Abstract: “What ever I am today I owe it to my self help group” is how Kamal Jaivant Shinde, popularly called Shinde tai, starts her introduction. Her feelings are not misplaced since for a woman, working as a labourer in road laying works, to become a millionaire within a decade of joining a Self Help Group is not a small achievement.
Keywords: Self Help Groups (SHGs), women’s development, women’s empowerment, socio-economic upliftment, women’s solidarity, Gram Panchayat, poor women, women workers, working capital, village women, agricultural development
Her Family Background
Shinde tai was the third child, born to a very poor family. Her parents had a small land holding and depended on wage labour for their livelihood. She has two brothers and two sisters. She was educated only up to first standard since her parents could not afford her education and needed her earnings to manage the household expenditure. She started working at the tender age of eight. Since her parents did not have any money to perform her marriage, she was given away as a second wife to a wealthy man from a nearby village. Her husband had five daughters but aspired for a son and hence married her. As Shinde tai muses “the men who have large land holdings tend to think they can acquire more women. So they marry more women.”
She lived in a joint family with her husband’s four brothers. She had a son within a year of her marriage. The first wife ill treated her and she was forced to work in the fields like any other labourer. Her son was left behind at home when she worked in the fields. However, there was no security for her son since the first wife was intensely jealous. Her brother-in-law warned her one day, to leave the village with her son since her son’s life was in danger. Thus she left her husband’s village with no financial support when her son was three years old. “I stayed there for only 5 years. I was earning before my marriage by working as a labourer. Marriage only increased my vulnerability and woes since I had a son to look after as well.”
She returned to her parental home and left her son in their care while she worked hard as a labourer in road laying works. She was joined by her elder sister who shared a similar background as herself – married as a second wife and abandoned by her husband. She took whatever work came her way. She worked in agricultural fields or road works during the day and also in the houses of higher caste villagers in the night. She wore the old clothes handed over by these households. The earnings of the sisters helped the family to have some food security since one of the brothers was sick and the other brother was studying in school. “I worked like this for many years. I did not have much savings since whatever we earned were spent. I did not dare to think of my future; I felt as long as I could earn, I and my son would survive.”
The family shifted to Ranjangaon, a village on the Pune – Ahmadnagar high way since the road was being developed and the sisters could easily commute to the work place each day. Ranjangaon has a famous temple which attracts a lot of tourists. Moreover, the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) enabled industries to be set up near Ranjangaon. Since the workers in these factories were from outside the district, they needed simple and affordable meals. Shinde tai started supplying meals to about ten workers and diversified her income.
Maharashtra Rural Credit Project (MRCP)
This project was initiated in 1996, with funding support of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The project was implemented by NABARD with MAVIM as one of the partner implementing agency. MAVIM was entrusted with the tasks of forming self help groups of poor women, nurturing these groups and linking them to banks. The members were also to be imparted entrepreneurship training to enable them to set up enterprises.
MAVIM approached the Gram Panchayat of Ranjangaon to help identify the poor families who could form self help groups. The Sarpanch of Gram Panchayat called for a meeting and explained the working of a bachat gat (savings group). Shinde tai who attended the meeting asked about the benefits of joining the group. When it was explained that the members would get training in agriculture and other trades and get a bank loan to carry on the activity, Shinde tai agreed to become a member since it offered her an opportunity to save small amounts and also get trained in other enterprises. Other village women also joined and the Ridhi Sidhi bachat gat was formed in 1995-96. Though the women were asked to save Rs.20/- per month, they decided to save only Rs.10/- each month. The group carried out savings activity for six months. Inter loaning was commenced thereafter.
After six months, EDP training was arranged for the SHG women at Pune by the Maharashtra Centre for Entrepreneurship Development (MCED). Shinde tai went for the training of 12 days. Many members from the village did not show their keenness for the training since it involved stay in a far off place. As Shinde tai explains “I was so nervous on the first day. When they asked me to introduce myself, I shivered. The first three days I ate well and relaxed. I did not pay much attention to the training and did not absorb much of the teachings”. On the fourth day each participant was asked for a business idea they would like to pursue. Shinde tai mentioned that if she had a place she would like to run a hotel for the labourers of MIDC. The trainers included MCED officials who promised to visit her village and explore the possibilities of setting up the hotel. According to Shinde tai, “when my idea was accepted and I got an assurance, I started concentrating on the training.”
