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Building knowledge societies at the grassroots

By Abdul Nisar

Dumka (Jharkhand), Aug.4 (ANI): In the rural areas of Jharkhand, literacy level of women is low. Traditionally, they have remained confined to their homes and fields and even today their world revolves around within these parameters.

For a long time, they have held a desire to seek new avenues of information of the aspects related to their daily lives and local developments.

Given the fact that very little emerged from within their environment to require a change, not until Mobile Libraries came into the scene. It's an initiative of the Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) project that seeks to address issues of poverty in 120 districts across India by improving access to rights and entitlements by those who remain socially excluded of whom women form a large chunk.

Young enthusiastic boys ride bicycles across 30 villages in Maheshpur block in Pakur district loaded with not only books, newspapers but forms for old-age pension, information on Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and Forest Rights for sharing with the local communities.

The women held back, perhaps because of lack of literacy and being unsure of how all this material could relate to them. This bastion was also broken once these young 'library activists' started to speak to them, giving them information about the material they had and how it could benefit them.

Women gradually came out to listen with deep interest about Annapurna Yojana, about facilities available to a Below Poverty Line (BPL) cardholder under various government schemes.

It now seems clear that the spark had been there, the desire to gain new knowledge and insights, about how to better their lives. The Mobile Library had only triggered it off.

Stanecila Hambrum from Birkitta Village says that the women now understand the importance of this mobile library. "We are making them aware of their rights, laws related to women including those on 'violence against women' the Panchayat Raj system and their participation in it."

Usually, to the urban conditioned mind a library in a village is not easily conceivable. Yet it is in these very rural areas in Jharkhand, struggling with basic issues like health, education, food and housing, that information needs to flow.

How else can rural communities, poor and backward sections, the adivasis link with the mainstream, to access the fruits of development and join in the march to progress?

These libraries are leading to a gradual spreading of this storehouse of information in the villages. Instead of remaining an institution for public access, it has taken the institution to the people, breaking down its volumes of information in such a way, that is understood, assimilated by even those who are out of the literacy net.

Thus going beyond the conventional sense of a library. Dr. Victor Tigga, Vice-chancellor, Sido-Kanhu Murm University, Dumka district in the 'Santhal paragana' says, "The flow of information is vital, it changes the thinking of common people. In a fast changing world like ours, it is important to understand so many things. But unfortunately, information revolution has not benefited the rural areas."

Through such libraries, what is happening is a gradual spreading of this storehouse of information in the villages. Rather than remaining an institution which people access, it has taken on a pro-active role of taking the institution to the people, breaking down its tomes of information in such a way, that is understood, assimilated by even those who are out of the literacy net. Thus going beyond the conventional sense of a library.

In doing so, these Mobile Libraries have upheld a lofty principle, the core of any enlightened or egalitarian society. That knowledge is free and the access to it should be unhindered, beyond any societal divisions of class, region, caste, language or gender.

It actually boils down to the enthusiasm of its members to bring about positive change on the ground. Michael Hambrum, says, "I want to do something for the society. As a member of mobile library, I am working as a carrier of news, information and knowledge. Today, rural people are more awakened. This is an effective tool to fight the backwardness of the society."

The good news is that inspite of the backwardness and low development the impetus for change has begun amongst rural communities.

There is a keen sense of seeking information about agriculture, about markets, employment and in fact developments beyond their village sphere.

This is, in a sense, the key to a holistic and sustained development, one that emerges from within society and not merely from without or 'top-down'.

Government welfare schemes, programs for development will remain limited in the absence of an aware community, which reaches out and derives benefit from it. For any benefit to be effective and deep-rooted, there necessarily needs to be participation from the ground.

The Library as a hub could work very well in fostering this participation, building a dynamic partnership between the government and the governed.

The scope of such initiatives in a rural scenario is manifold and extends to new dimension from merely academic interest or a collection of reading material to become a dynamic vehicle for social change. It points to a direction, which should be taken up by agencies, those promoting public-private partnership to rise to the occasion and build on what the PACS initiative has opened up.

Today we are witnessing the passing of a long awaited, salutary piece of legislation, the Right to Education which brings to every child the fundamental right to learn and break out of the darkness of ignorance.

Libraries, mobile or otherwise across rural India could play a stellar role in enhancing this learning, aiding the new generation of literates with nuggets of information and knowledge not only about their course matter but the wider world.

According to Charkha Features, Somewhere at the beginning of the previous this century, eminent poet and litterateur Rabindranath Tagore visualised an ideal for our society: " Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action. Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake." Now near the beginning of this century, perhaps the time is right when this ideal can be realized. By Shailendra Sinha (ANI)

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