Bengaluru based Pratham Books has come out with ‘Your Body is Yours’ written by Yamini Vijayan and illustrated by Aindri C.

Your body is yours book cover Published by Pratham Books
Features Book Sunday, February 07, 2021 - 20:22

How to broach the topic of safe and unsafe touch with children? When is the right time, what is the right age? How to teach children the idea of consent? What about sex education, how early can that begin? Even about a decade ago, parents and teachers may have found this conversation with children to be a great challenge. Sex was only biology, and the concept of safety was repeated more as a warning. While it’s important to begin early, teach them young, a lot of it depends on how it’s taken to the child.

Bengaluru based Pratham Books has come out with a book that holds the key to this conversation. Written by Yamini Vijayan and illustrated by Aindri C, Your Body Is Yours is suitable for children between the ages of eight and 12, the ones who are able to read on their own. The book that discusses body autonomy, consent and safe/unsafe touch comes with simple sentences and illustrations and breaks down the subject for all to understand.

Writer Yamini, who began working on it based on a request from Pratham Books, shares that the challenge lay in finding the right approach. “What did I want to say? What should I leave out? How can I make this complex and difficult topic less daunting for a young reader? I eventually decided on using a direct and conversational tone, making sure to convey to children that in cases of violation of boundaries, it is never their fault. It matters to me that my readers are left feeling supported and hopeful,” she explains.

The illustrations in this book come with bright colours, inclusive representations and a fantastical setting. “The shapes were a key part of the book and we went through several drafts before arriving at the end result,” says Aindri. “I initially pitched the idea of a patronus (guardian shield) that were different animal shapes, and we would show the breach of this constructed safe space as a way to visually explain to the reader that consent is being breached.”

The book, that begins with body image and body autonomy goes on to discuss consent. It also deftly deals with body positivity. Yamini talks about turning to Judy Blume’s books as a teenager to deal with teenage angst and confusion. “Where else could I have read about wearing bras for the first time and getting your period?” she asks. She also turned to the internet later on, she says.

“But it’s not as if these issues magically disappear when you’re an adult. I’m in my mid 30s now, and I continue to have an up-and-down relationship with my changing body. Which makes me wonder — if we had gotten a head start when it came to learning about body-positivity, would we have had healthier attitudes towards our bodies? My strong sense is that we would have benefited massively, and that these early conversations matter,” she reasons.

The book addresses private body parts by their names, thereby making it clear to children that there isn’t any shame associated with those parts. This is one of its highlights and Bijal Vachharajani, the editor from Pratham Books who worked on this book, concurs. “The one thing that kept coming back to us was that addressing body parts with their names is crucial as it normalises talking about the body right from the start in a matter-of-fact way. That means children feel comfortable asking questions or even speaking up if there are problems,” she points out.

Yamini adds, “I strongly feel that it’s important for us, as parents and educators, to shed our own inhibitions first. Only then can we expect children to do the same. It is our sincere hope that Your Body is Yours makes it easier for adults and children — constantly curious — to have open and healthy conversations around the body.”

“In India, there’s an unnecessary amount of importance given to obedience. This is particularly true in the case of girls, who are raised to be obedient and to not offend anyone. Through the book, we let children know that they can and should say no to anyone who doesn’t respect their boundaries, even if it’s someone they love. Especially since abuse is common even within the family, hard to digest as it may be,” Yamini explains.

Your Body is Yours comes to fill a crucial gap in children’s books available in India. “When I grew up, there was only silence and embarrassment around anything related to changes in the body and sexuality. Although I’m not a parent myself, I’ve noticed that more people are having conversations about safe touch with their children and in some cases, schools are also being proactive. Having said that, this is a very, very minuscule part of the population,” Yamini explains.

While this is true, it comes across as a shock when the lack of sensitivity comes at higher hierarchies of power. It brings to mind Bombay High Court Justice Pushpa Ganediwala’s two appalling observations, one in which she said “skin to skin, direct physical contact” cannot be classified as sexual assault and another in which she said “holding the hands of a minor girl and opening of the zip of pants does not fall under the purview of 'sexual assault' or 'aggravated sexual assault’.”

“This judgment by Justice Pushpa Ganediwala was obviously deeply disappointing and infuriating, and completely lacking sensitivity. Without a doubt, it also sets a dangerous precedent, as pointed out recently by the Supreme Court. Imagine what that child had to go through, for absolutely no fault of hers. There is certainly also an urgent need in India to create and strengthen systems of support for survivors of abuse, which at the moment, barely exist,” Yamini points out.

With all said and done, Pratham Books' role here is to make available an affordable and multilingual picture book for children who come from larger sections of the society who are under-served. “While Pratham Books does primarily cater to children who are under-served, Your Body is Yours has been created with every kind of child in mind. These books are usually openly-sourced which means that anyone is free to adapt the book to their own needs,” Yamini adds.

While the book is already out of print, Bijal shares that they’re on a print-rerun. 

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