Sun power at work
Male bias in school
Ambarish Dutta meets M.M. Mathew, the brain behind the Solar Alternative and Associated Programmes (SAAP) which has been promoting the use of non-conventional energy
A visit to the Solar Energy Park within St Mary’s Church compound at Phulwari Sharif, near Patna, makes one wonder at the power of the sun.
Till recently, for the people of Nagaland there was no option but to helplessly allow huge wastage of their famous export-quality chillies and ginger due to lack of facilities for preservation. Poor connectivity with the mainland was also a handicap in sending the products on a daily basis to other parts of the country.
Of late, the scenario has changed, because of the untiring effort of Solar Alternative and Associated Programmes (SAAP), an NGO based in Phulwari Sharif in Patna more than 1000 km from Nagaland. The NGO is promoting solar energy as the biggest source of non-conventional and renewable power.
Formed in 1996 and registered in 2002, SAAP is a non-profitable charitable institution which promotes awareness on solar renewable energy. SAAP has been recognised by the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy as the second organisation in the country to specialise in Concentrated Parabolic Solar System.
The discovery of solar tunnel dryers has brought back smiles on the faces of the people of Nagaland. The SAAP has installed four solar tunnel dryers in the North-East for various local self-help groups to preserve and export chillies and ginger throughout the year.
Father M.M. Mathew, Director of SAAP and the brain behind the research here smiles when people from Phulwari Sharif, Jharkhand and the North-East call him Solar Mathew.
The range of products offered by him, based on solar thermal and solar electricity, include solar steam turbines with Scheffer reflectors that produce electricity by using solar power, multipurpose windmills. Scheffler community solar cookers for cooking for up to 100 people, domestic solar cooker (ideal for families and small groups up to 12 people), solar dryers (a unit using solar power to dry food products), Scheffler solar steam systems (for institutions such as hospitals, hostels, hotels and industries that require steam cooking and running turbines), solar hot water flat panel systems for providing hot water for bathing and cooking, solar heat storage with Scheffler reflectors which can be used even after sunset.
The research and development wing of SAAP under Solar Mathew is presently working on solar-powered cycle rickshaws for the poor.
The SAAP has also installed two solar refrigerators at rural health care centres in Aranghat and Dumaoan, which function uninterruptedly as they do not depend on the traditional modes of electricity. The chappatis produced by the chappati cooking device with block heating system are simply delicious.
An interesting feature of SAAP is its success in linking the development of solar energy-based products to the socio-economic empowerment of the Musahar community, the most backward among the Dalits in Bihar and UP.
Father Josey K. Kunnunkal, a social activist and guiding force behid the NGO, said, "The Musahars have learnt to create these inventions under the supervision of M.M. Mathew. With their help, we have been successful in setting up solar energy parks in different parts of the country".
An attempt to raise awareness regarding solar energy first began in the early 1990s to rediscover the potential of the sun as an alternative source of power, which is renewable as well as pollution-free. Once installed, it is the cheapest source of power too.
It was Father Robert Athickal who took started organising students under Tarumitra, a student forum for environment. It was Mathew, an activist of the movement, who took the initiative to look into the alternative sources of energy.
In 1996, Mathew went to Gujarat to study the feasibility of promoting renewable energy in Bihar. After returning, with support of the Jesuit province in Patna, he initiated a solar manufacturing unit on the premises of the Xavier Teachers’ Training Institute at Digha Ghat in Patna.
Later, SAAP was allowed to operate from the compound of St Mary’s Church in Phulwari Sharif. The one acre area of the church, including 10 rooms, research laboratories and water pumps are being run on solar energy. The equipment installed inside using both the techniques of solar thermal and solar electricity produce 3 KV of power.
According to Josey "The food cooked here is totally based on solar systems. We even produce vegetables and other products at the roof of the church based on the solar chemical system known as photosynthesis".
Scientists from Switzerland, Germany and other countries actively take part in the research and development of the products based on the solar system. SAAP spends nearly Rs 6-7 lakh every year on this.
