
I mean, I can’t speak for the entirety of both countries, but I can speak of my own experience with the LGBTQIA+ cultures in both countries. I feel very privileged to be in a fairly liberal part of the US, as I can comfortably have discussions on topics (sometimes in my lecture classrooms) that would otherwise be considered taboo. The history surrounding the communities under this acronym is vastly different, and therefore the dynamics between the groups are different. However, I feel as though, in terms of representation in the media and the access to resources, USA is a few steps ahead of India. This doesn’t necessarily make the US better or more progressive as a whole, as the US still has major conservative ideologies in charge of the law.
How has life changed since you returned to USA? Here you can talk about your personal life etc…if you wish to of course!
There have been positives and negatives. I definitely had to- and continue to- work through a lot of trauma, both from my captivity in India and from 18 years of child abuse. That has not been a smooth process in the slightest, and I am definitely privileged enough to be able to access mental health resources and to be around people who support me wholeheartedly. I also am out of contact with my younger siblings, who I love very much. However, it definitely feels as though I have a heavy weight lifted off of my shoulders. I feel free to express myself and to make life decisions on my own. I feel a sense of personal autonomy that I didn’t feel at all before this. I’m just lucky that I have a support system that picks me up when I’m feeling down, and encourages me to do what I want to do in life.
In the context of your personal experiences as a transgender person, do you recall any one particular, specific memory when your gender identity was ‘crystallised’?
I feel as though recognizing and crystallizing my own gender identity was a long process. My sexual orientation was more apparent to me than my gender identity, in part because there is little to no representation of nonbinary people. I didn’t know there was any other option than ‘man’ and ‘woman’, and as a society we are trained to not question and critique norms, so I thought that I would have to conform as much as I could to womanhood. I remember starting puberty around 11 and 12 years old, and being really uncomfortable being seen as a girl. I would look at the other guys my age and confused my desire to look like them with attraction. I remember looking down at my chest and being really dysphoric and uncomfortable with how my chest was growing and the way my clothes outlined my curves. Although trans people do not need to feel physically dysphoric in order for their gender identity to be valid, I was one of the unfortunate ones that did feel dysphoria. I remember in high school (around 11th and 12th grade) I wanted to be a flamboyant queer man when I grew up. Basically, I wanted to aesthetically look like what society deems a cisgender man should look like, but not identify as a man. I didn’t know this was possible, and as I learned more about the gender spectrum, I began relating more and more to being nonbinary. I didn’t know about hormone replacement therapy (hrt) and that testosterone was even an option for me, but once I did more research, I realized that the changes from testosterone were the exact changes I needed in order to be more connected and comfortable with myself.
Was this crystallisation in any way affected/ influenced/ tinged by experiences/ encounters with close friends/ family members?
Without befriending nonbinary and other trans people, I would have come to the realization of mynonbinary identity a bit later in life. However, as I did not feel safe and comfortable discussing this with my parents, and I did not have many friends growing up, my own self discovery regarding my gender identity and sexual orientation was a very silent and internal process.
Why do you think gender continues to be a topic that evokes such strong, public reactions from parents, relatives and society in general, despite its intensely private orientation?
People are afraid of the unknown. People are largely uneducated about gender, whether it be lack of available resources or their own unwillingness to be open to learning. Their own lack of awareness leads them to believe falsehoods and fear tactics of people in positions of power that profit off of the subordination and marginalization of various groups of people.
What went through your mind when you realised that your passport and green card had been confiscated by your family when you were confined to your grandparents’ home in Agra?
I have never had control over my own documents of identification, and when I asked, my mother would sternly refuse, regardless of the legal consequences. Therefore, when she left for America with my younger siblings while I stayed back in Agra, I only had pictures of my green card. She called my grandfather and had him confiscate the only photocopy of my passport I had available to me at the time while I was at the university.
How did you deal with the verbal and physical violence that centred around your non-conformist gender identity? Where did you find the strength to overcome such traumatic experiences, perpetrated by your own family?
