Sudhadevi, resident of Gubar village in Uttar Pradesh's Kanpur-Dehat district, notes down the year 2006 with pride. It is, after all, the year in which she learnt to read and write.
From being illiterate to one who can now put pen to paper, Sudhadevi has come a long way. Literacy has accorded her societal recognition and enhanced self-esteem. "I am no longer an 'angutha chhaap' (illiterate - someone who inks a thumb impression in place of a signature)," she says with pride, to the Utthan team that has helped her through the literacy primers.
Established by the New Public School Samiti (NPSS), Lucknow, and its partners - Samarpan Jan Kalyan Samiti; Jan Kalyan Maha Samiti; Dehati Gramothan Vikas Samiti; and Zilla Yuva Kalyan Samiti - Utthan was launched under the Poorest Areas Civil Society Programme. The latter is a non-government effort to empower millions in 108 of India's poorest districts.
Utthan focuses on imparting literacy to women in the ravine-region of Bundelkhand, central India. Around 5,000 women were targeted in the districts of Jalaun, Fatehpur, Hamirpur, Banda and Kanpur-Dehat.
This semi-arid plateau of central India with its rugged topography is the favored hideout for dacoits and mafia gangs. High winds that carve out the ravines, erratic rainfall and soil erosion are just some of the other strains on local livelihoods. In an effort to make ends meet, villagers rely on small-scale dryland farming and livestock. A high infant mortality rate and low literacy levels among women have been a cause for concern.
Civil society workers believed that the success of any development programme in the ravine region was dependent on women's literacy. For instance, being able to read and write would help women understand how to apply for a loan and thus impact the household in the long run. They also discovered that it was, in effect, those who could read and write who actually dominated panchayat (village council) proceedings.
Yet, imparting literacy is easier said than done as can be gauged from the initial response that Utthan workers encountered: 'Ka zaroorat hai likhne padne ki? (What is the need to learn to read and write?)'. Fortunately, the NPSS put its over-two decades of experience in implementing literacy, education and livelihood promotion programmes to creative use. NPSS introduced customized literacy primers or textbooks - also known as Praveshika.
Elaborates S.P. Pandey of the NPSS, "The secret is to deliver the inputs of education and development in a manner in which people can assimilate skills without feeling that education is a burden or irrelevant. We want the literacy courses to be interesting and relevant."
The primers were designed with the following objectives: