BENGALURU: Kavita Gupta Sabharwal, co-founder of Neev Literature Festival for Children, had often wondered how they would make the shift from an episodic physical festival to a “year-round dial tone” as she calls it. But the pandemic provided the answer of taking the online route. On Independence Day, they held three sessions with noted historians, curators, authors and filmmakers, and discussed various narratives, including Partition and peripheries.
“To achieve traction with children, we realised that we had to be present year round. Of course, the power and magic of a physical festival cannot be replaced,” she says. The session on August 15 was a precursor to a larger festival in September. “In the current situation, we weren’t sure if and when we would go on with our festival, which is usually held in September-end.
But we thought Independence Day is good time to start a conversation. Does freedom mean the same to a girl in North-East India as it does to a boy in Mumbai?,” says Sabharwal, about the festival themed around ‘Imaginery Lines’. The first panel featured activist and children’s author Kamla Bhasin; Mallika Ahluwalia, the CEO and co-founder of Partition Museum; and filmmaker Santosh Sivan focusing on the absence of public debate on Partition.
The second panel included children’s author and social activist Rinchin, author-filmmaker Kenny Basumatary; and storyteller-filmmaker Aijaz Khan, who discussed the vexed situation in Kashmir, the many flashpoints, dormant and active, in the Northeast, and the periphery at the Red Corridor. In addition, storyteller Kapil Pandey took the children through a musical storytelling session.
Young adult author and historian Siddhartha Sarma, who moderated the sessions, believes that each generation has to re-engage with the foundations of this country and the democratic ideals of the republic. “With the passage of time, the emotions felt by the generation which gave Independence to India might appear distant and muted. But one way in which the upcoming generation can begin the task of solving the problems of India today is to understand the roots of this country and its struggle for freedom. One may perhaps call it a re-introduction to the idea of India,” he says.
Compared to those who grew up watching Doordarshan, Basumatary pointed out that the current generation probably has little idea about the freedom movement and even recent events that shaped our history. “My own observation is that very few people read nowadays. I feel films and web shows are the best way to get children to learn about our history, although even those have to pass through many layers to end up with a worthy finished product without being jingoistic or over-dramatic,” he says.
Rinchin finds that conflicts and discrimination of some communities are often not reflected in the discourses that target youth. “Most often they are seen as one lumped group. Literature that comes from various marginalities, contexts and experiences will validate and amplify voices that are not heard,” says Rinchin.