Located in Roopena Agrahara, a small fringe neighbourhood of labourer communities, the library provides opportunities to children from underprivileged backgrounds.

Child showing storybook to other children at Haadibadi community libraryHaadibadi
Features Education Wednesday, January 13, 2021 - 12:16

As the city grew over time and apartment buildings began to pop up in Roopena Agrahara, a small fringe neighbourhood of labourer communities near Bommanahalli in Bengaluru, it left an absence of adequate safe spaces for children from the area.

Haadibadi, a community library project, was established to provide an alternative space for the children of Roopena Agrahara. It also functions as a shelter from the violent realities around them. The towering skyscrapers overshadowing the deprived neighbourhoods became a symbol of the ever-widening the gaps in the society. `

Born and brought up in the neighbourhood, the founder and director of Haadibadi, who is also a teacher at St Joseph’s College, Ravikiran Rajendran remembers with fondness the tamarind trees and the now-absent open spaces, as much as he witnessed the shrinking spaces and mounting violence in the streets. He remembers seeing people being chased after with machetes and sickles as a child. He adds that even after two decades, the neighbourhood bears the same mark. On the same roads that the children play, they also have to see gruesome street fights.

Being among the few from the neighbourhood who were privileged enough to go to a private college, Ravikiran learnt the role of education in opening up access to opportunities in life. During his education at St Joseph’s College, he became aware of the various opportunities and support systems provided by NGOs and the government that he had missed out on during his formative years. It was also during this time that he met the other co-founders through their shared interest in theatre and street plays.

Activities at Haadibadi

In a resolve to give to his community the same opportunities that he had received, Ravikiran started the community library project along with 10 other co-founders in 2019. With a few books from his collection, along with generous donations from friends and family, the community library started in a small one-room space with some 10 books, and a lot of eager helping hands. In the beginning, there were only 10 members but the numbers kept growing as the community library became more than just a book-lending project. Currently, they have over 400 plus memberships and the library has more than 2,000 books.

The library is situated in Roopena Agrahara which houses mostly labourer communities. “The city has grown so much but there is an imbalance in space, occupancy, and the planning of the city,” says co-founder and Executive director, Geetha M. While the parents of these children want to provide them the best of education, they are unable to do so for many reasons. “After a hard day’s work, parents want to relax while blasting a TV serial in full volume but this might also be the time for the children to study,” explains Ravikiran.

One key factor that defines the necessity of the community library is the unaffordability of quality education and failure of education systems to cross beyond the prescribed syllabus. “Contrary to popular belief, you find more experienced teachers in government schools than in private schools,” adds Ravikiran. Yet, Ravikiran recollects how a headmaster dubbed a library as a ‘waste of time’. A part of Haadibadi’s efforts involves setting up open libraries in schools without adequate and efficient resources to build one themselves.

Alternative education model

Despite the completely altruistic attempts of these individuals to make education more accessible, their efforts don’t stop there. Haadibadi, in looking to extend learning beyond the textbooks, achieves some extraordinary feats. For example, to teach students about the Constitution, they let children make their own Constitution. This involved the children discussing constitutional values that benefit both individuals and society, and learning about the need for co-dependency as a society. Last year, after due efforts, the ‘Haadibadi Constitution’ was formed, and this year the children have suggested amendments to it.

They also hold film screenings with a collection ranging from Studio Ghibli films to regional films, exposing the children to a varied set of cultures and experiences.

 One of the key ways in which these children connect to the Haadibadi education system is through theatre. “Theatre is an art form that allows one to step into characters and creates room for introspection,” says Ravikiran. Directed by Ravikiran himself, and along with Mantra4change, Haadibadi organised a month-long workshop culminating in a theatre play titled 'Saavirada Ramayana' comprising 150 students from 14 government schools across six districts and performed in four venues. The 2.5-hour-long play depicts the various versions of the Ramayana available and provides their unique interpretations to it.

Activities at Haadibadi

Though reading is a mandatory activity at the Haadibadi community library, learning is instilled through fun-filled activities and workshops. “When I teach these students, I don’t need to bring Karl Marx or P Sainath to class,” says Vijayashanthi Murthy, a teacher at St Joseph’s College and a member of the Advisory Board. Instead, she would use a simple story that depicted these ideas and children would contribute to the story by relating to it.

They also have a concept of a ‘book hospital’ where damaged books are taken for repair by library members to teach them about social responsibility. There are also up to eight books that have been illustrated and written by students from the library, that are currently being shown to interested publishers.

Digitisation

Despite their rooted-belief in providing physical spaces to these children, the coronavirus pandemic forced them to take their services online. After two weeks of lockdown, the Haadibadi team conducted online workshops, reading-sessions by children and theatre professionals, classes on English conversation, and avenues for children to explore their creativity through art. This also led them to the realisation that digitisation is inevitable and that it is a definitive medium to reach a larger audience. Haadibadi is now trying to develop a digital library by making work found under creative commons license available on a public platform. They are also attempting to find resources to digitise their existing physical library.

Activities at Haadibadi

But the task of digitising is a time-consuming as well as an expensive process. As a completely crowd-funded social initiative, the library is looking for people who can help in creating the digital database. Community libraries that place themselves at the crux of bettering minority communities cannot continue to function without the generous aid of individuals. “To further such projects, we need to see it as a collective responsibility,” says Vijayashanthi.

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