illiterate in India teaser

Illiterate in India


Illiterate in India – that’s me.

On Friday I stood in line awaiting my turn to buy a ticket to board the train. To the right, I saw a sign that said “monthly passses” and that line was closed, so I took the next one. As I stood in line, I noticed everyone had their ID with them. I was so happy I had my passport with me. Afterall, I rarely walk around with it since well.. I kinda need it. I had it because I was going for my visa change. So how did this turn into an illiterate in India experience?

Anyway, after around 5 minutes in line someone asked if I was in line to buy a ticket, I said, yes.

I was then informed I was in a monthly pass line.

I hopped to the next and the 20-somethings started laughing and pointed at a sign in (Marathi or Hindi) that apparently said I was  in the monthly pass line.

That’s illiteracy. You can’t always assume you know what’s happening based on lines and such.

In the US I was not the smartest person out there, but I’d consider myself educated. But here, I can’t communicate more than a few sentences and I definitely cannot read anything.

I can’t imagine the struggle of every day life for those who are functionally illiterate and thus have no chance at non laborious jobs.

I can do things without language/literacy because I have relatively a decent amount of money. That allows me more than others.

So, while my 5 year old works on her Devanagari script, I’m thinking I need to learn a few more sentences (because reading without knowing what the words are would be a bit useless).

Literacy in India varies from the 40% rate to upwards of 90%, but even so there are still many kids, girls especially who never see a school building. This is in spite of a child’s right to education (RTE) act that makes school compulsory.

Literacy Rates in India
Literacy Rates in India – Creative Commons Planemad

Here are some NGOs (non profits) that help with illiteracy.

Literacy is important – it raises employment. It gives options to the less privileged. I remember in a college sociology class having a course on literacy and Kerala (state in India with highest literacy). Of course politics are at play as well, but literacy does impact livelihood. Heck if I searched I think I’d find that book :) I have 5 boxes of books left to unpack from our move (see I am literate!), and I did find a few relevant but not the right one (Worker in the Cane, one on middle class Mexican high schools and one that I recently read and need to re-read (The Case For Make Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World)

We’re transitioning and coming along. Now to make the next step for me.

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  1. My sister-in-law is originally from Korea. She left school with a 3rd grade education and came to the US when she was in her 30ies. I couldn’t imagine making my way in a foreign country being illiterate (and having only a 3rd grade education.) It helped that she had a network of friends here.

  2. I was in India a couple of years ago and the conditions and the things I saw were sad. It is sad children cannot get to go to school. Thanks for the links I am going to read more

  3. I remember being in Germany, and not able to speak or read much. It was rather hard at first until I started to learn the language. I honestly don’t know how those with illiteracy manage.

  4. It can be rather difficult being in another country not knowing the language. I’m dreading our trip to France because my high school French isn’t going to cut it. I’m really surprised also at how many females don’t get the right education there in India. Hopefully something happens to change that soon.

  5. That was nice that someone told you that you were in the wrong line. Sometimes people would just let you stand there and then that would of been awful. I have always wanted to travel to a different country but scared I would not understand the language enough to get around. How does that work?

  6. As a Literacy Specialist, I have often seen how being illiterate affects a person’s quality of life. Being able to read opens up a whole new world and brings light to the darkness for a lot of people.

  7. I could not imagine how hard that would be. And your experience really puts it into a light I think more people can understand.


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