They learn the alphabets, reading the letters together with the same effort and curiosity as toddlers do. And although the accent is a giveaway, the eager voices that recite the script are no less attractive.
70 students – from 34-year-old Sumitra Pradhan to 19-year old Salini - are glued to their textbooks, reading out aloud portions, as instructed by their teacher Kavitha.
This is Changathi, State Literacy Mission’s programme to teach Malayalam for migrants from other states. ‘Changathi’ in Malayalam means friend. The students in the classroom are women from Odisha and Tamil Nadu. While 69 of the students are from Odisha, one is from Tamil Nadu. They all are employees of Textport, a textile manufacturing and exporting firm at Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (KINFRA) at Menamkulam near Kazhakuttam in Thiruvananthapuram.
They are preparing for the Fourth Level Equivalency exam of the Literacy Mission. The lessons that have been incorporated in the textbooks are conceived in such a way as to navigate life in a faraway land. It has lessons on what are the words or sentences to know when going to a market, boarding a bus, going to a cinema hall, to shops – anything which would be beneficial for them in their day to day life.
“If we learn the language, we don’t need to depend on others no? Not that all people around here can understand Hindi,” says Sumitra, who has been living in Kerala for the past 10 years with her husband and two children. Her children are students of a school in Kazhakuttam.
Salini, from Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu, says that she has now learnt to read letters. “I loved Malayalam a lot. I am learning with huge interest,” she says. She is the only woman from Tamil Nadu in the group while the others are from Odisha.
Another student Puniyamma says that earlier she needed to ask people around for help, but she needn’t do so anymore. “I can read the boards and can talk to the shopkeepers well,” she says proudly. Seliyamma echoes the opinion while reciting the lessons she learned for the day, rocking her body back and forth like a child.
Rukmini loves the ‘Mobile Ki Duniya’ chapter a lot. Banita and Mamola say that initially they were nervous about learning Malayalam.
Given the fact Malayalam is considered one of the toughest languages in the world and has no similarity to their mother tongue Odia, the effort they make is commendable, says Kavitha. “Not that all of them can write the exam, but 12 of them can which itself is a big achievement,” she says.
Kavitha, who is a master in Hindi through the Hindi Prachar Sabha courses, uses Hindi as a bridge language with her students. And while not all of her students know Hindi, Kavitha says, “But those who know both Hindi and Oria help others.”
Kavitha P is the welfare officer of Textport. With the exception of Sumitra, the women live in a working women’s hostel near KINFRA, which is run by Society for the Welfare of Working Women. Kavitha is also the secretary of the Society and the hall at the hostel doubles up as the classroom.
Classes are held everyday from 6.15pm to 8pm. The weekend classes are for those who can’t make it to the week day classes. “They learn with much enthusiasm. In all these days, I have taken leave only for a day and I got at least five calls from them. After that I never took leave,” Kavitha says.
Changathi was launched on January 22 this year at Perumbavoor in Ernakulam, a town which has the largest number of migrant labourers in the state. While the programme was initially meant for male migrant workers, the Malayalam outreach programme for women was launched in May. Presently, this is the only class held for women in the state.