Chinnapillai:leading a Collective Struggle against Poverty

Abstract: This story of Chinnapillai’s emergence as a leader of the poor and oppressed people in Tamil Nadu, India, is a remarkable story of the struggles of a poor agricultural worker to rise above poverty and at the same time to lend a helping hand to others like herself. It is a story of immense courage, for Chinnapillai did not let grinding poverty or her illiteracy stop her from joining (and subsequently emerging as a leader) a silent revolution to transform the villages in rural India.

Keywords: SHGs movement, women’s empowerment, rural development, agricultural workers, kalanjiam movement, community banking programme, silent revolution, women’s development projects, economic deprivations

It is a story of a brave woman (who despite her own hardships and economic deprivations) sets a larger goal for herself and seeks to help others rise above poverty line even though it means that she can eat only plain rice gruel and cannot afford the luxury of eating vegetables or other nutritious foods. Chinnapillai was able to achieve these goals with the support of the DHAN (Development of Humane Action) Foundation that was established in 1997 by a man called M.P. Vasamali.2 Vasamali, a management graduate from the prestigious Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad) believed that it is important to give back to society what one has received from it. He therefore did not opt for a plush corporate job, but rather chose to join an organisation called PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development Action) to provide professional consultancy services to Non Government Organisations. He soon realised that this was not enough; it was more important to work whole-heartedly at the grassroots to initiate sustainable development. To implement his ideas about building people and institutions for development, he founded the DHAN Foundation in 1997. Aimed at poverty reduction and developing self-reliance in rural and urban communities, the main thrust of its activities is/ are carried out through two large-scale movements: The first is called the Kalanjiam Iyakkam (Self- Help Groups movement) and the second is the Vayalaga Iyakkam (tank fed agriculture).3

Initiated in 1998, Self Help Group movement is aimed at addressing the socio-economic needs of women. At its inception, 25 thousand women were part of the movement. Currently about 3.16 lakhs of women are part of it. The strategies of the movement are as follows:

  1. Grass-roots field workers organise 15-20 women into SHGs (Kalanjiams4) and encourage the members to save in banks; 2) the group is encouraged to meet their financial shortfalls through a process of internal borrowing; 3) once the groups attain stability, they are linked to the banks and enabled credit access; 4) simultaneously the fieldworkers provide opportunities to up-grade their skills, start new enterprises and link-up with the market; and 5) women are empowered to challenge the indigenous structures of oppression, which in the Indian context would refer to the prevailing caste, class and patriarchal oppression of women. As the SHGs/Kalanjiams attain stability, they are organised into clusters at the village-level and subsequently into a federation at the block-level. This process of organising the SHGs into clusters and federations help to create linkages with banks and apex financial institutions to meet the multiple credit needs of members, collaborate with other development agencies, demand/access their entitlements and implement civic programmes (such as, access to drinking water, community health and sanitation, and the education of children. The Kalanjiam movement has also developed the Kalanjiam Community Banking Programme, which develops localised financial institutions owned and controlled by women.5

The tank-fed agricultural programme was launched on 2nd October 2002 and is an attempt to conserve, develop and manage the numerous tank structures found in the Deccan plateau. These numerous structures, that at one time met the irrigation needs of small and marginal farmers in the Deccan, had over the years deteriorated due to lack of maintenance. The movement aims at involving local communities in this effort to conserve water and maintain the tanks. The success of this effort to meet the irrigation needs of lakhs of farmers has meant that the programme offers consultations in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for Conservation Council for Small-Scale Water.6

Working with a sense of moral responsibility, the DHAN Foundation seeks to build competency, culture and commitment to work for the people. Emphasising motivation, values and ethics among its employees, the organisation is de-centralised. The central office seeks to integrate and streamline the activities and focuses on human resource development, resource mobilisation, strategic planning, review and guidance.7

Chinnapillai’s Life Story

It is only against this background of the work undertaken by the DHAN Foundation that one is able to appreciate the ways in which a poor woman like Chinnapillai could develop her innate potential and assume a leadership role in the SHG movement. Chinapillai is today a 55-years-old woman, who (because of the economic hardships that she has encountered in her life) looks much older than her age. Dressed traditionally, with an ankle length sari and blouse, she wears some of the ethnic jewellery of the region. Her thick grey hair is neatly tied in a coil and on her ears are pair of heavy earrings that have succeeded in stretching her earlobes. She carries herself with dignity and states that her life is dedicated to the SHG (Kalanjiam) movement and it’s goals of empowering other women like herself.

