BY VINUTA GOPAL
One year ago, the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal launched Project Chirag in collaboration with and for the benefit of youngsters orphaned by the deadly gas leak of 1984. These youngsters, who had come together to fight for justice for Bhopal, under the banner Bhopal ki Aawaaz, were struggling to make ends meet and were forsaken in this quest for self sustainance by both the State as well as the Corporation that took their parents’ lives and their health. Here is an account of the successful journey that 4 youngsters, Shahid, Suman, Sadanand and Pramod embarked on, last September, a journey to financial stability and empowerment.
It all began with Solar Generation, a youth campaign for clean energy, launched by Greenpeace India, providing 30 photovoltaic solar panels and lanterns and the requisite training to the members of Chirag.The lanterns were to be charged during the day and rented out at night to pushcart vendors, replacing the petromax and lead-acid battery lanterns that the vendors normally used.
Shahid Noor, the driving force behind this business, has worked hard to keep the lanterns in good condition and now is convinced that he can assemble one himself if only he got his hands on the circuit! Suman, the mother of two toddlers is the anchor of Chirag. She keeps track of the daily collections, maintains the bills and accounts and ensures that the lamp register is kept up to date, and is enthusiastically supported by her husband. Sadanand and Pramod are the foot soldiers, they’ve had their doubts about whether this would be worth the effort but are now finally convinced that this project could go places if worked on.
A year later as we sit down to take stock in their very own office, there is an air of accomplishment and an acknowledgement that Chirag has immense possibilities. They’ve earned over sixty-one thousand rupees in this first year of operations, expanded to 40 lanterns (thanks to the support from AID – Alternative India Development) and are rearing to get bigger! The office sports a new look too. From a brass tack effort of brick and mortar, its now been plastered, recently painted and even sports a cupboard, a table for their accountant and shelves for the lanterns. Its clearly a space they cherish and take pride in.
Shahid proudly announces at the meeting that there are no gas lamps any more in the Chhola Naka area – all of them now use Chirag’s solar powered lights! He also adds that the thela wallahs (pushcart vendors) are finally beginning to believe that these are lights powered by the sun; “they’ve seen the panels on our roof and want to know if it could be used in their homes too…. Do you think there is another business possibility there?” You can almost see his mind ticking away and working out the feasibility of a new proposal.
Suman pipes up and says that they should add more lanterns to the business quickly, “We are already turning people down everyday, if we add lanterns we can include more people in Chirag and help them out too.” The Chirag team are now not only confident that they can deal with any problems that come up in the course of their daily work, but are even looking at how to get better at what they do. It’s made a significant difference to their lives too. Like Shahid says, “Ab ghar ka kharchha ke liye to paisa to pukka hai.” (At least there is certainty of enough money to pay for the running of the house).
The solar powered lanterns have lit up more than pushcarts in the night bazaar in Bhopal – they have ignited a project called Chirag!