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6 Must-Read Books By South Asian Authors That Break Barriers And Question Norms

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Globally, the voices of the South Asian community are often missing from the narrative. In terms of movements, literature, and even in popular culture, we remain entangled in stereotypes and are often unable to tell our stories.

In such a scenario, here is a list of the most recent books written by South Asian authors. These authors use writing as a medium for their activism and to explore the conflict, longing and belonging of the significant population that belongs to the diaspora – or those who are still back home and are learning to love, question and accept their culture through its warmth, quirks and traditions.

1. “Before We Visit The Goddess” – Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is best known for “Palace of Illusions”, a retelling of the Mahabharata narrated by Draupadi. She is a part of the Indian diaspora in the US. She extensively uses imagery in her novels. She frequently describes surroundings, smells and people through her words to evoke visuals of home.

“Before We Visit The Goddess” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

“Before We Visit the Goddess” is her latest offering. Based in West Bengal, it is the story of a poor woman who cannot afford to go to college. She is adopted by an influential woman, but a mishap causes the relationship to go sour. The book explores the effect of her choices on her daughter and granddaughter, and the different kinds of love that bind us.

2. “Exit West” – Mohsin Hamid

Mohsin Hamid was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for his book, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” (2007). His latest book “Exit West” is about two people, Nadia and Saeed, who fall in love in a war-torn city amidst bomb-blasts and beheadings. They eventually flee to the West as undocumented immigrants – as refugees.

“Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid

Hameed creates fiction based on the realities faced by people in many countries today – and while the native country of the protagonists remains unnamed throughout this novel, the fictional narrative could well correspond with the realities of two people today. More importantly, this is the story of how the two of them struggle to hold on to one another and to their own selves in a new country – one in which they are ‘outsiders.’

3. “One Half From The East” – Nadia Hashimi

Nadia Hashimi is an American of Afghan origin. “One Half from the East” is her first book for younger readers. It is the story of Obayda, a young girl whose family needs some good fortune – after her father loses a leg in a bomb-blast, forcing the family to relocate to a small village. Her aunt comes up with an idea to dress up Obayda as a bacha posh (a cultural practice in which families without sons pick up a girl to behave like a boy), and Obayda starts living as Obayd.

“One Half from the East” by Nadia Hashimi

Life is confusing, until she meets another bacha posh, and together, they discover the freedom that they didn’t have before. They can climb trees and play sports – things they were never able to do as girls. This coming-of-age novel is about friendship, acceptance and facing one’s fears.

4. “What Lies Between Us” – Nayomi Munaweera

Nayomi Munaweera is a Sri Lankan-American author, and winner of the Commonwealth Book Prize for Asia. Her most recent novel, “What Lies Between Us”, starts with an unnamed woman who is in prison for committing a terrible crime. At this point, you may have many questions (‘where’, ‘why’, ‘who’, etc.). She proceeds to answer all of these questions with her own story – from when she was a baby born to a loving family, to fleeing to America, and all the events that led her to commit a single and possibly unforgivable crime.

“What Lies Between Us” by Nayomi Munaweera

The book is narrated in first person, but the narrator remains unnamed until the end of the story. Mysterious, haunting and heartbreaking – this is her confession.

5. “Stained” – Abda Khan

“Stained” is Abda Khan’s debut novel. It is about Selina, a Pakistani-British girl who has recently lost her father, and is now suffering from the trauma of being sexually abused by a trusted family friend and publicly-respected individual. She struggles to deal with the assault, and tries to keep it a secret to protect her family’s ‘honour’, which is a recurring theme in the novel.

“Stained” by Abda Khan

The book also addresses victim-blaming of women within the Muslim community. It shows how the harmful ideals related to tradition, the conservative nature ingrained in a large part of the South Asian community and the gender dynamics affect victims of sexual abuse. Even though the title of the book may immediately throw you off, contextually, it addresses how women are considered stained or impure when they are sexually abused.

6. “Marriage Of A Thousand Lies” – SJ Sindu

This is the debut novel of Sri Lankan writer SJ Sindu. The LBGTQ community is a topic that has remained largely unexplored by South Asian writers. In this book, the author discusses the reluctance of many South Asian families to discuss sexual orientation and gender, which eventually leads to many children facing mental illnesses and body dysmorphia from a young age.

“Marriage of a Thousand Lies” is a book that tries to start a conversation. It is the story of Lakshmi, a queer person, who marries Krishna (who is also queer) to conform to the cultural expectations of her Sri Lankan family. It is not until her former girlfriend Nisha is about to get married that she is shaken up, and starts to re-evaluate her own decision.

This book is a poignant, heart-warming love story. Coincidentally, it’s also the type of story that we like the most.

Aakanksha Sardana is an intern at Youth Ki Awaaz.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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