Life was tough for Dukhi Das, a 50-year-old landless Dalit woman from Manduki village in Odisha’s Puri district. She and her husband worked as daily wage labourers to provide just one square meal for their two children.
Two years ago, Das borrowed Rs. 10,000 from a self-help group she had formed along with other nine Dalit women and bought five sheep. As the number of sheep multiplied, she sold eight of them for Rs. 16,000 and repaid the loan.
Today, a flock of 17 sheep keeps her husband busy all day. Her son, who had migrated for work outside the state, has returned home and sells vegetables on a new bicycle. “Our family has improved economically and I am able to provide my grandson with nutritious food and send him to school regularly,” said Das.
Life has changed for more than 900,000 families across 10 Odisha districts since they signed up for a credit scheme under a poverty reduction programme started in 2009 with the World Bank funding of $82.4 million.
The World Bank-funded project -- Targeted Rural Initiative for Poverty Termination and Infrastructure (Tripti) – started in 2009 and will be merged with the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) in June but may well end up as the guiding light for the central scheme.
Tripti has touched mostly Dalit and tribal women, who form 17% and 23%, respectively, of Odisha’s population and are among the most impoverished of the 17 million people in the state below the poverty line.
Most of the women utilised the loan mainly on agriculture, horticulture, poultry, fishery, health and education. They even repaid previous outstanding amounts to avail bigger loans for scaling up their enterprises.
The scheme covers 78,460 self-help groups across 10 districts in the state and has led to a spurt in the average amount of a loan sanctioned by banks to such outfits, which has jumped to over Rs. 100,000 from Rs. 80,000 in the beginning of the year.
“This implies that 25% of the state’s bank linkage has occurred in the 10 districts covered under the project,” said Pranab Jyoti Nath, state mission director of the Odisha Rural Livelhood Mission, responsible for Tripti’s implementation.
This socio-economic empowerment has made women self-reliant and enabled them to intervene in social and political issues including domestic violence issues, anti-liquor campaign, education of the girl child and rural sanitation.
Such an initiative also helped 23-year-old Jhili Mondal in Jagatsinghpur district who had suffered repeated physical torture at the hands of her husband and in-laws. They forced her to abort twice and allegedly tried to sell her off to a trafficker in Andhra Pradesh.
Help came from hundreds of women from nearby villages, who formed 90 self-help groups and took Mondal under their wing. The SHGs forced her in-laws to part with a patch of their family land for her subsistence and gave her Rs. 5000 and a livelihood linkage to start her life afresh.
“I would have been dead by now but for them. With their help, I have been able to overcome the trauma and trying to stand on my own feet,” said Mondal.