India Interior

The collective to the rescue

Usha Rai | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on February 10, 2017

Cashless sorrow Irrawati Devi of Kaniyanarayanpur village

Tales of how village women coped with demonetisation

Tears rolling down her cheeks, Irrawati Devi of Kaniyanarayanpur village, near Varanasi, talked about the strain of conducting her daughter’s marriage 20 days after notebandi (demonetisation), as cash was impossible to come by.

There was no way she could have delayed the marriage — the boy’s family would not hear of it; and with a BA degree and skill to open a beauty parlour, her youngest daughter had been all set to start life afresh in her new home.

In her mid-50s, Irrawati recalled how the Sangathan (a collective of self-help groups under the Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojana, or RGMVP) gave her the moral and monetary support to conduct the marriage. The demands of the groom’s family and the catering expenses, however, have left her pauperised. “My sisters in the SHGs held my hand, but I cannot sleep. The debt of ₹2.75 lakh hangs over my head like a sword.” While her own samooh (SHG) helped her with ₹12,000, the Sangathan provided ₹5,000. She was able to raise ₹50,000 through contributions.

Irrawati’s husband had left his job at a textile factory in Surat in April to help farm their one bigha land. Her only son, aged 27, has fallen into bad company and is neither working nor educated.

Under the right to food, she gets wheat, rice and some sugar free of cost. Her three married daughters have promised to look after her but, ultimately, it is to the SHGs that she plans to turn to for a resolution of her problems.

A member in need...

The nearly 1.4 lakh SHGs of RGMVP in 49 districts of Uttar Pradesh have been the backbone and strength of village women seeking economic and social empowerment. During demonetisation, too, when men returned to the villages due to retrenchment and slowing down of industries in the big metros, it was the SHGs that helped distressed families. Since the women’s monthly savings are in hundred- and fifty-rupee notes they could help each other if their money had not already been deposited in the banks.

Sukhraja Devi of Gangakala village, in Badagao block of Varanasi, says her husband, a taxi driver in Mumbai for 30 years, had returned to the village on November 6, two days before the demonetisation. He used to send ₹4,000-5,000 every month for the family’s expenses. She needed money to make his annual visit special, but the SHG had just deposited its collection in the bank and could not help her. So she mortgaged her mangalsutra to a moneylender for ₹5,000. The same month her son was down with typhoid and she borrowed again from relatives for his treatment. With the cash situation easing at the end of December, she borrowed ₹1,500 from the samooh for her husband’s travel back to Mumbai.

Three days after demonetisation, Nirmala’s husband, Ramatri, a weaver earning ₹250 a day in Varanasi, returned to his village Gogahara in Chakia block after the powerloom owner retrenched workers for want of cash. Nirmala had sold her cow before notebandi and taken ₹14,000 loan from the samooh to buy a buffalo. Now with a family of seven to feed, she took a smaller, second loan and repaired the chara (fodder cutting machine). Ramatri went from village to village cutting fodder and earned ₹1,000-1,200 a day. But this is only a seasonal job; fortunately, though, the loom owner has asked Ramatri to rejoin.

All these women are grateful to the samooh for being a pillar of support during the notebandi.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

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Published on February 10, 2017
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