[Reader-list] Together We Stand (Ms R.A. Mangathai)(Courtesy: www.tripurainfo.com)

Sagnik Chakravartty sagnik_chakravartty at yahoo.com
Tue Jun 4 20:45:53 IST 2002

Together We Stand
Ms.R.A.Mangathai, Asst.Professor (Gender studies),

In the interiors of the hillocks of green Tripura
stands the village Dhariathal. Mandara Debbarma is
from an agricultural family and she dropped out of
school after the madhyamik exam. That was sufficient
qualification for her to get married. She was married
to a higher secondary pass unemployed youth. As time
passed by three children and "Bekar" (unemployed)
husband were additions in her life. Her Father- In-Law
was a DRW in one of the offices in Bishalgarh. Because
of this her husband had never felt the pinch though
she dreaded the future. The day she feared had come
with the sudden death of her Father-in-Law. Her
husband started doing petty jobs here and there. She
was taking tuitions for primary school children of the
neighborhood. Since all of them were very poor she
could earn only Rs 60/- per month. But this was a
scanty amount. 

She had overheard the panchayat members talking about
Self Help Groups, and then she found out from the
block level functionaries that women could help
themselves out with the help of Swanirbhar Dal (SHG).
She with the like-minded persons of her neighborhood
formed in to Dhariathal Mahila Self-Help Group. This
group is of mixed nature in the sense that there were
11 tribal women and 4 non - tribal women. Mandara was
a bit alarmed about the composition because of the
sensitive ethnic situation in Tripura. But fortunately
there was no such problem, may be because they all
held a common hope for a bright future. Mandara was
the only educated girl so she was chosen by all the
members to be their leader. Six of the members were
field labourers, three of them were selling puffed
rice and the others are not specially employed.

In the group, the members are saving Rs 20/- per
month. They meet on the 15th of every month. Mandara
used to maintain group account, passbook and related
matters. Her group members were of not much help as
they could only sign and read with great difficulty.
In the meetings at least 35%-40% were always absent.
But they were sending the savings through other
members. Saving of Rs 20/- was a difficult task to be
done for them. The common ways of savings are by
selling one or two eggs; sell vegetables from their
kitchen garden, by selling daily saved rice and
savings of 50 paisa whenever they do marketing for the
house. After they had completed 6 months the group
savings of Rs 1800/- received a boost with a revolving
fund of Rs 25,000/-.

After getting the revolving fund assistance fourteen
of the members have taken the loan from the group
savings. Each one of them borrowed Rs 1,500/- for
goatery. Only Sandhya an SC widow with 3 children did
not take any loan. She was not sure if she takes such
a big amount she might not be able to pay back. After
they all had taken loan Rs 5820/- was remaining in the
bank. Managing such a vast credit account was a
problem for Mandara. She used to feel that there was
not even a single woman in the group who could help
her. She had to explain the same issues again and
again. Some times she herself used to get confused.
The members continued with repayment but not in
uniform installments. This created problem in the
accounts maintenance for Mandara. In case they wanted
to know how much each one has saved Mandara could not
answer, as they are not maintaining individual
passbooks. Many of the group members used to bring
their near and dear ones with applications for loans.
Mandara had to explain them that the money is only for
the group members. In spite of all this the members
were glad that they are having a source of saving and
earning with this the credit. 

At this juncture Dhariathal Mahila Self Help Group was
invited to participate in the training programme on
Self-Help Groups at SIPARD, Agartala. Mandara has come
to the town (Agartala) for the first time in her life.
Her husband who got assistance to set up a carpentry
unit a year back told that he will take care of the
children and she may go. On reaching SIPARD she was so
relived of tension to see that many other SHG leaders
are getting registered at the reception. A sense of
confidence bloomed in her.

The training programme included Concept of SHG, need
and scope, prerequisites, identification of future
economic activities, capacity building and
bookkeeping. The discussions and lectures were held
with the help of transparencies, slides and power
point presentations. The group leaders were shown the
experiences and activities, problems and possible
solutions worked out by the SHGs in other parts of the
country. Videos were shown about the technical
training centers. Elaborate session on bookkeeping was
held till 7.30 pm on one-day. A half-day demonstration
by an expert in pot painting took teaching on the pot
painting and decoration from Andhra Pradesh. A
detailed course manual in the form of a Bengali book
was given to Mandara along with the other group
leaders. Transparencies on SHGs-formation and
sustenance were photocopied and given to them.

