We were in Kachnaria village, about 45 kms from the Biora Block headquarters in late May. Kachnaria has a population of 2600 with 290 households identified as extremely poor and supported by the Madhya Pradesh Poverty Initiatives Project , which has created 12 Self Help Groups of women thus far. My good friend Raman Wadhwa from the state project office and other colleagues were with us when we me with the Village Development Council (VDC) members.
Raman and I joined the VDC meeting as guests and the Sakhi (a lady from the village who takes care of bookkeeping for the rest of the group) formally introduced us to the group as observers and instructed us to sign the attendance registration along with other members. The proceedings of a community group that has learned over the last few months to stand on their own feet and lead respectful life has many intricate lessons for federating and finding a common place for everything that is significant in life, including prayer in the beginning in Hindi (“Humko man ki sakthi dena… man vijay kare… “roughly translated as “Oh God, Give strength to our mind, for the mind to be victorious… make ourselves victorious over our mind for us to cheer the victory of others...”) their long log books of money brought in by each Self Help Group (SHG) and their inquisitive interactions ensure that money taken by members as loan was spent for productive purposes.
From the meeting of the VDC, we visited Kamlabhai’s (a villager) house for a while on our way back. A very small semi constructed house, but extremely clean and well kept had the prized item she procured from the loan taken from the SHG that she wanted to show us: an Atta Chakki (Flour Mill) that she use commercially for milling wheat for the entire village. She reduced charges for the women lead household and a diesel generator was also kept outside. Without asking, Kamlabhai explained that she has to take care of hygiene and possible contamination from diesel fuel, hence the generator was not kept anywhere close to the milling machine!
The procurement specialist in me asked her how she bought the machine. She said she got it from Indore (some 100 kms away!). When I asked why not from local market in Bioara, she replied “it’s my loan money; hence my choice. She later explained that good brands are only available in Indore and the only local supplier in Biora asked for too high a price. Kamlabhai and her husband searched high and low in Indore before buying and they even used a truck returning from Indore to bring it to save on shipping costs. We then wanted to find out from her whether she’s made any savings from the machine and how that investment has affected her life.
She had proudly mentioned that the machine helped her family save some 30,000 rupees until the generator failed recently. The urban stereotype that we hold forced us to look around for new additions in her poor household and asked whether she bought a new TV or household items. Kamlabhai was surprised and replied. “Why shall the money be spent on such wasteful expenditure? What is the benefit in watching all these family drama soap serials in the TV? We’ve paid 12000 rupees to the English Medium Convent School as a deposit for my boy and girl. They both will go to school for the whole year in the school van!" We were stunned at her resolve, her confidence, her priorities and the will to make her and her family’s future.
We forgot our hurry to return to Bhopal. We spent more time in their house and talked a lot of their struggles as landless laborers, the killer interest rates charged by the Patels (Moneylenders are called Patels in this area) on loans taken for household needs and medical expenses of her children. We also asked her why she wanted to educate her children. Focusing her eyes to a very distant future Kamlabhai said “I want to make them smart, they shall not be forced to lead a life like ours. If they are not educated everyone will make fool of them.”
We felt the steel in her resolve and voice; and left the village more content and wishing the very best to her kids for a brighter future …