The “policies of exclusion” of the so called patriarchal societies throughout the world, especially in the Least Developed and Developing countries are primarily responsible for marginalisation of women, both covertly and overtly.
The practise of exclusion is widespread and it encompasses every sphere of society—political, social, and economic and so on. It makes resources and organisations inaccessible to women. However, of late, it has been realised that the best way to improve the overall condition of the woman-folk is to adopt “policies of inclusion” in which every woman should get a chance to participate in the decision-making process, express her view against exploitation of her male counterpart and get herself involved in the group activities meant for their socio-economic uplift.
These strategies could not only bring about a change in patriarchal outlook in the form of driving them out of the forced confinement to the four walls but also encourage the male counterparts to persuade them to participate in the earning activities, thereby contributing to the family-income, which in turn could tackle poverty to a great extent.
It is true, as long as the disadvantaged suffer from economic deprivation and livelihood insecurity, one cannot dream of achieving a prosperous and vibrant society.
Ever since Independence of India, a number of innovative programmes have been launched for the uplift of women. But the result seems to be far from satisfaction, the prime reasons being improper identification of beneficiaries, lack of participation of women due to strong resentment by their male counterparts in many cases, high dependence on formal sector credit agencies which are yet to reach the vast majority of rural poor, and the lack of follow up action by the government itself.
The problem required a complete paradigm shift where the flexible and responsive system meets the needs of the rural poor. Viewing it in the welfare programmes of ninth five year plan and shifting the concept of “development to empowerment” the Indian Government adopted the approach of ‘Self Help Groups (SHGs)’ to uplift the rural poor.
The Concept of SHG:
An SHG (having its origin in Bangladesh) is a group of about 20 people from a homogeneous class, who come together for addressing their common problems. They are encouraged to make voluntary thrift on a regular basis. They use the pooled resource to make small interest bearing loans to their members.
The process helps them imbibe the essentials of financial intermediation including prioritization of needs, setting terms and conditions and accounts keeping. This gradually builds financial discipline and credit history for themselves, as the money involved in the lending operations is their own hard earned money saved over time with great difficulty.
Once the groups show their mature financial behaviour, banks are encouraged to make loans to them in certain multiples of the accumulated saving of the SHG. The bank loans are given without any collateral and at market interest rates. Banks find it easier to lend money to the groups as the members have developed a Credit history.
Cold (Outside) money’ gets added to the own ‘warm money’ in the hands of the groups, which have become structures, which are able to enforce credit discipline by being able to save and borrow regularly without many hassles.
The groups continue to decide the terms of loans to their own members. The peer pressure ensures timely repayments and replaces the “Collateral” for the bank loans. Based on the studies and the results of action research conducted, NABARD developed the SHG-bank linkage approach as the core strategy that could be used by the banking system in India for increasing their outreach to the poor.
At present, there are over 16 lakh SHGs operating all over the country, of them 90% being women SHGs. In Orissa, the systematic and formal formation of SHGs got an impetus after the implementation of a state government sponsored programme namely “Mission Shakti” on 8th March 2001.
The first and foremost requirement for any social movement is the role of a catalyst in mobilising the members, assuring them of an affirmative result and making them well familiar with the possible means to accomplish the task.
In conformity with the same, the formation of a Women Self Help Group (WSHG) requires catalyst (s), either from within the community or from outside who is/are trained to mobilise the women in convincing them or their male counterparts of the possible earnings of the former through group activities. Since the women lack the basic capabilities and self-confidence to counter and challenge existing disparities and barriers against them, it is always required that their males must be convinced first to allow them to get exposed to different resources and organisations outside the home, be that independently or with the help of their male counterparts.
Further change agents, if any associated in the process of mobilisation are needed to catalyze social mobilization consciously, for any challenge to the primordial social loyalty could complicate the situation.
For example, in selecting the members, a homogenous community, say a definite caste group should be chosen. In mixing up different caste groups would definitely raise the eyebrows of the so called upper caste people.