At the end of the training she was really delighted
with the material in her hand and the experience and
knowledge in her mind. She carried with her one of the
pots painted and the flowers she has made with ceramic
powder during the process of the pot painting
learning. As soon as she reached in the evening she
found her group members waiting for her, as she is the
only woman in her neighbou rhood to go to Agartala.
They have decided to meet the next day.

Mandara has become a trainer herself for her group
members. She has pasted all the slides in the
panchayat office where they hold their meetings. She
took the book and explained to all of them page by
page. Especially clauses on how to lend loans and loan
applications, maintenance of group records and
passbooks were clearly explained to them. It is made
clear that the monthly meeting is not for pooling of
savings only rather it should be the locus of group
discussions and activities in different directions.
During her deliberation with the group members there
were many questions and Mandara found them not so easy
to explain though she could do it. She also told them
that attendance in the groups is indispensable and
there will be a fine in future for being absent. She
told them how important it is that a group and
collective conscience so that they can do so many
things as a group. She had given them the examples she
had heard and seen during her training at SIPARD. All
of them had gone back home with a new enthusiasm and

Mandara with the help of the book given to her and the
help of her class VIII daughter has made the
book/ledger for loan giving and repayment. She has
made a loan application. She along with three other
members went to Panchayat samity and collected the
individual passbook for everyone. After they all had
taken loan Rs 5820/- was remaining in the bank They
all started repaying after two months. The women sold
the goat at Rs 500-600 each one after 4-6 months with
slight variation. Their profit margin from the sales
was 1000-2500 per a woman. In the meantime the kids
were born to some of the goats. This is a value
addition. Each one of them is paying Rs 150/- as
repayment of the loan. Mandara with the help of her
group members did a survey of the viability of plastic
mat making and pot making to take-up as a key

By the time the second meeting took place Mandara and
some of her group members were with new ideas and new
books. The members were taken aback when she had given
them individual passbook and began saying that "we
have trust in you Mandara". She told them that these
books have to be maintained for one's own clarity and
that will reduce burden on the group leader and
involve the group members. On that day during the half
daylong meeting they had decided about their future
course of action. They decided to go for plastic
basket making and mat making as they already have the
skill. The raw material is easily available cheaply
and market is readily there. This activity they have
decided to do it together the panchayat office
everyday at a fixed time. Regarding the pot decoration
they planned to make it themselves in small number of
1 or 2 per member and sell in the market during the
"Puja" (Dussera) time. The group has savings of around
8000/- in the bank after repayment. All of them had
taken loan. 

Now Mandara and the members themselves are
experiencing a gradual change in their group with the
adoption of few new rules, practices and decisions.
Absence in the meeting has tremendously reduced. Now
all the members know that there are prescribed forms
to be filled up for borrowing loans and they are aware
that production loans by the members is positive for
the group. Sandhya was interested to take the loan now
with this confidence. In the meetings they are
discussing each other's experiences and are planning
for better. In their village they wanted to be a model
group. They ensured that all the children of the group
members are immunized and going to school. Previously
they had the desire to put their children in the
school, but they could not afford it. But now they
have the backup support from the group.

The group had taken part in two village "melas"
borrowing Rs 2000 /- one mela and Rs 2400/- at another
mela. In the case of the first mela the profit was
Rs1500/- and in the case of the second it was Rs
2100/-. Each one had their share in the profit
including Sandhya. The loan amount was paid back
immediately after the mela. Together all of them had
made Achar (pickle), Chanachur (dry snacks) and Pitha
(sweet). Participation in the Melas was a morale boost
to the group. It has instilled a new sense of
togetherness, which was not there before, and they had
accelerated on their savings also. They were very glad
to see SIPARD "Didimani" (Sister) when she visited
them and eagerly told her that seeing their successful
experience two more self help groups have formed in
their village. There is now inter group communication
in the village. She is often invited by the new groups
to teach them various best practices and rules for the
Self-Help Group. She said,
" Taravu amader rakam pore Shakthishali hoibo"
(Like us even they will become strong later).

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