If it weren’t for my partner, my friends, and my internet following, I would not be alive today. I think it helped that I was 100% solid in how I identified, and I was comfortable with myself. I knew that I didn’t need to be ‘fixed’ and that I was not doing anything wrong –I was neither hurting others nor myself. Therefore, my mother couldn’t break me completely. However, there was a period of time where I lost hope and was brainwashed by the gas lighting and other emotional abuse from my mother. My friends and my partner gave me the hope to live on and fight for my right to live a better life. I don’t know if that classifies me as being ‘strong’ necessarily, but it was what I had to do in order to survive.
Do you think it would have been easier for your family to accept your transgender identity, had you been born a biological male and wanted to live life as a woman? In other words, is greater discrimination and harassment shown towards women transgenders vis-a-vis men transgenders?
Honestly, I think it would have been even harder. I personally believe that while sex category and gender identity are two separate things, they are both socially constructed. Because we live in heavily patriarchal societies where masculinity is built to oppressively be superior to femininity, and that we associate ‘masculinity’ with ‘man’ and ‘femininity’ with ‘woman’, it sometimes is more acceptable to identify as a man, or as a more masculine person rather than the other way around. While the transgender community is heavily discriminated against as a whole, atleast in the US, trans women usually face more violence. When the intersections of race, class, and sexuality come into play, it is usually trans women of colour that are statistically at higher risk to face violence. My parents would probably not accept me regardless, but if I identified as a trans feminine person, or a trans woman, there is no doubt that I would face more societal, as well as familial discrimination.
What is your message to young persons who are currently facing the same gender dilemma, and the accompanying harassment, intimidation and coercion, as you did?
I would say please be safe. If possible, try to find friends that will love and accept you regardless of your gender identity and sexual orientation. If there is one thing I learned from my experiences, it is that there are always multitudes of people who will love and support you for you. I had many people I didn’t even know coming to me with words of support online and in person. There is a great pressure that cisgender heterosexual people put on us to “come out of the closet” and announce who we truly are, but they do not understand that our safety and security comes at stake when we do come out. Be true to yourself. Be as kind to yourself as possible. I know that there are so many people that tell us to be ashamed of who we are and try to convince us that we are disgusting, but just remember that people who are so filled with hate and prejudice are the real disgusting ones. You are not wrong. You are beautiful just the way you are. Whatever you do, do for yourself. Don’t try to make anyone else proud except yourself. I believe in you. Please be safe.
How could parents be guided /counselled to understand the issue…they need as much support as the child and does Naveen have any thoughts on how parents could be supported especially in a conservative Indian community. They are as much victims of ignorance as of rigid social codes.
I think it should be brought to the attention of many parents that society makes parents love their children for the ideal model of how they are supposed to be, instead of loving children for being themselves. Having parents understand that regardless of gender, their child is still their child and that they haven’t changed in any significant way- it’s just the parents’ understandings of their children have become more true to how the child actually is. I think many Indian parents think that the conservatism comes from Indian values, when in reality, this type of conservatism is a very British/European way of thinking, and that if you look at Indian history, the culture used to be more open and comfortable with self expression. I think there needs to be more information – in the school systems, workplace training, in support groups, online, etc. about topics such as gender identity and sexual orientation, because deconstructing preconceived toxic ideas starts with education. There needs to be more non-judgmental spaces that are run by queer-identified people in which people, especially parents, can ask questions freely. While parents do not suffer as much discrimination as their queer child might, it is their responsibility to create a safe space in which their child can grow in a loving supportive environment, and in order to do this, education is necessary.
The April 2014 Supreme Court landmark judgement for India’s transgender community has made it officially recognised a third gender, giving this community a legal identity. In your opinion does this historic win have any bearing on ground realities?
