Sunday May 20, 2018

This college built on Gandhi’s ideas offers no degree but produces quality solar engineers

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barefoot-5

By Harshmeet Singh

Meet 37 year old Naina Devi, a resident of Rajasthan’s small dusty village Tilonia, she has trained over 50 women solar engineers from 11 LDCs (Least Developed Countries) till now. She doesn’t speak the same language as her students and most of them are much elder to her. With no formal education to boast of, Naina Devi handles integrated circuits, capacitors and soldering machine with as much ease as she handles chapattis at home!

And Naina Devi is not alone. Situated at a distance of about 50 km from Ajmer railway station, Tilonia is home to trained women dentists, women artisans, women electricians, night schools, children parliament, a water harvesting system, a community FM station and much more. Tilonia is unique is more ways than one, and yet, it remains far away from the public eye and publicity that it so dearly deserves. Tilonia represents the true spirit of India; the spirit that says that the solutions to our rural problems lie within us. This unprecedented change in Tilonia has been made possible by Barefoot College.

Barefoot college

Established in 1972 by Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy, Barefoot College is a non-governmental organization that has been working for the women of Least Developed Countries by training them in the fields of solar electrification, education, livelihood development, water conservation and many more. The college, established in Tilonia, Rajasthan, runs on the principles and ethics of Mahatma Gandhi.

Covering over 8 acres of land in Tilonia, the Barefoot college identifies women from the most neglected sections of the society and trains them in dentistry, solar engineering, crafts, mechanics and even RJing! The pupils, most of them mothers and grandmothers, come from some of the most under developed and far flung nations in the world. Many of them, in their 50s and 60s, had never seen electricity in their life before coming to Tilonia.

This unique college doesn’t offer any degree to its students. The reason, according to them, is that the students leave their villages after getting a degree and start looking for lavish jobs. The entire objective of the project is for the students to stay in their village and pass on the benefits to the fellow villagers. The ‘learning by doing’ process followed by the college ensures that the students get a hang on things and are prepared to face all the possible issues within their craft.

The entire program is free for the students, thanks for the funding raised from a number of donors such as the Indian Government and some international agencies. All the local women working in different departments such as solar engineering, mechanical workshops, crafts and dentistry are paid the same wages which is equal to the minimum wage amount set by the law in India. Believe it or not, the entire college runs on solar power! Additionally, close to 100 million litres of fresh water has been harvested in the college since 1991!

Further support after training

Once the participants complete their training and move back to their home towns, the Barefoot College invests $50,000 in their villages for the installation of solar equipment. Each household in the village is expected to contribute towards the maintenance of solar installations with an equal amount as their earlier expenditure on kerosene and wax candles. The solar engineer is responsible for all the repairing and fixing of the solar installations and is paid a monthly salary from the amount contributed by the households in the village. The solar electrification program of Barefoot College has brought lights to more than 45,000 households from some of the some neglected places in the world.

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Life at Tilonia

Tilonia is currently home to a number of night schools where working children can attend classes after their day’s work. The teachers, again, are the local villagers.

Strengthening the democratic values in the society has always been one of the major objectives of Barefoot College. This has led to the establishment of a Student Parliament inside Tilonia. The Parliament elects its own council of ministers, which is headed by the Prime Minister. The council undertakes surprise inspections at all the schools in the village and brings to the notice of College authorities, any anomalies that they find. Such instances of inculcating accountability in the kids are seldom seen in the country.

The college also has a fully operational Radio Station which is operated by one of the trained women. Used to propagate important messages and news, this Radio Station is one of the most significant landmarks in the village. But entertainment in Tilonia doesn’t end here! The College also houses a dedicated Puppet room which is armed by professional puppeteers who organize frequent shows in the village to keep the villagers updated about the current social issues.

There is so much more to Tilonia than what meets the eye. A model village, an inspiration, a true realization of Mahatma Gandhi’s dreams, women empowerment, and welfare of the world are just some of the many descriptions that fit aptly on Barefoot College.

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  • This is a program that I deeply admire and applaud. I come from a third world country in the Pacific called Papua New Guinea where corruption has ruined my country.

    Such a program like this has a huge potential for benefiting the people of this country. If there is any way you can possibly assist through a similar program in my country, please contact me by email.

  • Nice to know about Tilona village.
    If one need more information, how one can get it?

  • This is a program that I deeply admire and applaud. I come from a third world country in the Pacific called Papua New Guinea where corruption has ruined my country.

    Such a program like this has a huge potential for benefiting the people of this country. If there is any way you can possibly assist through a similar program in my country, please contact me by email.

  • Nice to know about Tilona village.
    If one need more information, how one can get it?