As promised, MAVIM and MCED officials spoke to the Gram Panchayat for allocating some land. Gram Panchayat officials directed them to speak to the Devasthanam1 to allocate some space near the temple since this would provide good business to the hotel. Accordingly, the Ridhi Sidhi SHG approached the Devasthanam officials for some space for running a hotel. The issue was considered by the officials in their Board meeting and it was agreed that a hall could be rented out within the temple premises for the SHG to run a hotel since it would benefit the tourists.
Starting the Enterprise
Though the business was started in the name of the SHG, it was clear from the beginning that the task of running the hotel or managing the business could not be shared by all members equally. Shinde tai and Nirmala Narayan Panchmukh took the lead in managing the hotel. They were the partners in the business. Since the SHG did not have much money and the bank loan would have taken time, the initial working capital was borrowed through friends and acquaintances. Some of the villagers offered her Rs. 5,000/- as a loan: however, she requested them to speak to a shopkeeper to give her provisions worth Rs.5,000/- on credit. Shri. Larde, another villager, loaned her Rs.500/- to buy vegetables. The temple trust gave her the large vessels needed for cooking the meals. The meals were served on leaf plates which could be disposed off easily. Shinde tai consulted the temple priest about the number of meals to be cooked per day, as he was aware of the number of devotees visiting the temple on festival days, holidays and other days.
Annapurna Bhojanalaya thus made its modest start with borrowed capital in 1995-96. From the first month it was clear that the profit margin was high in this business. The credit from the shop keeper and the villager could be returned in the first month itself and there was also a clear profit. However, the working condition was not easy. There were devotees and other tourists who were to be served food till midnight. The vessels had to be cleaned thereafter and thus the work continued well past midnight. The work commenced early in the morning at five a.m. since devotees started arriving for darshan and later for breakfast. Nirmala tai who had spent her earlier years in Mumbai could not do the hard labour. She opted for keeping the books of accounts. Many other SHG members could not stay up to odd hours due to family commitments. Nirmala tai observes “Society frowns on women working odd hours, serving food to strangers and bus drivers. Most families do not like the women to do this type of work”. Thus what started as a group venture had only four women working in the bhojanalaya after the initial two months.
From Partner to Sole Owner
Shinde tai spent most of her time at the business and soon realised that it was an unequal partnership, wherein she was putting in all hard labour and Nirmala tai was just managing the books. Nirmala tai also felt that she could not be expected to put in more work, especially since she had three small children to be managed. Shinde tai decided to take the issue to MAVIM to sort out the ownership issue and also the ways and means of buying out Nirmala tai’s interest in the business. MAVIM and MCED officials opined that since Nirmala did not invest any money in the business, she need not be paid any money. Nirmala tai also gracefully agreed to this and Shinde tai became the sole owner of the Bhojanalaya within a year of starting the business. Shinde tai says “Any business should be done alone and no such partnership should be made. Nirmala tai was a good honest woman and so she did not demand money or make a scene. Business should be done alone; this is my lesson from that experience”.
First Bank Loan
In the meanwhile she applied for a bank loan with the help of MAVIM and MCED official; “They taught me what to talk to the bank manager and how to present my case”. She got a loan of Rs. 25,000/- at 8 percent per annum out of which Rs.18, 000/- was for purchasing capital assets and Rs. 6000/- was the working capital. Shinde tai purchased a fridge, some vessels and racks for storing vessels with the loan. Though the loan term was for 5 years, she repaid the loan in 3 years. Since she belonged to a Below the Poverty Line (BPL) family, she was entitled to a subsidy of 33 percent. Shinde tai observes “Though I was aware that I was eligible for subsidy and it would be adjusted against the loan if the loan is not repaid, I paid back the full amount. Whatever we have agreed to do we should and should not go back on our words”. She did not take another bank loan on repayment since she felt that other poor members in her group also deserved loans.
Learning the Ropes of the Trade
The initial two years were the difficult years. Record keeping was a major issue. People ate, forgot to pay and Shinde tai did not know of this. When they sent money later by money order she realised about the non payment. But luckily she did not suffer any major losses. According to her she did not face any real loss in her business till date.
Though she was taught in the EDP training some basic principles of running a business, it took Shinde tai five years to put the training into practice. For example, she started to cut down on costs by purchasing certain raw materials such as wheat and paddy in bulk. While she procured wheat for the whole year, she purchased paddy every three months since it was prone to insect attacks. The bank staff also taught her good principles and precautions to be taken in business. She makes payments through cheques for most of the dealings. She visits Pune, the nearby market, to procure the spices and condiments in bulk. Shinde tai says “I learnt all these tricks of the trade from the shopkeeper in the village. I am copying him”.