Her story begins in the early years of India’s independence in a small village called Kallandari in Madurai District, which at that time was the largest district in Tamil Nadu. 8. Its capital Madurai, with its rich cultural heritage of 2500 years, is the third largest city in Tamil Nadu. It was at one time the capital city of Pandyas who built the famous Meenakshi temple.9 Chinnapillai’s parents were poor agricultural workers from the Pariya caste. Herbert Risley suggests that the Pariyas were perhaps a tribal community that gradually became absorbed into the lowest rung of the Hindu caste system. Treated as untouchables, the community faced all kinds of socio-economic deprivations.10 It is perhaps because of the grinding poverty and lack of access to medical care that Chinnapillai lost her mother at a very early age and the responsibility of looking after the house fell upon her older sister.

The extreme poverty of the family meant that Chinnapillai had to work from a very young age. She was sent to mind the cattle grasing in the meadows. Her day began at about 8 o’clock when she had to take the cattle to graze in the meadows. If the work was less she returned home early at about three o’clock, otherwise she returned only after it was dark. The work was not too hard at that time and when the cattle grazed, she and her friends would play and have their lunch under the shade of a tree. Her father, a sharecropper, cultivated leased land. According to the terms of the lease, he had to give 50 per cent of the yield to the landlord (Chettiar) and while he did not have to pay a rent, he had to bear the cost of cultivation (including weeding, planting the seedlings, transplanting and harvesting the crop). To save the cost of labour, her father and two older brothers toiled on the land. Chinnapillai too (as soon as she was old enough) helped during weeding, transplanting and harvesting of the crops. In addition, she helped in the cattle shed.

As was the custom in the community, Chinnapillai was married at the age of 11 to a close relative. He was the youngest in his family and like his father, mother and older brother worked as an agricultural labourer. Marriage did not mean a respite from work. Chinnapillai had to start working in the fields within 15 days of her marriage to pay back the debt incurred by her mother-in-law for the purchase of some land.

Chinnapillai and her husband worked for the landlord for two years to repay the debt. Her work was long and arduous. She had to clean the cattle shed, wash the cattle and feed them. Additionally, she had to work in the paddy fields and was also expected to do some household chores in the landlord’s house. Her husband had tilled the land. The loan that her mother-in-law had taken from the landlord was deducted from their salary. Chinnapillai and her husband were given rice by the landlord for their subsistence. After two years of work, Chinnapillai and her husband returned home. Her husband was able to lease some agricultural land and become a sharecropper. They had to pay the landlord a share of the crop yield. In order to meet the cultivation expenses, they had to borrow from the local moneylender at a very high rate of interest. For every 100 Rupees that they borrowed, they had to give the moneylender one bag of paddy and also return the principle amount in cash.

Meanwhile Chinnapillai became pregnant with her first child. Although weak and often sick she had to continue work during her pregnancy to survive. Her work was strenuous, as after working hours she had to collect firewood, water and also cook their meals. She had a difficult birth and she suffered from migraine head aches for a very long time after that. In those days they had no easy access to medical care and just took some herbal medicines that were readily available. Chinnapillai had five children and one miscarriage. Out of the five, two were boys and three girls. She lost her first daughter when she was only 22 days old and the second due to meningitis when the child was about 4 years old. Only one daughter survived till the age of 15, but she too died under tragic circumstances. Her daughter, while studying in Std. IX, was engaged to Chinnapillai’s brother’s son. Chinnapillai’s brother however kept delaying the marriage, saying that it should take place next year. Then one day, he just informed Chinnapillai that he was no longer interested in getting her daughter married to his son. This upset the girl that she committed suicide. While her daughter had studied up to Std. IX, her sons did not study beyond Std. III.