I have read the judgement, and it is actually really comprehensive and inclusive of binary and nonbinary trans people. However, there is still so much misinformation, even in law enforcement, that injustices are bound to repeatedly happen. When I was under the protection of the police in Delhi, the police claimed they knew what transgender meant, yet still referred to me as a girl. The entire court document uses ‘she/her’ pronouns when referring to me, when I have adamantly stated that my pronouns are ‘he/him/they/them’. The lawyers referred to me as ‘she’ in the documents because they knew that law enforcement did not know the first thing about trans issues, and if they viewed me as a girl, it would help my case because in this patriarchal society, girls are seen as needing protection from a stronger male figure. I find it sad that we even need a law stating that trans people deserve the same rights as any other person. It shows that society values some lives over others, and it is not a nice feeling to know that my life mattered less than a cisgender heterosexual person’s before this judgement. I think this judgement was a step in the right direction, but the struggle is far from over.
Any suggestions on how this legal identity & historic win, could make the passage of integration and acceptance of the transgender community by the family/school/community and society at large a little easier.
I think that the more we talk about issues and deconstruct what we think is ‘normal’ and why we think of things as ‘normal’, it opens up conversation and is a great way to spread education and reduce prejudice and discrimination in our communities. The more attention we bring to the topic, the less ‘taboo’ it becomes, and we are able to have honest discussions with our peers and mentors. Inclusivity starts with communication and education, and I only hope that we are able to break down toxic ideologies that permeate our societies.
“Remember, they can take everything from you, except your knowledge,” Shabana Basij recollected her father’s words as she narrated her life and experiences as a woman in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Against all odds, Shabana used her father’s advice and got herself an education in the US and returned to Afghanistan to set up a school. That day, Debasmita Dasgupta was part of the audience at the TED talk where the world listened to Shabana’s powerful story. It reminded her of her father’s ironclad adherence to his ideals and his role in shaping her life. There must be many other fathers, in different corners of the world, who fearlessly stand for the rights of their daughters. Why aren’t enough people talking about these stories? There should be a way to showcase and share such untold stories because every positive story can create another. What can I do? she thought.
Debasmita went on to make an illustration of Shabana. She traced Shabana online and emailed her the illustration. Overwhelmed by this, Shabana shared her illustrated story with her students as well! What started as reaction to an inspiring story, in 2013, turned into an illustrated storybook of fathers and daughters all across the world – Myfatherillustrations
With over 150 stories from across 37 countries in the world, Debasmita emphasises the positive impact of a father-daughter relationship. In countries where girls are vulnerable to a patriarchal society, love, strength and mutual admiration between a father and daughter can change the world dramatically.
My Father Illustrations had partnered with us on an initiative titled Doodle with Dad, where fathers and daughters in communities, came together to create a part of their life stories. This Father’s Day, sit back and take a look at her beautifully illustrated stories and thank your father for being a source of inspiration in your life.
If you have a father-daughter story to tell please write to Debasmita!
Little Dipa wanted to give up gymnastics because she was scared of falling down. However her father convinced her to continue. Today, at 22, Dipa Karmakar is the first female Indian gymnast ever to secure an Olympic berth. Her father, Dulal gives full credit to Dipa’s hardwork. But she knows, without her father this journey couldn’t be possible.
A mother, a model, an actor and an entrepreneur…Tara Sharma Saluja plays every role with full integrity. Her father, Pratap Sharma, is an author and a playwright who unleashed the world of creativity in front of her eyes.
Harmanpreet scored a 31-ball 46 against Australia in January 2016 that brought home a record victory for India. Growing up in a remote village in Punjab, she says, “We (girls) would often have to play on the corner pitches because the boys got the main pitches”. It is not easy to become a cricketer in India if you’re a woman. Many were against her. But one man who stood tall by her side was her father. He continues to be her lifeline.
