After seeing success in over 80 countries, the Human Library initiative also gained immense popularity in India. However, it is only now that the eastern city of Kolkata is getting its first such library.
The Human Library or Menneskebiblioteket, as it is called in Danish, was conceptualised in 2000, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Established with the idea to help people get over their social stigma and get to know other people better, the idea was given life by by brothers Ronni and Dany Abergel along with their co-workers, Asma Mouna and Christoffer Erichsen.
The organisation aims to bring together people who have some unfortunate or even inspiring stories to share. For instance those who are underprivileged in any way or those who have faced any kind of social prejudice, and not had a chance to share their feeling, come here to find people willing to listen to their tales.
The visitors talk to each other and try and understand the situation of the speaker while also trying to kill their own stigmas.
In India, the iterations in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bhubaneshwar have all been massive successes. There are even on-going talks to establish a permanent Human Library in the country instead of one-off events.
This is the first time that Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, is going to host a Human Library event.
Story of the Kolkata chapter
In her late 20s, Deblina Saha is working hard to ensure that the city gets its chance at hosting its first Human Library event. An employee at a communication firm, she is leading the project following her passion. In an interview with Media India Group, she talks more about its inception.
The Human Library-Kolkata Chapter- is set to launch its first session in the first week of January, 2019 and to finally see this happening has been a long journey for Saha. “I came to know of the concept in 2016 and had been planning to introduce it in Kolkata since. I had applied for the license to host a Human Library event in mid-2017 but my application didn’t pass the bills of the main wing in Copenhagen, back then.
One of the more important questions they asked was – ‘Why do you want to host a Human Library event?’ I couldn’t express my motivations in proper words and therefore my first petition got rejected. Though, the people at Copenhagen have been a helpful lot. They made me realise the scope of their organisation and when I drafted my petition again, it was accepted.”
The Human Library initiative has been a media darling across the country with critically positive coverage and reviews being provided to the story of Rajalaxmi Mohapatra, a former sex-worker who was a ‘book’ at the Bhubaneshwar Chapter and was given national television coverage.
People who share their stories at the library are referred to as ‘books’.
Saha hopes that her fledging idea really takes its roots in the City of Joy. She is expecting around 200 registrations for the first iteration and says that while Mumbai and Delhi have recorded a footfall of around 500, she is still keeping fewer expectations.
Saha is an abhorrent hater of the Bengali phrase, ‘poro ninda, poro chorcha‘ which translates to ‘talking behind someone’s back’. According to her, “Judging people harshly without knowing anything about why they do what they do is a cultural problem among the people of Kolkata; and especially if you are a woman then you will have to face a double dosage of this judgement. Women in the city are also looked down for something as trivial as coming back home late at night. Sex has only recently broken out of the mold of taboo and yet, homosexuality is something most would make crude jokes out of. They need to understand the situation of the other person before lashing out at them with their tongues.”
Her initiative aims to make her ‘readers’ realise the truth behind the stories of her ‘books’ and help them break the chains of taboo. Saha aims to bring together people from various backgrounds but for the time being wishes to keep the ‘books’ to be among her friends and mutual acquaintances. She says that she does not have the requisite resources to verify the stories of strangers and therefore acquaintances make for easier background checks.”
The event, while still a few months away is facing problems in regards to location and sponsorship. According to Saha, there have been problems regarding investors but she has said, “If I can’t get any investor, I might as well put the money in, myself. This is a unique opportunity in our hands, I can’t let it go to waste.”