• Purnima Gupta of Nirantar on the dire need for women’s literacy in rural India

    “It has taken every ounce of her energy to get each woman to attend her workshops,” says Purnima Gupta, Senior Fellow at Nirantar. Nirantar works towards enabling education, especially for girls and women from marginalized communities.

    While the NSSO survey 2015 of the rural India says that 71% people are literate, the ground reality is otherwise. Lack of amenities, teachers, mentors and role models at the village level created loopholes in literacy in rural India. To discuss the complexities related to adult literacy for women in rural India on the World Literacy Day, Purnima Gupta, Senior Fellow at Nirantar, claims that rural women only come for training programmes if they can earn a living out of it.

    Coming from a small town of Mirzapur near Varanasi, Purnima always wanted to stand on her own. Her family pressurized her to get married but she had other plans for herself. She wanted to work and be independent and so she shifted to Delhi ewith the help of her brother. In those times, Nirantar came out with a job ad and she luckily found it and went for an interview. It was a hindi typing work for a magazine it had launched in 1998.

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    “The magazine was for neo-literate reader who had just learnt to read. I had to type simple hindi. I did that for a couple of years and then got interested in teacher’s training and field work. In 2002, we started a literacy programme in Lalitpur and I worked very closely with that programme till 2011 I was coordinating that programme,” told Purnima to SheThePeople.TV

    Her body of work includes organising community level work on women’s education in Mehroni Block (Lalitpur district, Uttar Pradesh). She also founded a residential school called Janishala for Dalit women and adolescent girls from adivasi communities.

    But actually how difficult is it in rural areas to find and train women teachers? She responds, “It’s very very difficult since literacy level is very low, 5th, 6th, 7th are the highest grade that people have studied to. Then we have to train them in reading and writing skills. After that comes concepts and since Nirantar is a feminist organisation- gender and power structure is what women are taught. So all these levels could only be achieved through multiple sessions for minimum two years and not just a single workshop. Teachers were also given on-the-job training while they are working at camps to educate others. These are the processes not undertaking in many training programmes.”

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    She added, “The teachers who had joined us in 2003 are now in leadership roles in the schools and in this organisation.”

    She also claimed that caste played a huge role initially in determining who to train or not. “Initially we faced a lot of problem in getting women to train. The upper caste women would not want to teach lower caste children and women. So there were many dropouts within a month of joining. Then what we did was, we identified single women, dalit women, widowed women etc and trained them. They also faced pressure from their families but I think they allowed them to work with us as the women were getting salaries and that played a huge role.”

    Her message to the society about literacy is that it is beyond the structure of earning a livelihood. We should be literate to be able to read for fun and entertainment. We should be able to learn from the books that have so much to offer.