How many of us use our resources to help others? Well, Anuradha Koirala is one of them. She was born in a Gurung family. Her father was a Colonel in Indian Army. Despite all social ills & taboos that girls are not to be sent to school, she was fortunate. Because her father used to say, “My dowry to you is your education”. Today Anuradha is a Nepalese social activist & founder of Maiti Nepal, a non-profit dedicated to help survivors of sex trafficking. Between 1993-2011 they have rescued & rehabilitated more than 12,000 women & girls.
“I can make tea and I can fix a bulb. All because of my father. Growing up with him I learnt that my brother and I are equal. He is a man of strong principles with an open mind and a soft heart.”—Sampada Wagde is blessed to have a father like him.
Reshma (name with held) was in her teens when she was trafficked from a village in West Bengal and sold in a brothel in Mumbai. Her father, Rezwan Kazi (name withheld) tried all his means to find her out and bring her back. Most of the time families don’t want to take back the survivors because of societal taboos. So when the Kolkata-based organization, Sanjog, approached me and shared this story, I was touched. Sanjog told me that Rezwan is also fighting the case for Reshma and he always says, “Reshma had a beautiful smile and I will stand by her until I see her smiling again.”
Vrinda is the daughter of Shekhar Javarikar, a farmer from Maharashtra. Shekhar has seen many hardships in life. But one thing that Vrinda learnt by heart seeing her father is that no success comes without hard work. She can see her father working day & night on the field, taking care of the seeds that grow into crops. Like her father she has learnt not to give up until she finds the light in darkness.
Do you know Nungshi and Tashi Malik? They are the World’s First Twins atop Mt.Everest. They climb from peak to peak to fight for the rights of the Indian girl children. And they owe their passion for mountaineering and love for the country to their father, Col. Virender Singh Malik.
This is the story of Pinki and her father. Today Pinki works as the Help Desk Officer with Educate Girls, a non-profit in India. Her father stood against all odds to give her education.
Like we are seeing across the world almost every day, hoards of people leave their homes and native lands to escape human rights violations, conflict and extreme poverty. They come to be called refugees.Refugees take on perilous journeys, face hostility at borders, feel defeated and vulnerable without any support structures and fearful of what lies ahead. Their worries mount as they take their children along, away from home, into the life of a refugee. From living in makeshift homes, going to temporary schools, seeking access to the most basic rights of food and shelter, creating play spaces to lending a helping hand to make ends meet, children remain the most affected when families have no choice but to flee. Today, the refugees of Syria and Afghanistan struggle to seek asylum in neighbouring countries, as they flee conflict and war in the hope for a better life. Here’s a selection of moving images from everydayrefugees, an instagram feed that highlights the lives of children on the move, living each day with the hope to find a place they can call home.
Some of the most captivating visual narratives over the years get lost in archives. Yet, instagram has given us a new legion of photographers, always on the move, who capture a fleeting moment that goes on to define how we engage with people and things far away from us. Every image acts as a reminder that childhood matters no matter who you are and where you come from.
Here’s some of our favourite photographers turned instagram whose feeds narrate enthralling childhood stories. More of their work at everydaychildhood, our curated platform of visual stories on childhood.
Follow these accounts because these are photos you want on your instafeed!
“We don’t want media here. You better not use your camera. You people have maligned our image,” a young Jat protester holds his sword to the neck of an HT photographer, Arun Sharma, asking him to put his camera away or face the wrath of the 100-or-so men who have ringed him. Photojournalist and story teller, Arun’s instagram feed never fails to cover pressing issues across India – pollution levels in Delhi, religious festivals, board exam results, migration in Assam, drought in Maharshtra and daily life in India. What’s striking about his colourful and poetic storyline is that it almost always captures children.
An india_gram member and a supremely talented photographer, Massimo Bietti redefines the meaning of a visual storyteller. His eye for colour and composition lend themselves beautifully to stunning portraits of people across India and the world, especially children. Every face of a child photographed by maxxeto narrates a dramatic story (without the use of words!) and subtly brings to one’s conscience, the lives of children.
