I had been travelling from Delhi by train to my native place in Kerala. Usually I would then catch a bus to my home which was in a small village about half hour away. I was hungry and decided to have some breakfast. That’s where I saw her. She was middle aged and wore a colourful saree. A large straw basket on her head and a plastic bag in her left hand, she stood there. Waiting, and waiting. Buses came and buses went. She just looked at them with a blank stare. But why was she waiting so long? Fear and anxiety were written all over her face.
I walked over to her and asked where she was headed. When she understood that our destinations were the same, she smiled and relaxed. I was curious to know why she hadn’t taken the bus which had come earlier, to our village. She said that she was waiting for a private bus, with the picture of some famous actor on it and was coloured red and green.
She said she always goes on it; she knew the conductor of the bus she said. As we talked, the bus to our village came. Let’s go, our bus is here, I said. But she looked perplexed. But this was not her bus; it didn’t have red and green on it. But I read the sign on the bus to her and said, this goes to our village. She smiled, kind of awkwardly said – I don’t know how to read. I said don’t worry; trust me, it will take us to our village. I helped her in the bus and within half hour I was helping her unload her ‘burdens.’
Years have gone by. Today, my village does not have anyone who does not know how to read and write – or so they claim. If that lady were alive today, she wouldn’t wait for the red and green bus. She wouldn’t have to give her thumb impression on the bank documents. She would be able to sign her name on it. And with the freedom that gives, she would catch any bus which goes to my village, she would sign her own name on bank loan documents, she would be able to read the newspaper and realise that it’s a holiday today in town, and do much much more. Literacy would have empowered her. But that’s not so with many others in our country.
According to 2011 census report, literacy level in our country is still at a dismal 74% making India home to the largest number of illiterate people amongst all countries.
Effective literacy rates (age 7 and above) in 2011 for men were 82.14% against 65.46% for women! This needs to change, if we need to develop into an inclusive society where every citizen contributes.
It’s heartening to see that our government has shown tremendous desire to take up literacy as a key concern. Whereas National Literacy Mission and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan laid foundation for this, the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao initiative of the present government has highlighted the cause of the most vulnerable section, which is the female rural girl child.
We at the Believers Church, do organise similar programs – especially literacy programmes for adult women. We operate centres across more than 40 cities in India where women are provided free education and books in over 16 languages. Till date more than 30,000 women have benefitted from this drive and another 50,000 are enrolled under it currently. This not only socially empowers these women but also allows them financial independence by taking up income generating jobs.
We also run a program for child education which is called Bridge of Hope. Under this program more than 75000 underprivileged children get free education, school supplies and food across 575 centres in India every year.
Let us join together to educate our generation, especially the most vulnerable.
(By Dr K P Yohannan, Philanthropist and Metropolitan of Believers Church)
Views are personal.