Can a children’s book tackle a dark subject like domestic violence?
For children who are scarred by the trauma of living in abusive homes, a book should ideally offer a laugh, an adventure…. How would such children react to confronting the horror present in their lives in their books as well?" author Asha Nehemiah questioned herself before writing Behind The Lie, an illustrated children’s book from Pratham Books that examines the impact of domestic violence on a family.
Behind The Lie begins in the middle of a scene, as a young boy sweeps up broken glass, his little sister makes tea for their mother, who holds the cup of hot tea to her swollen cheek. It’s a stark portrait of everyday violence in a book that is almost entirely about its victims. The abusive father is not seen except as a shadowy figure in the narrative and in Aindri Chakraborty’s sensitive drawings: a belt lying on a sofa, an ankle disappearing through the doorway as the children high-five each other in relief at his departure, a cut on the boy’s forehead.
Yet, this is a hopeful story, as Ramesh and Valli seek and get help, and are finally seen being children: singing and saving money to buy chocolates.
There is no easy resolution, except a gentle nudge for communities to stop ignoring and normalizing domestic violence, reminding me of Suzanne Vega’s Luka, a song in which a young boy repeatedly tells the listener to “just don’t ask me what it was".
“I wanted children in such homes to feel there was an alternative to passive acceptance," says the author. “Books offer a great platform—a certain safe space—to initiate difficult conversations with children in a very natural manner. I hope Behind The Lie will be read in classrooms and homes."
Behind The Lie is available for free download in several languages at Storyweaver.org.in and in book stores ( ₹50).