In the heart of Northwest Delhi’s Karala village is an airy room where young women have been spending their days for the last week, studying in a space of their own in the first women’s only library in the district.
Swati Mathur (20), preparing for SSC exams, said she found studying at home full of distractions and frustrations. “I share a room with three of my siblings so I do not get my own space. There are people who keep coming and going throughout the day. In the village, if someone is idle, they just go and visit someone’s home. Whenever they come, my sister and I need to make tea. I think girls get more troubled while trying to study at home. When my neighbours come, I have to deal with questions about when I will get married,” she said, adding, “My father works in DTC; he is very supportive. He found out about this library and told me to come here and study peacefully.”
Mathur has been coming here every day for the last week, arriving at noon and staying till it closes at 5 or 5.30 pm.
The library has been set up on the first floor of the village’s community centre through a collaborative effort between the village community and district administration. The administration used Beti Padhao Beti Bachao funds to set it up, and has partnered with Vision IAS, which provided books and workstations that can accommodate up to 35 women. Two book racks house NCERT books and history, geography, mathematics, and analytical reasoning books, as well as books for competitive exams such as UPSC exams, NEET and JEE.
“This is a community driven project. They have given us the space and pledged to maintain and look after it. It is mainly targeted at young women, aged between 21 and 28, who are done with schooling and college and are now preparing for what’s ahead. This part is so far from the hubs of such activity like Rajender Nagar and Mukherjee Nagar. The library is free, so there should be nothing holding women or their families back,” said Northwest Delhi District Magistrate Cheshta Yadav.
This last point has been important to 20-year-old Vanshika Mathur, for whom financial constraints meant she could not afford a place to study. “There are actually quite a few ‘private libraries’ nearby but these are really expensive, around Rs 800 per month. I could never have afforded those and there is no study environment at home, so I had been having a tough time. But here it’s peaceful. I bring my lunch and stay from 10 am to 5 pm,” she said. Her father works as a bus conductor and her mother is an anganwadi worker. She is preparing for the DSSSB exams for teacher recruitment.
While the library was inaugurated just two weeks ago, there are plans for other facilities and activities centred around it.
“We wanted this space to be used by our girls to study. All the girls in the village are our daughters and sisters, and they can succeed with studying… We have put in requests for other things such as a few computers, WiFi connection, and we’re trying to collect more books from our community members who are teachers and policemen,” said Lala Mathur, a resident of the village who is currently acting as caretaker of the library.
Prachi Seth, district coordinator for the Women and Child Development department in the district, said they are in touch with different NGOs and publishers to procure more books, including story books for younger girls. She added that there are plans for the DM and other women officers of the district to conduct guidance and counselling sessions on competitive exams for girls in the library.
Preety Panchal (20) said, “It’s hard to explain what I’m doing, preparing for the SSC exam, to visitors at home. I feel like they may think that I’m wasting my time. I like having this workstation all to myself and getting away from everything else.”