by Suhail Mohammed 31 December 2020
A library in Majidbhita, a char or a riverine island in the western Assam is creating slow but steady changes among the adjoining villages in the district. The riverine Majidbhita sits on the Beki River, which is a tributary of the ‘ever-growing’ Brahmaputra river in the state of Assam.
The library has been conducting regular workshops and development programmes not only for the students of the villages but also for all those who would sit in the library in the evenings. The library has more than 120 students who come to the library in the evenings and sit maintaining distance from each other and this is a treat to watch the awareness among them of physical distancing and ‘do gaj doori, mask hai jaruri’ and these young kids have beautifully inculcated in them the protocols which the elders are hesitant to inculcate. The group of the students was recently left spellbound and astonished when for the first time in their life they had attended a Webinar on zoom where Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta, the director-general of Assam police was the chief guest. The director-general asked them to maintain the current imposed covid protocols and the needs and benefits of staying fit and healthy during the pandemic. He also asked them to wash hands and change clothes regularly. He explained to them the difference between physical distancing and social distancing and motivated them to study hard and talked about the ways to deal with psychological depressions. He also talked about sexual violence and sensitised them to such violence. He further reiterated that the online mode of learning during the pandemic has been quite helpful to reach students like them who are in the far-flung areas and in the char and riverine areas in the state of Assam.
The students there had later also participated in a number webinar series on stories, storytelling and methods and gain tremendously when regular schooling for them was not possible because of the imposed Covid 19 restrictions and shutting of their primary schools till the 31st December of this year in this in the state. Attending one such webinar on stories and storytelling, Animal, a student of the library, says, “We are extremely happy to attend these webinars and these programs on folk songs and traditional dances that are shown to us on laptops and these are helping to ask to gain knowledge. We come from home running to this library only to attend these programmes. We are around 120 kids in this library like me who attend the programmes regularly”. Saklina, another student of the library says, “We never feel that we are away from the towns, we read and learn in this library and the webinars have been really helpful. I enjoyed the workshop on traditional songs and dances which was conducted in the last week.”
In Pic: The students of the library are seen reading with the mentors assisting them. Pic Credit: Zahedul Islam
The Parag Kumar Das Char Library and Research Centre were set up in 2016 by Jhai Foundation, an NGO. It is run by four young local volunteers: one is a science graduate and three have completed high school. They help students with subjects like English, science, and mathematics.
The library has a number of volunteers who go around the villages to urge people to send their kids to this library. There are families who willingly send their kids whereas others need to be persuaded. The students are asked to take a one-time member of the library for Rs. 5, which too is not implemented strictly. The library runs basically on a voluntary basis and has been able to create a change in the area.
The island has around 250 families and around 80% of them are below the poverty line and all of their kids most often go to this library to access books and computers. The island has only three primary schools and the teachers do not attend their schools regularly as they live away in the towns and when it rains any day it becomes extremely difficult for them to cross the river on boats to come to school.
The library in such conditions has played a major role in educating the students there. The books of the library are crowdsourced and there a number of books and reference books for the primary students. The library has also a computer and a laptop which are accessible to the students. They learn the interesting facts of their own state and about songs and traditional dances of the state. They are often made aware of child marriage and the social evils that are prevalent in the country through YouTube and other reliable resources. They are also allowed to learn using the computer and the volunteers guide them.
In Pic: The students of the library are lined up for their morning exercise which will be followed by breakfast and then they would sit and read in the library. Pic credit: Zahedul Islam.
Zahedul Islam, the librarian, and president of the initiative said, “Technology has changed lives. The internet has shown us the world. Google and YouTube have revolutionised knowledge. If we had had a library like this 10 years ago, we would have been miles ahead.” Islam is a resident of the char who completed high school, a feat in an area where almost 80% of residents are illiterate. “I grew up on this char. The library has contributed a lot in spreading the light of knowledge. Now, during the lockdown, we are helping children access online education,” Islam said.
Sometimes the library is a space for cultural exchange, where people can sit, sing, and debate. Abdul Kalam Azad, the founder of the library, said, “We once invited a farmers’ group from Jorhat. They shared how they take care of their cattle and their flood experiences. The night was spent singing the folk songs of their respective areas – borgeets, zikirs, bhatiali, murshidi.”
In addition, there are many students and researchers who come to this library from not only the state but also students from the state who reads in some other institutes in the country. They interact with the students and stay with them in the library for some days. Suhail Mohammed, the author of this piece also visited the library regularly for his master’s dissertation at Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.
“We want to create more such libraries in the adjoining chars. We have to create a rapport with them first. The biggest challenge is to get a dedicated local volunteer,” said Azad, the library’s founder.
Suhail Mohammed is pursuing his master’s in English at Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.