Bharat Kidambi
GRACE: ONE ENGINEER’S FIGHT TO MAKE SCIENCE EDUCATION ACCESSIBLE FOR ALL by By Sayantan Datta. Illustrations by Priya Dali Pratham Books, 2023, 20 pp., INR 85.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

For those not familiar with Grace Banu, she is a Tamil Nadu-based transgender and anti-caste rights activist, who fought and won the case for getting the transgender community the right to study medicine like any other student. Her life is a true illustration of grit, determination and courage to challenge the gender and caste biases that still exist in our society. This storybook has been made very creatively, with the illustrations and text being in complete sync.
Such stories ought to be told and made accessible to young adults, sensitizing them to the environment around them at an early age. The story traces the early years of Grace, born into a Dalit family, as she was growing up in Tuticorin. From not being able to sit with other students in the class, to later being targeted for her awareness of her own sexuality, the young Grace faces discrimination at every stage of her growing up years. She was put in an all-boys school, where the other boys ridiculed her for not being like them. Very early in life, she decided to leave home; she was adopted by a transgender, Munnamma, who ran a shop making halwa. It is in this home that the young Grace could be herself.
Munnamma encourages Grace to pursue her studies, after which she completes a diploma in computer engineering. After working for a few years, Grace wanted to pursue higher studies, and applies to the University for a Degree in Engineering. She soon discovers that the application did not have any gender categories for transgenders.When the college denied her application, the feisty Grace, with the help of a lawyer, asks the university why transgenders cannot study engineering. She is later admitted to a private engineering college and completes her degree.
Grace realizes that unless the cause of the Dalits and transgender community is taken up as a social movement, they would continue to be denied the right to access education and employment opportunities. She adopts a young transgender woman Tharika. When Tharika faces the same issue that she had faced while wanting to pursue her higher studies, she files a case in the High Court on behalf of Tharika against the university. This time Tharika and Grace win the case, The High court judgement is clear; it mentions that the transgender community had the right to study medicine and any other field like everyone else.
Written in simple style with appropriate illustrations portraying the emotional journey of Grace, this book will help young adults to be more sensitive on gender and caste-related discrimination that exists.