Friday, 5 January 2018

Justice and politics in energy access for education, livelihoods and health: How socio-cultural processes mediate the winners and losers

Justice and politics in energy access for education, livelihoods and health: How socio-cultural processes mediate the winners and losers

Energy Research and Social Science, Volume 40, June 2018, Pages 3–13

Justice and Politics: With access to modern lighting the boy of the household gets to study while the girl has to cook on a hazardous and polluting wood fired earthen hearth


The rhetoric on development benefits of energy access often focuses on education, livelihoods and health. Using case studies of two energy access projects in India, this paper demonstrates that these claims, while true in part, are neither simple nor straightforward. It argues that pre-existing socio-cultural processes mediate the development outcomes of energy access projects. In particular, the roles of gender, socio-economic positions and the local economy are vital in understanding the links between education, livelihoods, health and energy.
This paper is important for two reasons. First, working with culture as a mediator, it provides nuanced insights into relationships between energy access and three key development goals. Second, by presenting this analysis, the paper identifies a need for further research on the relationships between socio-cultural processes, development and energy access and, how by keeping these processes in mind, the benefits of energy access could be extended to less privileged social groups. This paper is based on a nine-month long ethnographic research in five villages in India’s Bihar state. Home tours, interviews, participant observations and group discussions were used to collect the data.

Please read this in conjunction with my previous article on Cultures of Lights.

Link to open access article:

शिक्षा, आजीविका और स्वास्थ्य के लिए ऊर्जा की पहुंच में न्याय और नीति: कैसे सामाजिक-सांस्कृतिक परिक्रिआएं जीतने और हारने वालों की मध्यस्थता करती हैं 

खंड 40, जून 2018, पृष्ठ 3-13

ऊर्जा और विकास के संबंध पर संवाद अक्सर शिक्षा, आजीविका और स्वास्थ्य पर केंद्रित होते हैं। भारत में दो ऊर्जा परियोजनाओं का अध्ययन करते हुए, यह पत्र दर्शाता है कि ये दावे, जबकि भाग में सत्य, न तो सरल और न ही सीधे हैं। इस पत्र का तर्क है कि पहले से मौजूद सामाजिक-सांस्कृतिक प्रक्रियाएं ऊर्जा परियोजनाओं के विकास के संबंधों की मध्यस्थता करती हैं। विशेष रूप से, शिक्षा, आजीविका, स्वास्थ्य और ऊर्जा के बीच संबंधों को समझने में लैंगिक भेदभाव, सामाजिक-आर्थिक स्थिति और स्थानीय अर्थव्यवस्था की भूमिका महत्वपूर्ण है।
यह पत्र दो कारणों के लिए महत्वपूर्ण है। सबसे पहले, संस्कृति की मध्यस्थता को दिमाग में रखते हुए, यह ऊर्जा की पहुंच और तीन प्रमुख विकास लक्ष्यों के बीच के संबंधों में सूक्ष्म अंतर्दृष्टि प्रदान करता है। दूसरा, इस विश्लेषण को प्रस्तुत करते हुए, ये पत्र सामाजिक-सांस्कृतिक प्रक्रियाओं, विकास और ऊर्जा की पहुंच के बीच के संबंधों, और इन प्रक्रियाओं को ध्यान में रखते हुए, ऊर्जा की पहुंच के लाभों को कमज़ोर सामाजिक समूहों तक पहुंचने के तरीकों पर और शोध की ज़रूरत को दर्शाता है।
यह पत्र भारत के बिहार राज्य के पांच गांवों में नौ महीने के नृवंशविज्ञान अनुसंधान पर आधारित है। आंकड़े इकट्ठा करने के लिए होम टूर, साक्षात्कार, प्रतिभागी अवलोकन और समूह चर्चाओं का इस्तेमाल किया गया था।

यह कृपया संस्कृति पर मेरे पिछले लेख के साथ पढ़ें.

ओपन एक्सेस लेख के लिए लिंक: 

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Keywords from India - Jholawala (झोलावाला)

Jholawala (झोलावाला)

Recently economist Jean Dreze published a book Jholawala Economics. People carrying coal in gunny bags early morning in Ranchi inspired Dreze. Bag = jhola (झोला). Person carrying these bags = jholawala.

