Joy of Reading

For India’s poor children, community libraries are an escape, a refuge and much, much more

With public libraries closing down and books becoming more expensive, children from backward classes find it harder to read.

At the Ramditti J R Narang Deepalaya Learning Center, a sunlit building full of books, it is easy to recount the joy one felt when one first began to fall in love with reading. At 3 pm every day, streams of children flood out of the building’s gates. Even though it is closing time, a few linger hopefully, longing for a little more time spent lost between the pages of a book. Writer Mridula Koshy, curator of Deepalaya, is firm but gentle when she tells them to return at a time scheduled for kahaani, the centre’s reading sessions.

The library is set in the dense neighbourhood of Sheikh Sarai in South Delhi, close to Jagdamba Basti – home to a community of waste-pickers. Most of the library’s members are from the Basti. According to Koshy, while several children from the community do go to school, the quality of education they receive there is inadequate. Like most public schools in the country, teachers are scarce, frequently absent or uninterested in students, the curriculum is confused and reading outside school rarely encouraged.

Given the dwindling number of public libraries, combined with the inflated rates at which books are sold at most commercial bookstores, it is nearly impossible for children from lower-income families to find the means to read. Community libraries bring reading and literature to areas where books are hard to come by. At a time when rote learning, securing high marks and a career-centred approach to education are encouraged, these libraries provide a space for children to think, question and evolve.

Community libraries bring reading and literature to areas where books are hard to come by. Credit: Deepalaya Community Library Project/
Community libraries bring reading and literature to areas where books are hard to come by. Credit: Deepalaya Community Library Project/

At Banashankari in Bengaluru, a new library called Buguri is modelled after Deepalaya. The library was started by the non-profit Hasiru Dala, which works with more than 10,000 waste-pickers.

“Often the children of waste-pickers, especially the older ones, would get alienated and run away from home,” said Lakshmi Karunakaran, who heads the library project for Hasiru Dala. “They would be found at bus stops or train stations the next day. Having a place to go, a book to bury yourself in may change that.”

The library, which opened on January 27, received an overwhelming response.

“It was a heartwarming surprise to see the kids take control of the space in the way they did,” said Karunakaram. “They seemed ready for the library. I had to explain some rules, but everyone seemed enthusiastic about having a place to read.”

The dynamic of Banashankari is diverse, with families from distinct regional and religious backgrounds. Buguri stocks books in Urdu, Kannada and Tamil. At the library, children read and listen to stories in all three languages. Unlike Koshy, Karunakaram is apprehensive about the way things will unfold, but in both libraries, the families of members have been very supportive.

“What was interesting was that there was a demand from the community that we educate children about unspoken things like sexual politics and gender issues.” said Karunakaran. “It was heartwarming but also enlightening to know that a readership is not as simplistic as one believes.”

Painting the walls of Buguri in Bangalore. Credit: Hasirudala/
Painting the walls of Buguri in Bangalore. Credit: Hasirudala/

At Bhilwara district in Rajasthan, where the community has long been victim to saffron terror and a lack of civic amenities and illiteracy, the community library is a place of refuge. The Dhapara community library here was set up by the School for Democracy, Loktantrashala. In Bhilwara, the members of the library come from homes where alcoholism is rampant.

“The books take me far away from here,” said 12-year-old Saroj Kumari, one of Dhapara’s first members. Though most of the library members are enrolled in government schools in and around Dhapara, poor attendance of both the students and teachers ensures that learning doesn’t always happen. A non-formal learning space, the Dhapara library, like the School for Democracy, is dedicated to teaching its members about their own agency in the world.

“More than ever, each of us needs to consciously understand our rights today, both politically and socially,” said Adithi Manohar, one of the staff members at the School for Democracy. “The absence of books from a child’s life doesn’t let them see a world different from their own. When they do, it brings light to their own lives.”

Storytelling session at Dhapara community library, Rajasthan. Credit: Loktantrashala - School For Democracy/
Storytelling session at Dhapara community library, Rajasthan. Credit: Loktantrashala - School For Democracy/

One of Dhapara’s main aims is to help children gain political literacy. Though it is still early to tell the effects, the response from villagers in Bhilwara, according to Manohar, has been overwhelming.

“Word spread and children from other villages who came to school in Dhapara brought along friends and family to see it too,” Manohar said. “They began accepting this new space as theirs and asked questions. Their demands thrilled us, it seemed like a beginning towards larger things, towards creating human beings with agency, and the ability to question.”