"We install the products and the money we earn is used for research and development", said Josey.
Josey and Mathew are, however, worried over the recent decision by the government to introduce VAT on solar products. "This will increase the prices of the products, and once VAT is introduced, we will have to pay sales tax too while installing the products in other states. This may act as a deterrent to promote solar energy-based devices", Josey remarked.
Josey also admits that there has been lack of proper thrust from the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy to promote solar devices across the country.
"The initial cost of installation is high and needs support from the government but once they have been installed, Schefflers solar steam systems, are the cheapest sources of power", Josey said.The photovoltaic devices based on solar power can ensure power supply even during monsoon and winter.
The SAAP feels that before investing money to promote solar energy parks and solar systems as alternative source of energy, the government should evolve a mechanism to prevent siphoning off of funds.
The SAAP regrets that while the concept of "green energy" is popular in developed countries, India is still lagging behind. Its proper utilisation can change the face of rural India as a large number of villages are still deprived of power.
Male bias in
Reinforcing sexist stereotypes, a primary school textbook depicts daddy as the king of the family and mummy as a caring deputy, thereby perpetuating the gender bias by assigning traditional roles to "macho" men and "gentle" women.
Ironically, its preface aims "...to develop the right social attitudes and values in a growing child".
Despite conscious efforts on the part of the National Policy on Education, women are depicted as cooks, housewives or nurses in textbooks.
The root of a lackadaisical approach to girls’ education lies in tradition and culture, social attitudes, poverty, fear of violence and exploitation, besides early marriages. How ironic it is to talk about women’s empowerment in such a situation. Though the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has been laying stress on removing gender disparities—specifically emphasising the elimination of sex stereotypes and sex biases from textbooks—study material provided to students is replete with instances of discriminatory attitudes.
Be it a book on science, social studies, mathematics, English or Hindi, women can be seen fetching water, working in kitchens or cleaning the room.
Lessons too are male-centric with stories generally about boys.
Boys are drawn in most illustrations and instructions in workbooks too are addressed to them. References like "a farmer, his land and his son", "mother fills water in the pots" and "my sister washes clothes" abound.
According to a survey by Friends for Education group, an average primary textbook with 115-130 pages carries 80-100 illustrations, over half of them depicting men and boys, 28 per cent neutral objects, 14 per cent mixed and only six per cent showing women and girls.
Men occupy spaces that are conventionally and socially seen as public and outdoor assignments that project them in stronger roles like policemen, engineers, lawyers, professors, pilots and mechanics.
Primary textbooks by NCERT show a gender bias as most of the really adventurous and enterprising roles like that of astronauts, soldiers and sportspersons are assigned to men.
In sections of Indian society, girls are treated as paraya dhan (groom’s property) and investing in them is considered a waste of money and resources. Naturally, the task of ridding these books of gender discrimination will prove to be a Herculean one.
Even in the six mathematics books used in the primary classes, men dominate in activities representing commercial, occupational and marketing situations. Not a single woman is shown as a shopkeeper, merchant, executive, engineer or seller.
Jobs dealing in money, like bank transactions, are managed by men even in textbooks at higher levels. Five Hindi and five English textbooks evaluated by Friends for Education show that men are more adventurous, schematic, aggressive and scientific.
These texts are actually responsible for the lack of interest that girls show in science at the secondary and senior secondary levels. As a result, a majority of girls take to literary and social courses, ending up as weaker sex stereotypes.
The truth is that these texts prepare boys at a subconscious level to achieve in the marketplace while girls are trained to be submissive.
Educational psychologists worry that gender stereotypes adversely affect the emotional psyche of children by forcing them to perform a set pattern of behaviour pre-determined on the basis of gender discrimination.
But in the US the pattern is It was in 1982-83 that the NCERT tried to identify areas of sex bias in language textbooks. When their representatives met primary teachers to sort out the problem, they found the latter completely oblivious of sexist stereotypes.
Despite the NCERT having developed a set of guidelines for the elimination of gender stereotyping in textual material and the same disseminated to the authors and publishers, not much has changed. — IANS