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Why Refugees Need To Be Seen As Whole Human Beings, More Than Their ‘Victim’Hood

Posted: January 19, 2021

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True to form, Paro Anand portrays refugee life through the experiences of teen girls, a Kashmiri Pandit refugee and a girl from a North-Eastern tribe, in her book Nomad’s Land.

Most Indian teenagers don’t know a lot about Kashmir, about nomadic tribes, about refugees. It all feels like a distant reality, just something that shows up in the news sometimes. Stories have the power to bridge that kind of gap, and Paro Anand has done just that in her book ‘Nomad’s Land’, published by Talking Cub, the children’s imprint of Speaking Tiger.

This story follows two girls, both refugees in their own way, living in Delhi while their communities still reel from the violence they faced in their native lands.

The two girls cope with their situations very differently, but find comfort in each other through a classic teenage friendship. Anand has skilfully written a cast of very real characters, and readers cannot help but empathise with them. It’s what I like best about historical fiction – the events that you read about in history books or in newspapers are no longer impersonal, but about real people who are just like you and me.

Difficult choices, but life needs to go on

One of the things that stood out to me the most was how strong the girls’ connection was to their homelands.

Shanna, who is a Kashmiri Pandit, thinks of Kashmir as home despite the violence and tragedy she faced there. She calls her mother ‘Ammi’ the way her Muslim friends back home would, and continues to do this even when her mother’s parents insist that she must not.

Pema is from a nomadic tribe that Anand has created for the story, but represents the countless tribes who have been driven from their homelands. Pema has always lived in Delhi, but still thinks fondly of the vast plains her family has left behind, and is keenly aware of the traditions of her people. Despite never having seen her homeland, it is still very much home to her.

The book touches upon the choices that people can make about their own lives. After everything these characters have gone through, they still have to decide how to live their lives. They’re faced with difficult questions about who to forgive and how to forgive them. They have to find ways to move ahead from their trauma in ways that are right for them. They have to decide who to trust. It’s not all plain sailing – the book does not divide the world into good people who forgive and bad people who do not, for example. It allows the characters to have their individual ways of coping while still conveying a powerful message of acceptance and healing.

Breaking away from a ‘victim’ narrative of being a refugee

This story also breaks away from the image of a refugee as a victim. Yes, refugees have been and are being treated very badly, but the narrative of only victimhood robs people of their agency, and of the complex personality of each person, something which is too often glossed over in the conventional perception of refugees.

The people in this book have escaped horrors by moving to Delhi, and continue to be affected by the same problems even there, although differently. However, they are also whole people who are defined by a multitude of other things as well – their taste in music, their sense of humour, the way they relate to their friends, their dreams and ambitions, and I think this is extremely valuable.

This book is about so many things – war, violence, a longing for home, prejudice, and grief. It is also about friendship, healing, and laughter, about people who go on living their lives despite everything that has happened to them, because they have to.

I have a Kashmiri friend who has told me a little about her home, about her real experience with all the unrest that the rest of us only read about. This book is a chance to get the same privilege, if only through words on a page. I would recommend this book especially to teenagers, but it can be read by anyone who wants to learn more about a part of our country whose people deserve so much more.

Want a copy of this book?

If you would like to pick up a copy of Nomad’s Land by Paro Anand, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.

Women’s Web gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!

Image source: a still from the film Shikara and book cover Amazon.

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Arya. Teenager. Madcap book lover. Writer and poet. Feminist. Dog lover. Professional procrastinator.

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