Neelam Tiwari is a supervisor at the adult literacy centres run by Gram Vikas Sewa Sansthan (GVSS) in Mangraura block, Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh.
Neelam Tiwari: In 2011, I was pursuing my Master’s degree in Sanskrit. I learnt about an open position at a literacy centre. I applied, got the job, and realised that I was also the person best qualified for it.
My work at the centre ranged from literacy and numeracy to hearty singing of songs. Most of the women enrolled in the centre were from OBC1 and SC2 communities; these are communities where women’s education is not given importance. The female literacy rate in the village was 26%3, and the women coming to the centre had never been to school, and nor had their husbands. The pedagogy we used emerges from, and was fundamentally linked to, rural women’s lives. I understood the importance of giving value to learners’ contexts and their experiences in the process to further knowledge construction. Developing women’s understanding on issues related to gender and violence, vis-à-vis their lived realities, was at the core of the teaching learning process. Our primers were written with a gender perspective, and they helped me not only in conducting discussions with women, but also to sharpen my own understanding of a feminist way of thinking. This understanding was challenged daily in my personal life. Initially, my husband supported my work, but he gradually started disliking it due to my increased mobility. He didn’t like the fact that I had to talk to the men of the village as an equal. As I grew more financially independent, my husband used to find reasons to beat me. To address this, I started living with my in-laws. In 2018, when GVSS opened adult literacy centres for the women of a dairy cooperative in the same block, I was selected as a supervisor and was assigned the responsibility of overseeing fifteen adult literacy centres. I visit them all, support the teachers, and build their understanding on gender issues and feminist pedagogies.
I used to love making songs on the issues and concepts that were taught at the centre. We started our day singing songs that were also a call for women to join the centre. After that, I used to commence teaching. I also liked asking women to write on the blackboard. This gave them confidence about their learning abilities, and women used to appreciate each other, which helps in motivating them to learn further.
I feel motivated and energised when I see women putting in that extra effort to learn, and especially when they share their positive experiences of attaining literacy. The literacy centres have become a women’s space where we all share similar journeys, but most importantly continue to learn together.
1 / Other Backward Class (OBC) is a collective term used by the Government of India to classify castes which are educationally or socially disadvantaged.
2 / The Scheduled Castes (SCs) are officially-designated groups of historically-disadvantaged people.
3 / Census 2011
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