Very common in policy and administrative circles, I was reminded of this word during a recent visit to India. I was at a small meeting about impacts of cook stoves. There was much discussion on using various sensors to record the performance of these stoves. As the meeting ended I overheard a renowned professor from an American university joking with some participants about how sensors provide accurate data much more conveniently, data that was earlier collected by jholawalas with survey forms. Jholawala = social scientist.
khadi jhola 
However, the most common meaning of jholawala is left leaning intellectuals, the JNU-types (also mostly social scientist and activists). Jhola = tote bag, jholawala = person who carries a tote bag. Think a khadi tote bag one might find at an ethnic cloths store in India. Left leaning intellectuals who live a frugal life or come across as living a frugal life are often seen carrying these jholas in addition to being dressed in a khadi kurta and chappals (flip flops). This is also true for many journalists and development activists. In a review of Jean Dreze’s book Maitreesh Ghatak says:

“if anyone had to write a book with the word jholawala in the title, that would have to be Dreze, because whatever you might think of his views, he is the uber-jholawala, or to paraphrase ustadon ke ustad, the jholawalon ka jholawala. He is the ultimate scholar-activist, with a laptop in his jhola while he travels all across the country”.

Jholawala is often used cynically for left leaning social scientists (that would include me) and activists in India with an intention to make fun of people who are though to live in the ivory castle, people who do not make any real positive difference, people who claim to fight for the poor while never having know what being poor is; people arguing against multinational companies and capitalisms while looking into their MacBook airs. In the cynical view jholawalas are found at chai shops outside universities, are into alternate cinema and know how to appreciate a good whiskey.

Here’s a very useful article to know more about jholawalas:

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Keywords of India - Safedposh (सफेदपोश)

Safedposh (सफेदपोश)

Literally meaning a person who dresses in white. Safed (सफेद) meaning white and posh (पोश) coming from the word poshaak (पोशाक) meaning dress. The dictionary translation into English for Safedposh is White Collar as in White Collar jobs. While looking for the meaning of this word I came across some Pakistani forums where people were discussing the meaning of safedposh. Some spoke about white collar. Some also related this to the modest economic means of a person[1]. A safedposh being a person who wears white cloths because they cannot afford coloured (flashy, expensive) ones. Further search indicated that this understanding of safedposh was common between India and Pakistan.

I encountered this exact translation of Safeposh recently. Until now my understanding of this word related to its more common usage that I have come across in North India. People commonly use Safedposh to refer to a group of people who mostly dress in white, from head to toe – white shirt or kurta; white trousers, pajama or dhoti; and even white chappals or shoes. In common perception this is a group of people dress in white to cover their black deeds – people involved in illegal activities. For example, white collared people involved in corruption or black marketing i.e. – white collar crimes.

There are three main sub-groups which form the safedposh. If one visits any small town in North India one can easily see these three sub-groups. First, criminals who do not openly indulge in illegal activities or get involved in violence. They head syndicates of various sizes. They delegate day to day criminal activities to their subordinates. These people are to be feared. Second, contractors who bid for various small and big government contracts like building roads and bridges. It is an understanding that a common person is not capable of winning such contracts or managing such projects. Contractors need to be financially, socially and politically powerful. They also often indulge in illegal activities – bribing government officials, using substandard materials and technologies etc. Third, politicians. Politics is considered a dirty business where power is grabbed by hook or crook and it is often grabbed by crooks. Politics is also not a thing for common people. A politician is generally a powerful local person who can wield the power of money and/or muscle. So what ends up happening is that people in these three sub-groups become interchangeable. A criminal becomes a contractor and then goes on to become a politician[2]. A politician needs money and muscle to fight elections and ends of getting supported by criminals and contractors. In exchange the politician provides them safety and privileges. The same person can also be a criminal, contractor and a politician.

So, the safed (white) poshaak (cloths) are still related by the safedposh to their earlier meaning – a modesty of means and character. By wearing these white cloths they want to project a clean (in character) and modest (in means) image. But in modern India this poshaak (dress) has come to represent the exact opposite meaning – dark (in character) and excessive (in means).

Here are a few news links which use the word Safedposh (सफेदपोश), especially to refer to criminals and criminal turned politicians:




Sunday, 24 July 2016

Experiencing Racial Profiling

Racial profiling has always existed. But it has become common these days. In the name of national security, agencies in every country are working on racial stereotypes - colour, names, attire, appearance etc. - and targeting people, whether is the US, UK, Spain, Netherlands or India. The views of American presidential candidate, Donald Trump about Mexicans and Muslims are well known. Most cases of racial profiling in western countries relate of people of colour who are often stereotyped to be involved in more crimes. In the last decade terrorism and racial profiling for anti terrorist activities have become prominent.

Most of my colleagues who work in Human Geography are very well aware of the issue, research it or have faced profiling themselves. In the past I often discussed this issue with friends and colleagues. Most of my arguments were based on reading academic and popular media (mostly Guardian) articles. But recently I went through my own experience of racial profiling. I thought it would be useful to recount the experience for others.