His love for travel and photography took him to Kashmir, Rajathan and Gujarat amongst other picturesque places world over. As he interacts with people and cultures across the world, you can’t help but notice his bent towards the lives of tribal girls in India. Their moods, the way they dress, the household chores and odd jobs they take on and their interactions with a nomadic life are reflected through his images. Capturing their spontaneous, intimate, and real moments, Aleksander’s documentation draws a juxtaposition between their innocence and maturity as a young age.
Jeremy is a Honolulu-based photographer, cinematographer, film maker and world traveler, whose work lives upto Henri Cartier Bresson’s concept of the decisive moment – the perfect second to press the shutter. What stands out in his instagram feed is his work for charitywater. Every image of a child drinking clean water from a tap or bathing in fresh water, is captivating, weaving together an unforgettable visual narrative that almost quenches your thirst.
A rather extraordinary portrait and street photographer from Istanbul, Aycin travels the world for work. Her interest in humanity without discrimination has brought her to India multiple times, to chronicle the lives of people here. Her belief that each individual is unique and special, in their most real and simple form, reflects in every portrait she takes. Every second frame in her instagram feed narrates the trials and tribulations of childhoods in India. Visually, there’s almost no match to abayrakt’s storytelling, especially on children.
The favourite amongst all India-centric instagram feeds is Chandan Khanna (you’ll spot his images everywhere!). This Delhi-based, AFP photographer cum iphone genius covers everyday life in India rather poignantly. Children getting into fist fights outside school, waiting in line while water tanks line up outside their slum, playing at temporary shelters, gathering coins at the Kumbh Mela to walking back from school, Khanna doesn’t leave a moment uncaptured. His effortless integration of children into his visual narratives emphasise the need for their stories to be told.
In a variety of colours and across various backdrops, Eva’s images focus on street life, a rather common sight in India. As she builds each story through her vivid imagery, this independent photographer lends depth and perspective to an already convoluted life of street children.
Sasikumar Ramachandran is a travel, street and fine art photographer based in Chennai, Tamilnadu. Through his lens, he takes us down memory lane, catching one’s attention with a sense of lighteartedness and curiosity, spontaneity and childlike spirit, evoking a yearning for childhood days. His colour palette and composition depict a merry childhood, deserved by all.
George Koruth is a passionate, self-taught photographer, whose keen interest in the human experience reflects in every photo story. His depiction of India’s daily life with an emphasis on social issues, gives voice to people and children who otherwise go unheard. This traveler’s tales have been showcased in magazines world over, taking stories of India’s children all across.
Rajagopalan Sarangapani is a Chennai based photographer whose passion for the visual medium made him travel the length and breadth of South India, capturing through his lens the hue and texture, joy and laughter, innocence and playfulness of being a child. His images bring to life a child’s curiosity and playtime, a very important aspect of childhood.
Polish freelance photographer, Magdalena Bagrianow’s work is nothing short of captivating. The manner in which he captures his portraits, their eyes and gaze, draw you instantly to the subject. ‘A picture speaks a thousand words’ – his imagery of children narrate powerful stories of traditions, cultures and everyday lives in India. Don’t miss his photos of the gypsy children in Rajasthan!
Umar Meraj is a photographer and video journalist in Kashmir. His early years in a conflict zone lend new perspective and lens to life in Kashmir. From internal strife, sitting in shikaras, naka-bandis, playing in the snow, making cane baskets to militants standing at the border, Umar’s poetic images illustrate the irony of everyday kashmir life. What he includes rather effortlessly are the children of kashmir, who just like him, continue to grow up in the midst of an ongoing war.
This award-winning photographer’s great passion for indigenous people and tribes as well as different ethnic groups leads him to travel to the most neglected Asiatic countryside areas and capture people’s traditions and culture before these disappear. Many of his stories photograph indidenous children of India too. From the Jat tribe of Kutch, Drokpa tribe of Kashmir to gypsies in Punjab, Mattia brings stories of children and people who go untold.