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Self-Help Groups by Sewa Bharati in Tamil Nadu

Self-Help Groups by Sewa Bharati in Tamil Nadu

Author: Kesava Vinayagan
Publication: Organiser
Date: September 06, 2009
URL: http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=307&page=28

An effective way of rural women empowerment

Self-Help Group (SHG) is a programme implemented in Tamil Nadu about 12 years back by Sewa Bharati. After a decade it has become a silent revolution of economic empowerment and socio-political system of the State. Since 1999, Sewa Bharati has been working in this micro credit delivery system, which has attracted the attention of the entire nation. To start with the scheme was introduced for women but now it is getting popularity among men too. Sewa Bharati alone is guiding more than 4,000 women SHGs and 400 men SHGs throughout the State.

The scheme

Shg is nothing but a small cooperative unit comprising of 20 or lesser number of people. They are organised in a group with a name and three office bearers who manage the group and maintain the accounts and bank operations. Each member is made to save money on a regular basis and the collected saving money is given as loan to the members at a nominal interest. The entire transaction is transparent and properly audited. Members are eligible for financial assistance from banks or any other financial institution. The interest on this financial assistance is very low so that the members of the group get rid of their high interest borrowings. The members of groups are encouraged to start their own business or production units so that they can earn profit. For this purpose banks are readily extending advances with appropriate subsidies.

It has become a regular scene in almost every village in Tamil Nadu. The remotest Vanvasi village in the Western Ghats is not spared. Women sitting in a circle as if they are playing the famous "Passing the parcel" game. It is nothing but the weekly meeting of women SHG, held on the same day of every week, mostly held in the afternoons. For the members of the group the meeting is more important than their favourite TV serials, because it is a path to self-reliance. All the days of dependence have gone and the SHG women have regained the glory of Vedic period. For, the SHG scheme is like a Kalpataru-the epic tree that is capable of giving everything the owner needs. The coming generations will never fail to worship the inventor of this twenty-member "wonder machine".

Economically described as "the micro-credit delivery system", the SHG scheme is a system, leading to the best form of savings one could have, the best loan facility one could avail, and the best way to improve economic esteem. The interest, the members of the SHG pay for their loans, is the profit they get when the group ripens. In addition SHGs empower women, enlighten them intellectually, and organise them to avail the advantage of functioning as a group. Without SHGs these women might not have excelled the techniques of banking-depositing and withdrawing money and dealing with the negotiable instruments like cheques, promissory notes, etc. The SHG scheme has emerged as an invincible programme to reap the best out of even an uneducated rural or Vanvasi woman, and has attained a culminating point even exceeding the forethoughts and visions of the founding fathers of the scheme.

In a village called Thirparappu, SHG was formed by Sewa Bharati, which comprised of 18 women belonging to one particular caste and two members from another caste. The caste association of that village advised the women of their caste to remove the women belonging to the other caste and run the group. They refused bluntly and firmly. The caste association tempted them with an interest-free loan of one lakh rupees to the group to remove the two women belonging to the other caste. The SHG members turned down this offer and defied any discrimination in the name of caste among them. This trend is getting momentum among the SHG members with amity and benevolence.

Organised mode of operation strengthens the society. It has always been a difficult task to organise women of the society but the SHG scheme has made this dream come true. In a remote Vanvasi village called Kodithuraimalai, SHG women resolved to execute a noble idea. After every weekly meet all the members gathered to work in the farm of one member of the SHG without any payment. The owner of the land offered them lunch and evening tea. The next week the same activity happened in the farm of another member. This rotation of work is carried out in the farm of all the members in a regular turn. The resultant yield of self-reliance is promising both materialistically and socially.

Alcoholism is a menace in our society and it is very difficult to do away with it. The SHG women achieved a few victories in this field too. In a village called Thenkarai a liquor shop was situated near the only pathway leading to the village. This resulted in a lot of hardships to the school going girls returning from the school in the evening. The women returning from their workplace were put into trouble by the behaviour of alcoholics who used to come to the shop in a large number especially in the evening. The villagers took up the matter with the authorities concerned, several times directly and through various associations, but the shop was not shifted from the place. The SHG women of that village informed about the difficulties caused by the liquor shop to Sewa Bharati activists. The women were advised to present the matter before the District Collector under the SHG banner in person. The gravity of the problem expressed by the SHG women was appreciated and the District Collector ordered to shift the government-owned liquor shop to another place. And it is no more an arduous task for women to approach the bureaucratic systems, to derive the needed results in order to eradicate social evils afflicting the society.