Her Experiences as a Labour Leader (Kotthanar)

To make ends meet, Chinnapillai had to work not only on the land that her husband had leased from the landlord, but also work as an agricultural labourer on other farms. It was in the course of her work that she was able to develop her innate capacity for leadership. She discovered that she had the ability to negotiate better wages for the labourers with the landlord. The labourers were usually very scared of talking to the landlord and would accept whatever wages he decided for them. Chinnapillai was however able to assert herself and therefore the labourers looked up to her as their leader (kotthanar). As a kotthanar, she was able to ask the landlord for accounts and also fix the wage rate. Although she was still very young, the landlords also began to see her as a leader and would approach her to get the labourers to work on their land. She would manage a group of 30-40 and an average earn of Rs. 250/- per day. This amount was divided equally between all the members. As she did not cheat the labourers of their due, she had their respect.

Chinnapillai’s family still lived on the edge of starvation. If they had work, they ate, if not they had to go hungry to bed. Her husband had leased land and worked very hard; but he was caught in the vicious cycle of rural indebtedness. For apart from paying the landlord his share of the crop yield, he had to borrow money from the moneylender to cultivate the land. The interest was extremely high: For every 1000 Rupees he borrowed, he had to return the principle amount with four bags of paddy after the harvest. Chinnapillai worked hard to help the family to survive. Her husband, however, did not appreciate her contribution. He resented her leadership position in the community and would get angry if his food was not served on time.

Chinnapillai was seeking ways to augment their family income and get out of the clutches of the moneylenders. She came in contact with a ladies’ club who told the village women that if they started saving money, the club would enable them to purchase houses. The villagers began to deposit money with the club, but they soon found it was a scam. For the club members disappeared with their savings of two to four years.

Emerging as the Leader of the SHG Movement

In this point of time, when the confidence of the people was low because of their experiences with the ladies’ club and they had no faith in the civic authorities to resolve their problems, that the DHAN Foundation entered the scene with the promise of the SHG movement. At the outset, the women were suspicious of the intentions of the DHAN Foundation. Chinnapillai, however, was convinced of the sincerity of the DHAN Foundation. She had to work hard for about 6 months to convince the other women that they should join the SHG movement. After much persuasion they agreed on the condition that Chinnapillai became their leader. Gradually, with the help of the DHAN Foundation, women learnt to maintain accounts and save in the banks. At the outset, the women were willing to save only Rs. 10/- per month; but in course of time, they have begun to save Rs. 20/- per month. Considering the SHG movement a programme for the poor, the group members do not induct the economically well off people into the group. The money saved by the SHGs is placed in the banks and against the amount each SHG has been able to get credit up to Rs. 2 to 3 lakhs. As the SHG leader, Chinnapillai learnt the value of minuting meetings, taking collective decisions, disbursing loans and keeping tract of the repayment schedules, etc. She does feel hampered by her illiteracy, but has nevertheless learnt not to sign any paper without fully understanding its content. In the course of her work, she has sought to promote the concept among other women and to help in forming new groups. She has also helped to organise exposure visits for the poor women to the police station, the government offices and banks so that they can overcome their fear of these institutions.

As the number of SHGs increased in region, the women began to feel the need for a cluster level organisation to strengthen the activities of the SHGs. These cluster level organisations soon developed into federations at the block level. Registered as an autonomous institution independent of the DHAN Foundation, these federations help up-scale the activities of the SHGs. It ensures a more easy access to credit and also better monitoring of the loan repayments. It also helps women to have a better access to government development programmes and ensure that civic amenities reach the villages. More importantly, the Federation seeks to improve the quality of life for the members. They are encouraged to participate in the cultural programmes called the Kalanjiam Jyoti, to build trust and bonding between the members and organise the Kalanjiam Iyakka Viza (a festival of the movement) enable women to meet and interact with women who are also part of the movement in other states.

