Even on days when chemotherapy would leave her exhausted, Shama Khanum would be ready by 3 pm with books in her hand and a smile on her face. For the last four years, she has been running an Urdu Literacy Centre from her house in old Seemapuri, teaching the language to 12-15 children. “Through all my troubles, teaching helped me, healed me. It distracted me from the cancer… Now I am better,” says the 50-year-old, holding new books and stationery for students.
The Urdu literacy centre was launched in 1988 by the Urdu Academy as a scheme to eradicate illiteracy under the National Policy on Education. Inaugurating a new session Friday, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said, “Language is not just about grammar… and you aren’t just teachers, you are ambassadors of the way of life, tehzeeb and saleeka associated with Urdu.”
Khanum and 120 other volunteers from across the city gathered at the Urdu Academy in Kashmere Gate Friday afternoon. Among them was 63-year-old Ismat Riaz, associated with the initiative since the ’80s. “Back then, a lot of women would ask me to write letters to their husbands or mothers because they were illiterate… So when the programme was launched, I found my calling of teaching these women, so that they won’t need me to write their letters. Now we get paid Rs 3,000, but back then it was Rs 100 a month,” says Riaz.
For 40-year-old Saleha Bano of Mustafabad, it was much-needed money when her husband died five years ago. “I had two children to raise. I realised I can teach Urdu, so I applied to private schools but the money was not enough. Now, apart from teaching at a school, I also run an Urdu Literacy Centre from home. The money isn’t much but it’s better than nothing,” says Bano, who has been running it since 2015.
Every year, new volunteers join after a written exam and an interview. “The Academy releases an advertisement, after which we get 200-250 applications. We test their basic reading, writing and speaking skills and let them run these literacy centres,” says Dr Majid Deobandi, vice-chairman, Urdu Academy.
For 30-year-old Mehraj Jahan of Inderlok, a mother of two, this will be her first year. “I won’t be allowed to go out and work but we need the money. This way, I can earn from my house. The money will make me feel independent in my own way,” she says.