A nomadic journey to a remote village in Arunachal Pradesh gave Rajiv and Merwyn a first-hand experience of the warm-welcoming culture of the natives. Despite lacking even basic necessities like electricity, the residents were so giving and selfless. Moved, the duo decided to give gift 200 solar bulbs to the remote Lhisu tribe. They later formed the ‘Batti Project’ which now lightens hundreds of households across Arunachal.
A trip that changed everything
Thirteen years ago when Rajiv left college, agonized by the collateral damage of the conventional idea of development, he had no idea that the unknown path he traversed on will lead him to some of the remotest villages of India. In the year 2011, Rajiv, with his compatriot Merwyn Coutinho, who was a Corporate dropout himself, decided to embark on a journey to the lands in the east. They started something called Further & Beyond: A venture to satisfy Wanderlust and chart unchartered territories. This adventurous venture led them to trip to Gandhigram, Arunachal Pradesh’s easternmost settlement which introduced them to the Lhisu tribe’s way of life.
During their time in the village, the duo observed that as dusk fell, light from the ‘choukha’ or ‘fireplace’ is the only respite for many rural households in North East India. The duo realised that the remote communities might have never experienced power as supplied through the conventional grid system. Their need for an artificial source of light was real.
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This trip, though casual at first, turned out to be life-changing for the two. They went back with a promise of coming back to the place. A year later, the Lhisu tribesmen invited them to attend a massive Christmas celebration. The duo was ecstatic with the invitation and decided to get a gift for the tribesmen. After several days of thinking about ideas, the duo decided to gift them some ‘Light’, literally. On that Christmas Eve, the duo took 200 Solar Bulbs for lighting homes in Gandhigram, Arunachal Pradesh. Soon, other villagers started asking how they could get their share of light and that’s how the Batti Project was born.
The Batti Project
“The Batti project was an organic endeavour that started off as a return gift for the hospitality we received from the people. When we brought the solar lamps to a village providing for at least half the households, some other villages approached us looking for a slightly better, if not a changed lifestyle.”, says Rajiv. Today, the Batti Project has lightened more than 400 households and in the immediate future, plans to help 1500 more homes to survive the darkness in a more convenient way. After getting a response from other villagers, the duo decided to build well-rounded and sustainable lighting solutions for tribal areas. They decided to build a ‘Batti kit’ which is simple, durable and designed to fit seamlessly into the tribal lifestyle.
They collaborated with Barefoot Power and built the Batti kit which comprises of 1 solar panel (20 watts),1 lead battery (20 Ah), 3 LED tubes (3 watts), 3 holders, 3 switches, 21 meters of fixed cabling (5, 7 and 9m respectively), 1 charge controller. The charge controller controls power to be passed only if plugged in the correct sequence, thereby eliminating faulty usage. It also holds two phone charging outlets (via USB) with the required connectors for all mobile phones in the market.
How they do it
They identify a village and begin a survey to identify its needs. They make an accurate list of all its houses with the village headman and state authorities. This is followed by a physical survey of the village to verify the initial list of beneficiaries. The duo next looks for funders who can sponsor the materials. Then they procure equipment directly from the manufacturers. These are then transported to the farthest point on the roadways. They are distributed thereafter with the help of the villagers. Today, the Batti has lightened more than 400 households and in the immediate future, plans to help 1500 more homes to survive the darkness in a more convenient way. However, a great effort succeeds only with great companionship. The team of the Batti project include Ritika Mittal, Anu Gummaraju, Alphaeus Moses, Anjite Menjo, Karan Dhanwani and Siddharth Prakash.
For any non-profit organisation, fundraising remains the primary obstacle. To overcome this issue, the team decided to use e-waste to raise revenue for the operations of Batti Project. Rajiv travels through Bengaluru to collect e-waste and sells them to the concerned recycling companies. Apart from that, social media events and some corporate help ensure that the Batti remains bright and functioning. A minimal cost of the equipment is borne by the villagers.
The near future of the project will see an expansion outside Arunachal, but strategically restricted to the North-East. According to Rajiv, the rest of India would be tougher to deal. And this is not because of the expanse, but for the corruption. “The ones who have not seen the artificial light, are perhaps much simpler and easier to work for.”, says Rajiv. There are chances that the project will diversify into other sustainable reforms, depending on the need of the hour. The Batti project is an example of how even a small act of giving back can make a difference. And more importantly, can help those who hope.
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