She also learnt to price the meals according to what the market can bear and after studying her competitors. Her sole competitor is an Udipi restaurant which charges Rs.40/- per meal. Shinde tai realised that the devotees who come on a tour needed simple affordable meals. So she priced her meals at half the rate charged by the hotel. She provides lot of seasonal vegetables which are reasonably priced. She also positions her bhojanalaya as one that stands for quality and home like food. She does not charge for small children and takes half the charge for older children. She also gives free food to the driver and cleaner of the vehicles which bring the devotees.
She has also developed a good product mix. She sells tiffin, meals and also beverages. Since the Devasthanam has lodging facility some of the outstation tourists stay in the lodge and the bhojanalaya provides them food. This has proved to be a win – win situation; the occupancy rates of the lodge has increased with the availability of assured quality food. For the bhojanalya it is a captive business since the lodgers prefer to order food from Anna Purna Bhojanalaya — it being situated within the temple premises. Thus she has a chunk of her business coming from the devotees who visit the temple. She also has some regular customers who work in the nearby factories. Occasionally some marriages are performed in the temple due to which she gets large catering orders. Shinde tai observes “I provide the same food (at the cost of Rs.20/-) to all the customers on that day. I do not differentiate between marriage party and others”. MIDC developed its operations in Ranjangaon in the last ten years and nearly 25 companies have set up factories; however Shinde tai did not try for a larger client base for the regular tiffin service for labourers of these factories. She says “I have enough business from catering to the needs of devotees visiting the temple. Growing big and catering to diverse clients also have their problems. Nearly 30 other poor village women are now providing food to these labourers. I feel more women should get employment.”
As far as promotion and marketing of her business is concerned, Shinde tai interacted with the tour operators and tied up with them to provide food for the tourists. She invested in a mobile phone as early as 1999 and is in touch with tour operators regarding the number of tourists likely to visit the temple. She has also displayed a large name board in the front of the hall. So the devotees when they take the customary round around the sanctum sanctorum see the board and know about the hotel within the premises.
Profitability of the Enterprise
Shinde tai invested whatever profit she earned in the first two years, in the business. She bought the vessels needed for cooking and eating. She increased the number of stoves and upgraded the cooking medium to gas stoves. The assets of the enterprise comprising of vessels, racks, fridge and stoves are owned by her and are worth one lakh and fifty thousand rupees. The working capital needed for a month is about thirty five thousand rupees. This is generated from the business. The average sales in a month are two lakhs and fifty thousand rupees. Shinde tai earns on an average thirty thousand rupees each month as net profit. It works out to a profit margin of 12 percent. Shinde tai says “I keep mental accounts and no records. I have earned about Rs. 35 lakhs of profit since I started the enterprise. In a year I make a profit of three lakhs of rupees”.
Changes in the Enterprise
At present the hotel engages the services of six women including Shinde tai and most of them are from self help groups. Shinde tai is the overall manager. Kamal tai is the manager in her absence. The women are provided wages and food. Their medical expenses are paid for by Shinde tai. She also provides financial support to the young girls employed with her at the time of their marriage.
The average number of customers which was 150 per day has now risen to 400. In the peak season the number of persons using the bhojanalaya could be as high as 1000. Since she is running a food related business, she has taken a licence from Government Food Inspector.
Changes in the Asset Profile of the Entrepreneur
Shinde tai ploughed back profits into her business for the first two years. Later she built her personal assets. “The first asset I bought was 500 grams of gold for two and half lakhs of rupees. My long cherished desire was realised. The whole village knew that I had bought gold and I used to be awake most of the night wondering about the safety of the gold. Later on I opened a safe locker in the bank and I kept the jewellery there.” Thereafter she bought seven acres of agricultural land worth nine lakhs of rupees, in nearby village. She has given the land on lease for share croppers with the agreement that the profit will be equally shared. She has purchased a plot of land on the Pune- Ahmednagar highway and constructed a house there. She has let out the rooms, earning a monthly rent of Rs. 20,000/-. Since Ranjangaon has a large population of outsiders who are working in factories, there is a demand for rooms on rent. She has approached the bank for a housing loan for the construction of more rooms which she proposes to let out.
