West Bengal plans ‘women-only’ libraries

By bappaditya paul

The state mass education extension and library services department, has now decided to build 50 libraries exclusively for women.

The department apparently learned that in areas inhabited by the Muslim community, Scheduled Castes (SC), and Scheduled Tribes (ST), women do not go to libraries staffed and accessed by men.

According to the department’s plan, in the first phase, 50 women-only libraries will be set up across the state as a pilot project this year. The department has sought Rs 14 crore from the state finance department, and is now waiting for the funds.

“The idea of building libraries managed and accessed only by women was initiated by a proposal that I received from Gangarampur in South Dinajpur,” said the library services minister, Abdul Karim Chowdhary. “Several such proposals were made at the district book fairs that I visited the last season.”

“Following this, I sat with the officials of my department and prepared a plan to set up 50 women-only libraries in the SC/ST and Muslim community-dominated areas of the state. I took the plan to the chief minister, who highly appreciated the move,” he said.

Of the proposed 50 women-only libraries: 19 will be additional district libraries; 15 will be sub-divisional or town libraries; and the remaining 16 will be rural libraries at the block level.

One of the women-only additional district libraries is to be set up in each of the state’s 19 districts, barring Kolkata. The sub-divisional/town and rural libraries will be built in areas inhabited by the target communities.

“We have already written to the district administrations to identify land for the purpose and send us detailed proposals as soon as possible. We want to complete the pilot project by the end of this fiscal year,” the minister said. There are several plots lying vested with the district administrations, so getting small plots of land for the libraries shall not be a problem, he said.

The department will recruit eight to 10 women staff members to operate each of the 19 additional district libraries, four for each of the sub-divisional/town libraries, and two for each of the rural libraries.

When asked whether it would not be better if his department took up campaigns to persuade Muslims and the SC/ST women to visit the existing libraries, the minister said the ground realities are different.

“At present, we have 2,455 libraries in the state. But, for years now, women in the backward and Muslim-dominated areas have not visited them as they are managed and frequented by men. If we do not build separate facilities, women in such localities will never visit a library,” Mr Chowdhary said.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This piece first appeared in The Statesman on 18 July 2012.)

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