Skip to main content

Women in Maharashtra's Yavatmal district summon last ounces of their energy to overcome huge hurdles in life

By Moin Qazi*
The large swathes of cotton farms in Central India have been the epicentre of a global crisis that has gripped the rural population in crippling debts and driven thousands to suicide. But amidst the gloom, it is the women of this region who have emerged as the torchbearers of hope and progress. This new hope comes in the form of women collectives comprising of farm widows who are pooling their tenacity and frugal resources to rebuild their families.

The suicide count has varied with the government often fudging the figures or under-reporting them, but one estimate says that at least 10 farmers end their lives every day in India. The reasons for the distress are all but obvious. Within the self-perpetuating cycle of debt which offers little apparent escape, wrapping a noose around the neck is an easy exit for men. While their deaths might bring personal escape, they leave behind crippling emotional, financial and physical burdens, inherited by those left to farm the dust: the women.
Have we all not seen story after story running the same script: the gaunt, grizzled faces of the cotton farmers of Vidarbha and Andhra Pradesh staring out of their marriage portraits or ration card images, even as the restless eye of the electronic age ranges over their grieving families and politicians swoop down with a consolatory dole, and they become yet another piece of statistic reflecting rural despair? The most recent addition, after the highly popular Pipli Live, is a film evocatively titled Cotton for my Shroud, detailing the plight of Vidarbha farmers.
Farmers borrow loans from moneylenders at extraordinarily high rates of interest. The peasants hope for a better yield in times to come, but this never happens, and they find themselves in a debt trap. Unable to pay the interest, let alone the principal, they borrow more to get onto a treadmill, recklessly driven by the cruel money-lenders, who are no better than sharks.Crushing debts, therefore, push farmers into the darkest of pits.
While handling microfinance operations in Maharashtra’s eastern belt of Vidarbha for several institutions, I observed an excellent credit culture among poor women.Several of them were farm widows, who had come together in the form of small clusters or collectives of women, known as self-help groups.
These groups, locally known as “bachat gats”, primarily promote a culture of saving. The sorority has enabled farm widows to step up and help restore order in their lives. Even in traditional societies, no matter how oppressed or illiterate the women are, they often act as the stewards of family savings.
The horrific agrarian crises in Yavatmal district in central India, where countless cotton farmers committed suicide every other day, was also followed by a spectacular boom in the growth of self-help groups of women. These self-help groups withstood the tempest and their members demonstrated remarkable tenacity and fortitude to rebuild their financial lives and, in the process, built remarkable credit histories. The Yavatmal district gave birth to a highly refined and innovative microfinance model that won accolades from the government. Not only have these self-help groups helped women reweave their lives; they are also playing a big role in galvanising the moribund rural economy.
These community groups have also produced social capital in the form of various catalysts for change in different spheres. Best practitioners in communities become community professionals (CPs) for mobilisation, leadership, financial management, agriculture, livestock, health, literacy, and more.
If you want to see the credibility of poor women borrowers, you must visit villages in the suicide-prone Yavatmal district of Maharashtra, where banks had to plough dud agricultural loans like a mountain of rotten potatoes. My experiences during the last few years in Yavatmal have made these convictions indelible.
In Pandharkawda Taluka in Yavatmal district, one can find women who have summoned the last ounces of their energy to overcome the huge hurdles in life. Sakhra is home to completely illiterate backward women who ensure the rights and protection that they, owing to their identity as forest tribals and displaced people, are guaranteed by the law. It is a resettlement village in which villagers uprooted by a development project have been rehabilitated. Seventy households led by Anusaya, lovingly called Amma, have fought their way on their own. They demonstrated before the local administration for days to get a barely motorable road constructed. Each family now owns six acres of irrigated land, and at least a pair of bullocks, two cows and a few goats.
Women have the instinct and the determination to bring about a change in their own communities if they get the right opportunity. For these women, overriding sentiment is hope for humanity and the future. However, money is a major hurdle. When targeted properly, financial access gives people the choice of doing something that makes their life more sustainable and lifts them out of extreme poverty.
Poor people show inspirational courage and the ability to transform the little that the deck has dealt them into livelihoods for their families and communities. They already have skills, are politically conscious, and are aware of the need for schooling their children and taking care of their health.
Experience worldwide shows that when a woman receives money, her extended family usually benefits, as any profit percolates down and brings about the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people. We create the most powerful catalyst for lasting social change. For all interventions, the fundamental logic is plain: if we are going to end extreme poverty, we need to start with girls and women
In the lives of these tenacious women I found the story not of a country’s doom but a story of a country’s will to survive. This may not be a revolution but at the very least this is a revolution in the making.
What sparks change for people living in poverty? Is it a microloan, access to water for crops, use of a mobile phone in a remote village? Or is it a personal vision, grounded in hope and courage? Whatever the spark, we need to foster and nurture it. Several development successes have succeeded in lesser optimal settings. In each case, creative individuals saw possibilities where others saw only hopelessness and imagined a way forward that took into account local realities and built on local strengths.
As a simple, low-cost and resilient strategy, it can be carried out by small informal organizations and spread elsewhere. What humanity needs to understand is that development truly lies in the hands of the people.
---
*Contact: moinqazi123@gmail.com

