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SAKKSHARATA JATHA
The Literacy Walk
Swadhina: WHH/EU Gender Project: Jharkhand

Backdrop:
We conducted an intensive project progress study in May last year to asses the impact of the project Empowering Women’s Access and Ownership over land and land-based activities through education, legal literacy and advocacy supported by EU-WHH in 20 villages in East Singbhum, Jharkhand. It was sort of a Mid-term Assessment which we conducted internally. More than 30 village workers, volunteers and co-ordinators  conducted this door-to-door study of all the beneficiaries for about 3 months. The conclusions that emerged from the study were both encouraging as well as eye-openers. For instance, we found that while a large number of women felt that they had gained considerable knowledge from the Navodaya Classes meant for them, there was still a handful who did not yet know how to sign their names or had forgotten to write their names as a loss of practice. On the other hand these were those handful who were either hesitant to attend the Navodaya classes regularly or were too busy to do so. This seemed to be a challenge for us because it is our belief that signature is a strong tool to establish one’s legal right over her land, her rightful schemes or her account. And the stress throughout has been to make judicious use of one’s signature to protect oneself from fraudulent land dealings. Also it was very important to again and again assert the need for women’s literacy.

So after self-evaluating our strategies we came upon the need to have door-to-door campaign – reaching out to the women at their door-step, giving them the opportunity to understand the need of signature. Thus germinated the idea of Saksharata Jaatha – The Literacy Walk  !!

A small team of us from main office, here at Kolkata, decided to join our team members in the village areas for this particular prgramme. Here’s  sharing the rich experience that we gathered – it was not about literacy alone – it was a lesson in human values, a way to understand the social structure and a study of the potential of women!!

 
 

The Jatha Journal :

16th April 2012: Mid-April is never a good time to venture outdoors, leave alone go on a field-trip. But here we were, sitting in a shared van – making our way to the burning interiors of East Singbhum…… “It was burning hot” is perhaps an understatement; the red, dry soil seemed like embers of coal and no amount of covering our faces would save us from the fiery heat scorching our faces. However once the van started treading the forest areas it was feast for our eyes. Burning red Palash, Orange-hued Gulmohar, Crimson Shimul flowers greeted us on our way. It was as is Mother Nature was smearing vermillion on us – welcoming us to embrace her. One of us tried to have a sip of water from the botlle…and it seemed like a hot tea just poured out of the kettle!

We had to get down at Katin from where we had to make yet another short journey to the field office. We decided to have our lunch in one of the small roadside eatery. But first thing first – we urgently needed some cool water. Thankfully there was a pitcher in the eatery which had good, cool water. As the cool water with the earthy fragrance traveled down our throat we couldn’t help but once again thank this greatest gift of God- WATER!! While we were eating three of our colleagues arrived with their motorbikes. Post lunch each of us rode pillion and made way to the field office at Bondih. While the roads changed form and texture our hearts began to race faster and “that feeling” began to creep in. It was that inexplicable feeling of excitement, anxiety, happiness and looking-forward-to ….all bundled as one!!

 
The long-road to our mission
 
When we reached our field office all the rest of the field workers joined in. Should we start now? The unasked question seemed to linger in everyone’s mind. The heat-ridden body seemed to say, “Come on…we can start after a bit of rest”, the excited soul contradicted, “ Nah, its now, now and now. Lets get going!” And in the human history when was it that body won over mind ? So off we were – in three teams in three different villages. Joining us in our adventure were the local animators. They would be our guide because they know the best about the status of the families. In each village we had three major activities – door to door signature drive, wall writing on literacy and other social issues and an awareness building cultural programme at the end of the day.
 
Down the village-lanes
 
In the first house that we entered Rathu Majhi of Amlaghutu village was tending to her goat – coaxing it to have some leaves that seemed to hold no interest to the goat. Alarmed at the sight of visitors she seemed to shy away a little. The local animator then explained the purpose of our visit. Rathu grinned, “You have come to me all the way to teach me signature ?”
 
