National / World

'Bijli' portends lifestyle changes in rural Bihar


By Imran Khan

Raghunathpur (Bihar), Jan 12 (IANS): Unlike in the past, the current cold wave-like conditions don't bother Nagma Khatoon any more. The biting chill has stopped discomforting her and her family of late thanks to the bliss of "bijli".

"Bijli", or electricity, which would previously disappear faster than it came, has finally come to stay, much to the relief of Nagma Khatoon and her likes in this nondescript village of Haspura block in Maoist-affected Aurangabad district.

Now Nagma uses an electric room heater to keep the house warm, an electric motor to get clean drinking water and a water heating rod for a bath.

Life was never this good, never this easy for her and several others in the village. Electricity has changed the way they lived, for ever.

Nagma, who is in her late 20s, is proud to use an electric room heater.

"It is something that was simply beyond our imagination until two years ago. Our forefathers never even dreamt of a bulb in the village, not to talk of TV, fridge, washing machine, electric motor to pump water and room heater," she said.

She frankly admitted that there are not many like her using a room heater in the village. Her husband works in Kolkata with a private construction company and is reasonably better off financially than most others around.

"After my room heater replaced the 'borsi' (a hand-made big size earthen bowl filled with cow dung and small pieces of wood, lit to warm up since ages) many of my neighbours are keen to replace their 'borsis' soon, to get rid of smoke, dust and dirt attached with it."

A few months back, she also purchased a cooler to get ver the hot summer. "There are fans in all 250 houses in the village, but only few have a cooler. It is something new, as coolers were neen as an urban facility."

Another woman, Sajua Khatoon, in her early 80s, wife of a retired village level worker (VLW), said they have managed to purchase a fridge, a washing machine and a colour TV for a comfortable living.

"My grandchildren enjoy home-made ice-cream, thanks to a fridge (refrigerator) at home, my daughter-in-law is happy to use the washing machine and all of us watch TV programmes as per our choice.

"Life has really changed for us. Earlier, such facilities were confined to people living in Patna and Gaya only, but now we are also enjoying, thanks to 'bijli'," said Sajua.

She said when the bulb glows, it looks unbelievable, as this village has not had electricity since Independence. "Many generations of this village have spent life without electricity, virtually in a lantern age," she said.

Ehsan Khan of the same village, who is in his late 50s, said 'bijli' has made life not only easier but also given new hope to farmers to irrigate their land and use machines for harvesting.

"At present, an electricity transformer or agricultural connections have not been set up, but farmers are hopeful that sooner or later electricity will be available for irrigation as well."

"My wife is using an induction plate, instead of costly LPG, to cook. We have plans to purchase a washing machine next year," Khan said with apparent happiness and pride in his voice.

Raghunathpur is not the only village that is witnessing such change. Neighbouring villages like Piroo and Purhara have also seen a similar transformation.

Bhola Paswan, a Dalit resident of Bigha hamlet of Raghunathpur, said more than the winter, electricity provides them greater relief during the hot summer, as they now use a fan. "We are certainly not living in the lantern age any more."

Another Dalit, Bhulan Ram, of the same hamlet said life no more stops after the sun sets: women prepare food in the light of the bulb and children study in its bright light.

"We are enjoying electricity and getting its benefits in our homes for the first time in our life, as there is adequate power supply," Ram said.

Ram's neighbours Dukhan and Jamun Paswan said they are not worried about charging their mobile phones and watch television at night, unlike earlier. "We are not using a kerosene lantern for lighting at night," Paswan said with a smile on his face.

The state Energy Department officials said the central government is going to conduct a study on changes in the lifestyle in villages after those got electricity under the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Joyti Gram Yojna," an official informed.

Bihar Energy Miniister Bijendra Prasad Yadav told IANS: "The overall electricity situation has improved in the state. The per capita consumption of electricity in Bihar has gone up to 258 units from a meagre 70 units in 2005.

"Village gets power supply for 14 to 15 hours daily. It has ushered in a massive change in the lifestyle of the common people. Two years ago, nights meant shutdown of activities. They had to sit indoors to avoid insects and snakes."

Last year, launching the "Har Ghar Bijli Lagataar" initiative, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had said the government would provide electricity to all by the end of 2018.

According to latest data of the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC), only 924 villages are yet to be electrified in Bihar and the work is in progress in over 200 of them.

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