Songs on Women’s Empowerment

Here are 4 songs. These Bengali songs form part of our village level campaign, by team SWADHINA ,  at times with small street plays. On this GANDHI JAYANTI we remember the large section of women who still have a long journey to make to reach towards living a life with equality and dignity.


Literacy Jatha:March at a Tribal Village for Literacy Promotion

Literacy “Jatha”- a “Jatha” is a March in which certain action is also accomplished along the way. Some times ago we, an NGO group organised a Literacy Jatha in a tribal village


picture-326called “Majhidih”. The basic objective of the March was to spread awareness on the need to have a minimum literacy for all, and, also to teach women of the village ‘how to sign their names’. Since this was organised by an NGO working for women’s empowerment, the stress was to cover women in the village. Most of the women did know how to sign their names even. We were stressing on this because these days, they need to put their signatures for various reasons i.e. to open a Bank Account, to get govt. benefit schemes to become an effective member of Self Help Group and so on.

picture-319Majhidih literary means a Santhal Village i.e.” Majhi” means Santhal tribe, and, “dih” means a village.  This village is located amidst East Singbhum region of Jharkhand state in India. Jharkhand meaning “The Forest Land”, is a new state. There was a long time demand from the local Tribals – the Adivasis that they be given a separate state.  We are working in villages here on women and children development programmes since inception of this state.

Spending the night before at our camp office at Bondih we set out for the Majhidih village early morning in two bikes and a few bicycles. We also asked our village volunteers from neighbouring villages to assemble at the Majhidih village. It took about half an hour to reach the village for our bikes.  The cyclists also made it within that time limit, since they took short cut passage through forest. It was summer, the area is chronically drought prone, there was scorching heat emanating from the stony road, even though it was still early in the morning.

After reaching the village we made two teams. The men in the team were given the task of writing awareness slogans on the walls. The Santhal houses have mud walls, but, they are kept very clean and neat by pasting coloured mud regularly.There is particiularly a red soil available in the hills here which look very beautiful on walls.


Writing on Wall: “I Want Education”


“Must Learn How to Sign My Name”

The women in our team, joined by other village volunteers, took the charge of teaching signature writing to the village women.

Our March or the Jatha began.  While we took charge of the wall writing, the women, in small teams entered a few huts on both sides of the village road. The villagers were too enthusiastic to participate in this learning process. It was nice to see that while the women were busy trying to write their signatures on the paper, the menfolk in the house took care of the children. ( a rare scenario in Indian village context where bringing up a child is solely vested on women)

Once a cluster of 4 to 5 huts covered, the Jatha marched forward. At times we, the graffiti team were lagging behind to complete the our paint-brush task.


The only reason I was treated differently was my tummy !

Around 3 p.m. we reached at the end of village. Here we had out lunch…. piping hot rice, lentil curry and a potato-brinjal curry…. served on Sal Leaves plates. It was tasty, and, in any case we were really hungry… we did not have a chance to break our fast (skipped the break fast !)

Our end of the Jatha was a cultural show, organised open-air. We have cultural team, which presented  a number of Awareness song and dance, composed by us on various social issues like cutting of trees, need for literacy for all, torture on women and so on.  At the end there was  a Magic Show which was thoroughly enjoyed by all !

( I love playing a Folk Drum, and, whenever there is a chance….. !!!)


Early Childhood Education: Joy of English Learning

Why should my son go through NFE, why can’t my son learn like other children” asked a poor villager.

I could not follow his submission. He perhaps guessed it and added “I mean those children, from well-to-do family in the village, study in the type of schools where they learn English, and, why not my son get a chance to learn English” ?

I now got his point. Whenever we think of education for these hapless poor village children, those who are drop outs, or, could not go to regular schools, we come up with a NFE Programme. In the Non Formal Education curricula we do not include English, and, teach only in local language.