Comments

TRENDING

Missed call drive for VVPAT verification follows online plea to "pressure" poll panel

By Our Representative
Several political activists have begun a new campaign, asking concerned citizens to give a missed call on 9667655855 to “support the demand that 2019 Loksabha elections must be declared only after verification of 50% electronic voting machines (EVMs) with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) receipts.” The effort, supported by civil society networks across India, is meant to "further pressure" India's election machinery to ensure that the poll outcome becomes more transparent.

Did Modi own, buy digital camera costing Rs 7 lakh in 1987-88, also used email?

Counterview Desk
In an interview to the news channel News Nation, aired on Saturday last, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declaring that he had approved the air strike despite bad weather because he felt the clouds would hide Indian planes from Pakistani radar is known to have become a laughing stock across India.

When a neo-nationalist "invaded" hijab clad ladies, Bengali looking scholar in Delhi metro

By Aditi Kundu*
Travelling in Delhi metro on a daily basis to commute from Mayur Vihar to Dwarka, I see diverse people everyday. One can hear them talk about different aspects of life, from kitchen pilitics to national politics. On the morning of May 13, I witnessed a strange incident; disturbing and amusing at the same time.

Terror attacks: Difference in public reactions in India, those in Colombo, Christchurch

By Battini Rao*
Recently, on April 20 during Easter Sunday, more than 250 people were killed in a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in churches and hotels in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Local Islamic organisations Thawheed Jamath (NJT) and Jamathei Milathu Ibrahim (JMI) are held responsible for the attack. Islamic State has also claimed responsibility.

Women lost 88 lakh jobs in 2018: Why Modi "failed" to address their disempowerment?

Counterview Desk
Five human rights leaders Anjali Bhardwaj, Shabnam Hashmi, Purnima Gupta, Dipta Bhog, and Amrita Johri of the Women March for Change have posed 56 questions (alluding to Modi’s claim of 56 inches chest) to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP against the backdrop of his interview with a Bollywood star, which was allegedly masqueraded as a “non-political” conversation.

PepsiCo warned: Withdraw cases against Gujarat farmers or face dire consequences

By Our Representative
About 200 farmers’ leaders and activists, in a letter to Dr KV Prabhu, chairperson, Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPVFRA), and Dr R C Agrawal, registrar general, PPVFRA, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Government of India, have demanded that PepsiCo immediately withdraw all the legal suits it has slapped on many potato farmers in different districts of Gujarat.

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

During Emergency, the ruler was extolled but Opposition wasn't punched around: Scribe

By Rajiv Shah
A just-released book, “India: The Wrong Transition”, by a top Delhi-based scribe Anand K Sahay, has quoted “journalistic circles” to say that the Indian mainstream media – with certain “honourable exceptions” – has virtually abandoned the “practice of journalism”, and  this happened following a “sting operation” that showed that “the crème de la crème of Indian journalism were only too willing, for a suitable price, to let poisonous Hindutva propaganda prevail in their news columns.”

Ex-IAS, IPS, IFS officers tell Modi: Pragya Thakur doesn't represent India's rich heritage

Counterview Desk
In an open statement, a group of former civil servants have said that normally they would have dismissed the candidature of Pragya Thakur, who is BJP’s choice for the Bhopal Lok Sabha constituency, as an act of political expediency. However, they were forced to react to her candidature after none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed has as a “symbol of our civilisational heritage.”

Disproportionately high death sentences against Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims: UN told

Counterview Desk
In their joint submission to the United Nations Human Rights Committee to meet for the listing of adoption of list of issues at its 126th session, July 1-26, 2019, top Dalit rights organizations have taken strong exception to, among other things, "disproportional application of death sentencing by the judiciary of minorities, such as Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis".