Friday, December 29, 2006

An "Invisible" Revolution... 400 Poor Women/ Hour!!!

"Invisible" people create revolutions that too remain invisible from the sight of most - specially the MSM...

The following is a glimpse into one such revolution, which is happening in India.

Perhaps the best introduction to this phenomenon is this desciption from the preface of The Lights and Shades Study:

    "I recall a time in Jharkhand, India in the forest town of Chandwa, sitting with a self-help group under a mahua tree. We ate the mahua’s large raisin-like berries, soon to be turned intocountry alcohol, while a few of the women recounted their story. A well-meaning organization (WMO) had come to empower this self-help group, which had formed on its own about a year earlier. The WMO advised the group that its members would have moremoney if they were to pickle and pack their garden harvests to sell to customers in Calcutta. The organization helped the group with recipes, with bottling and labeling. For several weeks the WMO and the women applied themselves day and night to the task. Somewhere along the way, the WMO lost the group’s savings and never did find a market for the chutney. The women pointed to a houseful of jars as evidence.

    Invincible, the group forged ahead, without the benefit of the WMO. Group members met each week, deposited cash savings into a box, then lent the cash to one another for emergency needs. The group fund began to accumulate once again. Some members had helped other newgroups form in the village and they too began to increase their savings. A few groups had linked to a local bank for more credit. Women members were checking into benefits they might receive by connecting to a government programme.

    I asked the women what activity might have been more lucrative than chutney production. Several said they preferred to work on their own, not in a group business. Working alone, except for harvesting activities, was less risky than putting all their eggs – their hours - into one basket. Yet they did cite one exception, an enterprise which they found to be most promising if undertaken as a collective. On occasion, together in the night after the children had fallen asleep, they would gather at the railway tracks to remove coal from the parked cars of the local freight train. Several women would stand guard while the others skimmed the goods. The next day they would sell the coal to nearby shops. There was no cash-outlay, justtheir time as a cost. They laughed as they confided their secrets.

    Empowerment seemed less like a quaint watercolor of women pickling fruits and vegetables in the countryside, thanks to the benevolence of an empowering NGO, and more like guerrilla survival in a setting where self-help meant fending off assistance whenever possible. This group was pure inspiration – entrepreneurial, full of humor, immune to whatever good intentions might come its way...."

This Self-Help Group (SHG) is only one among the 2.6mn SHGs that spread across Indian villages.

What are SHGs?
Self Help Groups (SHGs) are informal associations of up to 20 women (their average size is 14) who meet regularly, usually once a month, to save small amounts (typically Rs 10 to 50) a month. While they are formed with the encouragement of NGOs and other self-help promoting agencies (SHPAs) such as government agencies and the banks, they are expected to select their own members, and are therefore sometimes called affinity groups. After saving regularly for a minimum of six months, and using the funds to lend small amounts to each other for interest, which is ploughed back into group funds, and satisfactorily maintaining prescribed records and accounts, they become eligible to be "linked" by the local bank branch under a NABARD-sponsored programme called the SHG-Bank Linkage Programme.... On-time loan repayment to the banks has been very high, above 90 percent, and there have been no defaults so far.

Some facts:

  • Started as a pilot project of 500 SHGs, by Nabard in 1992, they grew slowly. In last 5 years, they have grown 10-fold.

  • Now, they reach 31mn rural households (out of the 191mn total Indian households).

  • Of these, about 14mn households are linked to bank credit though SHGs

  • According to The Lights and Shade Study, overall, 51% of SHG members fall below the poverty line; another 32% are ‘borderline’ (above the poverty line but vulnerable to risk). Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), recognised as structurally poor, are 55% of members. Widows, also a vulnerable and under-privileged group, were found to be 10% of SHG members.

  • , 38% of SHG members work as casual labourers - 29% work in own agriculture, and 17% are engaged in a non-farm enterprise.

  • 74% have no schooling, 11% have some adult education to become ‘neo-literate’, 15% have some schooling (mainly at primary level).

    SHGs also represent an antidote to the "Access Denied!!!" phenomenon...

    And perhaps also explain the fact that:

    In India, there are 400 women, who join an SHG every hour!!!

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