"Five years ago, I was no one," said Kunti Devi to me, sitting up straight against the wall of her one-room mud hut in Bara, a small village in India's eastern state of Bihar. "Now, people know me by my own name, not just by the name of my children."
I was sitting on the floor, across from Devi, a mother of eight, who belonged to one of the most vulnerable and socially excluded castes in India. She recalled how when her husband got injured and lost his job a few years ago, the family was pushed over the brink — from subsistence to hunger and poverty. At the time, Devi took a bold step for a poor woman used to living in the shadows of society. She joined a women's self-help group in her village and took a small loan to raise goats. With the income she generated, she repaid her first loan and took another one — this time to lease land to produce grain. She borrowed again when her family faced a health crisis. Today, Devi has several sources of income. She is also planning ahead. She wants to open a food outlet on a busy road. And now, with two of her sons married, she wants to find a larger living space for her growing family.