In Bhilwara, the library becomes an an act of political inclusion, a space in which human beings become thinkers, and literature, in its purest form, becomes a tool for rebellion.

“At school, reading is taught to the children as drudgery, as means to an end, something that will one day land you a job,” said Koshy. “At a library, they come into contact with books of all kinds. We give them access, they discover the joys and purpose of literature on their own.”

Dhapara community library, Rajasthan. Credit: Loktantrashala - School For Democracy/
Dhapara community library, Rajasthan. Credit: Loktantrashala - School For Democracy/

The members of Deepalaya’s community library – more than 1,400 in number – range from four-year-olds to adults of all ages. On a weekly basis, approximately 350 to 400 members visit the library and borrow between 900 and 1,000 books. The daily functioning of the library is looked after by volunteers from outside the community and a student council composed of teenagers.

“More than ninety per cent of our members are first generation readers,” said Koshy. “They read Hindi, Urdu and English and are free to choose whatever books they want. There is no dictation of method, no enrolment, no conditions – everyone is welcome here. We don’t want them to have any limits with what they read and when.”

Deepalaya stocks books of every sort: there are books on social media like Facebook – social media ka chamatkaar and others that talk about domestic and sexual abuse. For younger children, there is a wide selection by Indian publishers like Pratham, Tulika and Zubaan but also the Kajari Gaay books, a translation of the Mamma Mu collection from Sweden. Programmes like Headstart, a reading session for four- to six-year-olds with guest authors like Urvashi Butalia, are attended by droves of excited members. Like all libraries, there is a great degree of precision in the way the books are organised, bought and issued but at the same time, the ethos is designed largely towards comfort and joy.

“Reading, and literature is a way of life – it is a habit, it lets people think,” said Koshy, as she locked up the library for the day. “I want to live in a world in which people think.”

Buguri, in Bangalore. Image Credits: Hasirudala/
Buguri, in Bangalore. Image Credits: Hasirudala/
Support our journalism by paying for Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Why should inclusion matter to companies?

It's not just about goodwill - inclusivity is a good business decision.

To reach a 50-50 workplace scenario, policies on diversity need to be paired with a culture of inclusiveness. While diversity brings equal representation in meetings, board rooms, promotions and recruitment, inclusivity helps give voice to the people who might otherwise be marginalized or excluded. Inclusion at workplace can be seen in an environment that values diverse opinions, encourages collaboration and invites people to share their ideas and perspectives. As Verna Myers, a renowned diversity advocate, puts it “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Creating a sense of belonging for everyone is essential for a company’s success. Let’s look at some of the real benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace:

Better decision making

A whitepaper by Cloverpop, a decision making tool, established a direct link between inclusive decision making and better business performance. The research discovered that teams that followed an inclusive decision-making process made decisions 2X faster with half the meetings and delivered 60% better results. As per Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino, this report highlights how diversity and inclusion are practical tools to improve decision making in companies. According to her, changing the composition of decision making teams to include different perspectives can help individuals overcome biases that affect their decisions.

Higher job satisfaction

Employee satisfaction is connected to a workplace environment that values individual ideas and creates a sense of belonging for everyone. A research by Accenture identified 40 factors that influence advancement in the workplace. An empowering work environment where employees have the freedom to be creative, innovative and themselves at work, was identified as a key driver in improving employee advancement to senior levels.


A research by stated the in India, 62% of innovation is driven by employee perceptions of inclusion. The study included responses from 1,500 employees from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico and the United States and showed that employees who feel included are more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty, suggest new and innovative ways of getting work done.

Competitive Advantage

Shirley Engelmeier, author of ‘Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage’, in her interview with Forbes, talks about the new global business normal. She points out that the rapidly changing customer base with different tastes and preferences need to feel represented by brands. An inclusive environment will future-proof the organisation to cater to the new global consumer language and give it a competitive edge.

An inclusive workplace ensures that no individual is disregarded because of their gender, race, disability, age or other social and cultural factors. Accenture has been a leading voice in advocating equal workplace. Having won several accolades including a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate equality index, Accenture has demonstrated inclusive and diverse practices not only within its organisation but also in business relationships through their Supplier Inclusion and Diversity program.

In a video titled ‘She rises’, Accenture captures the importance of implementing diverse policies and creating an inclusive workplace culture.


To know more about inclusion and diversity, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Accenture and not by the Scroll editorial team.