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E D U C AT I O N F O R E M P O W E R M E N T

The Adult Literacy Programme


E D U C AT I O N F O R E M P O W E R M E N T
The Adult Literacy Programme

“As a child I was never sent to school. I was married off by The Context for Literacy
the time I was 13-14. As an adult, in my husband's home, I
Most literacy programmes for women in India in the 1950s, 1960s
faced various difficulties because I was illiterate. I joined
and 1970s, suffered from myopic vision viewing literacy from an
the Sangha formed by Mahila Samata and through various
instrumental approach to women. This was based on the
discussions I understood that many of my difficulties will be assumption that if women were educated, school enrolments
reduced if I learned to read and write.” would increase, maternal, family and child health would improve,
Falani Bibi, Dhubri District, Assam1

“Now when I go to work, I myself check and ensure that my


attendance is marked in the register. I also calculate and
count my wages before accepting it, even though this act
angers the pradhan.”
Parmeshwari Devi, Mau District, Uttar Pradesh2

“A lesson in a literacy primer based on a true incident,


describes women's agitation and successful intervention in
stopping 'arrack' sales after two men from a village in
Nellore district died due to its over-consumption. The
women used to gather regularly for literacy classes and
discuss burning issues affecting their daily lives. These
included alcoholism which decreases financial support
from husbands, running households on the meagre income
of women and getting beaten up by drunken husbands at
the end of the day. The lesson, describing the ill effects of
liquor consumption, had an electrifying effect on women
who then led the anti-arrack movement across Andhra
Pradesh.”
Professor Anita Dighe3

T
hese three apparently unrelated events from three distinct
locations of India are, in fact, connected by the same thread,
the Adult Literacy programme (ALP) run by the Mahila
Samakhya. The distinctive feature of this programme lies in its
Women practicing in Jagrity Kendra in Dhubri District of Assam
emphasis on women's empowerment, with literacy as an integral
component rather than mere literacy skills as an end in, and of,
as would population control. In other words, literate women will
itself. When compared to other literacy programmes, it is this
make for better mothers and wives. This approach was critiqued
feature that makes the MS literacy programme relevant to the lives
by the feminist thinkers and was replaced by the functional
of women and defines its effectiveness.
approach in the 1980s. This led to the birth of the Mahila
Samakhya in pursuance of the National Policy of Education,
1986.4
1 Participant interview: Dhubri District, Assam. 26th April, 2010. 3 Interview with Prof Anita Dighe Member of State Resource Group, Uttarakhand, and Member
2 Website of Mahila Samakhya, Uttar Pradesh. URL: of National Review Mission, 17th June,2010.
http://www.mahilasamakhyaup.org/programmes (downloaded on 10-8-2010). 4 Malini Ghose: Briefing Paper on Literacy Related Issues: India from website
www.balid.org.uk/GMR/India%20GMR%202010.doc (downloaded on 07-07-2010).

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T H E A D U LT L I T E R A C Y P R O G R A M M E

Why Adult Literacy faced by them, analyse the causes through the exercise of critical
thinking, move forward through an organized effort towards the
Literacy has been recognized as a basic human right.5 The United betterment of their condition and participate in the process of
Nations proclaimed 1990 to be the International Literacy Year. development. Thus, challenging the traditional welfare approach
Globally effective programmes were put in place and began to in which the women were passive recipients of kindness and
bear fruit. Examples from various countries indicated that charity, MS ensures that the emphasis is on women recognizing
“beneficiaries of adult literacy programmes went in for greater their rights, and demanding fulfilment of those rights through
participation in union activities (Brazil), community activities and active participation in the socio-economic activities of the family
meetings (USA, Nigeria, El Salvador), elections and local and society. The process, therefore, makes women identify their
associations (Kenya), and voting (Turkey). As a tool, literacy has needs first. (Figure 3.1)
the potential to meet people's most vital needs and to stimulate
social, cultural, political and economic participation, especially on
Figure 3.1: Locating Literacy within the Mahila
the part of disadvantaged groups.” 6 The focus on education for
Samakhya Programme
women continued during the 1990s, and the results of various
studies showed that investment in this area gave the highest
Understanding
'output' (compared to earlier development investments focusing Situation Critical
of facts (cause of
Analysis thinking
primarily on production and industrial growth) both at socio- deprivation)
economic, cultural and political levels.

The Union Government of India has made several efforts to


Demand for skill
combat adult illiteracy since independence. Despite those efforts, Demand for Prioritization
development
right fulfillment of needs
in 2001 the national female literacy remained low, at only 53.67 (Literacy training)
percent as against the male literacy rate of 75.3 percent. 7
Indeed, female literacy is even lower in rural areas at only 46.1
percent; and within this sub-population there are even fewer
literate Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) women MS then provides the opportunity where women can acquire the
(with literacy rates of 41.9 percent and 34.76 percent respectively). necessary skills that enable them to address those needs.
8
There could be a number of reasons for this dismal scenario, Eventually the skills acquired empowers women to take part in
social discrimination and economic exploitation against the girl- many forms of truly independent activities ranging from taking
child by families being predominant among them. charge of her own life, to collective actions of resistance and
protest, to community building. Thus empowered, women are able
The National Policy on Education (1986) was a landmark policy in to challenge the current structures of power in the social order.
the field of women's education as it recognised that mere This is also indicative of a paradigm shift from the prevalent notion
infrastructural improvement does not adequately address the issue of economic empowerment being the principal strategy of
of women's marginalization. The policy statement 'education will women's empowerment.
be used as an agent of basic change in the status of women 9
The Adult literacy programme of MS, therefore, begins when
gave birth to this vibrant programme of action that encourages
empowered women articulate their need for skills development to
women to question rather than accept. Mahila Samakhya is an
further enhance their capabilities. Literacy in MS occupies a central
educational programme for women's equality which recognizes the
position in the entire programme and the MS approach to literacy is
existing knowledge of women and bases all its initiatives on the
not restricted to basic literacy and numeracy alone, it includes legal
experience and skills of women.
literacy, panchayat literacy, health awareness, life-skills, livelihood
training, and the building of many more skills, thereby going beyond
Mahila Samakhya (MS) and its Guiding the cursory definition of literacy (see Figure 3.2).
Principles
Nationally, in 2009-10, MS trained about 1,91,170 women were
The essence of MS is its ability to create an enabling environment trained in literacy skills with the states having the highest
that allows women to understand the disabling circumstances numbers being Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam (see Chart 3.1)

5 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Article 13 8 National Literacy Mission website: URL - http://www.nlm.nic.in/literacy01_nlm.htm (downloaded
http://www2.ohchr.org/English/law/cescr.htm (downloaded on 07-07-2010). on 02-07-2010).
6 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, 2006:136. 9 Kameshwari Jandhyala : Empowering education: the Mahila Samakhya experience, p. 3
7 National Literacy Mission website: URL - http://www.nlm.nic.in/literacy01_nlm.htm (downloaded (URL - http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001467/146780e.pdf ).
on 02-07-2010), based on census data.

