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Mobile phone has reached her, but bijli hasn't

I Am Bihar:
Mobile phone has reached her, but bijli hasn't

Last updated on: October 14, 2015 09:54 IST

Unlike many of us who don't remember the number of electrical sockets in our homes; for some, a plug point can be a luxury.Lead

Archana Masih meets Dhana Devi who goes to somebody else's home to charge her mobile phone because her house is not connected by electricity.

As Bihar goes to the polls, Rediff.com looks at the state through the lives of its people.

Anil Kumar Paswan

IMAGE: Children stand on a concrete road that runs through their village. Photographs: Archana Masih/Rediff.com

Anil Kumar Paswan is woken up by the sound of chatter outside his house. He comes out wearing a banyan and trousers to ask who I am as he finds me speaking to a group of women from his village.

He speaks in Hindi that stands out in the Bhojpuri-speaking group. He grew up and studied in Ranchi, and worked for HDFC Bank in Ramgarh where he opened accounts for those living in rural areas. Six years ago, he returned to his village, and works for a company that sells solar lights in villages.

The previous night he returned very late on his motorcycle from Patna where he had traveled for work. That's why he was catching up on his sleep.

He asks someone to get a chair for me to sit. It is October, the weather should have turned cooler by this time of the year -- but it is hot like in the summer months in Bihar.

A plastic chair is brought. It would be odd to sit when the women I am speaking to are seated on the ground, but he insists I am a guest. I keep standing and chatting, but ultimately sit down for a while as Anil tells me why he moved back to his village.

Later, he leads me to a cluster of houses behind his own, where I discover that all that separates a bunch of houses from light is four electricity poles.

But before that, let me tell you Anil's story.

***

Anil Kumar Paswan

IMAGE: Anil Kumar Paswan grew up in Ranchi and sells solar lights in villages. On the wall are cow-dung cakes drying in the sun. They will be used as cooking fire.

My father ran away from this village when he was a young boy. He was illiterate, but he managed to do well and got a job with a company that dealt with coal.

Me and my sisters were educated in Ranchi. We are all married now. I moved back to our village because my wife got a job as a teacher in a government primary school in Siwan, which is two hours away.

She earns Rs 9,000 a month and stays there. I live here on my own because the distance is too much to travel up and down for her.

The moment she gets eligible to put a request for a transfer, she will do it right away.

I moved back from Ranchi because of her. Even though we can't live together, I can reach her soon enough if there is an emergency. Ranchi would have been too far. I have tried some temporary jobs over here since I arrived.

I miss Ranchi. Life was so different there. I miss my friends, but we are going there for our Durga Puja holidays and I am looking forward to it.

I access the Internet on the phone, but connectivity is very slow here. It only picks up some speed in the night.

People do not know what smart phones or android phones are over here. They only use mobile phones for making calls. Youngsters use them to listen to film songs.

Bihar

IMAGE: Dhana Devi, in a pink sari, says she goes to homes that have electricity to charge her phone.

Dhana Devi, in a pink sari, interrupts him and says all she knows is the green and red button on the phone keypad.

She just presses those buttons and that's it, she tells me, laughing shyly. She uses it most of the time to speak to the men in the family who are daily wage earners in Rajasthan, where they make Rs 350 to Rs 400 every day.

When I tell her it's almost the same as what daily wagers earn in Bihar, she says working in another state gives them an element of prestige. Nobody calls them mazdoor, but think of them as doing some sort of work in another part of the country.

Most young boys after finishing school go off to Rajasthan, Gujarat, Delhi etc to work as labourers. Very few enroll in college. Parents send girls to school lured by the government's midday meal and uniform scheme, but I am informed that none go to college. The midday meal, uniform and cycles provided by the state government have brought back many children to school in the Nitish Kumar years.

Dhana Devi has a mobile phone, but cannot charge it because electricity hasn't reached her home. She charges her phone in the homes of the ahirs (higher than her on the caste rung). Others in her cluster of the dusadh community do the same.

Caste is worn on the sleeve and on the lips and is the most important part of one's identity in the rural hinterland. Bajidpur, which is commonly known as Turkavalia village, is inhabited by ahirs and dusadhs. Each community comprising its own cluster of huts; each seemingly separated by an invisible margin.

It is hard to imagine that electricity wires have not reached these 30, 35 homes made of bricks with thatched roofs, when the surrounding cluster of homes have had electricity for 10 years. The village has a paved road and the women seem better dressed than many in the poorer villages of Bihar.

I am struck by the irony. Mobile phones, but no plug points!

Dhana Devi laughs when I ask if she watches television in the homes where she charges her phone, and tells me all that has separated the community from light for years is four poles.

Bihar

IMAGE: A mother of three, she says her husband gets a handicap pension from the government because he lost his arm in an accident.

"This is the real Bihar," continues Anil, who has worn a t-shirt to accompany me to this side of the village.

The irony is that these homes are surrounded on either side by other homes that have electricity.

"That electricity pole that you see -- that is the last one on this side and I will show the one on the other side when we turn back. But this is a dark patch."

"The thing is that we are not as powerful as the ahirs, so we have not been able to assert our needs. The mukhiya is from the lower caste, but hasn't been successful in holding his own against the higher castes, so the needs of the lower caste people have been overlooked."

"Some informed people through an NGO petitioned the adhikari (government official) and a electricity pole was unloaded here, but because we were not here at that time, some people from a neighbouring village took it to their village instead."

Anil has electricity in his home because his house is located relatively closer to the electricity pole. He says he gets an electricity bill.

He points to a rusting iron pole from where a wire brings electricity to his home. He owns a television, computer and invertor and pays around Rs 110 as his electricity bill. Just behind him, a cluster of homes remain separated from the light for want of four similar poles.

In the group I met is a woman whose husband lost an arm while shredding rice in a thresher (a machine to chop fodder) many years ago. She has three children and asks if there are too many. Her husband receives a viklang (handicap) pension from the government.

The people I met tell me about several government schemes they receive -- widow pension, handicap pension, senior citizen pension etc. Some say they get it monthly, others say they get a consolidated amount every few months. A vast majority of village folk depend on the government for their needs. I asked some in Turakvalia why don't they get together and pool in money to build a toilet, but they say they didn't have the means.

THE I AM BIHAR SERIES

Archana Masih / Rediff.com
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