Helping a woman write her name
 
Actually I used to attend Navodayas initially but there is often too much work at home…..” she said with a hint of apology as she signaled us to sit. “Have you ever learnt to sign your name ?” we asked her. Rathu smiled again, “…I once knew maybe….when I was younger….but now with all this family responsibilities I don’t think I will be able to recall”. “ You don’t need to be apologetic…it happens. But knowing a signature is very important. It is a tool to exert our right”, we tried to assure her. Our animator then went on to explain to her the importance of signature. “ Now that you have heard, would you like to learn to write your name?” we asked. ‘Yes, ofcourse I would. Let me wash my hands and come”, Rathu hurried off to wash her hands as if she was about to perform worship. Our volunteers took out the pencils and notebook from the bag. First we showed her how to write her name, then led her fingers to write her name. After 3 trials she was able to write her name. After practicing for some more time she was confidently signing her name. Mission accomplished we set out for the next beneficiary. “ Don’t take it as a one-day event. Keep practicing every day. After few weeks when we come back you should be able to sign at one go!” blurted our animator before we left Rathu to continue her practice.
 
Volunteers at work
 
Each house we visited had a story to tell – a busy house-wife with too many family members, a lonely lady with no one to take care of her house in her absence, an old woman chuckling away the need for women to learn, a young woman too shy to ask her in-laws the permission to go for Navodaya classes. But somewhere buried in the deep corner of their heart they all had the secret desire to be able to learn. As we went from home to home – explaining the necessity of literacy for women, urging them to ensure that the girl children of their families get the benefit of education and helping the women learn the signature, the families seemed to understand the point.
 
“You carry on, I shall take care of the baby” – a helpful co-operation from the husband
 
As we completed some of the houses and were making our way down the winding small, muddy road we discovered our colleague Sadhu busy writing slogans on literacy on a wall. “ Sikkhai amader sompod” – “Education is our Wealth” – the slogan shone in bold letters. Donned with brush, paint and a gamchha (local towel) tied round his head we could barely recognize him. “How many?” we gestured. “This is my fifth house”, he answered, his face too bearing colours in different hues. “Looks like Sadhuda is also painting himself”, one of the animators whispered. The others started giggling.
 
Wall-Writing to promote Literacy
 
It was almost 4:30 and we decided to call it a day. Our target houses were done and we were exhausted. All of us came back to our field office. After a good wash we sat down to cook for the night. A simple curry and rice – that would be our menu, we decided. Late at night we sat to have our dinner. The entire village seemed to be in slumber. There was no noise except an occasional drone of the insects or distant sound of barking dogs. End of Day One.
 
“Gurudakshina”- A gift for my teacher !!
 
17th April 2012: After a night of calm rest we got up pretty early and after a tumbler of tea got set to go for our mission. The day was specially significant because joining us were a few representatives of the Literacy Watch Group headed by Panchyat leader Sulata Hembram. Like the previous day we headed towards different villages – in bikes, cycles etc. As we moved from house to house we not only taught signature, we also explained the importance of literacy for women, especially promoting education for girl children .
 
Young Jaba Mandi –a beneficiary of the Education Suuport Programme shares her knowledge
 
In one such houses we discovered Malati . As Malati’s mother opened the door for us we found Malati sorting wood for fuel. As her mother laid out a mat for us to sit we found Malati sorting a huge heap of wood pieces, oblivious to the hustle-bustle around her.
 