Chinnapillai has whole heartedly involved herself in the activities of the movement and has travelled widely across the 7 states, where the movement is spread. She has been a secretary of the cluster association and also a core committee member of the Federation. In these capacities, she has sought to encourage women to form SHGs. Drawing from her own experience of poverty and indebtedness, she speaks to them about the need to save. She tells them:

“Most of you need loans to meet marriage, death or health expenses. Without savings you have to take loans from either the landlords or the local moneylenders. The landlord only gives loans to the labourers who work for him. If you are unable to repay the amount, you and your children have to work as bonded labourers till the loan amount is cleared. The moneylenders want collaterals. You have to pledge your gold ornaments and vessels to them. The rate of interest is very high and if you are not able to pay 10 Paisa for every Rupee you borrow, you have to lose your possessions. The debt trap places you in a very vulnerable position. By joining the SHG movement, you are able to save and access bank loans at a reasonable rate of interest.”

The movement also believes that social responsibilities should be inculcated in its members and therefore encourages them to contribute Rs. 11/- per year to be spent on others more unfortunate than themselves. It also makes use of other traditional metaphors of community service: For once a year, the SHG women take out a procession of the Kalanjiam and encourage the people to contribute in cash or kind for the sake of service to the community.

Under her leadership, they formed 30 kalanjiam. In the Mathur area, Aayamma Nallaalu who joined later and she worked for this. They went to Tirupathi, Natham, Kovilpatti, and other places to form kalanjiams. We did not stay in the local area; we met the villagers and return home at night.

When she became a cluster association secretary, the work was more difficult. She had to visit other kalanjiams and support their functioning. She also has to arrange the loans from the bank to be handed over to the kalanjiam in the village and in front of the members.

They have ensured that the kalanjiam members have received loans to buy bullock carts, goats and cows. If the kalanjiam member does not return the loan, they inform the local leader. If this does not work, they personally visit the person.

Once a kalanjiam member took a loan of Rs. 8000/- to buy a bullock cart, she then sold it to someone else without informing the kalanjiam or the cluster association. When she was informed of it she and her friend Aayamma Nallalu went to the village and conducted the meeting. The woman promised to pay back the amount in instalment. They were also able to trace the bullock cart and retrieve it. They had to make the members understand that the loan amount was their, people could not disburse the stuff without informing the kalanjiam. In another intake a member took a kalanjiam loan and bout about without informing the kalanjiam she took it to the market to sell it. Others informed her of it, she immediately went to the market and caught to woman before she sold the goat. The reason why she was selling the goat was because she needed money for her husband’s medical treatment. Chinnapillai told her that she could take additional loan from the kalanjiam and did not need to dispose the goat.

The Vattaram, (Vaigai Vattar Kalanjiam—VVK) as the number of kalanjiams increased, the clusters were organised into a federation. The Vattaram leaders are elected directly from among the ten members of the cluster association. She became the director of the Vattaram. The Vattaram also gives loans to the Kalanjiam members for investments not for marriage and such other functions. It evaluates each member’s financial position before giving a loan. If the person needs a sum of Rs. 500/- she has to fill an application and give it to the vattaram. The vattarm gets money from the bank to give the loans. The chairperson and secretary of the Vattaram meet the bank manager and arrange the loans. The Dhan foundation people are no longer involved in this activity. They allow us to work independently. The bank officials come to the Vattaram and inspect all documents in detail. They ask many question and we answer them. I worked as a director and secretary of the cluster. Later they introduced a new rule that a person should handle only one post at a time. I handed over the cluster responsibility to someone else. From then on I have done only the Vattaram work. It was difficult to handle the responsibilities of the vattaram and the cluster simultaneously. In the Vattaram the work is much more. They have to visit 15 clusters and monitor the Kalanjiam there. There are many more kalanjiam to cofer. We got respect as we negotiate with the bank. Sometimes they ask how an illiterate woman could do all this work and I feel bad about it. At the Vattaram level, she had to form new groups and do social work like getting street lights water pumps and also ensure the inspection of financial accounts of the Kalanjiam.