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T H E A D U LT L I T E R A C Y P R O G R A M M E

Figure 3.2: Centrality of Literacy in MS

Demand for skill development

Literacy training

Academic Pursuits Economic Literacy Legal Literacy Increased health Panchayat Literacy
awareness

Mothers become
more conscious for
their children’s
SHG, Individual
education which
business, collective Nari Adalat, Sanjivani Kendra, Data Exhibition,
resulted in continuing
business, livelihood Pressure group, Cultivating Panchayat
education
training and Counseling Centre medicinal herbs participation
(mainstreaming
programme
through MSK or
NIOS) and vocational
training

Demanding
educational facilities
for children especially Access to
girls, effective Economic
Increased government
independence of Reduction in
intervention and awareness about programs,
women, improved domestic and
monitoring in schools health and hygiene, developmental
financial position of societal violence
(regularity of teachers reproductive health activity of the
and quality of the family
village
teaching, MDM, VEC,
SMC)

A woman empowered through these various activities of the sangha has now developed the ability to take charge of her own life: she can
protest against domestic violence and injustice, has acquired the necessary knowledge to cater to the educational and health needs of her
children and family, supplement the family income by participating in some kind of income generating initiative of her choice, intervene in
crucial family dealings such as preventing child-marriage, family business; and together with others (in a collective) plays a much bigger
role in the community: fight social evils such as alcoholism, trafficking and ensure effective implementation of regular functioning of village
institutions such as schools, Panchayati Raj Institutions.

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T H E A D U LT L I T E R A C Y P R O G R A M M E

rooted. The impact of the programme in these areas was


Chart 3.1: Women Trained in ALP across therefore much higher than is representative of the state or
India by MS States country, but is illustrative of the ideal that the programme
Uttrakhand 3,893 elsewhere can aspire to. However, it must be mentioned here
Uttar Pradesh 47,315 that these two districts continue to use the three-part primer
Kerala 2,660 produced in 2003 by the State Literacy Mission Authority (SLMA)
Karnataka 4,298 whereas the new districts are using the consolidated yet simpler
States

Jharkhand 3,437
version of the primer (published by SLMA in 2008). Other
limitations are inherent in all in-depth qualitative studies; this case
Gujarat 9,824
study cannot claim to provide full coverage of the practice in all its
Bihar 72,185
diversity, but rather aims to give insights into how the programme
Assam 40,627
works at its best, thus bringing both benefits and challenges into
Andhra Pradesh 6,931
visibility through real-life examples, and helping to guide future
0 10000 20000 30000 40000 50000 60000 70000 80000 expansion of the programme.
Number of women

Methodology
The Conceptual Underpinnings of ALP
The literacy programme of Mahila Samakhya was studied in detail within MS
in Assam and some special aspects of the programme were Mahila Samakhya begins by creating a space for women where
studied in Uttarakhand. The study was conducted in phases they meet their peers on equal terms. The women's collectives
during December 2009, April 2010, and June 2010. Findings were (sanghas) formed as the first step towards the realization of this
based on field interviews using a case-study approach and goal provide women with collective strength, thereby enabling
qualitative and quantitative data provided by the state and district them to insist on their rights and sustain the process of social
offices of Dhubri and Goalpara in Assam, and Nainital in change. Thus, a sangha is formed in each MS village and
Uttarakhand covering a total of four villages. Respondents from becomes the nerve-centre of MS activities. An empowered
six districts in Assam and two districts in Uttarakhand were sangha thereafter sets its own agenda - an essential point in the
interviewed in focus group discussions, as well as individually in underlying philosophy of MS. Therefore, literacy is arranged by
structured interviews and informal discussions. This resulted in a MS only when women articulate their demand for it.
total of 45 adult learners and neo-literate women, three Gayatris
(volunteers conducting adult literacy classes), 31 MS staff and 20 Demand from Below: 'In the beginning, the women did not see any
external stakeholders. need for literacy, as they were more concerned with issues of
survival, such as drinking water, rations, minimum wages,
Mention must be made here that certain populations studied are violence, and so on. Once the sanghas started taking shape,
speakers of languages other than Assamese, the official state there was a demand for information relating to these issues and
language which the ALP programme uses. For instance, while the the need for literacy began emerging.' 11 This was directly linked to
predominant population of Dhubri are Bengali speaking Muslims; the fact that an individual woman is not in a position to protest
the project area of Goalpara is dominated by the Rabha speaking against injustice, and insist on her rights. The support of a larger
Scheduled Tribes. Although Bengali is closer to Assamese (both voice is imperative and collectivization of women in sanghas and
belong to the same language family), the Rabha language belongs federations provides the enabling environment for them to take
to an entirely different language family and therefore is much more joint action to access resources, protest against injustice,
distant from standard Assamese. Rabha speakers also find it to participate in developmental activities and thereby contribute to the
difficult to pronounce Assamese words. 10 These factors impact on process of social change. In this manner, literacy as a tool is, in
the success rate of the neo-learners. fact, the carrier of the overall MS philosophy.

The limitations of this study include time spent in each field site Non-signature Based: Another point of departure of the MS-run
(three days per district) at a given point of time which does not literacy programme is its insistence on 'non-signature-oriented'
allow for longitudinal analysis. The choice of site visited, the learning. MS was already aware of the problems women faced
oldest districts, deliberately included only examples of outstanding with signature-oriented literacy programmes and instead
performance where the programme was both mature and deep consciously designed a programme based on the inherent

10 Interview with Gayatri, Ms Urvashi Rabha 24-4-2010. 11 Dr. Deepa Das- Attaining the MDGs in India: The role of public policy and service delivery.
2004: p. 9.
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T H E A D U LT L I T E R A C Y P R O G R A M M E

knowledge of women. Rural women from poor and marginalized Assam in allowing women to decide the course design of the
families are not 'uneducated' per se; they are merely 'illiterate'. 12 literacy programme where women's concerns and problems as
Hence, literacy efforts by MS always ensure that the process is, articulated by them have been the starting point of the
first and foremost, empowering for women who can, as a result, programme. MS then plays a facilitative, rather than a directive
participate meaningfully and take up leadership roles in local self- role. 14 Thus, contrary to standard adult-learning paradigms, MS
governance, and in the development of local institutions and organized literacy classes in Morigaon district in Assam using the
initiatives. text-books of primary school, directed by women's felt needs.
“One centre at Morigaon was being run at a school. On one side
of the school, I could see the children reading their lessons out
loud. On the other side, adult women learners were busy writing
what the children were reading out loud such was the motivation
level of those adult learners!” says Gita Rani Bhattacharya, State
Programme Director, AMSS. Since the use of textbooks does not
fall within the purview of the standard adult-learning pedagogy,
eventually AMSS switched to using the state primer.

