Why Does India Fake Literacy?

I suppose it needs to be said that the literacy figures for India are simply abysmal. For women in particular it is about 60%.

But the really bad news is that that isn’t a real estimate of how many can actually read and write in India. When there was a lot of angst expressed over how India houses almost half the world’s illiterates, the government got down to work on it — of course Indian style.

They created a new official definition for ‘literacy.’ By this unique Indian method, anyone who can read and write their name is officially counted as literate!! So Sita who can write S I T A, but doesn’t know the alphabets, can’t read and write anything else, considers herself literate.

Not only that, these women even when they work and earn, have no idea of how much they are actually earning or should be earning. They have no concept of savings, or calculation of change when they go shopping and take whatever change is handed over to them. So among the 60% women literates, 84% (see below) have little or no idea of how to handle daily cash transactions!

There was a Sita who had worked as a part-time domestic help for for me for a year. She was proud to call herself “literate” and insisted on signing the pay register instead of putting her thumb print as is customary for “illiterates” in India. They are called the “angootha chchaps” (thumb printers) — an offensive term.  Naturally no one wants to own it.   I had about 12 ‘signatures’ from Sita, all wildly varying in shapes and proportions. She turned down repeated requests from me to allow me to teach her. She said what she ‘knew’ sufficed her. Of course I or someone was always there to fill her forms, help her with her banking etc. But she was happy and proud to say she could write.  As I suppose is India!

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When Trees Could Walk Like People

How do we introduce our children to the world – the larger world outside the home and family?  How do we explain to them what this world is and what their connection to it is?  Probably it is through the stories we tell them via books and movies.   I haven’t seen or read any Harry Potters yet, but I’m guessing by their popularity, that they are defining the world for millions of kids.  And sometimes I wonder in what way?

When I was a child, one of my favorite authors was Ruskin Bond.  I would devour his books.   He lived in Dehradun, a small town in northern India, in the Himalayan foothills.  There are many writers who live in rural surroundings and their writings bring forth their love of nature.  But I think that Ruskin Bond’s writings struck a chord in me as a child, in that it revealed to me a joyous, nurturing—and very importantly—a personal connection that I as a child could seek and find with the larger natural world around me.

Recently, I re-read many of his books, a sort of nostalgic reading trip down a childhood memory lane.  And what I realized was that what Ruskin Bond did for me as a child with his writings was what his father did for him when he was a child!!  He had simply passed on to me the myths, stories and visions of the world that he had inherited from his father.  I think as loved as Harry Potter is, Ruskin Bond should probably be made compulsory reading for all school children in India!  I’m happy to say, he still lives and writes about the natural world he loves and invites his readers to share in it!

Here’s one of my favorite passages, an excerpt from his short story ‘My Father’s Trees in Dehra,’ [From the collection of stories, Dust on The Mountains]

 Most of fruit trees around the house were planted by Father. But he was not content with planting trees in the garden. On rainy days we would walk beyond the riverbed, armed with cuttings and sampling, and then we would amble through the jungle planting flowering shrubs between the sal and shisham trees. “But no one ever comes here,” I protested the first time. “Who is going to see them?” (more…)

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