‘Samathuva Padipagam’, a collective of students and graduates from Namakkal district’s Aindhupanai village, worked along with the people of the village to start the Ambedkar-Periyar Library in 2019.

Ambedkar-Periyar library run by people of Aindhupanai village located in Namakkal’s Kadachanallur Panchayat.P Rajkumar
Features Human interest Wednesday, March 16, 2022 - 17:05

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and Periyar EV Ramasamy’s original writings occupy a special place in a library run by the people of Aindhupanai village located in Namakkal’s Kadachanallur Panchayat. The library is not only named after these leaders, it was also built along the lines of social justice - a principle central to the teachings of both Ambedkar and Periyar. A community-led initiative, the library came together entirely from donations and efforts of enthusiastic volunteers, who envision it not just as a place where the youth can come to learn and read, but also to become equipped with life skills, including political awareness.

The library began as an effort to bolster accessibility and reading too. In 2019, some of the natives of Aindhupanai - especially students and graduates - grew interested in setting up a library in the area to sow the seeds of political awareness in the minds of young children through education. Soon, a collective called Samathuva Padipagam (meaning, a forum for equality) was started.

P Rajkumar, an 27-year-old IT analyst working in Chennai, who is a native of the village and among the first people to join Samathuva Padipagam, tells TNM that the they had approached the local government with the proposal of building a small library in 2018. “We have a panchayat library that is 3-4 kms away from the residence of the villagers. But it is not very accessible and there are close to 1,000 families and over 500 students living in the area. In order to go to a bigger library, they often have to travel all the way to Namakkal or Erode. Besides, many kids are more interested in gadgets than they are in reading. We thought having a library closer home might change that,” he says.

After discussing the idea further, the people in the village formed a WhatsApp group with over 100 members in 2019 to plan its execution. Samathuva Padipagam was also formed by Rajkumar along with 10 to 15 other members that same year. “I was running an NGO initially but 2019 was the year when the draft National Education Policy came out and the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens happened. At this point, we felt that it was also important to create political awareness among the younger lot,” Rajkumar states.

Eventually, the panchayat permitted them to turn a community hall into a library. The people of the village chipped in money for cupboards to store the books, along with furniture, like tables and chairs. They also covered the maintenance cost incurred in the initial months. And finally, the Ambedkar-Periyar Library came to life after people stepped forward to donate books.

With contributions from people of the village, the library grew book by book. “We started out with 50 books and now we have around 200-300 books. In the initial days, other students and graduates donated their academic books. We also had Periyar and Ambedkar’s original writings available,” states Navaneetha Kannan, a 23-year-old MBBS student and a native of Namakkal district.

Both Rajkumar and Navaneetha point out that since the collective was formed on the lines of social justice, “Ambedkar-Periyar” was the name that many thought of and no one objected to the idea either. Since 2019, a team of dedicated volunteers are juggling their work hours and free time to stick to a schedule and work at the library. “Since the library is open from 9 am to 5 pm, we had to come up with a schedule as we don’t have staff exclusively working for the library.” 

Challenges to funding 

A few months after the library started in 2019, tuition classes for over 30 government school students located in and around the village were held in the evenings there. Plans to conduct other educational sessions about current government policies were also in the works but Rajkumar shares that there have been unforeseen changes to the plans. “We had to stop taking classes during the first and second wave of the pandemic. The government has introduced another policy for tutoring students so they will be attending those classes for six months. I believe that is likely to go on till December this year. The maintenance cost also went up after we had to temporarily shift to a rented venue since the panchayat wanted the community hall for some other purpose,” Rajkumar says.

To cover the expenses for the new space the library has now been shifted to from the community hall, they have been trying to raise money from the community. People in the village started circulating a document with details about the library’s activities and a Google Pay number people could contribute to. However, the amont raised was quite small. Efforts to register Samathuva Padipagam as a trust with trustees and create a website, as well as social media handles, are also underway so that they can reach more people and funding, says Rajkumar.

The team is also hopeful that things will look up for the library due to growing popularity of books, as well as newspapers and magazine subscriptions going up in February this year, after the Chennai Book Fair. 

Description: Photos taken during the inauguration of the library. Credit: P Rajkumar

Plans for expansion 

Rajkumar and Navaneetha add that Samathuva Padipagam also has other projects in its kitty such as skill development programmes offered at a nominal fee to tuition classes run by students and graduates for school students in nearby villages. “We have started a tuition centre in Andipalaiyam village in Tiruchengode Taluk, which is also run by a graduate. It is currently attended by 10 to 15 students and is at a resident’s terrace, but we will be bearing the cost of setting up the blackboard, lights and the stipend for the person taking the classes. We would like to start chapters of Samathuva Padipagam in other villages. We want to mobilise the students and youngsters with interest in social work in those areas. So, instead of overseeing day-to-day operations, we are planning to work on the initial setup and hand it over to them,” Rajkumar says.

As for the skill development programme, a crash course in programming language JAVA has been started for Rs 3,000 per student. “These courses cost around Rs 15,000 to 30,000 in cities. Only seven students have enrolled so far since people are slightly hesitant. We had given informal career counselling sessions earlier but we are interested in starting that as a separate programme too,” Rajkumar says.

He further says that they are also in talks with Silambam practitioners and teachers to start classes. “It would inculcate healthier lifestyle practices and would also be beneficial to students on the professional front since the TN government announced in 2021 that Silambam will be included for the 3% sports quota recruitment in government departments and public sector undertakings (PSUs),” the 27-year-old IT analyst adds. 

If you are interested in making contributions to the library or acquiring further details, contact  +91 91766 22950 - P Rajkumar. 

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