Second, the process of social mobilization needs to be accompanied and complemented by economic security. In 2001 i.e. the phase of rehabilitation after the super cyclone, 1999, a good number of WSHGs were formed in the worst-affected Jagatsinghpur district, either through Mission Shakti of Government of Odisha or through a number of NGOs who were actively involved in the post-disaster relief-activities.
In Erasama Block of Jagatsinghpur District of Odisha itself, about 1500 WSHGs were formed in 185 villages, maximum being in Bengali speaking villages/hamlets. The prime reasons for booming mobilisation were narration of successful case studies of SHGs in
Bangladesh; the immediate returns that some SHGs could get within a short span of time, thereby standing as models for others to imitate and the cautious enrolment of members from definite castes. Although some development agencies had tried to form composite groups—getting members from different castes, both touchable and untouchable, they were not successful in their endeavour. The so called upper caste women, despite being relatively poorer than the downtrodden untouchable women out rightly rejected the suggestion of sitting beside the latter.
It is not only the same social background, but also the same economic status of the members which is required for a successful formation of SHG. Women living below poverty line (BPL) and above poverty line (APL) should not be expected to come together. One of the reasons for making 100 SHGs moribund in Erasama Block is due to their faulty selection of members from different economic and social strata of the society.
It is a FAQ whether the SHG should be registered. In order keep the hassle of registration, the SHG need not be registered. We have seen many animators of SHGs running here and there to collect documents for registration with the hope of getting more government aid or loans from banks. However, registration has been substituted by the procedure of gradation, which, undoubtedly justifies the credibility of the SHG. But as a clumsy process, it also requires many paper works. Recently, Central Electricity Supply Utility (CESU) invited application of SHGs for entrusting them with the responsibility of metre reading, collection of energy charge from consumers and recommending for new connection, etc. The response from the SHGs was amazing. But the criterion of A or B grading debarred many, especially the new ones from entering the final ground of selection.
WSHGs—A solid means of women empowerment
It is through SHGs that the women get an exposure to outside world. The resources and organisations which were unseen earlier become accessible. Weekly meetings, weekly savings, internal lending, repayment of loans on regular basis, not only promote thrift among the members, but also encourage oneness among the group members. It is seen that for updating the records, the members very often take the help of their literate daughters or sisters and it is good sign that some members learn the art of book keeping from them. It indirectly promotes literacy among the illiterate women. Sri Nilakantheswar WSHG of Erasama Block is the example of a successful SHG. It started in the year 2001 with twenty members below poverty line, the caste status being so called touchable. All of them contributed Rs 30/- each. With Rs 600/- in hand, they grinded spices like red chilli and turmeric manually and sold in the village. Gradually, the common pool became rich with Rs 10,000/- within six months.
After grading of the group, they could avail of a loan of Rs 2.5 lakh from UBI, Erasama branch with which they purchased grinding machines of different types. The DRDA officials of Jagatsinghpur helped them in this regard. Within a period of ten years the group owns a rice huller, a power tiller, two acres of land over which stands a two stroryed building which houses the office of the SHG.
The responsibility of supplying Chhatua (a mixed powder of wheat, dal, cashew, etc.) to the Anganwadi centres of Erasama Block has been given to them by the District Administration. Recently, they have taken a village pond on lease basis in which they have grown fishes. Now, each member earns remuneration of Rs 5,000/- per month. They can even borrow money as and when necessary by them.
The repayment of the bank loan is very regular. Thus, the members have been successful in reducing poverty of the family. Their husbands who are basically day labourers are very much satisfied with the contribution their wives make to the family pool.
Thus, participation in SHGs increases their influence over economic resources and participation in economic decision-making. They take decisions with regard to children’s clothing, their education and even entertaining the guests. Getting exposure to the outside world, coming in contact with government officials undoubtedly develops their personality. The discrimination of women in the name of patriarchy is fading away gradually, at least for the members of the Nilakantheswar SHG. Since they have got good access to the administration, their male counterparts develop cold feet in arguing with them, adds Latika, the animator of the group.
