Hundreds of school children in their distinctive uniforms thronged the famous Kanakakkunnu Palace in Trivandrum on 19 June for an event to honour the memory of the late P.N. Panicker, father of the Kerala Library Movement who championed the cause of literacy and reading. A number of eminent persons also attended the commemoration, part of a series of activities at schools and public institutions organized by the Government of Kerala.
19 June is observed annually as Vayanadinam (Day of Reading) in Kerala. The National Literacy Mission has also been inspired largely by the work of P.N. Panicker who converted the simple slogan of “Read and Grow – Vayichu Valaruka” into a powerful movement.
Addressing the audience, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that although the state Legislative Assembly was in session, he had taken time out to inaugurate the event in order to applaud the efforts of the P.N. Panicker Foundation in furthering promoting reading and literacy activities. “P.N. Panicker only talked on one subject, and that was reading. He was passionate about this movement,” Mr. Chandy said.
“Every year, the UN pays tribute to books and authors on 23 April, which is World Book and Copyright Day”, said UNIC Director Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman. “The aim is to encourage everyone, and in particular, young people, to discover the pleasure of reading,” she added. Today, although the internet and social media have made access to the written word easier and faster, millions of people still rely on printed material because there is a development gap and a digital divide which libraries need to negotiate, she observed. “Technology is not an end in itself,” she said, quoting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “The key is to empower people to make the most of their own potential.”
And Kerala seemed to be on the right path, Ms. Mehra-Kerpelman added, especially in view of its upcoming E-Literate project which seeks to bring basic technology knowhow to remote areas, using the broadband connectivity already established.
She thanked the organizers for inviting UNIC to be part of these activities and suggested opening a Reading Room with UN documentation and publications as has been done in other parts of India. This suggestion was welcomed enthusiastically, as were others, such as taking UNIC’s upcoming ‘YoUNg@70’ project to Kerala during the UN’s 70th year.
P.K. Abdu Rabb, state Minister for Education, said that all schools had been instructed to conduct reading activities for 10 minutes each day during the Reading Week. Chairman of the P.N. Panicker Vigyan Vikas Kendra, N. Balagopal, said that the organization and the Ministry of Education were discussing whether and how grace marks could be awarded to school children who were prolific readers.
Prof. P.J. Kurien, Vice Chairman, Rajya Sabha, pointed to P.N. Panicker’s contribution to Kerala’s achievement of 100 per cent literacy. Other speakers included M. Vijayakumar, former minister, and Mini Antony, Director, Information and Public Relations, Government of Kerala, who read out a pledge on cultivating a reading habit.
Some of the students also shared their reading experiences and read out excerpts from a variety of books, a fitting finale to the commemoration.