Moving Towards a Debt-free Life

Pratibha Ukey
Posted October 31, 2019 from India

I work to economically empower women of my rural community in Maharshtra state of western India. Everyday and every week I and my colleagues meet women who have taken a loan from a private lending company and could not repay it. Most of the times, loans are taken by women who don't have enough financial support from their spouses. Sometimes they also take loans for their farmland. Then their crops fail and their husbands refuse to support them. To cover the losses, the women take another loan and the cycle of debt continues.

In the past, while working in the economic empowerment project of rural women, we witnessed this again and again. In recent months, we studied four villages and found that more than 70 percent of the women in these villages are caught in the cycle of debt. After some research and  investigation, we realized that the reasons were many: erratic climate made natural farming difficult for the farmer and his family cannot live off it anymore, with increasing farm expenses and low income, the family is hardly able to make a living. There is always a need for loan for agricultural work.

Different needs of the family also have to be fulfilled: school fees of the children, girls' weddings and  keeping up with a number of traditions and maintaining a social status by building a good house, cars, smartphones etc. With ever-growing expenses and decreasing income, they are always looking for ways to meet the needs. So if a money-lending company comes offering easy loans, they  jump at it as if it is a god's gift.

There are four to five private financing companies in the villages providing loans to women. While they provide the loans without a lot of complexities and a lot of paperwork,  the interest must be paid in time, no matter what. So women take the loan because its very easy to get - especially when compared to a loan from a bank, but soon are caught into a situation where interest amount keeps piling up and if they fail to pay the interest for even a single month, the rates increase and and gets added to the loan amount. Yet women sign up for this because easy access to the loan tempts them and they just  give in.Gradually, from a specific reason such as farm work, they even start taking loans for household work.

Working on the economic empowerment project by Prakriti Sanstha, I understood the condition of the above women and contacted 400 women who took loans under a special campaign called freedom from debt  There was a detailed discussion on the situation of taking loans and its consequences in front of everyone. Initially, they were opposed, but after discussing the consequences of the debt-trap o their family life and their physical and mental health, the women finally gave their nod.

One of the women - Rajni Jadhav told that she had taken loan for medical treatment of her son. But now, there is always a tension to pay the interest installments. Tired and frustrated of the endless payments, now Rajni's husband and the boy are saying 'enough is enough, no more loans."

Another woman - Mangla Thackeray says that farming is no longer reliable. It is becoming difficult to repay the loan taken for agriculture itself.

Maya Rawat is married but lives the life of a single woman as her husband hasn't come home for six months. "I have not seen my husband for six months now. I have been taking loans to educate my two children. Recently I developed some STD and had to take a loan to get it treated. First I visited a private clinic but soon I ran out of money, so had to go to a government-run dispensary. I recovered, but to re-pay the loan installments, I had to sell all my jewellery. Now I have nothing left, but I will not take another loan for sure."

Meena Thackeray  took a loan of 1.2 million rupees to get her 4 daughters married. She had to spend according to the social customs. There was also pressure to fulfill girls' wishes. Now, she has a 800,000 of debt to pay back. She has 2 acres of land which is worth 5 million rupees, but the land ownership belongs to her husband who tells Meena "why don't you die". "I often thinking of killing myself," says Meena who has resolved to not take another loan ever again.

s in the name of her husband worth fifty lakhs. She is named after her husband. Husband says die] I also have the idea of ​​suicide, but now I have decided just not anymore.

In Chanpa - one of the 4 villages,  majority of the women are taking loans to send their boys in an English-medium school. ut are they learning English well? She has no  time to look into it.

Sunanda Jumde of the village thinks that women's self-help savings groups should be strong, so that they will not have to take loans from commercial lending firms.

The villages, like rest of the country, also have programs that provide employment to all. But current and the former sarpanch (village head) of the village say that women usually take the loan well before they start  working for suchwage-earning  program. Sarpanches also says that they don't want them to take such loans and the panchayat (village administration) will  try to bring a government program for such (debt-ridden) women.