While some states develop their own literacy primer based on the
needs assessment done by MS (such as Uttarakhand), other
states use the primers developed by the Department of Adult
Education (such as Assam and Karnataka). The SLMA state
primer includes life-skills. Thus a life-skill imparted through
sangha training gets reinforced when it is repeated through the
Women study using the primers in Dhubri district of Assam literacy primer also. An internal review of the programme
conducted in Uttarakhand revealed low success rates and a
Building on women's knowledge and skills: Instead of employing
subsequent redesign tailored to women's needs (Box 3.1). 15 In
a qualified teacher, MS entrusts the responsibility of literacy
classes to sangha women (Gayatris in Assam, anudesikas in
Uttarakhand). If no sangha woman is available to take up this Tailoring the Curriculum to Women’s
Box 3.1:
role, MS usually selects an educated woman (even an adolescent Needs, MS Uttarakhand
girl) from the same village to conduct literacy classes. This
Despite being part of the MS literacy programme since its
ensures greater access, better understanding of the life-situation
inception (1989), in 2006 it was found that only 25 members
of women, and thereby easy communication between teacher
out of 95 members of a sangha in Tehri district could sign
and learner.
their names in the sangha register. An internal review
followed in 2007 which surfaced some methodological
Tailoring the programme for relevance to women's lives:
problems, including outdated modules not standardized
According to Anita Dighe 'many literacy programmes have failed
across districts, with many reverting back to a ‘signature-
as they emphasized only academic requirements and were
mode’ programme. MS staff also discussed various core
unconnected to the daily lives of women. Women generally start
issues such as the distinction between education and
attending literacy classes with great enthusiasm, but stop after a
literacy. Eventually, the new modules were developed by all
while as they see no connection or contribution to the
functionaries together keeping in view:
predicament they face in their daily lives.' 13 This is due to the fact
that planners and policy makers are often not aware of how to The amount of time a poor woman can devote to pursue
make the connection between the literacy and survival needs of literacy: In response, a 40-day module was designed
women. This is where the MS literacy model makes a major divided into four units (each over a period of ten days)
breakthrough by creating the environment where literacy is Content Requirements – the varnamala (alphabet system)
demanded, thereby providing the opportunity to acquire the skill. was analyzed to identify frequently used letters instead of
The programme is not designed through a standardized 'one size universal teaching of all letters. Lessons were then
fits all' package, but instead through a 'custom-made' model designed using only frequently used letters of the alphabet.
tailored for each particular region. This is exemplified by MS

12 Interview with Ms Gita Gairola,SPD, Uttarakhand 7th June, 2010. 14 Kameshwari Jandhyala: Empowering Education: the Mahila Samakhya experience
13 Interview with Prof Anita Dighe Member of State Resource Group, Uttarakhand, and Member (URL http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001467/146780e.pdf ).
of National Review Mission, 17th June,2010. 15 Interview with Ms Gita Gairola, SPD, Uttarakhand, June 2010.

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T H E A D U LT L I T E R A C Y P R O G R A M M E

ten day camp for sangha women. These are non-residential


Adult-learning methodology was used where the whole-
camps held at the village with nearly 50 learners. The objective
word approach replaced the alphabet method which is
of this camp is to teach women the alphabet, how to read and
typically used for children The modules, thus developed,
sign their name, and the content of the first primer (Asom Kiran I).
were field-tested and six months later, collectively analyzed.
The timing of the camp is chosen according to the convenience of
A set of four exercise books were then introduced. Since
the women. During those ten days, the women attend the camp
2008 this uniform module is being used in all six MS
for three to four hours daily to receive literacy training. Use of
districts of Uttarakhand for the literacy camp.
motivational songs indicating the importance of education and
Source: Interview with Ms Gita Gairola, SPD, Uttarakhand, 7 June, 2010.
empowerment is a strategy followed throughout the camp.

addition, MS always uses various case stories from sangha


An advocacy meeting is held with the sangha women especially
women's experiences to highlight the importance of literacy.
those interested to join the literacy camp prior to the actual camp.
In this meeting, with the help of MS, the sangha identifies a
Instead of following a rigid time-frame, the MS literacy
volunteer (known as a Gayatri, a name chosen on the basis of the
programme is flexible, not only in terms of the timing of the
classes but also in terms of the total duration of the course. In
most places, it follows the agrarian calendar and ensures that
women are able to attend literacy classes (which include the
camp and regular classes) during their lean season. Thus, a
three month course (designed by the State Literacy Mission
Authority) is often spread over six months by the Assam Mahila
Samata Society (AMSS); or a 40 day module developed by MS
Uttarakhand (divided into 4 ten-day units) can be spaced out over
a period of six to seven months. The first Joint Review Mission
reports visiting a literacy centre for tribal women in Sabarkantha
district of Gujarat that functioned between 9 pm and 11 pm every
night when women had free time.16

Literacy programme in Assam Women participating in a literacy camp in Goalpara district of Assam
AMSS held reflection sessions with women during the initial Gayatri Mantra a symbol of knowledge) who would carry forward
mobilization period about the root cause of marginality. Women the literacy activities. The Gayatris, generally sangha members
came to the conclusion that literacy was the key to accessing and residents of the same village who understand the situation of
economic and health facilities. Illiteracy was identified by women women, are usually better equipped to deal with learners. Once
as the main barrier in their lives causing innumerable difficulties: selected, the Gayatris undergo rigorous training conducted in
(i) mothers of school-going children expressed their inability to three phases - Adult-learning methodology, use of Primers, and
help children with their homework in Morigaon district, (ii) sangha MS philosophy. In addition to that, various supporting material
women from Dhubri district wanted to understand their financial such as relevant case stories, songs and other material are
situation in order to trust each other, which meant that they provided to them. Discussions are held about how these
needed numeracy skills, (iii) women were unable to access materials should be utilised during the literacy classes. At the
government schemes and programmes . The need to network end of this, each Gayatri takes charge of ten learners, starts
and liaison with village institutions increased the motivation for regular classes and follows up the progress of each learner.
literacy amongst sangha women. Although the reasons for Additional support is provided to the Gayatris during field visits by
literacy varied in different districts, the demand for it from sangha MS staff.
women was universal.
Jagrity Kendras: These centres are located in each para or
Description of the practice locality of a village. In the beginning, all learners from a particular
sangha used to have their literacy classes at the same time
AMSS has adopted a two-pronged approach to impart the literacy
where each Gayatri supervised the learning of ten women.
training:
However, this led to a large number of drop-outs. So, each
Literacy camps : The first phase of the literacy drive begins with a

16 Aide Memoire: First Joint Review Mission of Mahila Samakhya, 2008: p.80.

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T H E A D U LT L I T E R A C Y P R O G R A M M E

extempore speaking and debates which help learners exhibit their


newly acquired knowledge and thus keep their motivation levels
high. The mela also functions as a platform for interaction
between neo-literates from different villages.