The village called Maruthancode witnessed a unique revolution. The SHG women ruined one production unit of spurious liquor under the banner of Ayurvedic medicines established in their locality by some anti-social elements thereby manufacturing large quantities of intoxicating drink called Arishtam, which was sold at a cheaper price. The drink worked as a slow poison for the persons who consumed it resulting in incapacitation. Some persons even died of various unknown ailments caused by it. Since the unit was situated near a temple and a bus stop, it was creating a problem to the women going to the temple and waiting for a bus. Sewa Bharati SHGs for women in the village decided in one of their weekly meetings to root out the menace of the spurious liquor-producing unit. All the members rounded up the unit and staged a demonstration. The owner of the unit locked the building and ran away. The crowd was persuaded by Sewa Bharati organisers to disperse and a complaint was lodged in the Police Station concerned. The police were reluctant to take any action on the ground that the owner possessed a license for the unit. The SHG women with much perseverance and belligerence knocked the doors of local court and filed a law suit, to unravel the mysteries and mischief in issuing such licenses, and proved the violations of the terms of the license by all such license holders in black and white and managed to get a decree in their favour. This judgement proved to be a yardstick for the entire State of Tamil Nadu. During the entire process the goondas hired by the owners of the unit threatened the women. Now the village is free from the menace of the spurious liquor, thanks to the efforts of the SHGs and Sewa Bharati. The women are up in arms to fight the social evils. The owners of such units presented the details of this case and a paper regarding the menace of Arishtam before the Madras High Court where the criminal petitions were filed against the District authorities to get a judgement banning the production and sale of Arishtam throughout the entire Kanyakumari district.

In the suburbs of Nagerkovil town there is a small village called Sarakkalvilai, wherein one Shanthi aged 23 years who is a widow having a three-year-old female child happens to be the daughter of a member by name Bhathirakali belonging to Buvaneswari SHG. The SHG members took into consideration the future of Shanthi in one of their weekly meetings and decided to arrange for her remarriage. Everything was planned and executed in a fantastic way. Shanthi entered a new life with an understanding partner Somalingaom. The SHGs funded and organised the marriage function. The people of the village were astonished by this activity of the SHG and extended all their support. During the visit of the Sewa Bharati office-bearer the mother of Shanthi, Smt Bathirakali, was in tears while describing the incident.

In a village called Aramannam near Kulasekaram the incident was even more appalling. One widow lived in Aramannam working as an agriculture coolie and her two adolescent daughters, namely Kalarani and Anitha, worked in a private firm in Andhra Pradesh. She died of cancer leaving behind the two daughters as orphans after spending all her earnings on her treatment. The two daughters who came to take care of their mother in the hospital were left with nothing but the corpse of their mother. There was nobody to help even for the funeral. The Sewa Bharati SHG members took the initiative and arranged for the funeral after performing all the last rites. They arranged for a safe place for their livelihood with suitable jobs, and took all initiatives to arrange for their marriages. One Panchayet member of the locality took the lead and with the generous contributions from all the SHGs across the District and various other organisations the marriage of Kalarani was arranged with Iyappan.

Helping the needy is another important social change that is happening almost everyday in the district through SHGs. Financial assistance for the sick persons, accident victims, victims of calamities like fire accidents, have become a normal routine for the SHGs.

These are a few examples of the social engineering that has been possible in the name of Self-Help Groups. Similar incidents are a routine where Sewa Bharati SHGs are functioning. The SHGs have contributed to the service projects carried out by the Sewa Bharati especially in the case of Anbu Illam (an orphanage), which was inaugurated on 02-05-2004 and accommodates 18 children now. Sewa Bharati SHGs have become the 'rice bowl' for the poor and the needy by which these women contribute rice exclusively not only to Sewa Bharati Anbu Illam but also to four other orphanages functioning in Kanyakumari district. This rice comes as a share from the rice taken for cooking by the SHGs woman members everyday which is collected at the weekly meets and the scheme is named Sharatha Devi Pidi Arisi Thittam.

In short, the wonder that is Self-Help Group is creating a niche for itself to attain gender equality, empowerment and justice preserving our cultural and traditional values.

- The writer is general secretary of Sewa Bharati, Tamil Nadu

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