Even as a child, Shichi Angmo had more important things on her mind than playing with friends.
How could she pull her people out of backwardness? How to bring them closer to the world developing outside the tribal districts of Himachal Pradesh? When would they raise a voice against oppression in a male-dominated society? These questions had a grip on her.
Angmo grew up fighting a mindset that forbade girls from stepping out. “Be like a typical tribal girl and don’t give anyone a chance to point a finger at you,” her mother often told her.
But that’s not the way Angmo chose to live. While the men of Lahaul and Spiti left for greener pastures, she decided to change things right at home.
She was a 21-year-old student when the Social Work and Research Centre, Rajasthan, came up an offer to train tribals in solar lighting. The only one to respond, she saw it as the first step towards lighting up the lives of her people. She wanted to change the face of Lahaul in winter, when snow cuts it off and leaves it in the dark. With solar panels, all households would get electricity.
Angmo passed on what she’d learnt to 20 other tribal girls. They went from village to village, installing solar lighting systems in homes. And they did it on foot.
From there, the project really took off. The UNDP funded it and later, Angmo took solar lighting to the tribal women of Bhutan.
The youngest of 12 siblings born to unlettered farmer parents, Angmo, 32, is a leader today. Women look up to her. There is some opposition from men and conservative women but that doesn’t deter her.
“I have the younger lot by my side. They, like me, want to change the rules,” she says.