On the insistence of sangha women, MS started conducting


examinations for adult learners. This became a ceremonial event
for women: they would perform Saraswati 19 puja on the day of the
examination and come dressed in their best. The family
members would take extra care and send them by cycle-
rickshaws on the day of the examination. At times, the husbands
would drop them on their bicycles, a distance generally travelled
on foot. Otherwise used to being neglected by their families,
Gayatri training on primer in Goalpara
women enjoyed this extra attention on that special day! One
Gayatri was allowed to conduct literacy classes in her locality sangha woman mentioned that her husband even bought her a
according to the convenience of the learners. This has lowered pack of 'Fair and Lovely' cream because she would be meeting
the drop-out rate. In some villages all learners from different many people while appearing for the examination. Falani Bibi of
Jagrity Kendras meet once a month to interact and share their Dhubri district said “It gives me great pleasure that even at this
experience. While the ideal situation would be for one Gayatri to age I am indeed able to write exams.” In the past AMSS was not
teach ten women, it is often difficult and impractical to find literate authorised to offer certificates to successful candidates, hence
women in the village hence one Gayatri teaches an average of 20 women were unable to apply for jobs which required certification.
women. The first task of the Gayatri is to monitor the progress of However, the certification process is now being instituted in
each learner through house-visits after they complete the camp. collaboration with the National Institute of Open Schooling.
The teaching of each primer begins after evaluating whether the
previous one has been completely assimilated. Generally, AMSS
Growth of the programme over the years
allows a gap of one month after the completion of each primer.
Additionally motivational songs, games and case stories are used The AMSS started its work in Darrang, Dhubri and Morigaon
to demonstrate the ill-effects of illiteracy. The Jagrity Kendra is districts in 1996, spreading to six more districts 20 in subsequent
closed down once its objective is reached. For example, in years. The numbers of Kendras and women trained in them have
Goalpara district alone, 59 such centres were closed down after almost tripled in the last five years growing from 767 in 2005 to
ensuring that there are no illiterate women in those sanghas. 2,189 till March 2010 (Chart 3.2).

The open-door policy of AMSS which encourages women of all The total number of women trained by these centres in these
classes to join the sangha has made it easier to locate a Gayatri.
This policy has other benefits. Not only are they ready to take up
Chart 3.2: Growth of Jagrithy Kendras (2005 – 2010)
the task of teaching sangha women in their own village, they are
often willing to travel to neighbouring villages as well, to conduct
2500
literacy classes. 2189

2000 1934
Ghose in her study on Gender, Literacy and Women's
Empowerment in India finds that “not having regular access to 1500 1370
reading material has serious consequences with newly literate 1210
1019
populations quickly relapsing into illiteracy.” 17 Suitable reading 1000 767
material is not available for neo-literates which tends to de-
motivate their further learning. To prevent this, AMSS has built in 500

a significant innovation in the form of neo-literate melas 18.


0
Depending on the number of neo-learners, these melas or 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
gatherings are organized either at the panchayat or block levels.
AMSS organizes competitions through songs, poems, quizzes,
17 Malini Ghosh: Gender, Literacy and Women's Empowerment in India. 19 Saraswati Goddess of Learning in Hindu Religion.
http://www.icae.org.uy/eng/icaeconfinteaseminar.html (downloaded on 2-07-2010). 20 Goalpara, Sonitpur, Naogaon, Udalgiri, Dhemaji and Tinsukia Districts.
18 A mela is a village fair or gathering.

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T H E A D U LT L I T E R A C Y P R O G R A M M E

sangha/mahasangha members to assess performance, it was


Chart 3.3: Percentage Growth of Jagrity Kendras initially used only by MS functionaries of all levels from the
and women trained (2006 – 2009)
Sahayoginis to the State Programme Director during the field
80 75 visits. As the role of sahayoginis changed over the years and the
70 sangha's capacities increased, the responsibility for regular
60 monitoring was taken over by sangha and federation members.
50 45 MS monitoring focus then changed to ensure that the MS
41
40 33 philosophy is retained throughout the process.
30
20 19 17
13
10 2
0
-10
2006 2007 2008 2009
Women trained in Jagrity Kendras Year Jagrity Kendras

years was 60,389 with a growing demand from women for literacy
training over the years (See Annexure 3.1). Consequently both
the number of centres (growing at an average rate of 25 percent
over the last five years) and women trained by them have grown.
The highest growth rates of centres (41 percent) and learners (75
percent) were seen in 2009 (Chart 3.3). 21

Tracking Progress of the ALP Women participating in second primer Jagrity Kendra evaluation
The literacy programme itself is monitored through the State
There are clear time-frames during which a learner is expected to
Resource Centre and the Neo-literate melas, where learners are
complete any given primer. If learners are unable to meet this
evaluated on their performance through songs, poems, quizzes,
deadline, MS staff probes the reasons. Sometimes the learner
debates and other competitions. Besides, MS ascertains the
might not be able to complete the primer due to the incompetence
quality of education imparted to the women learners through the
of the Gayatri . In such cases, the Gayatri might be changed after
melas held. The melas help the sanghas track and survey the
review or is further trained to improve her competency levels.
number of literate women over time. The changes in their
The problems regarding the Gayatri are discussed at sangha
personalities and the immediate environment are perceptible in
meetings. If the Gayatri is good, more than 50 percent of learners
these melas as the women are able to recount their experiences
perform well, but when her performance is average, the impact on
and their journey from illiteracy to literacy. These, and the
the class is perceptible with most learners performing badly in the
examinations, are the means by which content and quality of the
primers.
Teaching-Learning Material (TLM) are assessed and further
improved. The examinations, while they are ceremonial rather
than compulsory, also serve as a supplementary evaluation Certification Process
mechanism which emerged from a demand by the women The ALP in Uttrakhand has a longer history of certification than
themselves. Additionally the Gayatri assesses the performance the other states, while certification in Assam is just beginning.
of each learner with the help of the evaluation sheet that is State primers are not used by MS Uttarakhand, which instead has
included in the primer. In some places the neo-literates from the collaborated with the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS)
sangha are not satisfied with having attained literacy themselves to certify women. The NIOS collaboration is seen as an important
or having helped other sangha members acquire literacy. They milestone by MS Uttarakhand as it opened up access to
are equally concerned about eradicating illiteracy among women employment, for women (See Box 3.2). In interviews with ALP
all over the village. As a result, they spontaneously spread participants in Uttarakhand, the certification process which
awareness on the need for literacy.
extends over three years has just begun and several 22 reported
waiting for their OBE results. Subsequently they expect to apply
Although MS developed a monitoring format together with the
for employment as ASHA workers, ICDS workers or for other

21 Figures for the year 2010 includes figures up to March. The field work was conducted in April. 22 Interviews with Jalni Devi (Tehri), Urmila Devi (Nainital, Munni Nayal (Nainital) and sangha
women, June 7-19, 2010.

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T H E A D U LT L I T E R A C Y P R O G R A M M E

morale of the sangha women who took part in the ALP.


