ॐ शुभं करोति कल्याणं आरोग्यं धनसंपदः ।
शत्रुबुद्धिविनाशाय दीपज्योतिनमोऽस्तु ते ॥
The mantra aptly says – “I fold my hands before the light that brings prosperity, auspiciousness, good health, abundance of wealth and destruction of the enemy’s intellect”. Such is the power of light, the source of energy, the light which is taken for granted by people like you and me but is a matter of rarity and in some cases an unexplored concept for many.
This conundrum of our nation where many people were bereft of electricity since independence needed a focussed and targeted policy response. Just over a year ago, on 25th September 2017, PM Narendra Modi charioted India into its next phase of rural electrification under the banner of “SAUBHAGYA Yojana”. With a fundamental shift in policy stance coupled with strong political will, SAUBHAGYA Yojana has successfully electrified over 2 crore households in last 400 days.
Sahanj Bilji Har Ghar Yojana, with its mission to provide free electricity connections to ‘each and every household’, is creating a ripple effect across socio-economic dimensions transforming the lives of women in India. We had an opportunity to witness this profound impact at play in the State of Madhya Pradesh.
Giving rise to aspirations
Since women are at the core of this revolution, the transformative impact on the society is evident from Saubhagya yojana’s impact on women. Post electrification, we found a significant change in how women have redistributed their daily activities for a more productive utilization of time. Across villages we found a common trend of rising aspirations, where many women pacing out daily chores like cooking and tending to animals in the evenings and prefer spending day time in income generation activities – for instance buying sewing machines for supplementing household income. Case study of Sunita from Jhabua reinstates the point but in a much more profound manner, where she plans to go back to her teaching profession as she finds a lot more time post electrification. Besides, she is also free from the laborious task of helping her husband in irrigating the fields as they have now bought an electric pump. The impact is not just limited to being a bread winner but also pursuing aspirations which were lost in the darkness until now.
Equal stake in families
Finding more time is also impacting the familial dynamics. Story of a woman from a habitation in Guna district puts it in context. She indicated that now that she can pace out her work, spend more time with her husband, accompanies him to fields, discuss matters, talk more, take decisions together, it has not just strengthened the nuptial bond but has also made her an equal stakeholder in the family. Interestingly, watching family programs, she has picked up little tricks and tips which has impacted her relationship with her husband and her in-laws positively.
Impetus to girl education
While better education came out to be a direct consequence of electrification, the impact was much more pronounced in case of girl children. Our study found out that children were studying on an average 90 minutes extra as compared to studying under kerosene light. In terms of comfort the results were common for both the genders. However, when it came to girls, they no longer had to juggle between household chores and studies, when most often than not studies took a back seat earlier. Post electrification, girls find much more time to study leading to a pro-education environment in the society. Story of Shannu, one among 6 sisters and with a widowed mother, is a case in point. Earlier, she found it difficult to devote time on studies in the face of responsibilities. Post electrification, she now studies in the evening and even at dawn, leading to better school performance.
Television is redefining a social scenario in the villages and yet again women are benefitting the most. Most of the women interviewed had started a daily regimen of daily soaps. They were now having common threads of conversation, discussions on social issues, rising awareness on issues like domestic violence and safety. While TV has become an important medium of social change for the entire society, women are just beginning to enjoy the fruits. A village in Ashok Nagar district is a case in point where, prior to electrification, almost the entire village walked up to 2 km with TV set to a nearest farm with power supply to watch movies. They watched shows and movies all through the night. While telling us about this daily routine, women said that the biggest difference now is that with TV sets at home, they now get to watch programming of their choice while earlier the choice was dictated by men alone. Getting command of the remote is a visible and an interesting change that has occurred in their lives.
Women’s health story
Lata, mother of a 5 year old and on the family way for the second time, opens up yet another important dimension of how electrification has impacted women. She narrated how her earlier pregnancy turned into a nightmare when she could not bear the uneasiness, could not sleep, felt suffocated in kerosene smell, there was this air of agitation and frustration in the house. However, this time, when they have electricity and bought a TV three months back, she gets a good sleep, remains much calm and infact watches mythological serials for her unborn’s spiritual health. Similarly, even in case of neo-natal health, both of the child and the mother, people across villages, said that the infants remained much healthier and calmer. Even for the mothers, the recuperation was much swifter.
This is only the beginning to put it more aptly and observed change is also very subtle. With only three to four months of living with electricity, people are experiencing a sea change in their lives and they are indeed making the most out of it. Over the years, the changes would start yielding results and lead to a more pronounced impact. For women, the experience is unshackling and liberating to say the least.
Jagannath Rutwik and Vidushi Sahani are Research Fellows with Public Policy Research Centre. Views expressed are, however, personal.