By Manvendra Malhotra and Saurabh Sharma for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Jagmohan Singh, 48, of Sarvan village, 95 km from Agra city, in Uttar Pradesh has been condemned to remain unmarried because electricity has eluded the village from the time it was established in 1983.
Every evening Singh lights up his kerosene lamp and fires up the choolah (earthen stove) to cook his evening meal. It’s a lonely and lovelorn life. But that is destiny for men born in Sarvan, which stands atop a hill.
No parent from villages far and near want to sentence their daughters to a life without electricity, a dark reality that Singh has learnt to live with.
Singh had an option, though. Escape the village and set up home elsewhere. Singh’s two brothers did that. They moved to Agra city and got married. But Singh, ever the loyal son, refused to leave the village.
Now, at his age, he has lost all hope of finding a wife and live a “happily married” life thereafter. The only other person in his house is his 65-year-old mother Shakuntala. His father passed away in 2013.
“I could have married if I had agreed to leave Sarvan,” says Singh. “Many girls’ parents tried to make me understand that but my parents refused to leave. How could I leave them behind?”
Sarvan village was established by a group of people who fled drought and famine in Bharatpur. They travelled to Agra district in UP and probably liked the view from the hill. So, they set up home there and made the village livable though there was no electricity.
The first time the villagers experienced electricity in Sarvan was in 1999 under the Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY). They got so excited, they bought television sets and other electrical gizmos. The kerosene lamp was dumped for the filament bulb.
“I still remember. It was a Sunday. The children, dressed in their finest, were all fired up for ‘Shaktimaan’ to start on TV,” says Ladia Singh, 83, the oldest woman in Sarvan. “One man was stationed below the antenna to adjust it in case of signal disturbance.”
But the “electrical miracle” lasted all of three days. The kerosene lamp was back with a vengeance to light up their drab lives as much as possible.
“A storm brought down the power lines and robbed Sarvan of electricity,” says Banna Devi. “A pole and all the wires (cables) came down. I remember because my husband’s elder brother’s wife and her four goats were killed that day.”
The RGGVY was launched in April 2005 by merging all previous electrification schemes. It started with a 90% grant from the Centre. The remaining 10% came as a loan from the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC).
RGGVY became a part of the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) in 2015 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched DDUGJY on July 25 that year.
As of April 2015, 11,964 villages (out of 18,452 villages without electricity) have been electrified. Another 5,734 villages still remain without electricity, says the Grameen Vidyutikaran (GARV) dashboard.
Mohit Srivastava, regional supervisor of Dakshinanchal Vidyut Vitran Nigam Ltd (DVVNL), refused to answer queries, saying that electrification was a “work in progress”.
Villagers say it was Mayawati’s meherbani (goodwill) that got Sarvan electricity (for three more days) in 2009. “She was then in power and every officer listened to our complaints. Electricity never came after that,” says Shakuntala.
Thereafter, people started talking of Sarvan’s existence in darkness only after Modi mentioned Nagla Fatela village in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh in an Independence Day speech. Modi, drew the ire of the Opposition on this subject. A show cause notice was also served on the Uttar Pradesh government.
But to get Sarvan electricity will still take time because the deadline for electrification of every village in India keeps getting postponed. According to the GARV dashboard, 31%of the villages in U.P. are uninhabited because of no electricity.
Presenting the Budget on February 1, 2017, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said 100% electrification of villages will be achieved only by May 1, 2019.
Yatendra Singh, village Pradhan, says the last time a man of the village could get married was a dozen years ago. “Rakesh Singh moved out of the village along with his parents to Agra city and found a wife. He’s now a daily wager there.”
He says he knows exactly why Sarvan has been deprived of electricity. “Why should the government do so, when the village has no school, no tubewell, no hospital?” asks the 43-year-old. “Even politicians stopped coming to beg for votes. They are aware of our situation.”
Villagers who carry mobile phones go to the nearby Tantpur village to get their phone batteries charged at ₹10 per charge. Those who use transistor radios to access entertainment run them on Eveready batteries.
Of course, in 1983 none of the founding fathers of the village knew that girls would refuse to climb up the hill to marry Sarvan men living in darkness. Today, there are 30 youth in Sarvan who remain unmarried.
“Once our village had over 120 families. The number has come down to 25. The number of voters is 217,” says Jagmohan, who is one of the 1,18,93,864 unmarried people in Uttar Pradesh, according to the 2011 Census. And perhaps he is also one of a select few who can’t marry because there is no electricity in his house to welcome a marriage party.
Manvendra Malhotra and Saurabh Sharma are UP-based independent journalists and members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.