West Bengal is one of India’s most backward states in terms of rural development. As we drove from Kolkata the capital towards Midnapore, the landscape grew greener but the signs of prosperity slowly faded into miles of rice fields, thatched huts and small roadside arteries. Many of Bengal’s villages do not have electricity and the evening brings total darkness dispelled by the dim glow of lanterns and lamps. While economic growth in India has benefited a growing middle class, it has also widened the existing schisms between urban and rural, backward and prosperous states and between skilled and non-skilled labor.
The roads are bumpy and the ride is bone-rattling as we speed through the district of Midnapore with its many villages. I was on my way to see a model village where microloans had made a remarkable difference in the lives of women. We got there at around midnight and were taken to our huts by a gaggle of giggling women in colorful cotton saris.
The next morning we were taken to the village community hall, where the women had assembled and were waiting for us. The small village was clean, the huts bright with painted exteriors and children playing in the sunlit courtyards. As elsewhere, it is the women who bore the brunt of looking after the home and the land, while the men were usually at the local tea shop, whiling away their time till the evening when toddy (local liquor) would do the rounds to dull the misery and sense of hopelessness.
It was amazing what microloans had done to the lives of these women in rural Bengal. It was not just about the money, though of course, it had increased their income, made their lives more comfortable and enabled them to send their young children to the local government school. It was also about dignity, self respect and a growing confidence in their own skills and abilities. It was about having been empowered in what was overwhelmingly a man’s world.
Beena and her small Self-Help-Group (or SHG’s as they are known) had gained in social stature commensurate to their earning power as they had availed of the loans given by the microfinancing organization based in Kolkata. Beena had bought land to grow rice and vegetables, increased her livestock and bought more hens as she wishes to have a poultry business. With growing income, she is paying off her loan regularly and is looking with increasing hope at a brighter future.
All the women narrated their stories of achievement and their pride in doing something on their own and succeeding in their efforts. It was a wonderful experience, listening to them and knowing with even greater certainty that microfinance was one of the answers to poverty and social disparities.
Club Asteria supports microfinance to disadvantaged groups worldwide. We seek your valuable cooperation in this effort of ours to usher in a fairer and more equitable world, where everyone can live with dignity and self-respect.Tags: financial stability, total darkness, model village