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Villagers in northern India fight off financial insecurity

Jan 22, 2009

Residents of a village in northern India have managed to counter adverse effects of the on-going economic slowdown by forming self-help groups. Micro-credit has not only helped the rural populace improve their earnings but also brought social cohesion and women empowerment.

Mohali, Punjab: In the midst of a global meltdown, stagnating rural economy and paucity of development funds, a nondescript village, 20 km from Chandigarh, is witness to a silent revolution.

Self-help groups with the help of micro-credit have not only improved their economic lot but also ushered in women empowerment and enhanced social cohesion, especially among socially and economically marginalised sections of society in Sahauran village.

A 48-year-old frail-looking matriculate, Kamaljit Kaur, along with her husband runs a family of four that owns four marlas of land, a buffalo and a calf.

Her husband sells milk and trades in seasonal vegetables in Chandigarh or Mohali. Things changed for her after she organised 20 women of her village into a self-help group called Mata Kalsi and sought finance from the Gramin Bank. The group now boasts of savings and a credit limit of Rs two lakh, which it extends to its members.

Utilising a damaged manger and a short training course, she began to make vermi-compost from cattle-dung which was earlier wasted. The family earns as much by selling manure as it did from milk. With a beaming smile she says that earnings have doubled without any investment having been made. They have repaid all debts taken from the money lender.

Nirmal Kaur cites her own example wherein she could ensure timely payment of tuition fees for her two daughters and son, who are pursuing various courses in prestigious institutions.

Like other women of the village, she also makes sweets that are based on seasonal vegetables. “For the last couple of years we have never gone to the market to purchase sweets for Diwali or any social function,” she adds.

Two years ago, 35-year-old Darshan Singh, a landless labourer, was struggling to make both ends meet. Then he formed the Sahauran Self-Help Group, comprising 13 youths, some of whom were earlier addicted to either liquor or drugs. With their spades and khurpas (weeding hoe) they now manage a farm on six acres, rented out to them by another village landlord.

Assured returns

Darshan Singh says the members get an assured return through wages by working on their own project, for which finance is made available by the Gramin Bank. They do not have to depend on others to grow vegetables, which are sold in the urban market.

Their farm now has sarson, palak, methi, tomato, chilly, garlic, turmeric and marigold as crops on smaller plots, while three acres have been dedicated to wheat, which like the maize in the last season, is expected to bring the group a good profit, part of which would be distributed after one portion is reinvested into a diversified economic activity.

Darshan’s wife, Manjit Kaur, who leads another group, is quite satisfied that her children get fresh and quality vegetables, which are a luxury even for many well-offs in the cities. Through her own group’s help she managed to organise a makeshift shop in her house to sell “crisp pakoras” and varied sauces that she prepares.

Another woman, Bhupinder Kaur runs a small business of ready-made garments. Daljit Singh and Gurjant Singh were contract drivers who now own their commercial transport vehicles.

Kulwinder Singh, who lost his job after suffering a disability while working at a factory, runs a business of bulk supplies of vegetables and Gurmail Singh manages government contracts.

Source : The Hindu
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