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.