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What it means to be literate: ‘Helping family financially during Covid, fighting for daughters’ education’

International Literacy Day 2020: On this day, features two women who did not have access to school, but can now read and write and what this means to them

Written by Shyna Kalra | New Delhi |
Updated: September 8, 2020 1:05:22 pm
UNESCO declared September 8 as International Literacy Day

As the world celebrates the World Literacy Day today, there are about 22.3 per cent of Indians who can’t even read or write their names. As per the latest survey of the National Statistical Office (NSO), the literacy rate is worse among women and in rural areas. It is 87.7 per cent in urban areas as against 73.5 per cent in rural regions. Gender-wise, the male literacy rate is higher at 84.7 per cent compared to 70.3 per cent among women, as per the official data.

On this day, features two women who did not have access to school, but can now read and write.

From being confined to my room to helping the family during COVID: Rafiyabi Shaikh

Rafiyabi Shaikh

“I never used to step out of my house in Gulmohar chawl in Mumbai’s Dharavi, because I did not know how to catch a bus or read signboards,” says 45-year-old Rafiyabi Shaikh, who has four children. But it all changed when she met Shalini Dutta, a fellow at an NGO — ‘Teach for India’. She hired Rafiyabi to work for Aftertaste – a social enterprise which trains women from economically and socially marginalised families to create gifts and decoration items.

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Read | Why is International Literacy Day celebrated on September 8?

During her training for the job, Rafiyabi was given additional education. Now she can read and write numbers, operate an ATM, and manage her personal banking.

“Now, after being trained and working on my own, I can read the number on the buses and identify them. It has given me the freedom to travel on my own without depending on anyone. I have also operated an ATM, I know how to withdraw money from a bank account,” Rafiyabi told

Also read | Literacy Day: At 96.2%, Kerala tops literacy rate chart Andhra Pradesh worst performer at 66.4%

Her husband is a bangle seller who does not have a steady income since the Covid-19 induced lockdown was imposed. “During the past couple of months, no one could go out or work but I could. I continued making crafts and occasionally the people used to come and collect the samples. It earned me Rs 4,000 to 5,000 a month. I also had savings from before which came handy. My husband was very happy that I could supplement the family income during the tough times,” she said.

“Now, I am also a support to the family, beyond the kitchen. I feel like I can do anything I want,” she said.

From never going to school to fighting for my daughters’ education: Susheela Bhatti

Susheela with her two daughters

Susheela Bhatti, 35, and mother of four, could never go to school because of the ill health of her mother. She got married to a truck driver who had completed high school. Susheela sent her two daughters to Literacy India — an NGO which supports the minimum level of learning for children.

Susheela’s daughters became her teachers and her biggest strength. During their training at the NGO, the children were encouraged to bring their parents and grandparents to the centre. While Susheela was never trained at the study centre, her eldest daughter Anmol used to learn ways of teaching from her teacher and made her mother learn the basics. Now, Susheela can not only read, write, sign in Hindi but can also operate digital devices with ease.

After being trained by her daughter, Susheela advocated sending her elder daughter Anmol to study further. “In our neighbourhood, girls are not sent to college. When I decided to send my daughter, I had to face a lot of criticism. Till date, I do not talk to some of my neighbours. Only brave parents who have full faith in their daughters can take this step and I knew that I was right in placing my faith in her. If I was given this basic training much before, I could have been a support to my husband who has been managing the family alone. I will not let my daughters scum to the same pressure as I did,” said Susheela who has started signing instead of applying thumbprints.

Susheela said that her daughters have always given better results than her two sons and she considers their education a better investment.

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