It took minutes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had finished his Mann ki Baat radio address for the media and BJP to discover Noor Jahan. The 70-year-old, whom Modi mentioned in the course of talking about climate change, lives with 17 other family members in a kuchcha house covered with thatched roof in the middle of Bairi Shobhan village in Kanpur district. It was the first time, son Ishaq Ali said, that local pradhan Siya Ram had visited their home, let alone other VIP visitors.
Noor Jahan counted a total of 300 visitors by evening.
Modi praised Noor Jahan for using solar energy to re-charge lanterns, which she gives out on daily rent to people in five villages.
Among the first visitors was BJP Mahanagar president Surendra Maithani. He felicitated Noor Jahan giving her a table clock containing a cut-out of Modi, a shawl and a garland, and promised her “financial help” from the Centre. To repeated questions about how she felt about finding a mention on Mann ki Baat, Noor Jahan said she was “delighted”.
While the PM said in the radio show that Noor Jahan was probably not well educated, the 70-year-old admitted she was illiterate and could not afford education for six of her children either. Four of them work as labourers in farms of others, while Ishaq has a hair-cutting saloon in the village, which is located 25 km from Kanpur city.
With her daughter married, Noor Jahan lives with her five sons, four daughters-in-law and eight grandchildren.
“When my husband Sajjadi Ali died nearly 25 years back, I started working a labourer. I would earn Rs 10 per day and feed my five sons and a daughter dry bread and chutni. Around three years back, I got solar panels and recharging machines from a social organisation, installed them at home and started giving recharged solar lanterns on rent daily,” said Noor Jahan.
Now she has 50 solar lanterns, of which 40 are rented out daily and the remaining occasionally. Every morning, her customers return with the lanterns for recharging and take these back in the evening. She gets Rs 100 rent monthly from each of the 40 daily customers.
While the five villages from where her customers come have electricity supply, power comes for only three-four hours. “People take lanterns so that their children have light to study at night,” she said.
While “grateful” to the PM for giving “publicity” to both her work and her village, and “satisfied” with his government’s functioning on price rise and other pro-poor schemes, Noor Jahan said she would never ask either the Centre or state for financial help.
“But if the Central government comes forward to help me, I will expand my work and install more solar panels. I would also train other villagers — both men and women — to adopt similar professions,” Noor Jahan said.