Children’s magazines

Raising good Indians: What early twentieth-century children’s journals in Hindi tried to teach

The early 1900s saw the rise of Hindi children’s journals such as ‘Balak’, ‘Balsakha’ and ‘Kanya Manorajan’, which tried to instil nationalist morals.

Parallel to monumental publications such as Anandmath and Hind Swaraj that emerged during the Indian freedom movement, there developed another kind of literature – children’s journals. These journals were started as a new enterprise in publishing – with the printing press coming into prominence – to carve out a national identity for children, future citizens of the nascent nation. That there was power in children’s literature was evident in how Iqbal’s song for children, “Saare Jahaan Se Achha” became a popular nationalist song against the British rule.

In the early 1900s, Hindi was gaining acceptance as the vehicle for cultural self-assertion in the nationalist discourse – especially in north India. The concept of rashtra bhasa (national language) – a Hindi public sphere – was used to rally the masses. South Asian literatures scholar Francesca Orsini explains this as the common language for everyone – Bhartendu’s nij bhasa – “which is at one time of the individual and of the community…that should acquire the seal of recognition by becoming the language of the state (rajbhasa) and of the nation (rastrabhasa)…”

Thus, the nationalist project of the 1920s and 1930s used Hindi children’s periodicals to expand the locus of “home” from the immediate location of birth to the national space, allowing Hindi pedagogues to mediate their nationalism for children.

It was in this milieu that Hindi children’s journals, such as BalakBalsakhaKanya Manorajan, Vidyarthi, Kumari Darpan, Shishu, and Khilauna, gained prominence as national journals – instilling nationalist morals and patriotism, opining on what constitutes an ideal future-citizen for India.

Modern India historian Gyan Prakash points to the assumption prevalent among many Hindu nationalists of the time that the “infant nation” needed to be endowed with literature, history, culture and science. This was clearly reflected in the content of these children’s journals, which ranged across: (i) prayers; (ii) rhymes, lullabies and poetry; (iii) short stories, fairy tales and serialised novels; (iv) moral essays, biographies and scientific articles on geography, botany, biology, astrology, music and domestic science; (v) riddles; and (vi) editorial. A look at the tenor of content sheds light on how belongingness was inculcated.

Prof Shobna Nijhawan, in “Hindi Children’s Journals and the Nationalist Discourse (1910-1930)”, gives the example of Kumari Darpan (Mirror of the Maiden), first published in Allahabad in 1916. How a feeling of national belonging was camouflaged in “factual knowledge”. In the article “Brahmand aur Saur Jagat (The Cosmos and the Solar System)”, the writer talks about the wonders of the universe, with the additional line: “How often would you have wished to hear stories about all these things?…This is why I will tell you this story in your own language.”

In the second part of the article, “Bhugol ki Kahani (The Story of Geography)”, the child is taught about her origins:

“Where is the country in which we people live? In which part of the world is it located?… Our country, Hindustan, which is also called Hind, Bharatkhand or Bharatvarsh or simply Bharat, is located in South Asia. Asia is the home of many people who populate the land from Asia to Europe. These people are of Aryan origin. Before learning more about the Asian people, we should take a closer look at our country.”

Linking the Aryans of the Indian subcontinent to Europe, she says, “The inhabitants of Europe are for the most part the offspring of the Aryans who travelled West.” Conspicuous in her narrative is use of race, ethnicity and territoriality as the central denominators of the nation. She also informs her readers of the achievements of the Indus Valley Civilisation to impress upon them the idea that because India was an ancient civilisation, Indian Aryans belonged to the “leading race” of the world.

Nationalism, thus, functioned as the glue that packed together the prayers, poems, stories and scientific essays of such journals.

So popular were these journals that, according to scholar Nandini Chandra, the circulation of monthly magazines like Balak and Balsakha ranged between 3,500 and 5,000 – comparable to popular adult literary magazines Sarasvati and Madhuri, whose figures were 3,000 and 6,000, respectively, for the year 1924. In “The Pedagogic Imperative of Travel Writing in the Hindi World: Children’s Periodicals (1920–1950)”, she also adds that “for girls, many of whom did not attend formal schools like their brothers, these periodicals really did constitute alternate schooling”.

Interestingly, initially these journals hesitated from making direct attacks at the discriminatory policies of the colonial administration till the mid-1910s. This changed with the advent of Mahatma Gandhi in mainstream Indian political struggle. The following passage from Swarup Kumari Nehru’s 1917 article “Deshbhakti (Patriotism)” in Kumari Darpan, tellingly illustrates the changing face of the Hindi literary sphere:

“Patriotism is to be practised with the body, the mind, and one’s possessions…Whether the person is old, young, or a child, rich or poor, it is the dharma of every person to serve the country. Whosoever wants to practise true devotion should first make the effort to wear svadeshi clothes, eat svadeshi food and advise friends to do the same.”

Such exhortations continued to gain strength as the nationalist campaign gained further momentum in the 1920s. Khilauna (Game), a children’s journal first published in 1927, was markedly different in format from its predecessors. This published poem shows the militant nationalist tone adopted by children’s journals in the coming decades:

Ham vir hain, valvir hain, randhir hain, balvan
Mar janyage, kat janyage, ho janyage, balidan
Marenge ham, tyagenge ham, chorenge ham, dhanpran 
Nij des hit, nij dharm hit, nij jati hit, abhiman

We are heroes, rebels, brave and powerful
We will be wounded, die in battle and be sacrificed
We will dedicate our lives, leave behind all wealth and abandon everything
For the welfare of our own country, our own belief, our own people and pride

The poem illustrates that the journals’ agenda was never to simply entertain children or educate their parents on child-rearing. They were also devices to influence the social imagination of the emerging middle class in a language that was imagined as the medium for creating a unitary linguistic consciousness. “Desh ki Baat (News of the Nation)” was a regular column that focused on anti-colonial discourse.