I visited Wroclaw, Poland recently. Since, I was travelling within Schengen region, I was not worried about visa and immigration process. I have travelled within the region a few times in the last 5 months and never needed to go through visa checks etc. This time was different. When I was in the queue to board the plane at the airport in the Netherlands, the ground staff checked my visa. I found this strange but since they were checking everyone's ID and my passport was Indian looking at the visa made sense.

In the flight I was the only person of colour. But that is not unusual. When I arrived in Wroclaw, I headed to the exit to meet my friends. Since the flight was within Schengen region, there was no boarder control. People from my plane were exiting the airport freely. As I reached the gates, the other passengers were walking out. I was stopped by two police officers. They did not stop anyone else, just me. Did they naturally assume that every other person was Polish/European and since I was a person of colour, I was from another country? I could have been a Polish citizen or a citizen of another European country. Alternatively, some other passengers could have been citizens of non European countries. The officers had a hand held device. They asked for my passport and visa and checked them before letting me go. I didn't think much about it. As an Indian citizen, I am used to going through boarder control in every country I visit.


I spent the next 3 days walking around Wroclaw. I noticed the city had very few people of colour. The city centre was full of tourists. Mostly Polish, Germans, Spanish and French. Although my friends told me that they had some Indian work colleagues, I didn't see many Indians on the streets. On the fourth day I went to watch a film and then to the bus station to get a ticket for my next day's travel. Wroclaw train station in next to the bus station. So I went to the train station to grab a bite. I chose KFC. Now, if you are in Poland and you ignore all the good food around and go to KFC, you must be punished. And I was punished.

Wroclaw train station 

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Defining ‘access’ as the nexus of ‘energy access for all’ in the global South: RGS session, abstracts and speakers

RGS-IBG Annual Conference, London, 30 August – 2 September 2016

Thursday 01 September 2016, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)

Session Convenors:  Ankit Kumar (Eindhoven University of Technology), Britta Turner (Durham University) and Raihana Ferdous (Durham University)

Globally some 1.2 billion people are known to lack access to electricity and a further 2.7 billion people continue to rely on biomass as their sole energy source for cooking. Achieving universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services by 2030 has been a focus of the UN’s sustainable energy (SE4ALL) campaign and is now one of the agreed sustainable development goals (SDGs) yet there remains remarkably little consensus on what constitutes energy access, how best to achieve these targets or to track their progress. Often viewed as simply a technical and logistical process of boosting the number of connections and ‘plugging’ consumers into a grid infrastructure there remains a pressing need to problematise energy ‘access’ and to trace some of the local social, cultural, political and economic dynamics that are critical in defining what energy access means and how it is experienced in the global South.  

We invite submissions of both theoretical and empirically-focused papers concerned with the configuration of the energy access agenda in the global South. Areas of potential interest for contributions to this session might include but are not limited to:
  • What constitutes energy access and how much energy is enough? 
  • What forms does energy access take and who decides what counts?
  • Kinds of connections and disconnections 
  • Formal and informal routes to energy access
  • How is access endured and experienced?


Energy justice for the urban poor 

Maria Lobo (Society for the promotion of Area Resource Centres, India) 
Vincent Moller (Society for the promotion of Area Resource Centres, India) 
Monali Waghmare (Society for the promotion of Area Resource Centres, India) 

Energy poverty is often considered as a rural problem but globally 220 million people are living in cities without access to electricity in spite of grid being so close. One of the main reasons is the exclusionary practice of the city, where often formal institutions don’t provide electricity to the poor because they live in informality and lack a formal address. 433 million slum dwellers are dependent on polluting fuels like wood, dung or kerosene which constitute major health threats to them. Focusing only on the number of people without access to electricity services also misses out the fact that energy poverty goes beyond that. Increasing electricity tariffs are a growing burden for the urban poor. 

Between 2014 and 2015 SPARC conducted a household survey in order to get a clearer and fact based picture on the energy consumption patterns, issues related to access of energy, needs and demands, as well as challenges of the urban poor. The survey has covered more than 240 households in Mumbai, Bangalore and five medium sized cities in India and made use of quantitative and qualitative methods. The purpose was to understand which factors influence the levels of access to energy for the urban poor, but also examined how electricity tariffs, energy subsidies and government programs are currently designed in India and how they would have to be conceptualized in a pro-poor way if we want to achieve access to modern energy for all. 

Monday, 14 March 2016

Book Review: The Biopolitics of Gender by Jemima Repo

In The Biopolitics of Gender, Jemima Repo traces a genealogy of ‘gender’, arguing that it is not an inherently feminist term, but rather emerged historically from the study of intersex and transgender people in the fields of sexology and psychology in the 1950s and 1960s. Positioning gender as a historically located biopolitical apparatus, Repo therefore questions its utility for contemporary feminist theory and politics.

Here's my review of the book on LSE Review of Books