Uttarakhand: How The Horse Library Started To Promote Reading In Remote Villages

Horses mounted with books are bringing education to children in remote villages of Uttarakhand, where schools are closed due to extreme rainfall

Horse Library: A hose carrying books on its back while a child stands.

Due to heavy rainfall, the roads are completely submerged in water. Forget four-wheelers, even two-wheelers cannot enter the area. People have lost connection with the markets, and schools have been closed for two and a half months. The hilly village of Jalna in Nainital district of Uttarakhand faces this problem every year. However, in spite of this convenient situation, people are not complaining and have smiles on their faces. The reason for this has now become the centre of attraction.

For instance, Jyoti, who used to earlier loiter in the mountains, is now attached to books. This change in Jyoti is on account of the Horse Library. Her mother, Pushpa Devi, says, “My daughter studies in fifth grade. The school is closed due to rain. Earlier, when the school was closed on account of summer vacation or rainy season, Jyoti did not study at home. She used to either play or roam around in the village. “However, for the last two months, she has now busy reading different books provided by the people of the Horse Library. Poetry and storybooks are her favourites,” says Pushpa Devi.

Jalna village comes under Kotabag block. Many villages in this block are being enlightened with knowledge through the Horse Library. Baghni village is also a part of it. Harish, a resident of this village, has three children and all his children attend the classes of the Horse Library. Harish says, “During the rainy season, the situation of the village becomes so deplorable that we cannot even go out to buy essential food items. The situation in schools is also bad; there are hardly one or two teachers. In some cases, seeing the difficult situation of the village, the teachers take a transfer to other places. However, local people are very happy seeing the work done by the Horse Library in the village. “Those who initially ran away from books can now be seen reading them. They are able to concentrate. The people working for the Horse Library are doing great work for the children of the mountains. They are able to give more attention to the children than given by the teachers at their school,” says Harish.

How Horse Library Started

Himmotthan, a social organisation, started working in 650 primary schools in October 2022 in the four districts of Uttarakhand namely, Nainital, Rudraprayag, Tehri Gadwal and Jaunpur. The focus of the organisation is to a develop book culture, basic alphabet knowledge, physical literacy and empowering the school management committee of the government schools.

Shubham Badhani, project associate of the organisation says, “The villages where we work are located in the mountains. The roads are in a bad shape and a drinking water facility is not available. There is electricity only for 8-10 hours a day. Therefore, it is very difficult to provide a ‘city-like’ educational atmosphere in these villages. Considering these constraints, we came up with the concept of a mobile library in many villages of Kotbag block of Nainital. We recruited the educational motivators from these villages and provided them with the requisite training. Gradually, they started carrying books to villages on their cycles and bicycles. However since June 10, on account of severe rainfall, the connectivity from these villages came to an abrupt end. The villagers provided us with horses to continue the process of education in the villages. The educational motivators started visiting the villages with books on these horses.”

At present, the organisation has 10 horses and 20 educational motivators. Shubham says that 25 per cent of the villages, where they are working, are still disconnected on account of rain. To reach such villages, there are plans to increase the number of horses and educational motivators.

Children Learn Through The Library

Subhash Chandra Badani is an educational motivator. He has completed his studies till intermediate. Badani carries the books on horses to villages such as Salva, Basi, Chara, Aalekh, Dudaliya and Chanikht twice a week. He informs, “Our aim is that children should not get disconnected from their studies. That’s why we provide them with books through this Horse Library free of cost. We decide on the house we have to assemble. We accordingly inform the guardians of these children about the date of the class. There are 10-15 children who come to study. We start the session with a book talk. We ask them to do colour activities and tell them stories about children’s literature. We stop these stories at a point, which creates a level of excitement as to what happened next. We have found that in just two months, there has been a great interest among children to learn new things.”

Kavita Rawat is a student in her BA third year and works as an educational motivator for Himmotthan. She looks after Jalna, Dola and Gautia villages. She says, “Children get attracted to our school by seeing the horses mounted with books. Secondly, the books we teach them are not course books. This creates a lot of interest in these children. The villages where we conduct these school libraries have two classes a week for three hours each. While returning, we give literature books to them so that they can study them while at home. When we visit these villages for the second time, we take these books back and give them another set of books.”


A horse carrying books while children read on a hill top

Encouraging Reactions

The Nanital District Education Officer, Nagendra Barthwal, says, “I am aware of the Horse Library. These people are doing a commendable work. The government is working a lot in the field of education and children are getting benefitted out of this. If this kind of work is being done by an NGO or organisation, it is really praiseworthy. Society is benefitting from this. I want to tell the parents of children to take advantage of this library. They can study and educate their children too.”

Kamla Negi is the village head. She says that the children in the villages are excited because of this unique education system. She says, “Our village is in a tough terrain. There is no proper mode of transport. However, children are getting access to books. Their education is not hampered. Children are constantly studying at home. They have started taking an interest in their studies. Because of the Horse Library, children do not run away from their studies now. We can see the changing picture of education in our village.”

Himmotthan, who started the Horse Library, believes that to inculcate reading habits among children, it is important to create a library-like atmosphere in the primary class. When the children progress to higher classes, they should not face any difficulty in reading. Shubham Badhani, the project associate, says that mobile phones have killed the reading interests among children. If we leave the children like this, they will further move away from books. We can provide these children with their favourite children's literature since they enjoy reading such books till grade five. These books entertain them. Considering this, we provide them with big books and picture books. With the help of pictures, they are encouraged to think, understand and develop their mental capacity, and they start reading.”

(Translated by Kaveri Mishra)