The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Literacy shield for TN women

Chennai, May 18: . Sridevi’s father can no longer fool her mother.

“Using up Rs 20 from a hard-earned day’s wage of Rs 100 to play cards came naturally to my father. He would manage to fool my mother as she could not even differentiate between a Rs 10 note and a Rs 100 note,” recalls Sridevi, a resident of Samiyarpatti village in Tamil Nadu’s Dindigul district.

“But today, similar situations do not occur in my village as women here are able to question their spouses. They can read now, thanks to an intensive rural literacy programme undertaken by our women’s self-help group (SHG) leaders. The programme even includes computer training,” says Sridevi with pride.

“Our women would hardly stir out of their houses as lack of literacy was a major handicap. It restricted their mobility as they could not even read the display board on a bus in order to travel to some place. Nor could they read a land record,” she recalls.

Sridevi was sharing her experiences with SHG leaders at a function at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation here recently.

Sridevi said she had only studied till Class VIII, but could now use the Internet like her urban cousins.

“The SHG was formed under trying circumstances as getting women to spend a few hours at a literacy programme was an uphill task,” she recalls. “Initially, it created more friction in the family, for men would just come, toss their salary and go away while women had to do everything.”

But there were more takers for basic literacy when it was realised that it could better mobility and income.

The programme did not stop at reading, writing and arithmetic. “We are teaching women how to use digital and video cameras and how to send and receive e-mail,” Sridevi says. As if to prove this, she went around with her digital camera, clicking other speakers at the function, including social welfare minister B. Valarmathi.

Angel from Chokkalingapudhur in Dindigul has been innovative in using technology in agriculture. It is just a month since her 12-member SHG, Ilya Thendral Suya Udhavi Kuzhu, set up a small unit to manufacture a bio-pesticide, Trichoderma, at a remote village. The unit was set up with an investment of Rs 2 lakh, including Rs 1,20,000 as bank loan and Rs 60,000 as grant from the Swaminathan foundation.

“There was a time when we could not even hold on to a Rs 10 note in our village. Now, we have managed to set up this venture after a week’s training at the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, with know-how from the Swaminathan foundation. We even insert slides in local cinema halls so that farmers come to know about Trichoderma,” she says.

A local company has agreed to buy at least 500 kg of Trichoderma every month. “This has ensured a minimum return of Rs 1,500 per month and has given us the confidence to become entrepreneurs.”

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