Certification Process of the National
Box 3.2:
Institute of Open Schooling for Adults:
Impact of ALP
A pioneering intervention in the ALP programme of MS
Uttarakhand is its association with the National Institute of Literacy has become a precious asset to the women and the
Open Schooling (NIOS) and enrollment of sangha women primary impact of the programme is that of poor women attaining
in the Open Basic Education (OBE) programme, the adult literacy. The ALP has resulted in more than 60,000 women
learning component of NIOS. Participants of OBE can becoming literate (Annexure 3.1). For every 100 women going
appear for national examinations conducted at three levels: through the ALP, at least 80 of them emerge functionally literate
.24 Nonetheless, the programme has a much greater impact as it
A level: equivalent to class III
instills confidence and a sense of well being in women, leading to
B level: equivalent to class V
an overall empowerment of the individual, a prerequisite for
C level: equivalent to class VIII
Thus, MS Uttarakhand now offers a 40-day literacy camp Box 3.3: Sangha Women Becoming Motivated to
in the first year, and a bridge course to enable women
Read
write the OBE in the second, third and fourth year for the
three successive levels. Certification, provided by NIOS, Hafeeza Begum was married early to a school teacher; and
enables women to apply for jobs such as workers and was the only person in the family who could not read or
helpers in ICDS program, ASHA, or Anudesika (teacher in write. However, as she looked back, she realized that she
the adult literacy program). was always inclined to read and write but had no
Source: Website of National Institute of Open Schooling (link opportunity to fulfil her dreams. After attending the Jagrity
http://www.nios.ac.in/obe.htm) Kendra, she learnt basic reading and writing skills, and says
it is only now that she has realized the value of pen and
jobs. The programme itself has been tailored to women's needs paper. She even feels that her health has improved after
based on a critical review by the learners and through MS becoming literate. Narrating one of the incidents that mark
monitoring its success rates. For the OBE examination, MS has her journey to literacy she says that “There was a time
developed a simplified curriculum for the bridge course using when I couldn't read a letter delivered by the postman.
school text-books of classes III, V and VIII, instead of the Other people could read and I couldn't, which used to be
curriculum designed by the Adult Literacy Department, found to embarrassing. Now I receive official letters as a VEC
be too complex for neo-literates. MS functionaries also prepare member which made me realize the value of literacy and I
the question papers and evaluate the answer-scripts. am proud to be able to read and write.” Komela Khatun, a
neo-literate, became the president of her sangha. She is
Mahila Samakhya in Andhra Pradesh (APMSS) has also extremely confident and the source of that confidence is her
developed linkages with the AP Open School and many sangha newly acquired ability to read and write. As a result she has
women are now appearing for exams through them. However, been able to deal with legal issues, monitors school
the primary reason for acquiring certificates here is to avail of attendance and also conducts extra classes for small
bank loans rather than for jobs, as their creditworthiness children during the summer vacation. Bijuli Meth of
increases with banks.23 Morigaon, also a neo-literate, is constantly motivating the
children of her neighborhood and helping them with their
A major drawback in Assam was the lack of certification and studies. She helps in enrolment drives in schools. This
linkage with any government programme like OBE. Today, the work with children becomes a two-way process where she
relaxation in NIOS policy has made it possible for women in uses this opportunity to stay in touch with what she has
Assam to appear for the OBE exam in vernacular language. In learnt earlier and also results in making some of those
August 2010 a total of 1754 women appeared for the A level of children more active at school.
OBE. The State Resource Centre is entrusted with the Source: Interview with participants, April 2010.

responsibility of organizing the OBE. It has started operating in


three districts of Assam Darrang, Sonitpur, and Dhemaji - on a
collective action. Benefits of literacy for individual women have
pilot basis. Later, the facility will be expanded to other districts
spilled over to their families and communities (Box 3.3). The
too. This would be a big milestone, and definitely boost the
second Joint Review Mission reports that 'across all states,

23 Interview with Ms Prasanti, SPD, Andhra Pradesh 13 August, 2010. 24 Participants completing both Primer (Asom Kiran I, II & III) and non-primer (text-books of classes I
and II earlier used in the older districts) are considered as successful participants by AMSS.

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T H E A D U LT L I T E R A C Y P R O G R A M M E

impact of basic literacy (except for Kerala where illiteracy is not that resulted from becoming literate and the growing motivation to
an issue) has been critical to an increase in their awareness, self- learn among the women themselves (Box 3.4) . Women are also
worth, and confidence. A very promising by-product of women's helping and motivating other members of the community to learn.
increasing literacy rates is that many of them have begun to send Another significant impact has been on mobility where a number
their own daughters to school. For example in Uttar Pradesh, of women reported being able to move out of their homes as they
women in some villages have ensured 100% enrollment of girl can now read bus numbers and sign boards. One woman even
children, with no more child marriages'.25 asks men to vacate bus seats as she can now identify that these
seats are reserved for women. 27
Impact on the Lives of Women
Women have an increased voice and capacity to negotiate with
Women emerging from the ALP have been found to be able to
officials. In participant observation sessions, federation women
read, write, sign their names, and calculate using basic arithmetic
from Rupsi block (Dhubri district), many of whom were ALP
functions. The first JRM report mentions that impact evaluation
participants, were seen at the office of the District Collector with
conducted by an independent agency in Dhubri district found that
an application for flood relief (the initiative was entirely led by the
female literacy almost doubled in MS areas of the district, as high
women, who came prepared with duplicate copies of the
as 61 percent compared to 36 percent observed elsewhere in the
application). They were aware of the timing when they could
same district. 26
meet him, and also knew that they needed two copies of the
The second most important impact was the pride and confidence application, one to submit, and one to get him to acknowledge.

Box 3.4: Continuing Education


I was young and liked reading and writing but could only
study till the 5th standard. My elder brother used to study in
school but ran away after finishing his studies. My family
felt that if a boy can run off after schooling so can a girl and
I was forced to leave school. I was married at the age of 15
and my husband was illiterate. I took midwifery training in
1977 but couldn't succeed as I was not educated. I lost
hope at that point of time.
Initially, MS workers tried to persuade us to attend meetings
but we would avoid them. Gradually we got to know each
other and realized that there were other women like us. I
was not very keen on restarting my education but MS Sangha women outside DC office in Dhubri with their copies of application

functionaries motivated me and even filled the application Women also have an increased capacity to articulate their
form for me. I took the bridge course and passed the 8th demands with institutions and a sense of empowerment in doing
standard exam through the OBE in 2009. I appeared for so (Box 3.4).
the exam in order to inspire young people in the village. I
used to study on my own. I had forgotten basic arithmetic. Economic Benefits Ensuing From Literacy
I didn't know English at all. But after associating with MS I
Being able to open and operate bank accounts, helping in family
learnt to read English alphabets. In the meetings
businesses, accessing schemes because of their new-found
conducted by MS, issues related to education, panchayat
ability to apply and fill in the forms, the additional benefit of not
and information on MGNREGA was discussed, which
having to pay for tuitions are just some of the economic benefits
helped me a lot. Earlier in the meetings I was shy but now I
that this newly acquired literacy provides. This capacity earns
am able to move out and put my point across to the people.
them further respect from their families. In Uttarakhand because
Somehow, I brought up my daughter and got her educated.
of certification the larger impact of the ALP has been on
Many people want to read and write and after the ALP, I
increasing access to employment (Box 3.5).
help them. I now like to read stories and religious books
like Bhagwad Geeta.
Bank loans are more easily available to women who are literate
Umedi Devi, a federation member from Nainital District.
as reported in Andhra Pradesh and Assam. Hiranmoyi Devi, a

25 Aide Memoire: Second Joint Review Mission, Mahila Samakhya 2009, p. 20. 27 Focus group discussion with 17 women in Goalpara district and 20 women in Dhubri District,
26 Aide Memoire: First Joint Review Mission, Mahila Samakhya 2008, p. 41. Assam, April, 2010.

