‘I’m 22 And I Don’t Know What Electricity Looks Like’: 71 Years, No Freedom From Darkness

Seven decades after independence, thousands are yet to see what electricity looks like, while others are waiting for their defunct poles and wires to be more than ornamental.

“It has been 70 years since independence but we are still living in the dark.”

Rajendra Kumar believed, like many of us, that freedom from colonial powers would mean a better life for the country’s people. But seven decades after independence, Kumar’s village is still untouched by electricity, a prerequisite and a marker of progress. In Odisha’s Sundergarh district, fisherfolk are migrating due to the lack of electricity in their village.

At the time of independence, 1,500 villages had access to electricity. Over the years, as the population grew, demands for electricity grew and so did the country’s capacity to generate electricity. India is now the world’s third largest producer of electricity, and as of April 2018, according to PM Narendra Modi’s tweet, electricity reached the last Indian village, Leisang, a village in the north-eastern state of Manipur.

In a video interaction with the residents of Leisang, PM Modi remarked that the football-loving people there must have finally watched the FIFA World Cup live this year. Yes, electricity brought television to Leisang, amongst other facilities. As part of the same interaction, people from different states spoke about the benefits electricity had brought; all immensely grateful.

To verify PM Modi’s claims, Video Volunteers’ nationwide network of community correspondents spoke to the intended beneficiaries of the electrification schemes as well as crowdsourced testimonies, under #BattiGul, a campaign in which we monitor government claims against numerical targets and document the quality of electrification, especially in rural areas. Over 10 weeks, we gathered photo and video testimonies from 160 villages and settlements chronicling what electrification means to people and looks like on the ground. This could only be the tip of the iceberg.
What is an electrified village?

A few days after PM Modi tweeted about all villages having access to electricity, the government clarified that it was referring to the 597,464 census villages and not every village or hamlet. This also means that since India does not have a count of the number of forest villages and/or unsurveyed villages, large populations are excluded from rural electrification schemes. Moreover, under the Deendayal Upadhyay Rural Electrification Scheme, a village is considered electrified if all public buildings and at least 10% of all households have electricity. Habitations with a population of below 100 persons are also not covered by the scheme, leaving millions in the dark.

In villages in Bhadohi and Ambedkar Nagar, Uttar Pradesh and in Morena and Panna, Madhya Pradesh, residents have been paying for an electricity connection that has been long dead. In Dindori, Madhya Pradesh, Sahibganj, Jharkhand, and several other places, electricity poles and meters are merely ornamental. All these villages are counted as electrified villages.
What does electricity look like?

“Since I got married and came here, I have not seen electricity,” says Bistariya Bai Lobo, an elderly Adivasi woman from rural Madhya Pradesh.

While some say that generations in their community have not seen electricity, others refer to occasions from their own lives, like marriage, to count the number of years without electricity.

Shobha Bharti, a woman from Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh, wants to know when she will know what electricity is like. “I have turned 22, and I still don’t know what electricity looks like,” she says.

Source - YKA 

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