Learning together can be fun as well
 

“Does she not go to school?” we asked her mother. “Yes, her name is enrolled in school”, her mother informed us with a lot of hesitation. “ If she is enrolled then why is she not in school now ?” enquired Sulata Hembram. “ Actually I can seldom send her to school – there is a lot of work in the house, who will do those if she goes? “, her mother asked. “Is that a good reason enough not to send her to school regularly? Now let me ask you, do you feel happy that you cannot write or name or read any of their school books ?” one of the volunteers asked candidly. The mother looked down. “Don’t you secretly wish you had gone to school when you were young?”, enquired our animator. “ Yeah, that’s true….I did start going to school but it was barely for a few years…that too I could not go on most of the days”, the mother admitted. “Then why are you doing the same mistake with your daughter?”, Sulata asked, placing an arm around her. While the conversation was going on we did not realize when Malati had left her chore and was standing near us, listening to every bit of the conversation. As our eyes fell on her she smiled at us. “ Whats your name ?” we asked. “Malati”, she replied, her voice barely audible. Her tiny frame made us kneel in front of her. “ Do you like to go to school”. “Hmm…I do…I have lot of friends…”, she smiled shyly. “Please do send her to school regularly. It is very important for girls to study as well”, we requested her mother. “ “Yes Didi, I will. Sometimes I feel guilty too but then I think what will a girl do by studying anyway ? “ , she said. “At least let her realize the value of education and get the happiness of going to school. She will never regret later on”, we summed up. After convincing the mother-daughter we helped the mother to revive her signature skills. By the time we left the house we were a satisfied lot.

It was late afternoon by then and we were hungry. Kasem Ansari, a member of our Literacy Watch Group, offered us lunch. A simple lunch of rice, dal and potato fry seemed like heaven to us. Post lunch we set off again.

While we ventured from one house to another we discovered that ignorance and lack of awareness knows no bounds, no caste, no socio-economic barrier. Whether it was Arati Tudu or Dhondibala Mahato from a comparitively upper caste – illiteracy was a problem. related mostly to psycho-social barrier rather than merely about opportunities.

 
Wall-writing with social message
 
It was four in the evening and all our small groups had gathered at a common place. It was time for a cultural show. While leaving each house we had informed them about this cultural show. All of us, including our cultural troupe members, got ready, wearing our dresses and gearing up our musical instruments.
 
Performance during the Cultural Programme
 
The sun was still strong but the crowd around us grew stronger and stronger. We selected a large, shady tree and cleared the area for our performance. The patch was rough and stony but shady nevertheless. We began with our performance. First there were two social songs. Following this we performed a dance play with song in the background. The women spectators were absolutely ecstatic as they could easily identify the issues depicted in the performances. They were also amused to see how their “teachers” who were teaching them about literacy barely minutes ago could transform themselves as “ performers”. Whilst our performances different conversations reached our ears like- “ That Didi in pink saree came to our house. Which one went to yours ?”
 
Literacy Watch Group Member & Panchayat Member Sulata shares her views
 

The performance continued for about an hour and then it was time to go back to the field office. As we wound up the show each of the women came forward to talk about the different aspects they understood during the show. Some came to say how much they enjoyed the show. It was a day worth spent . As our motorbikes headed towards the field office the sky wore a salmon pink look. Calm, composed, satisfied – it reflected the mood we all bore in our mind.

18th April 2012: We got up pretty early – partly the excitement and partly the immense heat wouldn’t let us laze about. By the time we finished our tea we found many of our field workers had already arrived. “Shouldn’t we carry some water ?”, one of us suggested. “No use said the others. It would anyway transform into bubbling tea”, the others joked. So no bottle it was ! As our motorbikes passed through some of the areas, known faces waved at us – our regulars at different programmes, members of our Navodaya classes, former animator….While on our way we could also catch glimpse of the different wall-writings, each bearing a strong message in favour of literacy.

 
Daughtrer-in-law looks on as Mother-in-law learns to sign her name
 
Like the previous days we had different experiences at different household. In one such house a young wife greeted us. She said that she has attended Navodaya classes and has learnt many new things. She also said that though she had attended school before marriage she seldom paid attention to her education but only after attending Navodaya she has realized how important it is for women to be educated. Now she wanted us to teacher her mother-in-law how to write her name. “ Didi, I can teach her too and have urged earlier too but as you know ego always has its own say….learning from daughter-in-law becomes a bit too much for the ego”, she giggled. However with us the mother-in-law had no problem and confidently began writing her name in two trials. “See, how good you are! If you try you can even start teaching your daughter-in-law in a few days”, we told her. “I know I can. Infact I always tell my daughter-in-law that it is not that I cannot do …just lack of time”, the mother-in-law said proudly. The young daughter-in-law tried hard to keep a straight face but soon broke into peals of laughter as soon as she stepped out of the house to bid us good-bye. “Don’t worry Didi, now that you’ve given her the confidence that she can do better than me, she will surely try harder!”, she assured smiling.
 