45
T H E A D U LT L I T E R A C Y P R O G R A M M E

Box 3.5: Education for Empowerment Box 3.6: Teaching Husbands


Munni Nayal from Nainital District, did not have land, My parents put me in school, but I neglected my studies. In
worked as a daily labourer, and was often cheated by her fact I always teased my younger siblings whenever I saw
employer. She was fighting a case to get her share of the them struggling with their school work. I got married by the
property but found it difficult to understand court time I was 14-15. My husband was illiterate too. I joined
proceedings. Today she says, “I feel empowered and can the Sangha out of curiosity, and that definitely opened my
read proceedings of the courts and express myself vocally.” eyes. I understood what we need to do to make any
After earning her certificate, the Janshikshan Sansthan, an progress in life. In fact I also understood that it is not
NGO that conducts open board exams, hired her as a enough for only the men to work; it is necessary that
trainer in the village for literacy programme and she has husband and wife are able to discuss various issues,
also worked in NPEGEL as vocational trainer of knitting. especially family business. My husband runs a ration shop
Source: Interview with Munni Nayal, June 2010 which has a kerosene supply franchise. After I have learned
from Jagrity Kendra, I noticed that he had been entering the
serial number, name, quantity of kerosene purchased by
neo-literate from Goalpara district, Assam, could take advantage
each customer in the book in the wrong order. Since then, I
of this increased credit worthiness creditworthiness after going
have been teaching him how to read and write.
through vocational training. Now she has a poultry-farm, keeps
Source: Interview with Romisha Bibi, Dhubri District, April 2010
her own accounts and has earned 6,000 rupees in six months.
She feels empowered and added that she is very interested to
learn more. Literacy has helped Faziron Naessa of Dhubri in her (Darrang District) mentioned that after learning in the Jagrity
own business. She says that she has been involved in Kendra, she taught her whole family how to read and write.
manufacturing of home-based products and in the distribution of Najima Bibi also asked government officials to change the literacy
dairy products for a long time. But after becoming literate she status of her family.
has become astute in her dealings as a salesperson, and says
that now no one can cheat her. For these women, multiple Women described the ways in which the ALP is relevant in their
economic benefits ensue from becoming literate. lives. 28 Women learn about the importance of breast feeding in
the primers. The third primer covers how to fill forms, write RTI
Relevance of the Jagrity Kendra to Women's Daily applications, write formal letters, and calculate bank interest rates
Lives all of which women found extremely useful. One ALP participant
said that during the literacy camp she read an anecdote of a
A distinguishing feature of the Jagrity Kendras, unlike other adult woman who had overcome domestic abuse by her husband. Her
literacy programmes, has been the relevance of the learning for husband was an alcoholic, abusing his wife and making life hard
women in their daily lives. Before the ALP many women felt for her. The husband was turned out of the house after she
ashamed or helpless when their children asked for help. Now gained the courage to stand up for her rights. The participant
they can teach their children and some feel they do not need to liked this story which she could relate to while other women
send them outside for tuition. In some instances women have mentioned finding the reproductive health and child care issues in
even been able to apply their skills to help their husbands in their the second primer useful. Thus the actual TLM itself had issues
businesses (Box 3.6). which women could relate to or use while the sangha provided
the women the forum and opportunity to not only discuss but
The relevance of the literacy programme extends into multiple actually use them.
spheres of their lives. Many new avenues have opened up to
women such as being able to cast a vote, apply for programmes, Being embedded in mobilization strategies, the sanghas demand
monitor the books and accounts of local institutions, run their literacy and the ALP responds by ensuring the curriculum is both
sanghas and federations, manage businesses, negotiate and gender sensitive and responsive to their needs. The skills that
lobby with government agencies, and write proposals, to name are imparted - from simple literacy and numeracy, to legal and
just a few. panchayat literacy, and life skills - all help women appreciate the
value of education. These features epitomize the higher retention
The relevance of the programme is evident in the steadily of rural women attending the ALP compared to conventional
increasing demand for literacy from sanghas. Mature sanghas literacy programmes.
now understand that illiteracy itself is a social evil. Najima Bibi
28 Focus group discussion with 17 women in Goalpara district, Assam, April, 2010.

46
T H E A D U LT L I T E R A C Y P R O G R A M M E

Once they attain functional literacy, i.e. are able to read books of Tackling social issues
their choice, write and sign their names, read the signboards and Women because they are collectivized also gain a voice in the
bus numbers, and manage their savings and bank accounts, they development of their villages. With the added benefit of literacy,
feel their purpose has been served. One downside of this attitude now sangha women can monitor the work of their local
is the issue concerning retention and completion of the third level governments and more easily address issues of corruption. The
of the programme which qualifies women as literate from an added confidence from literacy training has enabled sangha
official standpoint. For example, Sakina Bibi of Dhubri runs a women to protest against social evils collectively in their
tailoring shop. She used to attend the Jagrity Kendra and communities. For instance Keti Bibi (Dhubri District), 29 a sangha
completed the first primer. After acquiring functional literacy, she woman and ALP participant, was once approached by a match
developed her own system of managing her business by writing maker for her daughter who was 12 years old. The match maker
“L” for length, “B” for breadth. Since the programme has served was proposing a payment of 50,000 rupees to get her daughter
her purpose she says she never needed to complete the third married to a widower who was a father of two boys. She refused
level. According to her “If I can manage with what I learned, why the offer likening it to selling her daughter and threatened the
should I learn more? I do not want to be overburdened.” This match maker with a good beating as a prize instead. Her
problem is accentuated by the higher difficulty level of the third husband also supported her.
primer, which needs simplification.
Many women now protest against child marriage not only in their
On the other hand, even after completing the three primers, some own families but also in the community, and also challenge
women expressed a desire to continue with education, especially officials, if necessary. A girl studying in class VI eloped with a boy
to take follow-up courses which provide more detailed inputs on from a village in Goalpara. Her mother was aware of their affair.
proper filing of Right to Information applications, lodging of First The sangha women protested about this child-marriage and sent
Information Reports with the police, information on government them to the Officer in Charge (OC) of the police station who
programmes as well as learning new languages such as Hindi however, blessed the young couple and sent them back. The
and English. sangha women marched to the police station and asked the OC
whether he would have reacted the same way if it was his own
Impact on Society daughter. He understood their point and took the necessary
steps. The boy was imprisoned for 3 months. After he was
The combined impact of the sanghas and the literacy initiative
released, the children again planned to elope. The sangha
has resulted in women being better able to embark upon
women threatened, 'If you dare do that again, all of you will be
sent to jail.' Now, both of them are back studying in school.

The women pay particular additional attention to matters related


to education in their communities. In Khupsipara village of
Goalpara district, the teacher of the government school was very
irregular and used to come to school only once a month. Even on
the day he came, the teacher would just sign and leave. After
attending the JK, the women understood that this was a wrong
practice. They got the teacher transferred. There is a new
teacher in that school which is functional now and the children are
getting proper schooling.

