One of my earliest memories from first grade is being on the playground with one of the handful of other Indian-American kids in the school, when a group of older girls approached us. They told us that they were vanilla and we were chocolate and no one likes chocolate so no one liked us.
I was crushed. My favorite ice cream flavor was vanilla, not chocolate. Certain they were right, I spent the rest of the day feeling awful about my own skin. Feeling less than everyone else around me. Feeling like I was the “other.”
It was the first time I was aware that people didn’t consider me their equal in my town but it sadly wouldn’t be the last. Over the twelve years I spent in that school system, there were countless times where I was told I was different or less than because of the color of my skin and my Indian-American culture. This was a routine, normal part of my childhood, but I can’t remember speaking up for myself even once during all of it. Not a word. There were occasions where I witnessed other kids being bullied for the same reasons and never spoke up on their behalf either. I remained silent.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say. I had plenty to say. All kids do. But my voice had been so weakened out of fear and embarrassment, I didn’t know how to say it.
It wasn’t until I was working on AHIMSA that I realized there was another way for me back then. “Ahimsa” is a philosophy of non-violence. It was one of the main tenets of Mahatma Gandhi’s civil disobedience and it won India its independence from the British. It was revolutionary at the time because wars had almost always been won through battle, with physical weapons. But to use ahimsa, no one needed weapons to fight back, to resist, to speak up for what was right. When the British took Indian cotton to England to mill into cloth, and then sold that same fabric back to Indians, some people replied by spinning raw cotton into thread on their own spinning wheels, making homespun clothes. When the British made it illegal for Indians to collect or sell their own salt, forcing them to purchase it at a highly taxed rate from the British instead, some people responded by marching to the sea and getting their own salt. Everyone had what was needed to fight injustices right inside of them, they just had to find what form their voice was going to take.
For me, as I grew older, my voice took the form of my writing. But one need not wait until they are an adult to find their voice. If someone is shy, like I was, or feeling scared, like I was, they can still be heard. Some people stand up by sitting down or taking a knee. Some people speak out by singing, by painting, by writing letters, or by something as simple as signing their name on a petition.
Anyone can stand up for what they believe in and speak out against injustices. And everyone should. It’s just a matter of finding what form your voice will take. Once you have that, no one can silence you.
In 1942, after Mahatma Gandhi asks Indians to give one member from each family to the non-violent freedom movement, 10-year-old Anjali is devastated to think of her father risking his life and joining. But it turns out he isn’t the one joining. Anjali’s mother is. As the family gets more and more involved in the resistance, Anjali is forced to confront her privilege and prejudices to ensure their little part in the independence movement is completed.
Publisher: Tu Books
Publication Date: October 2017
Ages: 9 – 12
Grade Level: 4 – 7
Purchase from your local independent bookstore!.