Throughout our campaign, we had such conversations with 400 women and  we got an opportunity to get to know them more closely. In turn, they also had a chance to release their own pent-up resentment which was leading to many tragedies in their lives.

he women told me that they were never able to open their hearts before. Till now, no one had made them realize the true scale of their debts and their consequences. "When I realized this, there was a stir in my mind. I could not sleep peacefully throughout the night," one woman Laxmi Raut  told me .

"Now I want to free myself from debt. I will discuss freedom from debt with my family, will take the support of the family to maintain the balance of debt and our expenses," the women said in one unified voice..

With that unified consent, women from four villages took a strong step towards freeing themselves of a scary debt-trap and take back the control of their own lives. This is the first significant success of my Freedom from Debt campaign and a strong impact of our organization. 

This story was submitted in response to Advancing Women's Economic Power in India.

Comments 11

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Anita Shrestha
Oct 31, 2019
Oct 31, 2019

Dear sis
It is reality of all. Therefore, plz share again story

Dawn Arteaga
Oct 31, 2019
Oct 31, 2019

Pratibha, thank you so much for sharing this story which makes such a clear and powerful connection between economic empowerment and safety/security. Your work is saving so many lives and lifting up so many women. I celebrate you and am grateful to be connected to you!

Tarke Edith
Oct 31, 2019
Oct 31, 2019

Hi sis
Thank for sharing this great ecomomic power story with us
Yuo know dear when women look into the problems of others they are bless
You are bless my dear sister .

Tarke Edith
Oct 31, 2019
Oct 31, 2019

Hello sis
Thanks for sharing this great economic power story with us
You know dear when women looked into the problems of others they are bless
So you are bless my dear sister .

Oct 31, 2019
Oct 31, 2019

Dear Pratibha Tai
thanks a lot for sharing powerful story. You are working in very challenging situation and also handling important issues of women lives. Your work is giving strength to your community.

Nov 01, 2019
Nov 01, 2019

No chain is heavier that a chain of debt or indebted to someone, the freedom is like a breath of fresh air, thank you for sharing sister and supporting each other as mothers of the earth to be debt free. Free thats freedom to breath. You go maam :)

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Nov 01, 2019
Nov 01, 2019

Hello, Pratibha,

Wow, 400 hundred women! What an impact this is, dear sister. Congratulations on this initiative to help women be free from debt! Thank you for sharing this empowering story with us. Keep up the great work!

Nov 02, 2019
Nov 02, 2019

Thank you for sharing your story with us. I see the interconnectedness between economic power, safety, security. Your work is making a great difference, always remember that.

Nov 03, 2019
Nov 03, 2019

Pratibha it is very interesting Reading your story and deep indebtedness can affect Women psychology depriving them PEACE and security. YES Climate Change is real but our Women need to study the trend of the Climate and try out Some Climate smart farming. Through you maybe we could try one or two methods but we must understand your soul texture and land tenureship. How extreme is the temperature in your part of India.
I really enjoyed the work you have started and please do not give up because its not going to be easy but surely you need all the energy and support you can Get. Kudos.

Tamarack Verrall
Nov 06, 2019
Nov 06, 2019

Dear Prathiba,
How good to see you and these women standing together. How disgusting that these money lenders (which are also known as loan sharks because they do such painful harm) have been trapping so many women. And how awful that so many husbands are simply absent for the real work.
"...women told me that they were never able to open their hearts before."
You are truly changing lives, and your story here is important proof of the traps being laid and of the power of sisterhood.

Nov 09, 2019
Nov 09, 2019

Dear Pratibha,
thank you for sharing your experience. It's one of the really very important issues of women. it's so good to know about the self-help initiative that is benefiting 400 women in finance literary and economical security. Keep your good work and I wish you along with four village women to achieve your goal for making freedom of the debt campaign.
Love and regards,