Here’s what a rural Indian community taught me!
Often in life, we have moments of reflection. A chance to break out of the mundane routine and look at life differently. I’m going to tell you about one such instance in my life.
It was in April. Summer was at its peak. I was visiting a remote community situated in Rajasthan.
A village 150kms off Jaipur. I left Delhi, my humble abode, in the early wee hours. It was a 6-hour drive via the NH 48. A few hours into the ride, I was in Rajasthan.
I had some presumptions about the place.
The place would be arid.
A dry spell of heat would be my entourage.
Scorchy noon time awaits me.
But as the miles racked up on the odometer, what unfolded was no less a pleasant apparition.
Long stretches of green sunflower fields laid the sight. A place much cooler than Delhi. A fertile region bustling with livestock.
Tonk certainly was different than I thought it to be.
I was visiting a Rang De Impact partner for their financial audit.
Maitree Mahila Mandal Samiti (MMMS)
A congregation of 5000+ women who are a compelling force of decision-makers, entrepreneurs, governing body and at times just powerful rural women.
But when you turn pages to the very start of their journey.
Things were different. Grim, to be precise.
MMMS is now an independent women’s organisation. But they started as a Self Help Group in 2008. Under the purview of Srijan, what started as an effort to collectivize and organize the community, gave birth to a rallied force.
Women in the Tonk district barely had a voice of their own, says Meera Devi. A powerful orator and passionate board member of MMMS.
Meera Devi recalls how she used to work 16-18 hours every day. Laborious work all in exchange for nothing. When she needed money for her personal expense, she had to ask for it, earlier from her father and later from her husband. Things had to change.
Under the collective framework of MMMS, women like Meera Devi who broke sweat day in and day out decided to come together. They saved as little as Rs 5 per month. Over time, these women found a voice in the community. A voice to drive action, take decisions and at times even revolt. They had a corpus to back themselves. But most importantly, they had the grit.
They worked hard. Saved diligently. Lent to fellow women. Strengthened them. Gained respect together.
While I put it so simply, a great deal of effort has gone backstage over the years.
MMMS is one of our esteemed partners. In the last two years of their partnership with Rang De, 9000+ rural women have been empowered. An organized community that follows timely repayment. The standards they kept were evident in their conduct.
At the MMMS office, I felt sheer humility and warmth. They shared their many experiences and I was all ears. While we sat in that small office room, I noticed a lot of hustle-bustle in and around.
The reason is, that every last day of the month is a Rang De repayment day for them. So all the women who had taken a loan came to pay their instalments.
I instantly went into retrospect. Back when building loan products and figuring repayment schedules, I always thought paying back might be an onerous task for the borrowers. They have to take time out, travel miles and make the repayment every month.
What I witnessed was an absolute contrast.
Women in the community-owned it. They were willingly travelling to the office in their fine dresses . Catching up with peers. A little chat here and a giggle there. It didn’t look like a task rather it was a social outing for them which was clearly very fulfilling.
I for one was amazed by the way of this community. Their mannerism, their jolly good attitude and positive outlook. I think it all came from the ordeals they faced in their life early on.
‘Pashupalan’ or animal husbandry is the key source of revenue for the community. Women practise in their backyard which is an option for ready income. They showed us around their milk processing unit. What started with a handful of women, now processes over 2000 litres of milk every day.
There were basic types of equipment to chill and store milk. They had created a system to sustain themselves. Apparently, goat milk turns out to be one of their popular product.
I learnt another thing. While creating customized loan products for a large number of people. Often by habit, we tend to standardise things. Say, a loan of Rs.60,000 is enough to buy a buffalo and start cattle rearing. Things get different when we hit the ground.
There are different breeds of cattle and their yield varies accordingly. The quality of milk differs too. A cattle rearer wants the best available option to earn a durable income. A 60k buffalo might not be best suited for everyone. It is important for us to understand their needs. To the very minute detail.
All in all, it was a revelatory experience. More so, it was about people. People who transcend boundaries. And in doing so, they create palpable bonds with those who accompany them. I certainly was glad to watch it unfold.
You can also have a chance to experience this. Become a Social Investor with Rang De and see the value you create in the lives of fellow Indians.