In Kherla village in Haryana’s Nuh district, barely an hour away from Gurgaon, young girls and women make sure to reach home before it’s dark. Those who don’t start receiving frantic calls from relatives, reminding them that in the absence of streetlights, it’s unsafe for women to be out.
Even as teenagers and older men gather near the banks of a small pond in the evening, women remain conspicuous by their absence.
The single streetlight erected on one of the roads leading to the village has been non-functional for months. The only illumination is provided by scattered single bulbs installed by some residents on boundary walls of their homes or above their doorways.
“We don’t venture outside alone after dark. It’s so dark that if anyone says or does anything, we cannot even recognise them to hold them accountable later,” said Sofia, a Class X student whose house is among the few that has lights on its boundary wall.
“We are five sisters and one brother, and our father installed the lights to try to ensure we are at least safe around our house. But not everyone here can afford this,” said her older sister Mafia, who is pursuing her MA in Urdu.
The situation has been like this for as long as residents can remember, with people using phone torches in the evening to avoid sewage and slush on the streets.
“Thefts and robberies are another worry,” said Subhash, a farmer.
Young girls say the lack of street lights poses an additional burden on them in an already conservative society. “We are anyway fighting a certain mentality for basic things, such as education or to work,” said Karishma Bharadwaj, a BA final-year student. “We can only attend certain coaching classes because we have to keep timing in mind. Same goes for jobs, where we either return before dark or coordinate timings with men in our family to bring us back.”
The problem also persists in several other villages in the district. In Malab village, less than 10 km from Kherla, residents complain there isn’t a single street light. “If we want to go out after dark for any reason, we have to ask a man to escort us,” said Sheetal, a Class XI student from Malab.
As a result, women and girls here spend their evenings within the confines of their homes, talking to each other over the phone or social media.
While the deputy commissioner of Nuh did not respond to calls and messages seeking a comment, residents of Kherla claimed the problem might soon be reduced in some parts, with an NGO, Donate an Hour, planning to install five solar lights this month.
“These will be automatic and will have a life of 10 years… This will help ensure that women and children are able to live a normal life even after dark and are not limited to their homes,” said Meenakshi Singh, the NGO’s founder.
Residents of Kherla, however, admit that in a village that, according to the 2011 census, has an area of 186 hectares, five streetlights can achieve little. “It’s better than nothing but this won’t be enough for the whole village. For us to be safe and independent, every stretch must be illuminated, and the government should ensure this happens,” said Mafia.