Have you heard of places where books are people and ‘reading’ the book is a conversation with these interesting individuals? These places are known as ‘Human Libraries’. Harshad Dinkar Fad, initiator and book depot manager of a Human Library in Hyderabad, India, describes it as a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue. The Human Library in Hyderabad, a city in southern India, started in March 2017 and was the second of its kind in India, after Indore, a city in central India, where the first Human Library in the country started in 2016.
Since then, these unique libraries have been trending in the country. The most recent one opened in the city of Mysuru (Mysore) in Karnataka. “We hosted an event on September 29th this year where we had 11 human books. The topics of the books dealt with various pillars of prejudice, like religion, ethnicity, disability and others,” said Pavithra Kannan, founder and book depot manager of the Human Library in Mysuru. Their team consists of working professionals, doctorate scholars and students.
Human Libraries “aim to break through long-standing prejudices and stereotypes by creating a safe framework for conversations by using a library analogy of lending people rather than books. The notion of the Human Library was initially launched in the year 2000 in Copenhagen and currently exists in more than 85 countries worldwide and is known as ‘The Human Library Organisation’,” said Kannan.
The Human Library is a registered international non-profit organisation with its administrative headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark. The global work is coordinated by the headquarters in Copenhagen and cooperation agreements are made and managed with local organisers across the globe.
Besides Hyderabad and Mysuru, there are Human Libraries in Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Goa, Chennai, Bangalore, Surat, Indore, Kolkata, Bhubaneshwar, Vizag, Delhi, Patiala, Chandigarh and Gurugram in India.
“The frequency of events in these cities vary, with some cities like Mumbai and Hyderabad conducting one or two events every month while others hold quarterly to annual events. People have received the human library events positively as they open up a unique and more meaningful conversation than usual interactions. On this platform we aim to bring in difficult conversations by talking about stigmas and stereotypes openly, making sure that difficult questions are expected, appreciated and hopefully answered by the ‘Books’,” Fad said.
Providing insight into how Human Books are chosen, Fad said, “A Human Book is a person who has volunteered to challenge prejudice through respectful conversation with members of the public, who borrow them for a conversation session. People who have experienced prejudice due to issues such as race, sex, age, disability, sexual preference, gender identity, class, religion/belief, lifestyle choices or other aspects of who they are, can be a Book. To be a Human Book one has to fill up the form on our website. Once this form has been processed by the book depot team, we have a telephone conversation with the interested person and then a meeting, following which we screen the prospective Human Book for a conversation session and on completing these steps, a title and blurb for the Book are decided and published in the Human Library events.”
Fad said that conversations on difficult topics such as abuse, gender, sexuality, unique lifestyle choices and beliefs allow the readers to understand the other side of the story of a person, who is merely seen through the lenses of their outer appearance with minimal knowledge of what they are really like. “These free-flowing experience-sharing, question and answer sessions help people to learn to appreciate others’ differences and understand social barriers and privileges while listening and relating to their experiences,” said Fad.
Each Book at the library presents a courageous and inspirational story, which allows people to experience a first-hand account of resilience, passion and self-belief. “Our goal is to normalise these different lifestyles in society as opposed to being seen as weird or exceptional. It is this feeling of equality that is mostly seen at the end of every session. It brings people together, breaking barriers created by their outer appearance and story,” said Fad.
These stories are received by people with open arms. Giving examples of Human Books that have shared their experiences, Fad talked about two Rohingya Muslims who had sought refuge in Hyderabad refugee camps. They talked about their life in Burma and the difficult journey from there to India. Another Book he says, was entitled ‘Resilience: Bouncing back with strength’ and concerned a rape survivor, who shared the experience of being an inspiration to thousands with her story of resilience and strength.