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Zarina benefits from the power of literacy

New Delhi, Sep 7 (IANS) Zarina Bibi, a resident of a remote village in West Bengal's Murshidabad district, is a happy woman today. She can travel confidently to the bazaar far away and buy goods with no apprehension of being cheated - thanks to Saakshar Bharat, India's ambitious adult literacy programme.

Speaking via video conference from her village Madhupur to the august gathering in Vigyan Bhavan here Saturday, Zarina said she had always wanted to learn the alphabets and numbers but did not know how to till she learnt of the Saakshar Bharat programme being run in her gram panchayat.

"I did not know how to read and write.. Today, I can read the Bangla alphabets, count from one to 100 and also do simple math. I can go confidently to the bazaar today and do my shopping without any fear of being cheated," she said in Bangla, which was translated by R. Bhattacharya, secretary, Department of School Education & Literacy.

The video conference was part of the International Conference on Alliance for Literacy, Peace and Development in South Asia held at Vigyan Bhavan, with Union Human Resource Development Minister M. Pallam Raju and Minister of State Shashi Tharoor among the guests.

There was also a volunteer teacher from Meenapur in Muzaffarpur in Bihar who said his area was affected by Maoist violence but still they had managed to do "good work" in the area and had achieved the target of educating 555 people.

Anu Priya, a representative of a village from Villupram in Tamil Nadu said 2,000 villagers were being taught. They had held six exams so far. The next batch of 114 adult students were well prepared for the next exams, she said. "The people have learnt a lot of things. Now they are willing to go to the bank, and have the power to sign.. They are happy," she said.

The adult literacy programme has helped people of Panavada gram panchayat in Thanam in Andhra Pradesh to participate in self help groups and microfinance. They can understand numbers much better, said the representative in Telugu, which was translated by Union Minister Pallam Raju.

A catchy song for boosting literacy was also played on the occasion. Penned by Javed Akhtar, the song in Hindi goes, "Tan, tan tan, baji school ki ghanti, chalo school tumko pukare (the school bell goes ring, ring,ring; It is beckoning us to school, let us go). The video has Bollywood actors Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Imran Khan and Anoushka Sharma mingling with school kids as they study and play.

Saakshar Bharat is the world's largest adult education programme, which envisages making 70 million adults literate by 2017.