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This Simple Solution Holds The Key For 240 Million Indians Living In Darkness

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NFI logoEditor’s Note: With #GoalPeBol, Youth Ki Awaaz has joined hands with the National Foundation for India to start a conversation around the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals that the Indian government has undertaken to accomplish by 2030. Let’s collectively advocate for successful and timely fulfilment of the SDGs to ensure a brighter future for our nation.

The Earth’s on-going energy crisis, precipitated by heavy industrialisation and over-reliance on fossil fuels, has forced our nations to look at alternative, renewable sources of energy. India, soon to be the most populous country in the world, has massive energy needs to meet. Among the many different sources of alternative energy that it can tap into to meet these needs, tapping sunlight to create electricity or solar energy has perhaps the most crucial role to play.

Why Do We Need Solar Energy?

240 million Indians still live without electricity and 700 million get power for only around 6 hours a day. Yet we are currently the 4th largest consumer of energy in the world, and still get a significant portion – almost 40% – of our power from non-renewable fossil fuels.

To counter this, amongst other measures, the government has also instituted The National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF), which is enabled by charging a ₹50 cess on every tonne of coal produced or imported in the country (thus taxing the use of fossil fuels as well). Since 2010, the NCEF has collected ₹54,000 crore – a staggering number which is proof of our over-dependence on non-renewable energy sources.

Using solar energy would not only help reduce this over-dependence, but also help power these regions in an affordable manner. Moreover, given the fact that India gets around 300 days of sunshine and a general tropical climate, it is ideally suited for solar energy.

Solar power can be achieved in several different ways – most notably through solar power cells and panels, and setting up solar-powered microgrids. In places like Rajanga in Bhubaneswar, where such microgrids have been set up, the results have shown tremendous success –  bringing power to villages that had no access to traditional sources of electricity, water supply and tarred roads. “We had a kerosene lamp before, but this is exciting and cheaper,” says Ramesh Chandra Pradhan, of Kanaka village, that runs on solar grids.

Moreover, as a signatory of the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda, India is not only duty-bound to switch to clean and affordable energy by 2030, but also ensure universal access to renewable energy. This means that the government has to ensure that citizens across the country, belonging to every social stratum, have access to clean energy. Given the economic benefits of solar power – which range from reducing your power bill to boosting the country’s economy by improving production and eliminating dependence on fossil fuels – this may not be as far-fetched a goal as it sounds.

Yet, it is also clear that the government alone cannot accomplish this huge task.“Large schemes by the government make no sense,” says Dr Harish Hande, founder of  SELCO, which has been providing solar energy solutions to rural Karnataka. “You need money to maintain solar panels, water to clean them, land to build them on, etc”, he says, implying that it would be difficult for the government to single-handedly meet such massive yet precise needs.

The fact that the country has managed to mobilize $30 billion towards attracting private financing in the field, through international cooperation and investments, also tilts the balance towards involving the private sector favourably in this endeavour.

But a lot still needs to be done in order for India to realize the Clean Energy dream and meeting the targets of Goal 7 of the SDGs. And decentralization has a crucial role to play in that direction.

Only decentralised initiatives make sense. Decentralisation is democratisation. It opens up more choices, sparks more innovation,” says Dr Hande.

The Quest For Solar Power

Since its inception in 1995, SELCO has been putting great focus in this direction. It has set up 45 energy service centres in Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. Moreover, they have set up over 2,00,000 solar home lighting systems in 20 years, and created India’s largest solar water heating system – with a capacity of over 4,00,000 litres!

By approaching solar energy through creative solutions – funding rural evening schools, providing power to Tibetan settlements, and most prominently, providing robust financial aid to rural households and communities, organizations like SELCO are helping communities switch to solar power easily.

But in order for decentralisation to work, rural entrepreneurs and farmers need to be empowered to take on solar power initiatives to maintain their businesses. Their work must be promoted on the same level as urban entrepreneurship. The most effective way to do this is through the country’s vast network of rural banks, which SELCO has managed to tap. “We need to utilise the 40,000 (sic) banks in rural India,” says Dr Hande. “Incentives need to be created, through banks, ITIs, etc, for 600 million (sic) poor people.

Solving Crucial Challenges

A major obstruction in the path towards this goal, according to Dr Hande, is the importance given to English – to a certain kind of education – in the entrepreneurial climate of India. “A farmer will not be called an expert in sugarcanes despite working with them for 40 years, but someone with a degree in sugarcane breeding will be. This needs to be changed,” he says. “We need to break free of English hegemony through the financing networks that we have for rural India.

Moreover, rural entrepreneurs, farmers, and other workers should be in a position to use these products, and make a profit from them too.  If a rural entrepreneur takes a loan to invest in solar power for themselves, there needs to be a way for them to pay it back. “Vegetable sellers, paddy farmers, tailors, etc, will all require different incentives. We need to be prepared to meet those requirements,” says Dr Hande. “A solar power sewing machine makes no difference if the market is not there.

To do this, it is essential for us to develop proper industry and infrastructure, and meet the goal of infrastructural development by 2030. And of course, another prime reason for switching to solar energy – or any kind of clean energy – is to reduce the massive amounts of pollution produced by traditional fuel, as well as fight climate change – which is essential to the SDGs.

As a signatory to the SDGs, it is essential for India to step up its game and give solar energy an even bigger push. To truly switch to a clean energy future and make sure it reaches every last person, India needs better financing, as well as bolder policies about utilising solar power.  It is not just about switching to renewable energy, but also creating the infrastructure necessary to support this switch. This includes both physical infrastructure as well as aims like education, accessibility, etc – so that every person is aware of the benefits of renewable energy.

And this is not an impossible task – clearly, solar energy is showing positive effects in places where it has been tried out. With enough interest and a renewed focus on education and empowerment for people across all sections of society, the day may not be far when solar energy will power a truly clean, green India.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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