Right to Light – the solar way


Illiterate tribal women in one of Rajasthan’s most backward districts-Dungarpur, are turning into solar engineers, courtesy- a IIT Mumbai team, which is helping them to turn trailblazers in their villages. Rajasthan Post gets into the thick of the project

A team from IIT Mumbai is helping to light up some dreams in one of the most backward tribal districts in southern Rajasthan- Dungarpur. This team is helping illiterate, simple tribal women turn into solar engineers.

These women, who have never been to school, are undergoing training that involves assembling solar lamps and repairing them.

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These rural women say they never imagined they would be able to do something involving engineering or technical things as they can hardly decipher any letter or numbers.

But the technical team from IIT Mumbai has made it easy for them. Babli Devi, one of the women trainees, says : “We have never worked with circuits or wires. At first, it felt awkward, difficult and impossible to achieve. But slowly, we began to understand the process and the team has made learning easy. Now we feel we have really become engineers.”

Women members of self help groups (SHGs) in Aantri block of the district have been chosen under the first phase of a project which has a target of making 60,000 solar lamps.

These women are training to assemble solar LED lanterns, the raw materials of which are also being supplied by the institution.
An MoU has been signed between Rajeevika (Rajasthan Gram Aajeevika Vikas Parishad) and IIT-Mumbai, which ensures a 10-day technical training session for the women on lamp making.

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IIT Mumbai experts say if the trained women buy the raw materials themselves, assemble the lamps and then sell it at Rs 200 in the market, they would still earn a profit of Rs 60.

At least 80 women from these backward regions are training to become solar engineers. The women groups would be trained for a three-month period. The training started in late May.

IIT experts analyse that women groups would have a turnover of Rs 1.20 crore if they are able to make 60,000 solar lanterns at the end of three months and are able to sell them as well.

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Dungarpur is one of the country’s 250 most backward districts according to a survey by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj in 2006. It is one of the 12 most backward districts in the state, which receives funds from Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme.

The IIT, Mumbai, will soon be getting another Rs 1800 crore fro the government for its Solar Urja Lamp (SoUL project). The project theme Right to Light, started in 2014. So far the lamps have been distributed in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odissha covering 23 districts, 97 blocks and more than 10,800 villages.

Professor Chetan Singh Solanki of IIT-B’s department of energy science and engineering says the project is basically to provide light to those, who have been living without electricity or suing kerosene for light

The Barefoot College in Tilonia, 100km from Jaipur, started in 1972 by Sanjit “Bunker” Roy, to teach rural people skills with which they could transform their villages, regardless of gender, caste, ethnicity, age or schooling, was one of the first to train women in solar engineering. Not only rural Indian women, but more than 15000 women from remote African countries, Uganda, Afghanistan countries have picked up skills to bring power to themselves and to light up their villages.

The college claims to have trained 15,000 women in skills including solar engineering, healthcare and water testing. Roy, 65, says his approach – low cost, decentralised and community driven – works by “capitalising on the resources already present in the villages”.

One of the women trainees at Dungrapur, Nirmal Katra says: “We never thought we can be so trained in our dreams. At first, we thought it would be impossible to assemble a solar lamp. But as the team explained to us in details and step by step, we understood the process easily and now we are bubbling with confidence and looking forward to earn our livelihood through solar lanterns. It seems sun is finally shining on our lives.”

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