How sex workers are investing right

Malthy never thought loans could be issued in 30 minutes flat. Or that she could ever shop in a supermarket. Or own a car.

Her past experience of insult and ridicule created a sense of fear in Malthy. But now she walks confidently, deposits her savings and draws at will, asks for loans and gets them in quick time too. She’s also a partner in the supermarket business and will soon buy Tata Sumos to rent out.

Reserve Bank of India (RBI) officials were stunned a few months ago when a group of sex workers from Kamathipura approached them for registering a bank. Though the RBI could not grant the request, they were impressed with the commitment and showed them an alternative.

Inspired by Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, who pioneered micro-credit in Bangladesh, a credit cooperative took shape. The Sangini Mahila Seva Cooperative Society, for, of and by sex workers of Kamathipura, already has 750 members and has collected a Rs 8 lakh corpus in two months. Pimps and goons can no longer extort or snatch away their earnings, which are now deposited with the cooperative.

The cooperative made a term deposit of the corpus with a nationalised bank, earning 9.6 per cent interest. Each depositor earns 3.5 per cent interest, just as in a savings account. The additional 6 per cent is used to issue loans and pay salaries to the cooperative’s staff.

When the cooperative found that it had surplus funds, it decided to go into business. A wholesale supermarket took shape, buying everything from groceries to vegetables at wholesale rates from the Vashi trading hub and selling to members at prices lower than the market rate. “This way, our daily expenses reduce,” said Malthy.

Jiwan Saha, an accountant who conceived of the idea, plans to expand the cooperative’s scope. “We hope to buy cars and air-conditioners, and rent them out. That way we can earn more profits for the women,” he said.

The cooperative is supported by Population Services International, a Washington-based NGO. “This is a great leap forward for sex workers in Kamathipura,” said Shilpa Merchant, Mumbai director of Population Services.

The likes of Malthy agree. “It’s simple and convenient. Most importantly, it makes me feel secure,” she smiled.


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