When the City of Letters lived up to its name

It may be a far cry from the excitement when this town was the focus of national and global attention. But Kottayam, popularly called the City of Letters, is set to celebrate the anniversary of an important milestone in its history on Tuesday.

Thirty years ago this day, it was declared the first town in the country to be 100% literate. The project was achieved through a ‘100 days, 100% literacy’ campaign that opened the world of letters to 2,208 people.

A unique tie-up

Thomas Abraham, former National Service Scheme (NSS) programme coordinator of Mahatma Gandhi University and general convener of the literacy campaign, said the initiative was one of the finest examples of campus-community partnership.

Initiated on the basis of a door-to-door survey conducted by the NSS volunteers from the university among the nearly 70,000 residents of the town, it was implemented through a concerted action-plan involving bureaucrats, civil authorities and the public


“From conducting the survey to getting the municipality and district administration involved in the campaign, the immense initiative exhibited by U.R. Ananthamurthy, writer and sociologist who was our Vice Chancellor then, played a crucial role in making it a grand success,” he said.

Using the technique of ‘each one, teach one,’ as many as 600 volunteers, including a group from the Madurai-Kamaraj University in Tamil Nadu, reached out to the illiterates and taught them how to read and write. The entire activities in each of the 32 wards were coordinated by a National Service Scheme volunteer , employed with a monthly stipend of ₹450

Convincing learners

While the hardest task was to convince the target group about the need to resume learning, social pressure alone was not the motivation.

For instance, Kuttappan, an illiterate who was dead set against learning, was made to learn on an intervention by the then District Collector K.J. Alphons, 80-year-old Mariyam was desperate to study as she wanted to read the Bible.

“The two major achievements of the initiative was that we could make this into a massive public affair and that it made the concept of literacy a fashionable subject,” said Mr. Alphons, a former Union Minister and currently a Rajya Sabha MP.

“While the idea was basically from the university, I became the chief coordinator and put my heart into the project, which also taught me the sheer ecstasy of working together to achieve a goal that seemed impossible,” he added.

On June 25, 1989, Kottayam was declared the country’s first ‘100% literate town’ by N.P. Sahi, the then Union Minister of State for Education.

At the convocation ceremony, each neoliterate was given a certificate authenticated by the Mahatma Gandhi University and the Kottayam municipality.

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Printable version | Sep 10, 2022 7:41:43 am |