Eventually, the nationalist campaign led by Jawaharlal Nehru and a new generation of leaders, under the guidance of Gandhi, managed to overthrow the British yoke in 1947. However, the project of creating a common identity amongst people of a diversified land did not come to an end. The “Ideal Boy” charts of post-Independence India continued to offer fables featuring virtuous protagonists, encouraging children to become “ideal sons of the nation”. Only this time, the pedagogical exercise was not only the product of the national movement and Independence but of the Partition that followed.

While extensive research in the field is not available, studies in these didactic exercises help understand how young children encountered the nation and explored everyday nationalism. According to education and culture scholar Zsuzsa Millei, “exploring how children inhabit and learn the nation – as banal as singing and discussing the world or singing a song through which forms of sociality arise, emotions learned and attachments are formed – is a significant agenda.”

Such exercises aid our understanding of how collective identity and imagination of nationhood can emerge. Therefore, studying how nationalism works to establish the idea of a national community amongst children is important, especially amongst a diverse populace such that of India.

This article is part of Saha Sutra, on, an open online resource on the arts, cultures and heritage of India.

The above article is taken from and was published on November 17, 2019

Book Extract

As we celebrate our 75th year of Independence, take time out to read an excerpt from Vishram Bedekar’s ‘Ranaangan’


As we celebrate our 75th Independence Day today, here’s a Marathi classic which raises burning issues on what it means to be an Indian. Published in 1939, when fascism was on the rise and with World War II on its brink, Ranaangan by Vishram Bedekar was an urgent response of the writer to the politics of the time. Politics when contextualised to today’s times holds a mirror to the intolerance which plagues the country years after its independence. Recently re-translated by Jerry Pinto, here’s an extract from the translation Battlefield published by Speaking Tiger, which finds resonance even today:

That evening, three or four Indians were standing around talking about helping the Jews.

Sahai said mischievously, ‘I think Chakradhar and Madnani should be excused from any collection we make.’

Michael put on his best innocent look and asked, ‘Why? If we collect, we should all contribute.’

Chatterjee took up the baton of badinage. ‘Let’s leave them out. They’re trying to do what they can in their individual capacity.’

Jadhav said, ‘Stop it. Let me make a list. Mandal, you first. How much should I put you down for?’

Yogeshwar Mandal was standing by the railing, looking out to sea. ‘I have no wish to help traitors,’ he said, sharply.

Everyone was startled. Sahai had taken out his fountain pen and he now recapped it and said ironically: ‘You were in Germany for only two years. Was that all the time it took to turn you into a Nazi?’

Mandal replied, ‘You don’t have to be a Nazi to hate traitors.’

Michael shook his head, dismissing Mandal as beyond all help. Chatterjee laughed and said, ‘You seem to have studied Mein Kampf rather well.’

‘It isn’t as if only Hitler says that the Jews destroyed Germany. All the Germans say it.’

‘And how do they say that the Jews managed to do that?’

‘What didn’t they do?’ Mandal demanded. ‘In the last War, it was the Jews who slit Germany’s throat. They sold German war secrets to the enemies. They forced war debt on to the world to keep the War going and grew rich on the interest. It was in Jewish factories that the bombs that rained down on Germany were made. The uniforms they supplied the German army? The boots they made? Stuffed with the bark of trees. They supplied third-rate food grain, unfit for human consumption, to the army. Even the tobacco was sawdust. That their greed was hollowing Germany out meant nothing to them.’

Shinde said quietly: ‘All this can’t be attributed to the Jews alone. The greed for profit is at the basis of all society. Why do you assume that this happened only in the case of Germany? The same things happened in England too. At the time of War, American companies were given many contracts to supply war ordnance. Many of those companies had German capital invested in them. You just spread a rumour that will help you secure the contract. What you said about the food grain? That would have happened in England too. And their uniforms and shoes would have been just as bad.’

Michael joined the fray: ‘Why talk about England and France and Germany? What happened in Hindustan? When the Non- Cooperation Movement was on, weren’t people’s sentiments exploited? Mill cloth was sold as khadi, Japanese cloth was labelled as swadeshi. Wasn’t that dirty business too? Are you going to exterminate all these people?’

Mandal was silent but his eyes were red. In a firm voice, he said, ‘We certainly will. We will remember all those who put their personal agendas before the national interest. And we will take revenge.’

Michael asked irritably: ‘And how many Hindustanis have you met who put nation before self ?’

Mandal’s tone was equally irritable: ‘I know that. I can tell you who sacrifices the good of the nation for selfish motives.’

Mannan sought to add fuel to the flames. ‘Speak out then if you have the courage.’

‘What need for courage? There are enough greedy people among us who claim greater rights because of their minority status. They don’t mind if it means that independence is delayed just so long as they get what they want. That’s the sum of their national philosophy.’

Mannan interrupted vehemently: ‘So you’re suggesting they should be treated as the Jews are treated in Nazi Germany?’

‘They should know that if they don’t come to their senses, they will meet with the same fate, make no mistake,’ said Mandal.

Michael could not take Mandal’s jibes about minorities lightly. ‘Do you know where that will end?’ he asked.

‘I’ll tell you,’ said Mannan. ‘Palestine once belonged to the Jews. Today it belongs to the Arabs. Hindustan also could end up with a differentname.Today the Congress is tormenting the Parsis, the Christians and Muslims so much, it might happen in the next generation.’

Shinde was red with rage. He said to Mannan: ‘Perhaps that name might even be changed. But make no mistake, those who seek to change its name for another, will also die.’

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