How SHGs are empowering the rural women of Chhattisgarh

Financial Inclusion is one of the major challenge currently faced by the rural people. About 1/3rd of the people in India have no access to financial services, especially in the rural areas. It adversely affects the rural economy, and is one of the key reasons for the community’s backwardness. Research shows that countries with deeper levels of financial inclusion— defined as access to affordable, appropriate financial services— have stronger GDP growth rates and lower income inequality((Demirguc-Kunt et al. 2017; King and Levine 1993; Beck et al. 2000; Clark et al. 2006; Beck et al. 2007; Demirguc-Kunt and Levine, 2009). Government of India has rolled out a flagship scheme in 2011 in the form of National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) which is being implemented across all the India State. Keeping in mind the needs and aspiration of the rural poor. The primary objective of the programme was to eradicate poverty and provide the rural masses with livelihood. The programme is based on the collaborative efforts that organises community members into self-help groups (SHGs) and saves money and inter-loaning occurs among the members, which helps the members obtain credit for various purposes. SHGs are acting as agent of social and economic empowerment for the marginalised groups. India’s Self Help Group (SHG) movement has emerged as the world’s largest and most successful network of community based organizations (CBOs). It is predominantly a women’s movement. As some experts have pointed out, it is a development innovation in its own right.

S.No

Particulars

Physical (No. in Lakhs)

Financial (Rs. in Crore)

1

Total No of SHGs linked with Banks as on 31 March 2019

100.14

23,324.48

a)

Out of Total SHGs -exclusive Women SHGs

85.31

20,473.55

b)

Out of Total SHGs- under NRLM/SGSY

55.8

12867.18

c)

Out of Total SHGs- under NULM/SJSRY

4.39

1,614.42

2

Total No of SHGs credit linked during the year 2018-19

26.98

58,317.63

a)

Out of Total SHGs -exclusive Women SHGs

23.65

53,254.04

b)

Out of Total SHGs- under NRLM/SGSY

16.49

33,398.93

c)

Out of Total SHGs- under NULM/SJSRY

1.29

3,419.57

Source: NABARD Status of Microfinance in India

The above data indicates coverage of SHGs under various livelihood programmes/ missions. It can be observed from the table that 85.31 % of the total women SHGs had ties with Banks as on 31st March 2019. This is significant in a sense that majority of the SHGs have a bank link that makes the SHGs eligible for schemes and funds under various central/state govt. initiatives. The above data provides a picture of how widely the SHGs work across the different states of India.

I would like to share my personal insight from one of the internships that I had during my masters where I got the opportunity to observe and see how the SHGs are functioning and contributing towards the development of marginalised community.

In the month of April 2019 I travelled to Koriya district of Chhattisgarh, which is located in the north western part of Chhattisgarh bordering Madhya Pradesh. The district Koriya is a tribal dominated district consisting of different ethnic groups like Gond, Cherva, Pando, Oraon etc. In addition there are substantial SC’s and OBCs communities.

I was placed as an intern in Srijan (Self Reliant Initiatives through Joint Action) a grassroots implemention organisation at their Kelhari office in Manendragarh block. The organisation works mainly with the most vulnerable and underprivileged communities to promote livelihoods through implementation of various intervention models. I was given the task of evaluating the functioning and effectiveness of the women SHGs (Self Help Groups) which were spread across the different villages around Kelhari tehsil. There were around 400 plus SHGs that were created by Srijan and spread through the 3 different blocks namely Mahendragarh, Sonhat & Bahratpur of Koriya district. The self-help group is group of 10-15 women who pool in money every week and later can take loan from that. They have to pay a very nominal interest rate of 3-4% on the amount taken. In far flung areas, people have no exposure to financial institutions thus these SHGs are the only source of financing.

