Nagpur: Jaishree is an untrained but still much in demand masseur. She was giving massages to well to do Nagpur women throughout the Diwali week tirelessly. Her day began at 6 a.m. and by the end of it, she had ‘serviced’ at least 6 – 7 customers. Which means an earning of Rs. 1200/ to Rs. 1400/ per day at Rs. 200 per ‘patient’. She was so tired by the end of it, that she had no energy left to ‘Diwali clean’ her own house, or make mithai or even cook the daily meals. Her son, husband and daughter were making do on khichadi or thele ka pav bhaji. Why did Jaishree need to do this? Just because Diwali is the time to earn extra? Or people in their generous holiday frame of mind give extra tips, may be even bonus?
Vaishali, is a portable beauty parlour… she comes to your house and gives ‘facials’, pedicure, oil massage etc. charging only a bit less than parlours, but she comes to you – you don’t have to step out anywhere. She was totally booked these last 10 days too.
Pushpa was busy going house to house making ‘chakalis’, chiwda, laddoos and other Diwali ‘farala’. She has scars on her hands from pressing all those chakalis and rash from constantly being near the stove heat.
All these three real examples with real names are women who have taken ‘loans’ from self help women’s groups.( micro finance companies) and have to make weekly pay outs. There isn’t one big loan – there are 3- 4 different small ones totaling debts of upto Rs. one lakh. The repayment per month can range from Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 20,000. Which actually amounts to an exorbitant interest of 15% to 20% per month! Much more than what is supposed to be the RBI limit. It is almost on par with what usurious Saokars ( money lenders) of old were charging.
There is a catch in this system of ‘microfinance’ where women are trapped in a ‘mega’ way which makes it safe for the lender – the loans are given to “groups” ( called ‘gat’ in Marathi) and the repayment is also the responsibility of the group which can consist of 5 to 15 women.
Another aspect that was supposed to be the unique factor of these self help groups was that the loans are hypothetically supposed to be to start small home business.
But what are they actually being used for?
Jaishree’s husband, Sharad, an alcoholic, had suddenly suffered from a heart attack just before Dasera. He had to be rushed to the most ‘affordable’ hospital they could find, but still paid a whopping bill of Rs. 45,000 for three days – after which Sharad insisted on coming home without getting any real treatment, or even getting angiography done. The bill was just for the hospitalization and stabilizing his condition. He could get another attack any time again. Apart from this expense, Jaishree is paying back for the expense of her daughter’s delivery, the 40,000 she spent on ‘buying’ and doing up a ‘thela’ for her son who has been planning to make and sell Chinese fast food/ momos. The food business is still not up and going though since they require about Rs. 5000 more which Jaishree is unable to procure from further loans.
So she tires herself out giving massages and doing other odd jobs as well.
Vaishali, who is just 25, suddenly lost her 28 years old husband last year to a massive heart attack. He died at his work place – which was a businessman’s house where he was a driver. Since he was not a permanent worker his family got no insurance, no ESIC benefits, no compensation. He died on the 10th, Vaishali is happy that ‘sethji’ gave her the whole month’s salary, i.e. Rs. 8000/ !
She now is a single mother to a 6 years’ old son whom they had lovingly put in a private school where the yearly fees are Rs. 20,000/ When Vaishali goes to work she leaves her son in a ‘creche’ which he goes to straight from school. The rent, the food, the other expenses come to Rs. 12,000 per month minimum. To be able to access more ‘clients’ she has recently invested in a two wheeler. She is also paying Rs. 5000 as repayment every month.
Pushpa is a mother of two teenagers aged 14 and 13. Though her husband does some odd jobs that he gets occasionally, the whole burden of expenses are on her. Her room rent is Rs. 2000/ children’s expenses are 3 to 4 thousand and rest is spent on food. Her earnings of 7000 to 8000 per month do not cover all this – so loan! That is instant relief for a short time but an added expense in the long run.
So another loan to pay back this loan!
“What to tell you madam?” she asks. “We all basti women are burdened with multiple loans. These self help groups approach us with big promises, showing us dreams of making our lives better – but we seem to end up becoming their slaves!”
Jaishree says that in Diwali the interest on these loans can go up from 15% to 27%. There is also a system of decreasing interest, which is unfathomable to most lay people. Your group leader tells you, you need to pay this x amount by this day, and you just comply.
“If you default more than twice in a row all the other women have to pay out more on your behalf. So they come to your house and loudly curse you and call names which is more unbearable than a collector’s threats. You do anything, but you pay up!”
Nagpur, with its paucity of regular jobs seems to be a very active hub for these ‘finance companies’ which are mostly Hyderabad and Banglore based.
When your ‘educated’ son and your still young, but alcoholic husband, will not step out to work – and no jobs seem to be available, this is what women end up doing.
If you google microfinance companies in Nagpur, they show up many job opportunities in these companies for white collar youngsters. If there are 2 jobs in Mumbai – there are 8 in Nagpur! There are about 10 such companies in Nagpur working very actively.
What calculations are at work here? Why are repayments so usurious… we shall cover that later.
The long and short is though – that the dreaded ‘Savkari’ is far from over. It is well and kicking – in the garb of the idealistic ‘microfinance’ which got its founder Muhamadd Yunus, so much kudos world over!
He would surely turn in his grave if he saw this modern ‘avatar’ of his dream in Indian towns today.