Learning under a shady tree
 
The sun was at its peak and we were already thirsty. We peeped into a tribal home and asked for some drinking water. Out came sparkling, clean glasses filled with fresh cool water. The respect with which they offered us the water brought tears to our eyes.
 
Talking to husband-wife duo about the need to ensure literacy for the girl-child
 
In the meanwhile we peeped into the home of Narayan Sing Sardar and told him that we would be having lunch at their house after an hour. “ But Didi, we are low caste people. Will it be okay to have lunch here ?”, Narayan looked embarrassed. “ Tell us if you have problem cooking the food. As to eating, we would love to eat with you. And it is foolish to think about such discrimination in today’s world. We are all one, isn’t it ? “ We assured Narayan. “ Then you don’t worry. Give us an hour and food would be ready”, a beaming Narayan told us.When we came back after an hour food was ready. Narayan’s wife had cooked the food and gone to the field. Narayan and his daughter served food to us. The hoe rice, lentil, papaya curry seemed manna to us. Cooked with as little spice and hardly any oil every bit of the food depicted the love and respect with which it was cooked. Narayan’s daughter peeped from her kitchen door, hesitatingly she said, “ Didi, we had only two eggs from our hen. I made two omlettes out of them. I have cut them into bits…it won’t be much for you all but would you like to have?” “That would only be too good ! Bring in !” we assured her. As she put the strips of omlette lovingly on our plates we couldn’t help but feel the beauty of poverty – though it is not desirable but it helps people understand the joy of sharing!
 
The joy of sharing a simple lunch-sprinkled with love and care!
 
In the post lunch period we joined our friends in Wall-writing. Each of us brought out the artist in us as we wrote slogans in bold letters: “ Ebar ami portey chai” ( Its time for me to learn).As we were writing we discovered our colleague from Orissa, Hrudananda coming towards us. We welcomed him. He too joined us in our wall-writing venture. When we finished our task it was nearing evening and it was time to begin our cultural show.
 
Hruda enthralling the audience with his magic tricks
 
Like the previous day we assembled at a common point. As we laid out the poly-sheets people started gathering one by one. We began our cultural performance. We had presentation of social songs, dance-play interspersed with explanation. Intermittently the local women joined us, rendering a song or two. Their enthusiasm and confidence drew loud applause, even from the men-folk. The final piece was Magic Show by Hruda. Each of the audience watched spell-bound as he performed one trick after the other. By the time the entire show got over it was late evening. Time to head back to the field office!
 
Singing songs on social justice and gender equality
 

When we reached it was already getting dark. We put some rice to boil while we all sat down to discuss the planning for the coming days. Our team from Kolkata would proceed towards Ghatsila the next day whilst the team here would continue with the programme till 20th of April, after which the next set of programmes would start. “ So let us analyse how we felt about this phase of the programme!”, one of us remarked. Each of us then we shared our feelings. What we analysed was : if we have to think about literacy for women of the area we have to look beyond the selected beneficiaries, we have to go in to each and every house of the area and reach to them the light of knowledge, we have to find out those who are not part of the Navodaya programme as yet and bring them into our fold and it is not enough if we ask her to be literate , we ourselves have to reach out to her and help her become literate.

When our discussion was over it was quite late. We had to get up quite early the next day so we wrapped up for the day.

As we had our dinner we spoke how this experience had left us enriched yet again….It has been many years that we are working in and around the area but every visit, every programme, every travel has held out new challenges for us, opened new ideas for us and encouraged us to cross the muddy, rugged terrains…yet again!!

 
Good Bye!!
 
Edited by : Srichandra A journal by: Diptendu, Smriti, Chhanda Photos by : Prabir
 
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