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Dr Nita Mukherjee describes a pioneering effort that has become a movement
An effort that started in Kerala almost a quarter century ago to reach science and knowledge to the rural populace has today metamorphosed into Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS) (Indian Organisation for Learning & Science). BGVS has an all-India presence with units in 23 states, 350 districts and 300,000 volunteers working in more than 10,000 villages. These volunteers come from varied backgrounds —school and college teachers, engineers, doctors, bureaucrats, peasants, workers and students. BGVS has today become a movement that goes much beyond spreading literacy; it strives to empower people through education and knowledge about their rights.
In 1989, the Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), a pioneering people’s science movement in the country, undertook a massive literacy campaign in Ernakulam district (Kerala) in collaboration with the district administration. KSSP used the time-tested medium of kalajathas (cultural caravans) to reach out to every nook and corner of the district with a literacy programme. The KSSP, various voluntary organisations and the district administration worked hand in hand to remove ignorance and superstition. Hundreds of young men and women came out to become voluntary teachers. The campaign approach of Ernakulam proved to be a major success.
Later in that year, when the National Literacy Mission decided to replicate the Ernakulam experiment nationwide, the All-India People’s Science Network, at the request of the Government of India, decided to form BGVS, with the primary responsibility of placing literacy on the national agenda. Dr Malcolm Adiseshiah, well-known political science professor, was its founder-president and MP Parameshwaran its secretary. Its general council comprised activists of the people’s science movement, representatives from the then ministry of education and eminent educationists, social workers and artistes from all over the country. In a sense, BGVS was a precursor of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
The campaigns of BGVS now cover programmes like basic education, literacy, samata (equality), panchayat-level development perspective planning, kalajatha & mass mobilisation and food security in NREGA. Since 2005, BGVS was working tirelessly on the Right to Education Bill; Dr Binod Raina, executive committee member and former general secretary of the BGVS, was a member of the committee that drafted the Right to Education Bill. BGVS is now working closely with the government in implementing the Bill in 4,000 panchayats of seven states. A core group has been formed to enhance the capacity of government teachers. According to Asha Mishra, secretary BGVS, “This task is not fund-intensive; making a difference in the attitude of teachers to improve the quality of education is time-intensive.”
BGVS is a registered society and has 80G exemption. It deliberately decided not to accept foreign funding, although some programmes have been funded by UN agencies—UNESCO, UNICEF and UNDP. It believes in the Gandhian model of chavvanni-membership (four-anna membership of the Indian National Congress to build a mass base of the freedom movement); its annual membership is just Rs10 in most states—Rs5 in some states. The organisation also gets small, individual donations and funds some of its activities from the sale of low-cost books. Asha Mishra says: “All our volunteers work on an honorary basis. We also collaborate with the panchayats; the gyan-vigyan vidyalayas are community-run, so no funding is required. What is required is a secular and rational approach which BGVS inculcates in the volunteer teachers through its frequent and intensive training programmes.” This training is provided to government teachers; almost 1,000 teachers are trained every year. That the BGVS has 300,000 volunteers speaks volumes for the cause as it does for their dedication.
Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti
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