Since 1993, Chaitanya, an institution that promotes self-help group federations of women and facilitates financial inclusion in rural Maharashtra,has been involved in imparting knowledge on financial discipline to women from rural Maharashtra. Chaitanya believes that women’s prowess over their financial resources can go a long way in ensuring a gender just and equitable society. The power of savings that drive Chaitanya has enabled it to reach out to more than 1 lakh women in the state. The cash flow study of 465 farmers in suicide affected areas in Vidarbha brought out the need to educate rural women on financial literacy as it is a vital part to engage the women in financial inclusion. Financial literacy means the ability to understand how money works in the world: how someone manages to earn or make it, how that person manages it, how he/she invests it (turn it into more). In 2011, Chaitanya launched ‘Lakshya Jankar’ program with the aim to develop community resource persons at village level with the knowledge of financial management. The program began with identification of women from villages and training them on the importance of savings, safe investments and long term planning. In order to facilitate better understanding of the concepts, Chaitanya developed Artha Shastra, a game that helps the players discover different options to cope with risks and uncertainties faced by rural farmers in India. Today, Chaitanya has 75 Lakshya Jankars, community resource persons that continue to help themselves and their community to manage their finances and lead a road to development. Here is what a few of them have to say.
Ranjana, a 45-year-old who has been in an SHG for a year and three months says, “Apne Saksham nahi, samooh ki sakhsham chahti hoon main” I am not satisfied with my own progress, I want to pass on the knowledge to other women. Prateeksha remarks with pride that her husband encourages her to work as Jankar. Ignorant before she joined an SHG, today at the age of 27 and with an education of up to 9th grade, she manages three sources of income. She works in her own farms, helps her father in law with vegetable business and works as a field staff for the SHGs in her own gram panchayat. “Respect in the community for my work is important for me. Knowledge is of utmost value.” Vanita is an anganwadi sevika, who with the help of loans from SHG, took up cattle rearing and single handedly repaid her father in law’s loan of 1.5 lakhs to avoid losing their land. She has invested Rs. 75000 in pomegranate farming and expects return of Rs. 2 lakhs in another year which she intends to keep aside for the wedding expenses of her 18-year-old daughter. “I am used to living on low expenses, so are my kids. 80% of my wages from my first job was kept aside as savings to repay loan. I saved my land with the savings and people trust me for that. Now I help people start their own businesses.” She is now constructing a house with loans from ICICI bank linkage and money from Indira Awaaz yojana. Sapna is one of the youngest among the Jankars and a newbie to SHG strives to save more after attending the financial literacy training programs. Sangeetha is a 34-year-old widow with a 13-year-old daughter from Junnar taluka. The lessons that life has taught her didn’t put her down but rather encouraged her to take control of her destiny. She has four sources of income and has varied investments at five places. She did not settle to live on her husband's pension alone. She is an Asha worker, sews blouses at night time and does labor work for 3 days a week. When asked why she started saving, she recounts the difficult times of her life with a smile, “My in-laws banished me after my husband’s death. I was in need of Rs. 500. I had no job, no money saved and had a daughter to take care of. My brother helped me out but from that moment in life, I realized the value of savings.” She keeps asides savings of Rs. 6700 in a month in varied options like SHG, savings bank account in two banks, Rs. 50 per day in a credit society and in chit funds. She is covered by a 20-year life insurance scheme with a weekly premium of Rs. 560. She has attended legal, health and financial literacy Jankar trainings. “I wish to pursue higher secondary education but am apprehensive if my daughter’s education will get affected”. She is planning to build a house in the near future. After her daughter’s education and wedding, she hopes to enjoy her old age with the rest of the savings.
With more than 70% of Indians being financially illiterate, The Ministry of Finance states that improving financial literacy is way forward for financial inclusion. Yet some say that ‘financial literacy’ is merely an excuse for the incompetency of the finance system of our country. Our system might be incompetent, but Chaitanya and its lakshya jankars prove that small efforts in improving financial literacy is helping more than a few lives. When educated professionals who earn fat salary cheques can employ personal financial advisors to manage their investments, why can’t Sangeetha with her meagre income learn financial management to lead a better life?