Self-Help Groups need to help themselves for survival

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Raipur (Chhattisgarh),Jan.18 (ANI): Self Help Groups or, the SHGs have gathered momentum in the last decade or so while serving as a forum for women usually in the rural context to meet, discuss common problems, and to pool in resources for common initiatives.

Often self-motivated, the SHGs are also guided by grass-root organizations, civil society groups and NGOs working for the benefit of the rural communities.

It may be pertinent to dwell on the nature of these SHGs to know just how they meet the needs of the village women.

Typically, 10 to 12 women come together to form a collective whose goals, purpose, and way of functioning is defined by these women themselves. The basis is often to augment their collective economic strength, which most often takes the form of small savings leading to a bank account that elected office bearers can operate.

This pooling in of small savings in a bank naturally leads each individual member to have access to a larger amount of money than left to their own devices.

This device is most often than not the village money-lender. And, herein lies the singular contribution of SHGs, of freeing ordinary village women from the clutches of money-lender; known for extorting high rates of interest from the uneducated or helpless.

In emergency, the SHG fund could be made available for any of the members to be paid back in reasonable terms. This then is a very attractive financial option for women who, otherwise, have no other recourse than to be exploited and the raison d'etre for the existence of SHGs. But the benefit could go much beyond.

These groups often double up as starting points of small enterprises borne based in the village context.

Small groups of women by working out of their homes, make pickles, papads or indulge in stationary binding, tailoring, etc. The list can be endless. It could lead to more ambitious projects and businesses requiring a range of skills in design, production and marketing.

In brief, SHGs facilitate the coming together of women as economic entrepreneurs to ensure an additional income. And, in the process, it creates a heightened sense of awareness and confidence in their role as contributing to the family income and ultimately to the village economy.

There is another dimension at work, which is not solely economic but significant, that works to bond these women together in camaraderie and a unity, which cuts across the divisiveness that exists within rural communities.

Caste, income levels, which can be brittle in the rural scenario, soften within the SHG members who rally together to support the weakest or needy amongst them. The sense of self-reliance and security is then equally a raison d'etre for these groups to exist.

However what is disturbing is that not withstanding the immense benefits which accrue to the members of the SHGs and to the community at large, today they are on the brink.

A large number of such self-help groups are designed and created overnight. This is anathema to the very idea of an SHG which is a natural and 'democratic' process of coming together in a spirit of sharing and upliftment

In a hurry to form groups, often, the Anganwadi workers themselves enroll themselves as SHG member, making a mockery of the institution, of themselves and the entire chain of administrative machinery, which has led to this in the first place. But despite this mess still exists a ray of hope, as some surviving SHGs, retaining their core character, are continuing to do stellar work.

Many of them are involved in preparation of mid-day meals for school children or running control-rate (ration-shops) at the local level.

Perhaps, a leaf can be taken out of these groups, an inspiration from the women who are a testimony to the spirit behind these SHGs. According to Charkha features, they are contributing to the village economy and society at large. By Anita Pandey(ANI)

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