There is a common understanding that women in rural parts of India belonging to poor households are often vulnerable, insecure and lack knowledge. They have always been given a secondary status be it at home or in society. However, there are several turnaround cases where micro-credit programmes and formation of self-help groups (SHGs) have changed the economic and social position of several vulnerable women
The self-help groups (SHGs) of Das Majra Village in the Sarsawa Block of Saharanpur District (Uttar Pradesh) are a shining example of how micro-credit programmes have changed the economic and social position of women for the better.
Das Majra is primarily a Dalit village with a few families from other communities included. The village women had their first SHG, which they named Sagar, 24 years ago. With 17 members, the group is still active; over a period of time its members have developed a strong bond with each other.
The Sagar Group was started with each member contributing 10 rupees a month, and after a successful three years they began contributing 20 rupees a month. The contribution over time swelled to such an extent that many members have been able to start micro enterprises, apart from meeting several other urgent needs.
Members have taken loans to fund the education of their children, marriages, costs incurred for illnesses, house construction, and to support their household businesses, etc.
Saroj, current president of the Sagar Group, has an experience to share about SHG support, an empowering experience as she calls it. “The first time I took a loan from the group was of 500 rupees for household expenditure. Next time, I took a loan of 8000 rupees for house repair. Later, my husband wanted to have some musical instruments for his marriage band group and for that I again took 20000 rupees; after some years the family felt the need to expand the business and for that they now have a shop in the town. For this, I took 50000 rupees loan and my last loan was of 60000 rupees from the group to send my son for B Tech studies.”
With a proud smile on her face, Saroj continues her story: “Thanks to support from the SHG at crucial intervals, the education of all my three sons could be completed and they are now working in good positions. This support is not only recognised by me but by my husband and sons also. Had the support of the SHG not been there for us, we would have to go to the moneylender for loans with much higher rate of interest. The progress and economic stability which my family has seen today wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the group. It has positively impacted my life.”
Alka is the treasurer of the group. Some time ago, she had a terrible accident which left her badly injured. At that juncture, the SHG came forward to not only give her a loan for her treatment but also, in addition, to collect some money to contribute to her treatment. Earlier, Alka and her family were helped by SHG loans – they could create family assets like cattle sheds. They also took loans to obtain farmland on lease. Her mother-in-law, Birmi, availed of loans to help family efforts for economic betterment.
Nirmala, the first president of the group who now works as an ASHA (accredited social health activist) in the village, has also had positive experiences regarding her association with the SHG. According to her, she had taken loans several times from the group to support her household in the business of clothes. She also remembers she was able to get a loan promptly for the treatment of her son who suffered serious burn injuries. She received loans for building her home and for the marriage of her children.
“Had the timely support of our group not been there at the crucial times for me, my family would have been in the clutches of the moneylender who charges 5 to 10 per cent interest per month based on the need of the person,” says Nirmala.
Shiksha, another member of the SHG, is a widow. She feels grateful to the group for supporting her in building her own home. She was disowned by her in-laws after the death of her husband.
Women in the group are unanimous in their opinion that the formation of SHGs has not only empowered them economically but has also improved their position at home. Today, family members genuinely recognise their contribution – at the crucial hour of need it is they, the women, who provide financial support. In the village community too, their status has risen. There is recognition by the society of the contributions they have made to the welfare of their families.
The women, who have been together as group for the past 24 years, have attended many training programmes and been on trips together, which have made them aware about several new things and about their rights as well. Panchayat office-bearers now know that the women are not ignorant and, so, they just cannot and do not ignore their voice.
The women meet at least once every month. The meetings have created a strong bond between them. They all are ready to support each other at the hour of need, and not only economically. The women feel truly empowered. They feel they are not alone and that there are many friends in the group supporting them.