Jatin Lalit Singh
Till the 10th standard, I lived and studied in Bansa, a small village in Uttar Pradesh. I shifted to Lucknow for my higher studies, becoming the first person from my village to go to an English medium school. Many people don’t understand what a privilege it is to study in an English medium school. Apart from the other opportunities, it also gave me access to all kinds of books. That is where I developed a love of reading.
Enamoured by the magic of books, I even started working in the community library, where I worked for over 3.5 years. Observing the library’s regulars, ordinary people from all walks of life, gave me a deep insight into the power of knowledge. I witnessed firsthand the drastic change in people’s personalities before & after joining the community library. That sparked an idea that changed my life- could I replicate this in my village?
I thought hard about my grandfather, who established the first girls school in Madhavganj, and helped establish an inter-city college. His work spurred me to do something equally meaningful. Making knowledge accessible for those without access to it was something I felt I had to do.
Even so, it wasn’t easy. I faced many hurdles. Casteism is something I faced as villagers kept threatening to close the library in two days. Because our librarians were women who left work after 7, people looked at them strangely. There was always a cloud of fear above us. But this is a struggle for all those who seek to empower the weakest sections of society, especially Muslims, Dalits & women.
Yet, we persevere because of the many people who support us. Every day, almost 70 people come to our library. When I see children reading the Constitution, I feel very hopeful. We have slowly expanded our network and opened three libraries. A fourth is in the pipeline. These have also become a means to kickstart other initiatives like Self-Help-Groups for women.
Recently, the government inexplicably decided to conduct panchayat elections amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic was ravaging my village and many people were succumbing to it. So I took the decision of converting the library into a medical aid centre. We used Twitter to arrange for scarce resources, which was also a big support to ASHA and NM workers. This was especially useful as they couldn’t speak out of fear- either of losing their jobs or their salaries being withheld.
Fear seems to be looming heavily over people in India. This fear is used to intimidate and silence people. Draconian laws are used to suppress voices and to curb individual rights. Therefore, it is a challenging time for civic and social education. But I strongly believe that the atrocities on Dalits, Muslims and women are happening due to lack of education. And education is the biggest tool we can use to fight fear.