In December 2012, Sehjani Shiksha Kendra opened its new literacy centers in Birdha block, Lalitpur. The team visited each village in the block to mobilize people for the opening. We divided ourselves into two groups, each group aiming to visit two villages in a day. Each morning, we packed ourselves into the car where one could sense the strong conviction, energy and enthusiasm of Sehjanis in their work. The car ride to the villages was always filled with lots of fun, jokes, laughter and singing.
After reaching the village, everyone got into swift action, calling women from their houses, putting the ‘jhandi patangi’ across the trees, spreading the Sehjani posters and setting the dholak in tune. Eventually women would start coming, they would try and settle themselves in places where they remain unseen, unnoticed. Sehjanis would have to pull the women to come sit closer. The women were usually accompanied by children, some clinging to their mother, others playing nearby. Sometimes, there would be a few men who would hang around but stay silent. In one village, when Sehjani team was trying to get the women to sing, the men started encouraging the women from the sidelines. This was making some of the women uncomfortable, so the Sehjanis asked the men to stay back and let this be an all women space. After a lot of pleading and persuasion, the women finally started singing. The singing was slowly accompanied by dancing and soon, Sehjanis also joined in with classic feminist numbers.
After the songs, Sehjanis introduced SSK to them and the reasons behind coming to Birdha block. Sehjanis used examples from the women’s lived realities to explain the benefits of getting an education. Whether it is demanding for fair wages via NREGA, or making sure you aren’t duped of your money or ensuring the midday meal is being implemented correctly in school attended by your school, learning how to read and write goes a long way in being able to make service providers accountable. Their nodding heads with “haao” showed that these examples related literacy skills with their everyday life.
The Sehjanis asked the women if they wanted a literacy centre in their village. The women responded enthusiastically saying yes and that mornings worked best for them as they go to cut firewood in the afternoons. Once the women agreed to setting up a centre in the village, the Sehjanis got straight to work registering all those who wanted to enroll, distributing study materials, slates and chalk. Sehjanis asked each woman her name and wrote it on the slate. They would be asked to copy their name. Sehjanis would help them to write. In one of the villages when I was helping a woman, she looked a little reluctant to write. She asked me which hand to use in writing. I told her to use the same hand which she uses in doing other work. She triumphantly raised her left hand and got back to making her grip stronger on the chalk. It makes me feel silly about myself now, to have just assumed that they know which hand to use to write and right-handedness as normal/natural.
Soon, women were sitting freely with slates, confused yet trying to write, inspecting their own hand-writing after having written her name, eagerly showing off their writing to Sehjani, her sakhi and her children and not wanting to erase what they had painstakingly written. Minutes back they were sitting with a long bright pallu over their heads and faces, surrounded by toddlers. Before leaving, Sehjani shouted feminist slogans about right to education which were then repeated by local women. They would all commit to coming to the center starting the next day.
Before leaving, Sehjanis shouted feminist slogans about the right to education which were then repeated by local women. “Shiksha ho ya kaam ki baari, nahi rahegi peeche naari!”