BENGALURU: The colour of the skin and gender have determined the role a character plays in fairytales.
Why shouldn’t it when the genre itself is named after “fair” and with stories on “white as a snow” Snow White, “crystal blue eyed” Sleeping Beauty and a “prince on a white horse” saving a damsel in distress?
“Stories need no longer be limited to princesses who await their entire lives for their knights to arrive in a shining armour,” reads the description of the Kaalitales project. “They can be of bold females and sensitive males too.”
Chirayu Jain, a graduate from National Law School of India University, started the initiative in 2013 to deconstruct the notion that heroines have to be fair and blonde and have to be saved by a prince for a “happily-ever-after.”
He started an initiative called Kaalitales, a polar opposite to the concept of fairytales, where we find dark-skinned heroines brandishing swords and conquering enemies. The stories are not confined to gender roles but also preach a modern outlook. These stories are written by children.
“The initial idea was to provide an alternative story to kids so we thought of writing it ourselves. But we thought that since most of us were law students and medical students, it wouldn’t have much charm.So we decided to organise a story-writing competition in schools,” says Chirayu.
Law School Initiative
The initiative was started under a banner of Brown and Proud NGO in Delhi. The idea of Kaalitales began as some reader left a comment on the Facebook page suggesting an alternative to fairytales. That seemed like a good idea covering the idea of colourism and feminism.
The concept of Kaalitales began in NLSIU in 2013. But coordination and communication became a major obstacle in the functioning of the organisation. After three years of struggle the NLSIU Kaalitales team became autonomous in June this year and nine students from NLSIU took charge of the project.
“The initiative had died down as people who had started it had graduated,” says Nikita Garg, a third-year student of NLSIU and a new member of the organisation. “Chirayu who was a member of the original team in 2013 pitched the idea to restart it. Not many responded. We were skeptical but we decided to go for it with a small team of five people.”
133 Different Stories
The group decided to come up with a fundraiser project where 19 schools across India, and two in Kathmandu, are participating in a story-writing competition. So far they have received 133 entries and more are expected.
The competition is open to students between ninth and twelfth standard. The students can choose to write an original story with their own characters and a new plot or go for an alternative approach of the existing fairytale and give a twist for a Kaalitale.
Sailaja P of Sri Kumarans school has ensured the school participates in Kaalitales writing competition annually. “It is our proud privilege to be part of an event that highlights such progressive thought,” she said.
Though the story-writing competition has been going on for three years, the response had not been as en masse as it is now. The reason is the choice of words in the proposal.
With time, the approach has evolved so instead of using specific words like “feminist, brown and proud”, broader words such as “ambitious and adventurous” is used.
“This year we are expecting diversity in stories. The word feminism confuses a lot of people. We received stereotypical stories about girls realising that looks don’t matter. We have also done away with elaborate explanation as to why we have chosen the word “kaali”, this is done to avoid confining the creativity of children,” said Chirayu.
The fundraiser project was started two weeks ago. A sum of `30,775 was raised in two weeks time though the target is one and a half lakhs with about 40 more days to go. Earlier the members themselves had to spend money for the project.
“We are trying to contact people who wold be receptive to an initiative of this sort, so we are contacting a lot of alumni from our college and even the faculty members,” said Rachna Chhabria, member of Kaalitales.
“We don’t expect Kaalitales to replace fairytales instantly. But I am sure as the idea picks up many writers in the literary field will pick up writing on these lines,” said Chirayu.