Another significant social impact of the Jagrity Kendras is that it


Women have become functionally literate by attending ALP has enhanced communal harmony: it brought women from Hindu
struggles and campaigns on social issues such as child marriage and Muslim families closer as they sit and attend classes
and education. Through the sangha, women were taking on together. Critical thinking, questioning, demanding their rights
these issues but through the literacy initiative they are able to and public speaking abilities have improved and this is the main
tackle the issues at higher levels by checking documents, filing distinguishing feature of the MS run Centres. Jagrity Kendra
applications and monitoring local institutions. They are able members now handle many legal cases, especially disputes
influence larger processes such as methods of functioning in between husbands and wives.
government adult education programmes.
29 Focus Group Discussion, Dhubri District, Assam, April, 2010.

47
T H E A D U LT L I T E R A C Y P R O G R A M M E

Enhancing Leadership Capacities in Governance and Naessa, Darrang District who joined the Jagrity Kendra at the
Monitoring Local Institutions encouragement of her second husband. She completed all the
Through literacy and the additional respect it brings from the three primers, took the exam conducted by AMSS and passed.
community, sangha women are given opportunities to take on She now holds a Jagrity Kendra certificate. After becoming
more leadership roles and are also able to execute their functions literate she has become a member of the congress committee at
in these roles. Enhanced capacities in turn lead to further interest the cluster level and the legal planning committee at the block
and confidence in tackling issues related to local governance. The level. As a member of the legal core group she helps women
capacity to read has helped women unearth issues of corruption victims of domestic violence and alcohol abuse. She is also a
member of the SMC of a high school. As an SMC member she is
Empowered Women Can Hold
Box 3.7: involved in monitoring and supervising school building
construction and repair work, toilet construction for girls as well as
Institutions Accountable - Journey of a Neo- the regularity of the teachers in the school. She said that
literate Woman headmaster of the school had been non-functional but that now
Sibibala Rabha is a 39 year old widow from the Rabha he was working properly due to SMC intervention. The ALP has
community in Goalpara district. Illiterate parents engaged enhanced women's leadership capacities where they are now
her to look after her siblings. In fact her parents threatened seen as competent enough to be placed on local committees.
to stop giving her food if she dared to go to school. She For instance Hareshwari Deori of Darrang District has become a
was married at 18 to a literate person. She was unable to role model and an epitome of leadership in her community and
read letters from her husband who was employed outside her sangha. (Box 3.8)
her village. She had to pay someone to write a reply. She
could not read bus numbers and therefore, her mobility was Influencing Government Adult Education Programmes
restricted. She used to follow the movement of the sun to Collaboration with the State Literacy Mission Authority (SLMA) in
understand the time. She is a daily wage laborer engaged 2003 was a major milestone in developing the literacy program, in
in agricultural activities. Goalpara district. The SLMA developed a three-part primer
All this motivated her to join the Jagrity Kendra. As a sangha (Asom Kiron I, II, and III) and provided technical and training
member she takes part in all the sangha activities, runs a support to the Gayatris. The success of Gayatris in imparting
savings group, and has worked towards arresting domestic literacy skills made the Total Literacy Campaign (working under
violence due to liquor consumption. Although she has the aegis of National Literacy Mission) staff invite the Gayatris to
completed all the three primers in six months and scored train them in their methods to better reach a grassroots audience
50% marks, she still cannot read the conjunct letters fluently, and have even incorporated their motivational songs in the TLC
and therefore wants to continue with the classes. But she is learning cassettes. This illustrates the effectiveness of the
happy she can read both the clock and bus numbers. After teaching methods in reaching this particular audience of adult
learning at a Jagrity Kendra, she became a member of the rural women to the point where even state agencies found it fit to
SMC. She has been a member for the last 6-7 years and adopt these methods. According to a district official from the Total
helps manage funds for the construction of the school Literacy Mission,30 “The Jagrity Kendras are running very well in
building. She has a job card and is earning 100 rupees per the district. The environment is very conducive for the women to
day. She has even applied for the secretary's post where learn and be empowered through knowledge, which is necessary
she is involved in monitoring of MGNREGS work. for bringing the rural women into the folds of literacy.”
When the Anchalik panchayat made a fake bill of 100,00
rupees after doing work worth only 50,000 rupees, Sibibala Challenges and Recommendations
and the group caught them on this fraud. Upon being
The Jagrity Kendras are not without their share of problems. The
confronted the Secretary of MGNREGA canceled the order
retention of learners is a constant challenge. Often women
and gave the work to the women.
drop out if they feel that the lessons learnt thus far are enough.
Source: Interview with Sibibala Rabha, Goalpara, April 2010.
Most women complete primers I and II; and drop out at the time
of the third primer as the level of difficulty increases. However, an
and given them the confidence to challenge local officials and interview with the State functionaries reveals 31 that this problem
redirect resources towards their rightful use (Box 3.7). has reduced in the newer districts where AMSS has introduced
the consolidated primer which is considerably easier. Introducing
Another example of a strong woman leader is that of Faziron this primer in all the districts will ensure that women are not

30 Kirti Narayan Das, Adult Education Officer, Total Literacy Mission Goalpara district. 31 Interview and feedback from SPD, Ms Gitarani Bhattacharya, Oct, 2010.

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T H E A D U LT L I T E R A C Y P R O G R A M M E

