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Greys of Bihar

Left to fend for themselves, elders in one of India’s poorest states are turning entrepreneurs, reports Srinand Jha.

regional movies Updated: Apr 13, 2013 22:02 IST
Srinand Jha

Four months back, Sarjug Mahto, 80, resident of village Prasad in Bihar’s Supoul district launched himself as an entrepreneur by setting up a tiny roadside grocery shop. “I sold off my one bigha land to marry off four daughters. My son, who works as a driver, has seven children to feed. I’ve lived in fear. Now I have something to do,” he says. Parmeshwari Devi, 65, took a loan to buy three katha (1/20th of a bigha) land on bharna (rent) and plans to buy more land next season.

One farmer invested in a vermicompost unit. Others pooled money to buy tent house material. Some groups have started buying essential food items at bulk rates and are also setting up fodder and grain banks. A silent revolution seems to be happening.

It began in 2008, when the NGO HelpAge-India introduced an income generation model called Elders Self Help Groups (ESHGs). A funds corpus comprising monthly contributions from ESHG members and seed money from HelpAge became available to farmers as soft loans. “The elders are picking up the threads of their lives,” says Girish Chandra Mishra, state head, HelpAge India. “Earlier, we were often going to courts and the police. There are fewer quarrels now and caste has no meaning in our groups. We even celebrate festivals now”, says Shankar Mandal, a village resident.

With a population of 80 million, Bihar, with the lowest per capita income has remained at the bottom of the heap on the human development index. Reasons being North Bihar has remained flood prone, the elderly have been denied work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, many haven’t been able to benefit from government schemes like pensions, as well as the absence of old age homes.

Since the ESHGs came up, linkages to governmental welfare schemes have started happening. “Several new people have been enrolled for old age and widow pensions,” says Babulal Yadav, resident of Madhubani’s Devna village.

In three districts of Supoul, Darbangha and Madhubani, there are 489 ESHGs with 7, 500 members and a savings corpus of R1.1 crore, says project coordinator KP Rajendran.

The share of the elderly (60 plus) in India grew from 5.6% of the total population in 1961 to 8.2% in 2011. It’s estimated to rise to 12.17% by 2026 according to a June 2011 study of the Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation.

About 65% elders in India have to depend on others for their daily care.