She has opened a savings and recurring deposits account with the post office and has deposits worth eight lakhs. She has opened a savings account with Bank of Maharashtra where the average deposit maintained is fifty thousand rupees. She also has four life insurance policies on which she pays a yearly premium of Rs.20, 000/-. At the behest of the bank manager she invested in the Initial Public Offer (IPO) of Bank of Maharashtra and she has shares worth fifty thousand rupees. Shinde tai says “I am often asked to attend meetings and felicitations. So I have invested in some good saris. I consider them as a necessary waste. I do not like to spend much money on myself”.
Changes in Status and Power
She is a cult figure in the Ranjangaon village especially among the women. Women acknowledge that she has come up the hard way. When opportunity came up for permanent employment in the temple, she informed the women and also spoke on their behalf to the temple trust. Shinde tai enabled employment in the temple, for poor women from self help groups. Nirmala tai, her erstwhile partner comments “I had to part way in the beginning because the work demands were high. The working hours stretched from 4.30 a.m. to 1 a.m. I had to raise three children. My children have come up well now. I do not have any regrets. Shinde tai owes her success to her hard work.” Shinde tai also helps in mobilising other poor women into self help groups. “I grew in life through the SHG. I want to help other women to join SHG and achieve more” She has formed three self help groups and attends their meeting regularly in order to nurture them.
She also takes up the case of poor women. Recently Government has passed an order that the path way near the temple should be free of any shops after a fire mishap in a famous temple in the state where hundreds of pilgrims lost their lives. Most of the shops are owned and managed by poor women. They have taken loans from their SHG and bank in order to set up the shops. The Gram panchayat and the temple trust in whose land the shops are located are not able to amicably settle the issue and relocate the shops in a place where the business will not be affected. Shinde tai led a delegation of the women to the Government Secretariat at Mumbai where the women met with the concerned Ministers. She not only led the delegation but also bore the entire expenditure of transport and food of all the women.
Recently a well known corporate house decided to provide free food for the devotees at Ranjangaon temple. Free food is provided between 11 to 3 in the after noon and 8 to 11 in the night. This has adversely affected the business of tiffin providers and small food shops near the temple since many of the labourers are eating the free food. A quick survey has revealed that nearly thirty women have been affected. Shinde tai is planning to mobilise the women and approach the corporate house to request for reduction in the number of hours in which free food would be served. Thus Shinde tai takes active interest in the welfare of other poor women.
She contested the last Panchayat elections and lost by 5 votes. It was her first tryst with politics. She nurtures ambitions of winning in the next round of election. Shinde tai observes “Nirmala tai has won the election from her ward and she is the lone crusader of women in the Panchayat. Had I won we would have partnered well and achieved more.” In acknowledgement of her achievements she has been felicitated by many organisations. She has received 12 awards from Ministers and high ranking officials. She has also received an award from the MLA of Rau, her husband’s village. She says “I consider the award from my husband’s village as the most important. It was very heartening to be felicitated in the same village which I had to abandon. I spoke in front of all the villagers and they could see my growth and achievements. My case study should be distributed to the villagers so that they don’t ill treat women”. She has very little use for credit. “When I started I had no money but now the bank is willing to give any amount I ask for” says Shinde tai. In 2005 she borrowed one lakh and fifty thousand rupees from the bank and she is repaying the loan very regularly. She has a special relationship with her parents. She has built a house for her parents. Shinde tai says “I am their son now. They do not consider me as a daughter any more”.
Her husband now is keen to have her back. He has promised to take care of her. Shinde tai says “I left him. I am better off now. There are demands on me to perform his fourth daughter’s marriage. I treat his daughters well and give them lot of gifts when they visit me. But I do not want to give in to unnecessary demands. My only worry is that my son should get my property in case of my death and it should not be grabbed by others”.
Shinde tai is very much interested in generating more employment for the locals — especially poor women. However, she is not very keen to expand the hotel business. She plans to procure some machines for food processing and set them up in the plot of land she has purchased on the highway. She has several business ideas.
For a poor illiterate woman to have risen from being a labourer to an employer is no mean achievement. Several factors have contributed for this success. While Shinde tai attributes the success to SHG, MAVIM and MRCP project, there are many other women who had equal opportunities under SHGs but who did not rise to such levels. While the SHG and MAVIM can be the catalysts, it is the enterprising nature of Shinde tai and her sheer hard work which has resulted in her present status today.
1 The temple devasthanam is a group of officials managing the affairs of the temple.
GIRIJA SRINIVASAN. Has worked for the National Bank for Agricultural Development and is currently an international consultant for the development of rural and micro finance institutions.