I have been in this village literacy enhancement task for over 25 years now. In the process conducted several hundred training programmes for the NFE Instructors or Literacy Teachers or Social Animators, in several states across the country like Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Assam and Tamil Nadu. I have  provided direct in-field guidance and thematic support to over a thousand NFE centres. In the process developed Primers, Posters, Flash Cards and a large number of “fun-n-learn” games with pictures, paper cut outs, letter cards and so on. Since we work mostly in tribal areas, we developed various group dances, group songs, street plays on social issues, so that social awareness, as a part of education, can be created. BUT this man really bowled me out !

So, we finally worked out four primer charts in English. First, idea was that Similar to Look and Easy to write Alphabets to be selected. Secondly, it was thought that learners will have fun if they learn some words using those newly learnt limited alphabets. In the similar way the rest of the 3 charts were designed.

We then percolated this method through training programmes conducted in many places. We found this method to be a very good one and the learners learn very fast. We used this method in Early Childhood Education Programmes, Non Formal Education Centres, Rural Pre-primary Learning Centres and found them to be very effective.


Those days the area I live was a secluded place.  This was the extreme corner of southern Kolkata and there was a railway track nearby divided us between  two districts.  Walking about two hundred meters one would reach the main road – the bus plying road, though there was not too many buses.

I was barely 7 years old  and was not supposed to cross the main road. Thus the only Durgapuja arena  I was allowed to go was this Pal Durga Bari.  Pal Residence was a huge mansion, with many rooms, complete with a large play ground, two ponds and several shops. Central to the mansion was this Durga Bari with a large courtyard.


The festivity used to begin  two weeks before the start of the Durgapuja at this Pal Durgabari.  Image makers from distant Kumartuly (prime image makers colony) arrived with the raw  image structure made of wood, straw and  bamboo sticks. The image makers photo2488at first pasted clay on the structure, allowed it to dry and then  paint the entire image with white paint.  It took several days. I, along with boys of similar age, gathered daily, quite  early in the morning,  to watch the act patiently.  We used to spend hours here and could really feel the festive mood in the air. The image being made was Ek-Chala ( mono-structure), meaning multi-images placed in one large structure.  Within a few days  images were re-painted in  different bright colours and decorated with silver coloured foils.

photo2481Finally there was this day of creating the eyes of the images.  This was the time when the images was put under a white curtain and only the chief image artist was  allowed to cross the curtain to draw the eyes, the last act of the image creation. Normally this special act was done at late night. The next morning we all used to rush to see the all-complete image, and, every year we were mesmerized by seeing the glittering colours of the creation. Watching image making always was an


Chandrapuli Sweet

interesting part of the celebration, and we surely got the same thrill year after year.

From Shosthi Day, the Pal Durgabari became a crowded arena. Many relatives of the family gathered together, and,  the local neighbours joined too. There was now Dhakis (drum beaters) playing different rhythms at regular intervals.  Some enthusiastic urchins performed spontaneous  group dances.

At the end of the Pal Mansion was Noni Babu’s sweet shop. Noni Babu too belonged to the Pal family. We used to walk up to the shop to buy two specific sweets, specially made for Durgapuja festival.

Naarkol Chhapa – a round white sweet made of lot of sugar and some bits of coconut, with a dash of camphor. The price?  32 pieces per Rupee (you read it right !)

Chandra Puli – a moon-shaped, camphor flavoured,  yellow sweet made of refined sugar and finely ground coconut, costing  16 pieces per Rupee.

I and my group-mates  belonged to middle class families and our humble budget for the festival would normally be around half a Rupee a day. Thus we would spend about two anaas (one fourth of our daily budget) at the Noni babu’s shop.

In the afternoon there would be Vastra Daan (cloth distribution) when a large number of  local poor men and women would make a  long que to receive the gift.

Pal Durga Bari is celebrating the Durgapuja for 140 years now. During this year’s  Durgapuja, to re-live the nostalgia, I took my grandson to the arena. The celebration is more pompous now with more colourful lighting added. The long duration image making function is now replaced with a short duration act – with only the add-ons like eyes drawing, foil decoration on the images are done at the arena.

photo2487Noni Babus sweet shop is now an image making shop –run by his grand sons (all of them are reputed image artists). I introduced my grand son to one of them (my child-hood buddy!) who was present at home during our visit !


(Noni Babu’s Family Durgapuja is now held at the closed down sweet-shop)