Residents of Sardar Para in Satjeliya Island were put to a lot of hardship in the absence of lighting after nightfall, but the installation of solar panels have changed their lives for the better (Photo: WWF)
Darkness is generally associated with gloom, desperation, anxiety, fear… all of which, until not so long ago, were a part of the everyday lives of the families living in the small, remote hamlet of Sardar Para in Satjeliya Island.
Minati Aulia still remembers the day her neighbour Bula lost her husband, a fisherman, because of the all pervading darkness that used to engulf the area after sundown. “One evening, he was returning from the riverside after work when a tiger came out of nowhere and dragged him away. He couldn’t be saved because it was just too dark to see anything,” she recalls.
Over the years, Minati has seen many families lose their loved ones to incidents like these. She remembers how everyone used to be desperate to get an early start to their day because there was no way anyone could hope to do anything once dusk fell.
The men had to leave the fields for the fear of being attacked by a tiger coming from the Sajnekhali Wildlife Sanctuary in the vicinity, women were compelled to wrap up their household chores and the children were unable to do any schoolwork because how much reading and writing could one do by the faint light of an oil lamp.
Surrounded by the dense mangrove forests of the Sunderbans, this village of around 100 homes is not the easiest of places to live in especially because not only is there a looming threat of cyclonic storms in the region but it is also virtually cut off from the mainstream.
Incidentally, it takes a bus, boat and rickshaw ride from the nearest town of Canning in South 24 Parganas district to get to Sardar Para. Yet, fortunately for the largely tribal inhabitants of this hamlet their womenfolk have diligently worked together to bring light and, consequently, much-needed change to their dreary existence though solar power.
Four years back, when the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) came to the community with a proposal to electrify the village with solar power, a clean, renewable source of energy, individual families were not too enthused at the prospect of having large solar panels dominating the rooftop of their house.
What if the panels got damaged in the frequent storms? What about the cost of maintenance? For people who were already existing hand-to-mouth absorbing an additional expenditure was simply not an option.
When it looked like things were going south, it was the local women, as part of the Sardar Para Paniyajal Samiti, who stepped in and decided to take matters into their own hands. They clearly understood the benefits of having regular electricity in their area and were ready to brainstorm with the experts to come up with a viable plan.
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