A blackout in Gujarat

Women participants in Utthan's orchard program on small tribal farms. The program helps keep farms functioning throughout the year, decreasing forced migration because of a lack of jobs.
Women participants in Utthan’s orchard program on small tribal farms. The program helps keep farms functioning throughout the year, decreasing forced migration because of a lack of jobs.

Gujarat is the land without blackouts. So they say.

I can happily admit that I have yet to experience a single blackout during the last 1.5 months I have lived in Ahmedabad, the largest city in the state. This is a rarity in the India—and having lived through the great power outage in Northern India in 2011—I am extremely grateful for this state of affairs.

But Gujarat is not always shining. Not everywhere, at least. As part of my work with my host organization, Utthan, I have been lucky enough to visit the more remote corners of the state. This includes Dahod district in far eastern Gujarat where there is a strong tribal (adivasi) population. Here, the power is hardly so assured. After a long journey with Utthan’s director to Limkheda in Dahod, she and I had finally sat down with staff members from our field office when we were promptly plunged into darkness. Out came the familiar candles and mobile phone “torches” that I had all but forgotten about since my last visit to India.

The roads surrounding Ahmedabad are sleek, impeccable even. The roads into Dahod were bumpy, speckled with gaping holes that collected murky water belying their depth. The roads proved so arduous on this particular journey that one of the tires on our jeep blew out an hour away from our closest field office just as night fell.

Once the tire was replaced and we were back on the road, I remember looking out ahead of us and seeing nothing. It seemed the entire visible world fell beneath the beams of our headlights. Every so often a fleck of light would peak out behind a ridge of hills. I would try to guess what that light was connected to—a town, a village, a hamlet, a temple?

There is another type of blackout I have experienced, and that is the one inside my own head. Over the past month I have frequently felt a little lost and left in the dark in one way or another.  Living in a new community in India—whether you are Indian or American—means operating in a blackout to some extent. We are all searching for the tantalizing specks of light that will help us make some connection, reach some understanding, and (eventually) help us leave an impact at our organizations and in the communities with which we work.

In my own experience in Ahmedabad, some blackouts in my understanding have been frustrating. For instance, not knowing the exact documentation the Ahmedabad Foreign Office wants from me.

Some blackouts are hilarious. Like trying to learn garba steps during Navratri with the fellows from Bhavnagar and Mumbai. With a few exceptions, I’m pretty sure most of us looked like newborn fawns taking our first steps in the real world…

But slowly, and in their own time, the flecks of light will make an appearance.

The morning after the blackout in Limkheda, I went into the field to visit several tribal villages. The field staff did not speak sufficient English and my Gujarati is nonexistent, so Hindi became our intermediary. With starts and stops, I learned about my organization’s work with the tribal population: building “check dams” that slow the flow of water down the hills and spread the availability of water, introducing new crops that will keep farms operational throughout the year and decrease forced migration, and supporting women’s federations and self-help groups.

By the end of the day, I realized I had barely spoken a word of English but I had understood a great deal. The lights were switching back on.

One of my first realizations—which I’m sure to write about in future posts—was that despite Gujarat’s reputation as a development success story, large state projects and corporate investment can only go so far. True sustainability comes from empowering communities to identify and solve their own problems in a way that matches their capabilities, resources, and preferences.

It is this type of understanding that I hope to focus on over the next nine months, as I search out more specks of light to show me the way.

 

 

Woman washing clothes at a "check dam" constructed to slow the flow of water and ensure availability throughout the year.
Woman washing clothes at a “check dam” constructed to slow the flow of water and ensure availability throughout the year.
Asit bhai, a member of the Utthan team in Limkheda, speaks with one of the local leaders of the Tribal Development Programme.
Asit bhai, a member of the Utthan team in Limkheda, speaks with one of the local leaders of the Tribal Development Programme.

 

Liv's passion for gender equitable development and political participation began while she was living in New Delhi in 2011-2012 conducting independent research at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her research focused on the influence of national-level women's NGOs on public policy formation and implementation through the lens of the campaign against sex selective abortion in India. Through this experience, she also cultivated an interest in public health issues affecting marginalized populations, spending the last year in Bangkok, Thailand contributing to the research division of an international NGO working on issues related to HIV/AIDS and reproductive health across Asia. Liv is looking forward to returning to India and learning more about community-based approaches to resource management and gender development.

You Might Also Like

3 thoughts on “A blackout in Gujarat

  1. Wonderful reading this post Liv… And I guess you have captured it quite well – the diversity of India. Whether a foreigner or an Indian, a different location in India is always like operating in a black out!

  2. Liv
    “I barely spoke a word of English but I had understood a great deal “. Really like that. Welcome to India . Everyday in India can be like the day itself – dark start, faint rays, rising visibility, bright light and then the regular partial or total solar eclipse , darkness, sun peeping out, light and so on. Once you understand the rhythms then you realize that India is a flickering light . People are trying to fix the loose connection so that the interval between the flickers gets shorter. The bigger challenge is to make sure that the pipe bringing electricity to everyone’s life is always working. Nafisa behn and organizations like Utthan are critical in keeping us focused on that task.
    Keep them coming.
    Best
    Sridar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Us

Stay up to date on the latest news and help spread the word.

AMERICAN INDIA FOUNDATION IS A REGISTERED 501 (C)(3) Charity. © 2020
NEW YORK | CALIFORNIA | NEW DELHI

Privacy Policy

Get Involved

Our regional chapters let you bring the AIF community offline. Meet up and be a part of a chapter near you.

Join a Chapter