Income and Education

Light in the Mangroves

District:Gobindarampur, West Bengal

Gobindarampur is a small hamlet in south West Bengal, near the Bay of Bengal. Situated amidst the world’s widest delta and the largest mangrove forest, Gobindarampur, like many other villages in the region, is devoid of grid power supply. The area is infested with crocodiles and poisonous insects and venturing out in the night without light can be perilous. Naturally, after sun down, life in the village came to a halt. Children were not able to study after dark and livelihood was meager as people had to depend on traditional income generating activities in the absence of electricity and lighting. One of the main sources of livelihood in the area is betel-leaf cultivation. Belonging to a tree from the shade bearing species, betel leaves are extremely sensitive to heat and sunlight and therefore can be plucked from the field only after sunset. Earlier, farmers would carry kerosene lanterns to collect betel leaves at night, but due to the heat generated by the lanterns the leaves would dry up quickly. By the time they reached the market, they hardly fetched their true value. Also, kerosene lanterns were too dim to detect poisonous insects and reptiles in the mangrove forests and farmers always walked in danger of being bitten.

The situation began to improve when solar lanterns were introduced in the village. Farmers felt safer going out at night and their business also increased manifold. They could now work for longer hours using solar lanterns and their income doubled for every betel leaf sold. The solar lanterns also brought about an unprecedented solidarity within the community for the collective welfare of the community and the achievement of shared goals. For example, when children were appearing for their final examinations, the community ensured that lanterns were made available to all households with students. ‘Earlier, we had light only when the sun shone, now the sun shines in our village even at night,’ an elderly woman in the village expressed in thankful reference to the solar lanterns.

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