In October this year, I visited two villages in Madhya Pradesh, Koopgarh and Khiriya Bharka, home to Adivasis and Gujjars, a community of the other backward classes (OBC), 250 km from the capital Bhopal in the northern part of the state.
After 75 years of independence and four years since Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared all villages in India were electrified, the neighbouring villages have never had power.
While the state government claimed 100% electrification in November 2018, small-scale farmers and masons living here spend money they do not have to buy cables to steal electricity from transformers and nearby villages. In one tragic consequence of this desperate thievery, a five-year-old child was electrocuted.
The villagers had accepted this way of living without electricity.
They had heard of the electrification schemes launched by the central and state governments and the big push for renewable energy and were trying to understand why all this seeming progress was passing them by.
Big ticket announcements came and went, but nothing changed for them. An overwhelming sense of helplessness and resignation was everywhere.
One expert I spoke with while reporting about the two villages said renewable energy schemes fail in marginalised areas in Madhya Pradesh because the state government doesn't invest beyond the pilot projects, which are meant to show the possibility of electricity provision.
Standing near a collapsed electric pole, Ram Bharan Gurjar, 29 years old and unemployed, said he was lucky that his parents could send him to a government school in the nearby town of Chanderi so that he knew what his village was missing out on. He went to a grocery stop two km away every time he needed to charge his mobile phone.
While lamenting the death of the five-year-old Adivasi child who was electrocuted, an elderly Gurjar man, Shyamji Gurjar, spoke of the dangers of stealing electricity but also the shame. They were reduced to thievery because the state had failed them.
While there were very few places in the country where women felt safe, it didn't help that the women of Koopgarh and Khiriya Bharka were plunged into darkness after sunset every day.
For the women in the village, living without electricity meant going into the surrounding forests for firewood. The rising kerosene prices have them burning cow dung for fuel. Every trip carries the risk of running into dacoits. They venture into dense foliage in groups of four or five and always return before sunset.
It was the same for their mothers & grandmothers, but these women could see electricity and change not far from where they lived.
You can read Tarushi Aswani’s full story here.