Problems due to difference between the dialect or language


Box 3.8: Emerging Leaders spoken by the learners at home (or by the community) and the
Being illiterate, Hareshwari Deori felt embarrassed to put her standard language pose another challenge to learning. Most
thumb impression on the attendance sheet of the sangha tribal communities have their own language which is different
meetings. A particularly embarrassing moment for her entire from the standard language of the state. Even if the Gayatri
family was when they received a notice from the Revenue speaks the same dialect or language as the learner, the absence
Department which no one could read. This incident was a of primers in the local languages creates difficulties for the
horrible lesson for the family and no one opposed her when learner, preventing her from acquiring basic skills. Although
she wanted to join the Jagrity Kendra. AMSS has tried to address this issue, and the primer is now
Hareshwari can now write and read addresses, bus numbers available in Bengali, Hindi and Bodo languages in addition to
and sign boards, can travel alone, and is not afraid of standard Assamese, these measures are still far from adequate
speaking in public; but she has many responsibilities in both given the multi-lingual requirements of the state.
her personal and public life for which she feels she doesn't
have sufficient knowledge. Relapse to illiteracy due to lack of follow-up activities and non-
She is a leader of her community (Tiwa Autonomous Council) availability of suitable reading materials is another problem.
at block level. She has been assigned a role of executive Although neo-literate melas (in Assam) keep the motivational
member and as an EM she has to manage the administration level of women alive for some time, it is not enough to sustain the
and distribution of funds which are given by the government reading-writing skill acquired at a mature age. Sangha women in
to the Tiwa community. She is also a member of a health Goalpara district mentioned that they had to return the primers
sub centre and is involved in the planning process of the after completing the course, and therefore could not practice
health sub centre. With this participation at various anything even if they wanted to. The women view the literacy
government levels she has knowledge of funds allocated by classes as a platform for bonding, and sharing with their peers
the government for them (Tiwa community) and it helps her to and at the same time a place for continuous learning. Many
understand the allocation of resources for her community. expressed the need for reading material and the desire to read.
She feels that she is a role model for other women of her Many women also wanted to learn functional Hindi and English.
community most of whom are not so lucky as to have MS is still not in a position to address these demands by women.
received the literacy training. Therefore, she feels that she It is to be noted that AMSS has developed a booklet for neo-
has an added responsibility to teach illiterate women in her literates, 'Samajkhan anya ek dristire saon ahak', and the
community so as to further empower them. newsletters published from the MS districts reserve a page where
Source: Interview with Hareshwari Deori , Guwahati, April 2010. they publish writings by the neo-literates. However, this is not
sufficient, given that the goal is to reach every learner.
deprived of the valuable teaching points in terms of writing Furthermore since supplementary reading material in the
applications, filling up forms and so on included in the third primer vernacular specifically for adults is not easily available,
still being used in some of the districts. Not completing this level investment in creating or translating such materials can be a
represents a missed opportunity in learning valuable life-skills. value addition of the ALP. This would require an additional and
separate investment in the literacy initiative.
The attrition of Gayatris is linked to superstition, witchcraft, and
suspicion of education where families of learners are suspicious The changing world is constantly reshaping the requirements of
of the Gayatri especially if she happens to belong to another women. For increased relevance of the programme to keep pace
religious community. Many Muslim men did not allow the women with ever evolving needs, on-going needs assessment, updating
of their families to attend ALP classes as they were afraid that the TLM and building capacity of the Gayatris would be important
once literate, women would insist on adopting family planning investments needed on the part of MS. The demand from neo-
measures. Coupled with poor and conditional remuneration the literate women from Assam is that the TLM be updated,
Gayatri has little motivation to continue. At present the Gayatris especially on government programmes, given the vital role that
receive a token remuneration for those learners who have this knowledge plays in their lives. However, lack of separate
completed all three primers. This can demotivate the Gayatri as funding for the literacy programme makes it difficult to meet the
she has put in her best efforts for all learners during primers I and demand for such follow-up. Women view the Gayatris in the role
II as well. MS can consider making part-payment to the Gayatri of a mentor expecting her to advise them on new government
preferably after successful completion of each primer; if not, programmes, their children's education, and other family matters.
definitely after the second primer. This way the Gayatri will stop Since she is from the same village, she is easily accessible and is
having a sense of deprivation and wasted efforts.

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T H E A D U LT L I T E R A C Y P R O G R A M M E

the crucial link between the sanghas and MS. Since the capacity The result of the MS approach of holistic education instead of
building of the Gayatri is limited to teaching methodology and use mere literacy can be seen in various initiatives taken by the
of the primer, she is unable to fully meet these needs. MS can sangha women, ranging from demand for educational
easily help the Gayatris to tailor the programme further making it opportunities for children especially their daughters, increased
more relevant to the needs on the ground. Proper induction of participation in panchayat activities, addressing violence against
Gayatris in MS philosophy is a must for them to be in sync with women through the Nari Adalat, and other social issues such as
the overall program-goal and understand the gender-perspective child marriage, trafficking, taking active roles in village institutions
embedded in the programme. as members of Village Education Committees and School
Management Committees, joining MS functionaries in running
The lack of a separate budget for the literacy programme is MSKs, KGBVs, and Jagjagi Kendras, health initiatives and many
another constraint in smooth running of the programme. Literacy more. Literacy training has made their efforts that much stronger.
being need-based in MS has required a significant amount of The need for literacy has grown so strong that women in
mobilization that precedes literacy drives. Since sanghas are Goalpara district have initiated the move towards starting Jagrity
now mobilized and the demand for literacy has increased Kendras in three blocks without AMSS even organizing
significantly, it is important at this point in the programme to awareness campaigns. Experiences shared by women from the
prioritize literacy and have a separate budgetary allocation for it. older centres are enough to motivate the new learners. In Dhubri
Data (Annexure 3.1) indicates that over time, more women are district, centres now run by sangha women themselves have
completing the literacy programme offered by AMSS. The already begun but in this case using school text books.
federation has taken the initiative to convert two blocks in Therefore, even if MS withdraws, it is evident that the literacy
Goalpara district into Total Literate Blocks. Sangha members of programme will continue.
these two blocks carry out house visits and check the literacy
status of new brides of families in the village. If a new bride turns The need-based approach of the MS-run literacy programme
out to be illiterate, they encourage her to join the Jagrity Kendra. allows flexibility to adapt the curriculum to suit the needs of
They monitor attendance and in some districts, sangha members women. The changing world is constantly reshaping
even impose a fine on absentee learners. Unlike motivational requirements of women. In order to keep pace, it is
campaigns organized by MS, the literacy programme requires recommended that MS must carry out a needs-assessment of
constant supply of stationery, teaching-learning materials, learners on a continuous basis. Ghosh observes that 'it is not
curriculum development, translation, human resources, and even literacy rates but what people do with literacy that makes the
the development of rural libraries. engagement with adult learning valuable, meaningful and
essential'. 33 It is for the users of such programmes to say what
counts as meaningful in their context. The ALP is designed
Lessons Learnt and Conclusions
keeping in mind both the needs of women in their daily lives as
Despite various odds, the literacy programme in Assam has been well as those of sanghas and other initiatives, and this is what
a tremendous success, mainly because of the strong will-power makes it relevant for poor women. Thus the ALP incorporates
and determination displayed by sangha women. They are willing requirements of the Nari Adalat, panchayat literacy, and the
to attend literacy classes despite a whole range of challenges and federation. Consequently many participants across the states
opposition, both at home and in the community. In Assam, have mentioned that reading-writing skills acquired through
“Literacy is considered as criteria for leadership and 171 neo- literacy classes help them maintain better documents and
literates have been selected as sangha leaders.” 32 minutes of Nari Adalat proceedings, panchayat and federation
meetings. The importance of the ALP lies in its ability to
An important element in the success of the literacy programme is transform the lives of many women in rural areas, creating a
that it is not a stand-alone practice of Mahila Samakhya, it is in niche where they can understand and exercise their constitutional
fact heavily interlinked with most sangha activities. This entitlements. More importantly, the programme addresses the
programme does not specifically focus on any one aspect of lacunae that women face in their daily lives arising out of illiteracy
growth of participants, but seeks a more wide-reaching effect, and ignorance, and through the federations and other initiatives,
enabling their overall empowerment. Most women interviewed provides them a channel to allow their voices to be heard in a
asserted that the programme has certainly made a major predominantly patriarchal society.
difference in their lives and after acquiring basic literacy and
numeracy, they feel better equipped to face the outside world.

32 Aide Memoire: Second Joint Review Mission, Mahila Samakhya, 2009: p. 20. 33 Malini Ghosh: Investing in Adult Women's Literacy: Reflections from an Indian Context
http://www.iiz-dvv.de/index.php?article_id=906&clang=1 (downloaded on 15-07-2010).

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