Unlike many of her friends in her village, 21-year-old Krishna Pariyar never had to depend on her husband financially. Pariyar, a resident of Pilichaur in Jagannath Rural Municipality-1, Bajura, didn’t have to depend on anyone from her maternal home either. Her life took a turn for good when her tailoring business took off. She had invested Rs. 20,000 ($150) in the business. “Previously, I would sew around eight pairs of clothes with the manual machine,” she said. “Now, with an easy supply of electricity, I make up to 18 pairs.”
Until 2015, the rural municipality was without electricity. Then came the 100 KW Badigaad Hydropower Project and brightened up the village. Pariyar represents thousands of Nepali Dalit women who have to battle the existing social prejudices to live independently. But even after the advent of electricity in the rural municipality, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for its residents. When a flash flood in Badigaad river swept away the structure of the hydropower project, the local unit returned to darkness. Locals were worried as to whether or how the project that was supplying electricity to 1200 households would be rebuilt.
“People would come to me to order clothes walking 4–5 hours but for a lack of power, I couldn’t deliver them on time,” Pariyar said. Electricity has directly helped her business, which subsists her family of eight. Pariyar aims to expand her shop. “If my business runs at this rate, I aim to add more machines and expand the shop,” she said, noting that the hydro project is back in operation after maintenance with help from the Japanese government. “My work has increased by 80 percent since the electricity came along,” Pariyar said. “My income and savings have increased.”
Bajura is one of Nepal’s remotest districts. Seventy-five percent of the district’s total 18,539 hectare land is without access to irrigation. One of the major challenges here is to supply food for its population of 138,523. As much as 55 percent of households in the district reel under a shortage of food. Most young men are forced to travel to India for employment — this is a bitter reality.
To inspire some hope among the district’s populace, the Alternative Energy Promotion Center (AEPC), Renewable Energy for Rural Livelihood (RERL), UNDP, and the Japanese government have come together to rebuild some of the damaged micro hydro plants and supply electricity to 13,362 off-grid households.
The district has a total of 36 micro hydropower projects. Of which 32 are currently in operation. Thirteen of these projects, which had previously ceased functioning, were successfully rehabilitated and brought back to operation through the Japanese government support.
Dayaram Regmi of Budhiganga Municipality-7, one of the villagers, exemplifies the positive impact. A returnee migrant worker who spent few years working at a noodle factory in Malaysia, Regmi has opened his own Food and Chowmein Factory in the village. “Back in Malaysia, I used to do all the work at the factory and I thought I could do the same back home and started this factory,” Regmi said. Regmi brought the machine from India but one problem always nagged him. The interrupted supply of electricity would disrupt work and cause a loss. “When power is out after you mix the flour with water, then the material goes to waste. I faced such a problem a lot previously,” he said. These days, however, with the rehabilitation of the power plant, there’s continued supply of electricity with adequate voltage.
Today, Regmi’s business supplies raw material for chowmein in areas from Budhabagar in Achhan to Chhidedaha, Khaptad. “It’s not hard for me to make an income of Rs 40–50,000 ($300-$400) a month,” he said.
Regmi’s business is one of 46 factories powered by the 200KW Malagad hydropower project, which was damaged by the floods of 2020. “After reconstruction, we are supplying power to 2,370 households,” said Man Bahadur Thapa, chair of Malagad hydropower cooperative.
Hiukala Saud’s story is similar. A resident of Tribeni Municipality-3, Haikala has a family of six, including two of her sons and a daughter. Before she prepared a meal for her house, she had to travel for four hours to grind grains from a water-powered mill. She had to wait for hours for her turn. But once the Kaasgada Hydropower Project materialized, it turned around the lives of many women like Hiukala in the area. Hiukala decided to install an electricity-powered mill at her own home aiming to enhance her family’s economic status.
“One who went to mill rice would have to sometimes spend the night there or return empty handed. But the installation of the mill at the village has saved a lot of our time,” Saud added. “It has benefitted the whole surrounding settlements. We are thankful to everyone for all the support.”
Not only that, the hydropower project has also added to the women’s self-respect and confidence. Saud added, “I work the mill while my husband carries out household chores. Because of the mill, I am able to afford my children’s education at English schools and I have also made some savings.”
For the Saud family, who did subsistence farming before the electricity came along, it was hard to make a living. But the Kangada Microhydro project has helped them enhance their standard of life and made them economically strong. “Those who would previously question how women ran the mills now praise us. I have found this profession easy. I don’t think there’s any work that women can’t do,” she said.
As stories intertwine, a narrative of industries thriving, families embracing stability, and dreams taking flight emerges. The impact radiates beyond the business realm, transforming gender norms, shifting power dynamics, and empowering women. The once-muted voices of Dalits and vulnerable families rise in harmony with the hum of hydroelectricity.
Bajura’s journey is a testament to the boundless potential of energy empowerment. A beacon of transformation, the district paves the path to a future where energy isn’t just a power source, but a catalyst for social evolution. In the heart of Bajura’s empowering hydropower revolution, energy becomes a conduit for change, illuminating the path towards a brighter, equitable tomorrow.