GRANNIES LEARN TO READ AND WRITE
Denied education when young, 29 ‘students’ in pink sarees now get a second chance
THEY wear uniforms, carry satchels and eagerly recite the alphabet in class, but the students here are different — this is a “school for grannies” .
Deprived of an education as children, the women, most of whom are widows and aged between 60 and 90, are finally fulfilling a life-long dream to become literate through this unique initiative near Mumbai.
“I never went to school as a child. It feels great to come now and study with my friends. We have so much fun,” Gulab Kedar, 62, said beaming with pleasure. She, along with the rest of the class, wear matching pink saris.
The school, which marks its first anniversary on International Women’s Day today, is challenging traditional attitudes in Indian villages and helping its women shed the stigma of illiteracy.
Every day, 29 students walk from their homes in Phangane village, in the Thane district of Maharashtra, to Aajibaichi Shala, meaning “school for grannies” in the local Marathi language.
Grandchildren wave them off, or sometimes accompany them. They proudly carry matching satchels, each containing a slate, a piece of chalk and a textbook.
From 2pm to 4pm, they sit cross-legged on the floor of the small outdoor classroom, which is made from bamboo, its roof thatched with hay.
Under the guidance of teacher Sheetal More, 30, they read and practise writing their names on their slates, two things none of them could do 12 months ago. They also learn basic arithmetic.
The women, many wearing bangles and elaborate nose rings, all have a similar story to tell. As youngsters they stayed at home or worked while their brothers got an education. They married young and were expected to raise children and look after the home.
“My siblings went to school but I wasn’t given that opportunity,” said Janabai Dajikedar, 75. “At the bank, I had to give my thumb print every time. I felt ashamed. Now, I can proudly sign my name,” she said.
The facility is funded by a local charitable trust and is the brainchild of Yogendra Bangar, a teacher at Phangane’s primary school for the last three years.
He struck upon the idea last year when some of the women complained that they couldn’t take part in public readings during religious celebrations.
“We wanted to help them. We thought if we could give these grandmothers a fair chance at education and literacy, then it would make them happy. Their joy at being able to provide a signature and read has increased their happiness,” said Bangar, 41.
He said the school, including its colourful uniform, was playing an important role in fostering respect for women. He hoped it could be an example to other villages.
“Most of the grandmothers are widows and are meant to wear white to show mourning. We wanted to break this taboo and other older traditions to make every person feel they are equal and part of the community without any discrimination, so we chose a pink uniform,” he said.
All 70 families in the village support the project and proudly dropped the grandmothers off on their first day of school.
“There was music and drums, lots of fanfare. It made us feel special,” said Kantabai More, 70, who loves it when her grandchildren help her with her homework.
“We huddle together and study, read, write, laugh and share stories. I’m content,” she said.
Grandmother Savita Deshmukh (centre), 62, practising her writing during class at the ‘school for grannies’ in Phangane village in Maharashtra state’s Thane district, near Mumbai.