Battling all odds, Kamala Devi from Rajasthan’s Sirunj village runs a solar power unit and works among children and women
Fifteen years ago, Kamala Devi from a remote village in Rajasthan had shot to fame when she became the first woman barefoot solar engineer. Earlier this month, she added another feather to her cap when she was made the head of the manufacturing, repairing and training unit of solar energy equipment at Kadampura, an expanded centre of the Barefoot College at Tilonia.
She has also been given the added responsibility of supervising the running of 10 night schools for children in eight remote villages in and around Kadampura.
The Barefoot College, known as Social Work and Research Centre, was founded by Bunker Ray in 1972. It is a voluntary organisation working in the fields of education, skill development, health, drinking water, women empowerment and electrification through solar power for the upliftment of rural people.
Born in a financially-weak family in Tihri village, Kamala Devi, like many other children, worked during the day and attended a night school. In 1986, kerosene lamps were replaced with solar lamps in her school. Kamala wondered how a lantern could give light without kerosene and this perhaps is where began her fascination for solar lamps. Little did she know at that time that one day she would be able to manufacture a solar lantern herself and train others to do so.
Having been to a night school herself, Kamala also wanted to teach other children in her village when she grew up. However, as per local customs, she was married off early. Post-marriage she came to know about a night school at Sirunj, her husband’s village, and expressed her wish to teach there. She met with stiff resistance initially from her family and the village society but ultimately her perseverance paid. Later in 1997, she was selected for training for barefoot solar engineering at a workshop in Beenjarwada village. Once more, she faced a lot of opposition but her husband and father-in-law stood by her this time. Many people in the village, especially men, refused to believe that a woman could handle engineering work and would make fun of her.
Determined to prove herself, Kamala would finish her household chores in the morning, travel to the training workshop at Beenjerwada and despite a tiring day, would take out time to teach children at the night school. After six to eight months of training, she learnt to repair solar lamps and could assemble spare parts. In addition to this, she also continued teaching children and educating women about health, their rights and empowerment. She was then made the coordinator for all these programmes.
Today, she is independently running the solar power unit at Kadampura along with other duties. Her husband died two years back — leaving her with the sole responsibility of looking after and educating her son, studying in Class X, and a daughter, who is a slow learner. Though her husband’s death has shattered her emotionally, it could not dampen Kamala’s spirit to work for the people.
When you see Kamala dressed in her traditional attire like any other ordinary woman in her village, it is difficult to imagine how much she has accomplished in her life against all odds. Will power, confidence, missionary zeal and commitment led her to these achievements.
Asked if she had ever thought of contesting the panchayat elections, she said: “I can work for the people without contesting elections.” Does she have any dream yet to be fulfilled? “Yes,” she said, “I want every child, especially girls, to be educated and empowered so that they can become economically independent and lead meaningful lives.”