Speaking to The Better India, Harshika says, “The people work very hard to make ends meet. It is unfair that they are robbed of their money only because they are not literate. To right this wrong we introduced the adult literacy programmes.”
A tribal district, which falls on the border of Chhattisgarh, Mandala is also a Naxal-affected district. “Unfortunately, a lot of funds from various government schemes that were meant for the betterment of these tribal communities, especially women, were getting siphoned off due to various bank forgeries. Many times because they were asked to put their thumb impression, they did not necessarily know what they were saying yes to,” she says.
This led to a lot of money getting lost, sometimes without any trace. Learning about this scam hit Harshika and that was when, along with her team, the idea of making the district inhabitants ‘functionally literate’ (able to write their name, count and read and write in Hindi) came about. “It became important for us to teach them the basics. Besides being able to sign their names the programme also educated them on handling money,” she says.
Explaining this further, she says, “If someone was making a withdrawal of Rs 1,000, we started telling them about the various note denominations that they might be given by the teller at the bank.”
“A 2011 survey revealed that the female literacy percentage in the district was at 56 per cent and the overall district literacy was at 68 per cent,” she says. With no extra resources at their disposal, Harshika decided to rope in the literate population. She attributes a lot of the success of the programme to this.
Within the district itself, the team was able to mobilise 25,000 literate volunteers to take this programme forward.
Yet, the programmes weren’t without challenges and hiccups. “The terrain in this region is harsh and to organise a static school was difficult. To adapt to this, we organised these sessions close to their homes and even at the work site, where during their lunch break they would learn,” says Harshika.
To ensure that this programme is successful, the team started by contacting the educated daughters and daughters-in-law from the panchayat. They were the ones who started the hand-holding programme and ensured maximum participation. “We wanted it to be a community-driven programme. We realised that getting someone from outside might not work since they would not understand these women and their dynamics,” she adds.
To further enhance this, she simultaneously launched an initiative called GyanDhan. This initiative focused on crowdsourcing resources like books, slates, writing instruments and all other tools that could be used to teach. This helped in setting up Mahila Gyanalays (Women Schools) across 490 Gram Panchayats in the district.
Devi Shivanshi (32) who got married and moved from Chhattisgarh to Mandla has completed her class 12 education and is now teaching others in the district. She says, “We conduct classes for two hours each day and sometimes three or four women come and on some days, many more turn up. Initially, they were also apprehensive about what we were trying to do, but now they understand and appreciate it.”
For Harshika, there have been several moments of joy since the implementation of this programme. “I recall meeting an 80-year-old lady at the Gram Panchayat who took the time to write me a letter thanking me for initiating this programme. She was one of the beneficiaries of the programme and she said that even though she had heard her name being called out all her life, to be able to read and write it has empowered her.”
The biggest win for Harshika comes when she sees the number of reductions in the reported bank forgery cases in her district. “This was the very reason why we started this programme. To safeguard the hard-earned money of every individual in my district. This is our true reward,” she concludes
The story has been extracted from: https://www.thebetterindia.com/296433/ias-officer-harshika-singh-district-collector-improves-mandla-literacy-rate-prevents-bank-frauds/