Kitaab Khaana – The Library
Introducing the fascinating world of books to children and young adults from indigenous, Dalit, nomadic and semi-nomadic, de-notified and other communities in rural India.
Kitaab Khaana has been initiated to inculcate social awareness and democratic values in children and young adults, from marginalised and disenfranchised sections of India, through the medium of books. The effort is to equip children from indigenous, Dalit, nomadic and semi-nomadic, de-notified and other communities, with knowledge of Constitutional principles at a young age, and actively encourage reading as a way to understand this nation, its history, its cultures and sociopolitical structures. Helping them realise the joy of reading, we believe, Kitaab Khana is the first step towards building a conducive and holistic environment where children can indulge in self-discovery through creative and constructive means.
Kitaab Khana at Kumbhalgarh:
Kumbhalgarh is the second largest block of the of Rajasmand district in Rajasthan in terms of area (771.5 sq.km), with an overall population of nearly 1.5 lakhs. Located in the picturesque Aravalli hills, the block has a considerable tribal population; 27% Scheduled Tribes such as Bhils and 9% Scheduled Castes. Most of these communities possess either artisanal skills or are custodians of rich performing traditions. Like most other parts of rural India, literacy rate in Kumbhalgarh is a low 53.18%.
So, why a people’s library in a place where only 1 in every 2 people are literate?
The only public ‘reading places’ in rural Rajasthan – outside of schools, of course – are teashops and chaupals. Even more rare is coming across men, women or youth sitting together and reading, or passionately discussing politics, sports, science or other worldly matters. There are two problems here – one is of mindset, as ‘padhai karna’ is largely consigned to school/college textbooks while the second is of accessibility – even if people were interested, where do they get access to good books on a regular basis in a remote corner of Rajasthan?
A public library cum open house in this context not only provides a conducive space for knowledge gaining through books and relevant literature, but also doubles up as an ‘adda’ encouraging discussion, discourse and engagement. It serves as a window to the world, and as a platform for maturing ideas, clearing fallacies and building sound public opinion and awareness. Beyond all this, it simply is a fun and safe place for recreation and meaningful ‘time-pass’ for children and young adults who live their lives in the grim face of impoverishment.
The culture of reading that is usually inculcated in our childhood is fast becoming a forgotten heirloom. For children in Kumbhalgarh, afflicted by poverty and gross lack of access, Kitaab Khana has provided them the much-needed space for creative expression and growth. It has encouraged them to read, play and participate; churning out of them, thinkers, innovators, and artistes. Apart from providing them access to books, the library regularly hosts a series of simple activities around story-telling and educative games, theater and arts workshops, and small talks on contemporary sociopolitical topics.
Kitaab Khana was started as an informal library in January 2016 with money from our own pockets. We bought books worth Rs 8,000 and watched as the children became voracious readers. They devoured the books and came back for more. Thus was born a community that was bound by its thirst for knowledge.
Kitaab Khana on wheels:
On opening the first library we quickly understood that children are the fastest means of communication! Word about Kitaab Khana spread and children and parents from various villages in the block started visiting the library. However, we soon realised that in a remote area such as Kumbhalgarh, with its sparse public transport systems, it was impossible for young children to commute from their villages to our library on a regular basis. But having experienced the joy it brings them, they persevered, and this encouraged us to create Kitaab Khana on wheels.
One of our saathis converted his bike into a mobile library, carrying different set of books and games to different villages. He parked the library outside schools and other public spaces and spent time interacting with children from those areas. Close to two years since the initiation, Kitaab Khana has now become part of their routine for children dwelling in Kumbhalgarh.
Expansion of Kitaab Khana:
Having experienced what wonders a small informal initiative such as Kitaab Khana can do to the lives of rural children, we are encouraged to expand the Kumbhalgarh library, making it a more robust space with a wider collection of books and other facilities. We are also keen on replicating this model of a public library and creative space in other remote parts of rural India. We would like to begin by creating three new Kitaab Khanas in Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and one more in Rajasthan, all places where the collective is already actively involved in grassroots work and has deep connections with local communities.