 

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Picture: 1: SHG Meeting in progress

The SHGs are  not only helping  the rural poor women in getting access to credit but have also liberated them on many fronts. First of all women have started to come out of their houses for meetings and discussions. They also go house to house to promote the SHG and make the women from other community join the group. It has created a kind of camaraderie among the women and have given them a space /platform where they can freely share their view points, address their issues and problems, and debate them. Due to the establishment of SHGs inter caste barriers were broken, as women now sit together for meetings across the caste groups. Earlier the communities used to live in isolation where they did not share food, the women hardly mingle with their neighbours and hardly attended any social gatherings, and untouchability was very commonly practised between the upper and lower caste groups. Now with the advent of SHGs the meeting happens on rotation basis where every members of the group has to hold meetings at their respective houses. This has helped breaking the barrier between the womenfolk’s and has helped in forming a reciprocating relationship among the members of the SHG where they freely get to mingle, learn, discuss, contest, and debate all sorts of things.

The SHGs have empowered women to take issues from household level to community level. The SHGs have become an important place to discuss and debate the issues pertaining to the local governance like the group has formed the school monitoring committee(SMC) which looks after the issues like teacher’s availability, infrastructure, and quality of education being providing at school. The SHG members even organised rallies against the ill effects of alcoholism, where they have mobilised the women of different groups under the SHGs cluster. They collectively met the DC of the district to discuss on the allotment of work to contractors who was favoured unduly during the selection procedure and also the women groups pointed out the discrepancies in the work of the contractor. The SHG members through protest and agitation succeeded in replacing the corrupt contractor. In Haritola village the women went till the state secretariat to put forward their demand of constructing a bridge on the river which flows near their village. This was a long pending issue for decades and they got successful in a very short period of time with their persistent effort and zeal. They have obtained the order from the secretary and now the bridge is under construction. It has all happened because of the strong will power of these women.

“Financial inclusion is very much needed for all the community members as the banks and other institutions are far from the villages. “Through the SHGs we have been able to reduce the vulnerabilities of these communities to some extent but still there are plenty on bumps on the road ahead” said one of the community resource person of Srijan. The Pradhan Mantri Jann Dhann Yojna that provides financial assistance and access to the masses has failed to deliver the desired results due to dearth of functional banking infrastructure. These remotely located communities are beyond the reach of these flagship programme which are aimed to alleviate poverty & provide financial support of the marginalised groups

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Picture: 2: Monthly meeting of all the
SHGs of Kera Behra village of
Koriya District, Chhattisgarh

With the advent of local NGOs intervention in the area many SHGs have been formed. Through the formation of SHGs the community got benefitted in terms of expanded livelihood opportunity as various livelihood promotion intervention/activities took place but it was done only with the members of SHGs . The women were trained on horticulture, agriculture, poultry, kitchen gardening etc. besides they got hands on training using non pesticides management for farming. So overall joining SHGs opened up new avenues of livelihood opportunities which aimed at providing the community members the stability in the long run through multi sectoral activities in farming.

Talking about the challenges that the implementing agencies face is sustaining the SHGs. Due to lack of formal education the women members of the SHGs find it difficult to manage and maintain registers. Though they can avail the service of village level representative for the entries but still is it’s a challenge for them. There is a startling difference with the functioning of SHGs under Srijan and SHGs under SRLM. There are many SHGs that haven’t got their bank account linked. The challenges they face is either with the non-cooperating staff or the paper work is so extensive that it becomes a daunting task for these poor people to arrange all the necessary documents. Though the government claims to have introduced bank sakhi and bank mitra for the convenience of these women groups but it is hardly seen functioning. There are lacunas and gaps from the states side as the revolving funds issued from the state  is being  mis-utilised and the CIF(Community Investment Fund) received is also used for unproductive purposes. Due to lack of proper business plan and improper guidance as well as weak monitoring mechanism everything under the SRLM SHG is going in vain. The attitude of the office bearers of SRLM was observed to be very casual towards the mission and vision of the programme. They hardly attend meetings and visits the fields, there is a lack of communication from bottom to top resulting in failure of the policies drafted for the poor people.

So it can be clearly stated that there is a lot of difference between the SHGs managed by Srijan and the SHGs under State rural livelihood mission. The Srijan team members are very vigilant and proactive about the state of affairs at various level of SHGs structure (i.e. Federation to SHG). Similarly regular trainings and sessions are being conducted for the capacity building of the members which has immensely benefitted the community members. The community members are exploring various opportunities through the SHGs. It is in a way acting as an agent bringing transformations in their life.

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