Elderly women in Haryana’s Bibipur village are ditching farm tools for the mouse

Sat Singh May 2, 2017 7 min

Women’s Day is, more often than not, about rhetoric. But this Women’s Day, March 8, made a real difference in the lives of some women from Bibipur village of Jind district in Haryana. From that day, 15 women who were denied education when they were of school-going age started undergoing basic literacy and computer training sessions at the village chaupal computer centre. The ‘digital literacy’ project has been initiated by an NGO under the Lado Swabhiman Utsav, an initiative to propagate women’s rights in Bibipur.

The women, all aged over 50 and several of them grandmothers, are making up fast for the lost years, overcoming challenges posed their illiteracy to get adept at using the mouse and the keyboard. Sahbo Jaglan, a 58-year-old mother of four, one of the 15, says, “There was no school in my village when I was a child. Then I got married to a farmer who himself never went to school. So, this is a never-before chance for me.” Sahbo can now write her name in Hindi as well as in English.

Some of the women are learning computers out of sheer curiosity. ⁠⁠⁠⁠Some of them want to interact and engage better with their ​tech-savvy ​grandchildren. Still other are doing it for practical purposes  

The female literacy rate in Bibipur as per the 2011 census was 59.59%, much lower than state average of 66.8% and national average of 65.46%. In contrast, the male literacy rate in the village was about 84.31%.

Some of the women are learning computers out of sheer curiosity. ⁠⁠⁠⁠Some of them want to interact and engage better with their ​tech-savvy ​grandchildren. Still other are doing it for practical purposes — many of them get pension and they want to access their bank accounts online and avoid the hassle of going to banks and standing in long queues to check their balance. They also want to wrest control of their bank accounts from their husbands.​

From farm tools to mouse

Promila Jaglan (about 80% of the residents of this village go by the surname of Jaglan) says she had never seen a computer in all of her 50 years. “When we dadis (grandmothers) got the offer to learn free computer learning, I could not resist,” she says. The thought that she couldn’t even write her name used to rankle her, says Promila, adding that she can now dial numbers on the telephone to connect with her son.

“Then, women were not permitted to step on the chaupal. It was the​ sole preserve of men.​ Today, I go to the chaupal and nobody objects” — Promila Jaglan  

She talks of the time she was married off as a teenager. “Then, women were not permitted to step on the chaupal. It was the​ sole preserve of men.​ Today, I go to the chaupal and nobody objects.” The chaupal has traditionally been a male reserve and refers to a place in the village where men assemble to resolve social issues.

Clearly, the men of this village are not raising red flags when it comes to the project. A Bibipur resident Mahtab Singh Jaglan says when villagers first heard of the initiative, they laughed it off. “But after several of women came forward to learn computers, I asked my wife to join it as well,” he adds.

The ‘digital literacy’ project has been initiated by an NGO under the Lado Swabhiman Utsav, an initiative to propagate women’s rights in Bibipur

Bimla Jaglan lives with her husband. Her two sons are married and live separately. She’s loving the computer training. Her husband, a farmer, doesn’t complain as he gets his three meals a day and his clothes are washed. “He only wants me to do my responsibilities towards him. Otherwise he’s a cool guy and he’s ok with me doing the computer classes,” says Bimla Jaglan, another student.

Sahbo’s son Sunil, aka ‘Kala’ Jaglan, says he’s thrilled to hear English words spill out of his once illiterate mother’s mouth. “My mother had two regrets in life. One, she couldn’t find a bride for me. Two, she couldn’t get an education. Thanks to this initiative, she’s been able fulfil her second desire to an extent,” he says.

“I was the fastest learner on the laptop. I mastered the art of moving the cursor, writing my name in Hindi and English and finding files from folders saved in different drives within the first week. Others took nearly 20 days” — Indravati Jaglan, 66  

Their teacher Sunita Jaglan says the ‘dadis’ are shattering stereotypes. “Because of old age, they have vision and hearing problems, but nothing can beat their grit and determination to be digitally literate. I often have to repeat even basic things several times, but I don’t mind,” she says. The women will be taking a test on May 8 and the winner will win a cash prize and a memento.

Indravati Jaglan, 66, is thrilled that she’s the teacher’s pet. “I was the fastest learner on the laptop. I mastered the art of moving the cursor, writing my name in Hindi and English and finding files from folders saved in different drives within the first week. Others took nearly 20 days,” she grins.

Women leading the way

The force behind the programme, Sunil Jaglan, ex-sarpanch of Bibipur, says. “Change takes place with the eldest. When grandmothers get to know the importance of education, it finds its way down to other members of family,” says Sunil, who was Bibipur sarpanch from 2009 to 2014. The idea is to encourage older, illiterate women to get a computer education and spread the message of literacy in the villages. Thankfully, it has started working, he adds.

The idea is to encourage older, illiterate women to get a computer education and spread the message of literacy in the villages  

Jeevani Jaglan and Barsati Jaglan, both residents of Bibipur, say they’ve held only farm tools all their lives, but now they can hold the “mouse” and draw pictures on the computer screen. “The feeling is unmatched,” says Jeevani.

Bibipur is 150km from New Delhi. It made headlines on July 14, 2012 when it hosted the first-ever khapmahapanchayat to take on serious issues of gender imbalance in society.

Women from the village are leading the way in breaking through age-old prejudices and challenging patriarchy

Women from the village are leading the way in breaking through age-old prejudices and challenging the male dominion of the khap panchayat in a state ridden with deep gender and social inequities. And the men are helping them bring down the edifices of gender inequality. In another initiative to propagate women’s rights at Bibipur, men from five villages tied orange turbans on 122 girls; this rite of passage is reserved for boys in rural areas.

Sunil Jaglan says the seeds of transformation were laid during the mahakhapmahapanchayat. Their efforts to curb female foeticide are also paying off. “Around 100 women, including these 15, underwent a month’s training in delivering speeches on female foeticide. They all raised their voices on the burning topic to an audience of turbaned khap panchayat presidents. That took courage,” says Jaglan.

A professor of Sociology who requested anonymity says the initiative is a revolution of sorts. “Haryana has a patriarchal society which keeps women in shackles, but things have started changing. Look at the number of women who participated in the Jat reservation agitation.”

There are other such initiatives in India that seek to empower the elderly with computer skills. One such project was a digital literacy programme in Delhi by the Agewell Foundation. A similar programme was launched by one Nivalkkar Gajanan in the tiny village of Akoli in Telangana. The village is now recognised as a “100% digitally literate village.”

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Lead visual: Angela Anthony Pereira Images: 101Reporters Pictures The ‘Tech Meets Bharat’ series brings to you stories on how technology is impacting and changing lives in hinterland India.
Sat Singh (Twitter: @satsingh15) is a Rohtak based independent journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.