Amrutha Pulikottil joined Fireside as the Operations Manager in September 2012. She was born in India and currently lives in Anderson, Indiana. She reflects on her own passion for writing and the importance of literacy in development work.
The women in my family were mere whispers in history even though their lives influenced many men. A majority of South Asian cultures – Muslim, Christian or Hindu – are patriarchal and a woman’s identity is always described in relation to a man i.e., through her father or her husband. Her life is an accessory to a man’s story.
Patriarchy also dictates how history is recorded and presented. Family trees only depict the male members of the family, as if the wives, daughters and mothers are invisible and insignificant. For centuries, women were discouraged from active participation in educational and religious institutions. There was no space for their stories to be told.
I often take my own privileges for granted because I am a recipient of someone else’s struggle for the right to work, the right to education, the right to inherit/buy land. If I had to march on the streets myself, I would be more conscious of the worth and weight of my rights.
The absence of a feminine voice in Indian history motivates my own desire to write and collect stories of other women from South Asia. It isn’t to displace the masculine voice but to provide women with the same forum to disperse ideas and stories.
The UN, various non-profits and social businesses recognize literacy as a right but it is described in technical terms. Literacy is politically, economically and socially liberating but it is also fun, enriching and life-giving.
It does provide an individual the ability to read the constitution, paperwork, signs and instructions but it also gives an individual the opportunity to record their personal histories. My personal blog is a space for me to address social issues and preserve memories of my own life. I wish my grandmother could have done the same.
Development studies focus on the scarcity of food, water and shelter. It’s time we also focused on the scarcity of voices. The women of India are not the only victims of illiteracy; there are many men, children and marginalized groups whose voices are not heard because they do not have the tools to read or tell stories.
Stories have the power to transform and transport our minds, shake and shock our sensibilities, mystify and move our souls. As we work to provide individuals (at home or across the seas) with increased access to necessary resources, we should also invest in projects and movements to provide them with the joy of literacy.