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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Women borrowers in Punjab close ranks to demand loan waiver from micro-finance cos

On Tuesday, the Morcha organised another statewide protest at villages and even in some urban areas with women leading protest marches to push for their demands.

Written by Raakhi Jagga | Ludhiana | Updated: September 16, 2020 12:27:03 pm
punjab, punjab self help groups, punjab women, punjab women loans, punjab news, punjab corona news, indian expressThe Morcha organised a statewide agitation on Tuesday, with women leading protest marches to push for their demands. (Express Photo)

Krishna Kaur, in her 40s, had taken loan from three micro-finance companies, which she was returning in a time-bound manner. But as the pandemic hit her finances, she hasn’t been able to pay a penny of Rs 90,000 she still owes to these companies.

Like her, there are many women across the state that have now joined a statewide protest movement to seek relief from such finance companies. In fact, it was at Krishna Kaur’s home in Mansa district on May 13 that a meeting was held under the banner of Mazdoor Mukti Morcha to raise the issue. Since then hundreds of protest marches and rallies have been held to get micro-finance companies to go soft on women who are unable to pay back their pending loans.

On Tuesday, the Morcha organised another statewide protest at villages and even in some urban areas with women leading protest marches to push for their demands.

In these four months, their demand has moved from moratorium on instalments to complete waiver of loans.

punjab, punjab self help groups, punjab women, punjab women loans, punjab news, punjab corona news, indian express During the protest in Mansa on Tuesday. (Express Photo)

Kulwinder Kaur, is women leader from Retgarh village in Bhawanigarh, district Sangrur, said,” I started taking loans 5-6 years back. I kept paying my instalments regularly. As of now, I have 2 lakh outstanding loan on me. My husband is a daily wager and children study, so I have no source of income to pay back.”

Rajinder Kaur, from Saidpura village of Fatehgarh Sahib, said,”My outstanding loan is 40,000. I had started my boutique and now, I have given up that shop as well and I am sitting at home as there is no work related to boutique these days.”

Paramjeet Kaur of Bazigar Basti in Nabha, has an outstanding loan of Rs 81,000, while Nikki Devi has to pay back nearly Rs 75,000 to micro finance companies. Both are part of the protests demanding complete waiver.

Bhagwant Singh Samao, president of Mazdoor Mukti Morcha, Punjab said,’’Microfinance companies had come into existence during the UPA government to help self-help groups of women so as to make them independent. However, now these companies have changed their way of working, they are giving loans ranging from Rs 25,000-50,000 to women in rural as well as urban areas on a heavy rate of interest. For Rs 25,000 loan, they deduct Rs 1,500 as file charges, while for Rs 35,000 loan, Rs 2,000 are deducted as file charges. Later, they have to return Rs 64,000 against a loan of Rs35,000 in 2 years time. Rs 36,000 has to be returned against 25,000 in 18 months. These are heavy rates of interest but normally poor women take these small loans in order to buy cattle or to start a small business of boutique, general store/ grocery items etc in order to make their living. Hence, they get trapped in this cycle of loans and never come out as interest is heavy and they are not able to pay back in time.”

Over 16 micro-finance companies are working in Punjab and at times women take loans from different firms.

Kulwinder said, “Somehow, women were paying back instalments, but after lockdown, their small businesses have come to a halt and they are unable to pay back. But finance companies’ employees come at our houses and threaten us. Now, that our union has become strong in Punjab, we have started turning them away. Most of the time, we don’t even allow them to enter our villages. Already RBI had told that a person can choose not to pay instalments till August end and now we have heard that it will be extended even further.”

Samao said,”In the Maur constituency in Bathinda district alone, loans to the tune of Rs 35 crore are going on. So image the amount statewide. Each village has a membership of 20-30 women who are unable to pay back loans, while in few other villages the union members are more than 100 in number. Loans have been taken by women in rural as well as urban areas, but voices are more vocal from rural areas. They have organised 5-6 mega rallies in Sangrur, Bathinda, Mansa, Patiala area in the past where gathering of women was more than 10,000 at each time.”

* Self-help groups of women so as to make them independent. However, now these companies have changed their way of working, they are giving loans ranging from Rs 25,000-50,000 to women in rural as well as urban areas on a heavy rate of interest. For Rs 25,000 loan, they deduct Rs 1,500 as file charges, while for Rs 35,000 loan, Rs 2,000 are deducted as file charges. Later, they have to return Rs 64,000 against a loan of Rs35,000 in 2 years time. Rs 36,000 has to be returned against 25,000 in 18 months. These are heavy rates of interest but normally poor women take these small loans in order to buy cattle or to start a small business of boutique, general store/ grocery items etc in order to make their living. Hence, they get trapped in this cycle of loans and never come out as interest is heavy and they are not able to pay back in time.”

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