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Literacy icon defeats all odds, wins national honours

ISP Chennai Bureau: Spreading literacy is like sharing light to the people in darkness, feels K V Rabiya (56), a physically challenged social worker from Malappuram, Kerala who has never allowed her limitations to come to her for spreading education to the masses in the region she belongs to. She was honoured with the nation’s fourth highest civilian honour Padma Shri recently.  

Rabiya rose to prominence through her role in the Kerala State Literacy Campaign in Malappuram district in the early 90s. She was confined to a wheelchair when she was just 14 due to polio. She had to leave school but her thirst for education made her struggle and complete her schooling despite all odds. Her efforts to complete her education sensitised communities and governments to make education accessible to everyone. 

In support of her struggle, the Kerala  government made her the mascot of the literacy project in the State. She also founded an organisation called Chalanam which runs six schools for differently-abled and intellectually disabled children in her district. Besides this, she started 60 neighbourhood self-help groups for women.

Fate had more struggles in store for Rabiya. She was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 32. While the treatment was going on, her backbone was affected after she survived a fall which literally crippled her physique but her mental strength remained intact. Her heroic fight against odds is part of the school curriculum in Kerala. 

Experts in the field of literacy call Rabiya a guiding light for India’s ambitious sustainable education goals. “Nation’s honour to madam Rabiya in the form of Padma Shri has come at a time when we are entering into the New India Literacy Programme with an ambitious target to impart new age literacy to 5 crore people. This award will inspire many young researchers and volunteers to take up literacy as a mission. She is like a lighthouse to aspiring educationists,” says Prof (Dr.) Rajesh, Head of the Department of Continuing Education and Extension at Delhi University.  

There are several research papers and studies centred around the immense community engagement which Rabiya did in the North Kerala region. Writer and documentary maker from Kerala P A Noushad is these days busy documenting the life and work of Rabiya and the impact it has brought to the community around her. 

“The mind is everything. If the mind is not polluted and with the positive thoughts and fruitful services , nobody can defeat us, the unseen force of the universe will be with us to lead us to success in life, this is the message I realise from the life of K V Rabiya,” P A Noushad says. 

During her struggling days of cancer treatment, her friends suggested she pen down her life story. 

“I wrote my autobiography ‘Swapnangalkku Chirakukalundu’ because friends told me that it would help me in cancer treatment. It did help me. But it is amazing that it is inspiring others to take up literacy as a mission,” says Rabiya. 

‘Swapnangalkku Chirakukalundu’ means dreams have wings. Rabiya’s life and work proves that dreams not just have wings but also a wheelchair which can travel and defeat all hurdles.