Once it so happened that after she took up the Vattaram position, she could not attend to the cluster association. The manger of the Nidhi was responsible for the depositing of account. The bank officers approached her for the pass book. She asked the nidhi manager to give the pass book to the bank. She however prevaricated. The bank account showed that the money had not been deposited. Immediately Vasantha Pathumuthu and her self went to the office and searched the ledger. They found that the manager had not deposited money for a few months and she had also got Rs. 250/- extra from a kalanjiam. She had not deposited the interest amount of Rs. 5 per hundred rupees that they change. She was asked to pay back the money, she paid Rs. 2000/- but has not repaid the balance. She had to be dismissed.

DHAN foundation gives them new ideas and programmes. They train the leaders and the leaders in turn explain matters to the members. At the Vattaram we discussed the drawbacks of the proposed ideas, plans whether the plan was clearly worked out or not. As the director I therefore often visit the Vattaram. A person from DHAN, the cluster level leaders and directors meet to discuss the idea and think how to implement it. Sometimes they argue and say that some ideas may not be suitable.

Struggle to get Fishing Rights from the Village Tank

While she was the leader of the kalanjiam, there was a fish tank that was regularly contracted out by the Nattamayi, the village council. The tank is controlled by the government. It was leased to rich people. Sometimes the same party was awarded the contract on a continous bases. The fish tank and the Kovikall Maad (bull donated to the temple) are common property. The Nattamayi sells the maad the money obtained from its sale and from leasing out the fish tank is used to conduct the village temple festival. Every time the water level in the tank went down, we were allowed to take fish from the tank for free. Of course we are allowed to take waste fish. Women from the lower castes are not represented in the Nattamayi. They did not know what was the amount that the lease paid by the Nattamayi for the fish.

The Nattamayi had given a two year contract on the fish tank to another person from their village. One day they met the executive director of DHAN and he asked them to take the tank on lease. She talked to the Nattamayi members and asked them why they would not give the fish tank to the kalanjiam members. They asked me if we were willing to give one lakh rupees for the fish tank. The man who had taken the contract had paid a large sum for the tank. He had already put a lot of fish in the tank. We were willing to hand over the tank for double what he had paid to the nattamayi. Just round the time the government took over the tank and asked for fresh applications for the contract.

Those who had put the fish into the tank were not willing to let the kalanjiam women to apply for the contract. They went to the collector’s office and made many applications, but the other party had bribed the person. She talked the matter over with the kalanjiam members and with the help of Sumanthi a member of DHAN. She told the kalanjiam women that the other party did not want the kalanjiams to apply but would share the profits with them. Anjugam said that they would not give the profits to the kalanjiam. The kalanjiam group paid Rs. 25/- and submitted an application for the fish tank. The villagers laughed at them. The district collector gave them the contract and informed the man who held the earlier contract that the women would reimburse him for the expenses they had incurred. He did not agree and filed a case in court against the DHAN people and three people from the Kalanjiam. As he could not do anything he arranged for a kattapanchayat at the tashil office. The members of the kattapanchayat included the tashildar, the RDO, the police inspector. The RDO said that the DHAN foundation people could not attend the kattapanchayat. The kattapanchayat continued for 5 days. They finally reached the agreement that for one year he would reap the benefits of the fishing rights but the fish would be sold in the name of the kalanjiam. To avoid cancellation of the contract. The forty families who depended on this fish tank lived in poverty. They did not have much land. They worked on the land of the higher castes. They had a close relationship with the upper castes but after the incident, their relationship soured. Even now two of the upper caste families do not call her for work.

At about the time her daughter committed suicide. There was an understanding that her daughter would marry her nephew. Her brother however broke the engagement after putting off the marriage for a year. This upset her daughter and she killed herself. The upper caste families called the police to inquire into the death, saying that the girl had been beaten to death. None of the family members from the upper castes visited her to sympathise with her. The Police Inspector had known Chinnapillai when he enquired into the suicide he was able to understand Chinnapillai’s position.

The kalanjiam has held the contract for the fish tank for more than four years. The profits are shared between the forty kalanjiam members in the village. The money is placed in savings. The money is rotated and used as loans. Later they took the contract of another fish tank in Kutur. The village office was in Thirumangalam. They met the officials there and got the contract. Here they only paid the government for the contract and they did not pay extra to the nattamayi. The nattamayi said that as their wives are members of the kalanjiam they are not separate from it.