Next Story

Come April, government will be more comfortable in Rajya Sabha

Of the 100 BJP-allies MPs, 24 are retiring. Which means, the government will be left with 76 MPs

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Parliament of India is a source of interest for many people because of various reasons. Wikimedia Commons
Parliament of India is a source of interest for many people because of various reasons. Wikimedia Commons
  • In April, the opposition may lose its edge over BJP in Rajya Sabha
  • NDA led by Modi has faced many embarrassments in Rajya Sabha in past few years
  • This is expected to change soon

Come April, the opposition in the Rajya Sabha may lose its edge in the numbers game and the power to stall any government bill, as the ruling BJP-led NDA coalition is set to catch up with its rivals, though a clear majority will elude them for a while more.

BJP to soon get more comfortable in  Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia commons
BJP to soon get more comfortable in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons

As 58 MPs, including three Nominated and one Independent, are set to retire in April, the Rajya Sabha math is going to change. It is set to favour the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and the trend may continue in the elections to the Upper House later too with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) having solid majorities in a number of state assemblies, especially the ones it won after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

With this, while the Congress-led opposition’s numbers will come down to around 115 from the present 123, the numbers of the BJP, its allies and sympathisers together would climb to around 109 from the present 100-odd members.

And the gap, once wide enough to let the opposition invariably have its say, will keep narrowing further in the coming months.

Of the 55 retiring members (excluding those Nominated), 30 belong to the opposition camp while 24 belong to the BJP and allies. Of them, a large number of NDA candidates are set to return while the opposition will lose a chunk of its members.

As things stand now, the Congress-led opposition has 123 MPs (including 54 of the Congress) in a house of 233 elected members (apart from 12 Nominated), while the NDA has 83 members (including 58 of BJP) plus four Independents who support the BJP (these include MPs Rajeev Chandrashekhar, Subhash Chandra, Sanjay Dattatraya Kakade and Amar Singh).

Rajya Sabha or the Upper House can often be a game changer while passing of the bills is in process.
Rajya Sabha or the Upper House can often be a game changer while passing of the bills is in process.

Also, for all practical purposes, the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), that has 13 members in the Rajya Sabha, is also with the NDA. This means the NDA’s effective strength in the upper house of Parliament is 100.

The gap was wider till just a few months ago. This meant that during any battle between the government and the opposition in the Upper House over bills and major issues, it was the opposition that invariably had its way. The recent example was the triple talaq legislation that the opposition stalled in the upper house, demanding that it be referred to a Select Committee.

For over less than four years, the Narendra Modi government had faced quite a few embarrassments in the Rajya Sabha thanks to the majority of the opposition, forcing it often to take the money bill route to avoid a clash in the house. Under the Constitution, a money bill needs to be passed only in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha cannot stall it.

Also Read: For Modi, Road To 2019 Will Be Steeper

However, after April, the NDA will be in a far better position.

Of the 100 BJP-allies MPs, 24 are retiring. Which means, the government will be left with 76 MPs (including AIADMK). But at least 30 from the NDA are set to get re-elected. So the number will rise to 106. Add three members that the government would nominate to the upper house and the final NDA tally will roughly be 109 MPs.

Further, there are fence-sitters such as the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the YSR Congress, which are not virulently against the BJP and would not oppose the government unless for very compelling reasons.

Now, for the Congress and the rest of the opposition, they are set to lose 30 MPs (including one Independent, A.V. Swamy) through retirement and would be left with around 93 members. The Opposition may win roughly 22 seats, which means that its final tally after April is likely to be around 115 members.

Government can now expect some smooth sailing in the Rajya Sabha, coming this April.
Government can now expect some smooth sailing in the Rajya Sabha, coming this April.

The gap has clearly narrowed and the government may not be at the mercy of the opposition during crucial votes and can have its way in the Rajya Sabha if it musters its numbers by deftly wooing “floater” MPs.

The three newly-elected Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) members may remain equidistant from both the BJP and the Congress, though the party is friendly with some of the major opposition parties like the Trinamool Congress.

Also Read: BJP MP Seeks Amendment to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill

In an interesting development recently, the AAP actively participated in the opposition’s walkout and the day-long boycott of the Rajya Sabha over long intra-day adjournments of the Upper House by Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu.

The AAP, which was not welcome at any opposition meetings earlier, particularly those held in Parliament House, was invited to speak at a joint opposition media interaction on the day. But nobody can be sure as to how long this bonding would last.

Partywise tally of those retiring in April-May from the opposition’s side include 13 from the Congress, six from the Samajwadi Party, three of the Trinamool Congress, two each of the Nationalist Congress Party and Biju Janata Dal and one each of the CPI-M, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.

NDA has to face many embarrassments in past few years in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons
NDA has to face many embarrassments in past few years in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons

From the ruling side, 17 MPs of the BJP, three of the Janata Dal United, one of the Shiv Sena and two of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) are retiring.

In terms of state-wise vacancies to be created in April, the highest number is from Uttar Prdaesh (9), followed by Maharashtra (6), Madhya Pradesh (5), Bihar (5), Gujarat (4), Karnataka (4), West Bengal (4), Rajasthan (3), Odisha (3), Andhra Pradesh (3), Telangana (2), Uttarakhand (1), Himachal Pradesh (1) and Chhattisgarh (1). IANS