Since the members have become economically self sufficient, they have launched an anti-liquor movement in their locality. With their determined effort, a liquor shop, proposed to be set up in their village has been shifted to a distant place. In every decision-making activity of the village, Nilakantheswar SHG plays an important role. Even in observance of the annual Dusserah festival in their village, the decision of the group is final. The members unanimously decide the number of days to be observed, the manner of decoration and the operas or orchestras to be selected for entertainment of the villagers. They are given the responsibility of collecting contributions from the villagers and even from outsiders. Although the group does not play an active role in politics, the political leaders persuade the members to take their sides during elections as they feel that the SHG is an ideal group which the other women try to imitate. Their request to their friends in the village and even in the neighbouring village cannot be underestimated.
Besides anti-liquor movement in the state, some SHGs have taken up some other social issues as and when crop up. In 2011, a group of village youths from Ambiki village of Erasama Block debarred a Dalit village-boy from fetching water from the Mahanadi at Cuttack, accompanying them to cover the distance from Cuttack to Ambiki village on foot and pouring the water over the Shiva Linga in the Balakeswar temple of their village. This is an annual ritual which the devotees of lord Shiva perform in every Hindu month of Sravan (July-August). As the news came to the lone Dalit WSHG of the village, the members sat on a dharna in front of the Shiva temple. They did not allow the so called upper caste boys to enter the temple and perform the rituals. The agitation went on till the same Dalit boy fetched water from a nearby river, entered the temple and poured water over the Shiva Linga. Since that day, nobody musters courage to disallow the Dalits to enter the temple.
Thus, the above case studies justify the fact that it is not only economic uplift of women which is achieved through SHGs but they play an important role in uplifting their status in society. Their role as catalysts in effacing the social maladies cannot be ruled out. On the basis of the WSHGs’ achievement and credibility during the recent years, the CESU has given the responsibility of collecting energy charges from the consumers by the WSHGs of Nayagarh, the pilot district. On the basis of their success in this regard the company has been trying to involve other WSHGs of some other districts with this task. But the question arises as to why a number of WSHGs meet their death before time. For example, out of the 1500 WSHGs formed during the recent years in Erasama Block, about 100 are already dead and another 100 are on the verge of their death. The reasons for this are manifold. Their heterogeneous character, despite the rule that the members of the SHGs should be broug
ht from homogeneous groups is a prime reason for their death, for the members develop hatred feeling to sit beside the so called untouchable women on regular basis. Sometimes, the say of the latter in the decision-making process of the group is underestimated, thereby dissuading them from the group activities. In many cases, the women members are allowed by their male counterparts to join the groups with anticipation of immediate returns. As the process of savings, lending etc, is time-taking, they lose the patience of waiting for a long time. At many instances, the patriarchal dominance over the women plays an important role. In case the wife comes late from the weekly meeting or she stands in a queue along with the males, the husband considers it an underestimation to his status and does not allow further to participate in the SHG. In spite of the apparent success of the concept, still many bankers are yet to whole- heartedly support the groups with credit. The deep rooted
traditional mindset of banks which views poor, as credit risks, is difficult to change.
Despite the odds it has been facing since the day of inception, the WSHG-movement has accomplished the task of poverty-reduction to a great extent. It is not a magic wand that the results would come overnight—it requires the hard work and the patience of the members, animators as well as the catalysts. A critical element in expanding SHG movement is to change the banker’s attitude that “the poor lacks the repayment capacity”.
B. Suguna: – “Empowerment of Rural Women through Self Help Groups”. DPH. New Delhi, p-13-14, p-204.
Girija Srinivasan: – “Building A Future- Group By Group” (Edtd), BIRD, Lucknow, p- 46-47.
Kim Wilson: “Role of Self Help Group- Bank linkage Programme in Preventing Rural Emergencies in India”, Paper presented at the seminar on SHG. Bank linkage Programme at New Delhi on 25th and 26th November 2002.
A HAND BOOK ON FORMING SHGs: – Micro Credit Innovations Department, NABARD, Mumbai.
Deepti Umashankar, Women’s Empowerment: Effect of Participation in Self Help Groups,PGPPM Dissertation submitted to Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, 2006
Dr. Kahnu Charan Dhir
(The author, a member of Odisha Administrative Service (India) is presently working as Block Development Officer, Erasama in Jagatsinghpur District of Odisha )