After her daughter’s death, she was tired and stopped being a kottanar. Some of the landlords still approach her to bring the labourers. She is tired and goes only occasionally for her work at the Vattaram also does not allow her to work regularly. She there fore has had to cut down on food costs. She only eats rice. If there is a problem in the kalanjiam she has to attend to it. There is not fixed hours for this. She also loses money (50 to 100 rupees). And she does not earn on those days. On the days she works she would make about 20 bags of paddy for the year. She tires to finish her work so that she will not waste time.

The kalanjiam what began on a small scale has reached the level of Vattaram. Through the kalanjiam movement, they have been able to improve the quality of life in the village. She has also received loans to buy cow. She had repaid Rs. 6400/- and given the cow to her son. She has also taken an additional loan of Rs. 1500/- out of which she has paid 300. She has a saving of Rs.3500/-. She would like the kalanjiam to grow more as it would prevent people from borrowing from the money lenders. The Vattaram could become an endowment to sponsor children’s education. They have got Rs.25 lakhs from the Tata trust and Rs. 50,000/- from the Canara Bank and also from NABARD. Her current aspiration is to finish the building for the vattaram. The three of us Aayamma Vasi and I take responsibility for it. They plan to get the money from the kalanjiams by identifying the kalanjiams with surplus money. This money is not refundable. She now wants the village people to be happy. She preaches to them and the kalanjiam loans prevent them from borrowing from outside.

She lives with her husband. She buys everything for him. He works as labourer on the field he has leased. He needs bed and food. He does not take responsibility for the house. He gets angry with her if she does not cook food on time. Recently he had to undergo a stomach operation. He now only looks after the cows.

Her sons are married and live separately. Their wives were separated as they did not like the criticism from their father in laws. Each son has three children so they cannot support us. We have to earn to eat food. She used to visit her father’s home while he was alive. After his death she would visit her sister and brothers. Now her brother is no more. If there is any function, they go to their brother’s house. Her sister’s husband is also an agricultural labourer. She has lost three of her sons she has only one son.

She does not want to stand for the panchayat election as the rules of the kalanjiam says that the person should not become part of any political party. Once a member stood for election but took the support of the political party and hence had to cease being a kalanjiam member.

The kalanjiam community banking programme on micro insurance provides new ways of addressing the risks and vulnerabilities of poor through mutual solutions.

It has worked with agencies such as Rabobank foundation, Interpolis and MIAN to further work in this area. This in turn led to the launching of the Asian Knowledge Centre for Mutual insurance (ASKMI) to disseminate the best practices and development of a knowledge base on this theme in the Asian context.

The Kalanjiam Banking programme gave birth to the Kalanjiam Foundation in 2001. The Kalanjiam Foundation now has a separate identity.

Policy Advocacy Efforts

Kalanjiam Community Banking Program started in 1990, enabling model of microfinance with a sense of ownership. The model believes in groups, clusters and federations.

Reached out to 316958 poor families, in 6294 villages, in 31 districts of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan and Union Territory of Pondicherry.

The aim of the programme for the Tsunami affected families is microfinance, with housing civic and business services right from the inception of the work.

More than 36 banks and 208 branches are involved in the SHG Bank Linkage with the Kalanjiams taking the cumulative amount to 13523 lakhs.

11 federations entered into MOUs with SIDBI and links with the Corporation Bank, State Bank, Bank of Mysore and Vijaya Bank.


1 This research was undertaken with funds from the Indian Merchant’s Chamber (ladies Wing in 2007. A brief version of this story was published in Grass_Root Divas: Management Gurus of Rural India by IMC under the title She Stands Tall.

2 The following are the trustees of the organisation: 1) Mr. Girish G. Sohani, a founder of a leading rural development organisation called Bharathiya Agro Industries Foundation (BAIF); 2) Mr. R.D. Thulasiraj, an executive of the Arvind Eye Camp; 3) Mr. S.R. Sankaran a retired civil servant; 4) Mr. Sanjay Dasgupta, civil servant and author of literature on scientific development; 5) Mr. B.T. Bangera a management professional and currently the chief executive of an Indo-Japanese venture in Madurai;

    1. Mrs. K. Noorjehan, a senior civil servant in the postal service; and
    2. Mrs. Shanthi Jaganath serving as advisor to the European community in New Delhi.

3 Currently the activities of the DHAN Foundation is spread over 7 states of India. These are Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Pondicherry, Madya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, and Chattisgarh. Apart from organising women into self-help groups (Kalanjiams) to enable them to collectively struggle for the socio-economic and political empowerment, it has sought to revive tank fed agriculture by identifying the disused water tanks in the villages and developing them. It also seeks to promote professional capacities for development work through the TATA DHAN Academy and bridge the digital divide between the computer literate and illiterate by introducing information and communication technology for the poor. It also nurtures grassroots democracy by strengthening the local self government institutions (Panchayats). Starting with about 60 development workers in 1997 the DHAN Foundation today has over 650 professional working for the organisation. With different disciplinary backgrounds ranging from management to social sciences and social work, the DHAN Foundation seeks to provide all round development in the country.

4 The word kalanjiam means a pot. It refers to the traditional pot in each home to store grains or money.

5 The Annual Report of the DHAN Foundation (March 12, 2006) indicates that the 4, 67,550 families benefit from the programme. There are about 26133 SHGs, 1346 clusters and 72 federations. This suggests that the movement covers 6961 villages across 35 districts 35. 349 professional, 302 programme staff, and 2529 grassroots workers support the programme.

6 The three other important initiatives of the DHAN Foundation include:

1) Promoting and strengthening of village level Panchayats as an effective institute to promote people’s participation and reduce dependence on the state; 2) management training in development through the TATA DHAN Academy. This academy in partnership with the Dhorabji Tata Trust offers an 18 months programme on development management along with other short-term courses for NGOs, academics, researchers and government agencies; and 3) Promoting Information Technology for the poor through computer education, e-mail and e-post to access agricultural market intelligence.

7 Ford Foundation, New Delhi, NOVIB, The Netherlands and Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Mumbai are the institutional partners of the DHAN Foundation. Additionally it works with the District Rural Development Agencies of the districts in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Pondicherry, CAPART in New Delhi, Ministry of Rural Development, New Delhi, UNDP, New Delhi, HDFC Hudco NABARD and SIDBI as well as commercial banks, such as Canara Bank, ICICI ,Panday Grama Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, Union Bank of India and many others.

8 For the sake of administrative convenience, the district was bifurcated in 1984 into the districts of Madurai and Dindugal and again divded in 1997 into Theni district and Madurai district. The languages spoken in Madurai include Tamil, Saurashtra, Telugu and Urdu. The 2001 census records indicate that the population of the district is about 922913; out of which, 51 per cent are male and 49 per cent female. The overall literacy in the district is better than the all-India figures.

9 With a history going back to the Sangam period, Madurai is one of the oldest cities in India. Madurai was the epicentre of the Sangam period when Tamil literature flourished. The entire city is built around the Meenakshi Sundareshwar temple.The temple is surrounded with concentric rectangular streets to symbolise the structure of the cosmos. Known for its splendour, the city was visited by many foreign travellers (including Megasthenese) as early as the 3rd century BC.

10 Herbert Risley. The People of India. (Second Edition Edited by William Crooke 1915 Reprint Munshiram Manhorlal Publishers. 1991. Pp115, 126. He writes, the Pariyahs/Pariyan are treated as polluting. They cannot enter the upper class areas and are compelled to leave the road if they see a Brahmin.


VEENA POONACHA. Is currently the Professor and Director of the Research Centre for Women’s Studies, Hon. Director of the Centre for Rural Development and Project Director, AWA, Archives for Women at the SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai.

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Is currently the Professor and Director of the Research Centre for Women’s Studies, Hon. Director of the Centre for Rural Development and Project Director, AWA, Archives for Women at the SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai.

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