Successful outcome of the first aid initiative for the victims of the microcredit institutions in India
I organised the aid initiative prompted by a programme by “Weltspiegel” on the German television channel ARD on 30th January 2011 about the victims of the microcredit industry in Andhra Pradesh in India.
Dear friends, together we have achieved something fantastic!
The aid initiative in Andhra Pradesh in India got off to a good start. Up to the middle of January donations were being paid into my account. I was able to account for it all, and the total including my share came to 4,435 €! Much much more than I had expected. Your feedback was fantastic and I received many emails expressing support and real concern for the issue.
I took my flight to India at the end of December. During most of January I was waiting for emails from the ARD correspondent, looking for someone to accompany me on my upcoming trip, comparing exchange rates, and learning about the whole subject from well-informed Indians. On 31st January I eventually set off for Warangal, alone and with a case full of money. ARD India had put me in contact with Professor K. Venkatanarayana, from the Department of Economics at the Kakatiya University, Warangal. He lives on-site with his wife and has already brought film teams and journalists together with those affected. With typical Indian hospitality, he and his wife welcomed me with open arms, and I gladly accepted their offer to stay in their home.
After the long journey and a short break we got straight to work. The various publications and newspaper articles about him indicated to me that I had been put in touch with the right man. He campaigns for the rights of the poor, fights against corruption and for the victims of the microfinance businesses. He’s currently committed to the cause of child labour.
In no time we had built a great basis of trust. Once I had explained my plans, he was able to convince me that it was no longer necessary for the loans to be repaid. Microfinancing had recently turned into a political hot potato. Countless television teams from around the world had been on the scene and had politically achieved, by law(!), that the MFI companies were no longer allowed to apply pressure on the people. There are no more debt collectors, no demand notices, nothing. That means they have had no choice but to write off the money.
This was exactly our project’s “fly in the ointment” – that we would have to throw more money at the credit institutions. It was evident to me and also a point of criticism of some of the donors.
I was now confident that the money could be given directly to those concerned. The faculty of economics at the Kakatiya University had already done some fantastic groundwork. They had prepared lists detailing the affected families and their circumstances with contact details, etc. We chose eight families whose children had been left and suicides had taken place. We visited these families in the villages or received them at the Professor’s house. We were on the go continuously from early morning to late in the evening.
During the course of this work I was introduced to the Director of the University and a number of professors, and presented with an honorary bowl and a shawl. In addition I should/must/may make a speech to the faculty of economics students.
The money and the plan
Professor Venkatanarayana had devised the following plan, which we carried out exactly as follows: I was set up as the account holder (which, under normal circumstances as a foreigner in India isn’t so easy) with a reputable bank – the DENA Bank in Warangal. The money, in the amount of 264,850 rupees was paid into this account. We had previously counted it together with the bank manager.
This sum was put away for five years. The eight chosen families each received a cheque for 33,099 rupees. In addition they each received a sum of 2,000 and 2,500 rupees in cash and will earn interest in amount of 1,500 rupees every six months. After five years they are then free to do what they want with the money. The presentation was made at a ceremony at the university one day before my departure – more about that later.
The families and their fates
I will never forget meeting those affected. I’ve already met similar people in other parts of India. Poor, very simple, genuine, straightforward, they have nothing, they work all day for a few rupees and had been conned into taking out a loan. Their sense of duty and despair in not being able to pay back the loan then drove them to their deaths.
The two families that Weltspiegel had reported on were amongst the first that we visited. Rajitha’s two sons looked distraught and very sad. I didn’t see her myself. She was at work in a bigger city.
Her father and brother were taking care of the two boys.
In two families, both parents had taken their lives at the same time. Now just the grandmothers were there for the children. In one case the grandmother (photo below) had no longer felt able to cope with the task. Her husband had also died a few months earlier. One of the grandsons is now living with his aunt and his younger brother in a completely different city in an orphanage. The mother had doused herself with kerosene, the father had heard the screams, tried to put out the fire and was also burned to death.
Incidentally, I only took photos when the situation allowed. I was sometime directly asked not to take photos.
On this occasion nearly half the village was assembled. We were at a loss for words, we just looked at each other.
The other grandmother, accompanied by the mayor of the village, had come with the two small grandchildren, who were in school uniform (photo below). Her son used to play the harmonium. There had always been arguments between the husband and wife about the loan and the money. One day the mother was found dead in a field. She had poisoned herself with pesticide. The next day the father was found in a different field; he had taken his life in the same manner. The grandmother told me, thorough a translator, that she was so grateful for the money that she wanted to give me one of her small lambs.
The fates of all the families were similar. The relatives had drowned themselves, drunk chemicals, hanged themselves, doused themselves with kerosene and set themselves on fire. Hindus, Muslims, Christians … the religions were as mixed as within the Indian population.
I asked the father of the widow (in the photo on the left) how we could best help him. His answer was that he would really like a cow, then every day he would at least have a little income.
Then there was the Muslim family. When I saw her for the first time, the mother/widow was heavily veiled, and you could only see her eyes. Out of desperation her husband had poisoned himself with chemicals …
… at the time there was the equivalent of just 82€ outstanding. She showed me the paperwork.
She and her mother were so grateful. You could see her relief. (photo below)
Presentation of the cheques
The presentation of the cheques was planned for the day before my departure. This was to take place within the university at a special ceremony. Those who know Indians, know that they are masters at holding ceremonies.Complete families, representatives of the women’s self-help groups, press, student representatives and others were invited.
More and more women in Andhra Pradesh are joining women’s self-help groups. These women were invited to the cheque presentation. Two of them made an impressive speech.
After eating lunch together we all walked in single file to the so-called Senats Hall in the main building, where there were security personnel at the entrance. Some of the guests were barefoot, and my impression was that none of them had ever set foot in a room like this before. I, too, was amazed and had never expected such a formal setting. There was a large banner on the wall behind the podium. In large red letters, it read:
Financial Aid to the Victimised Families of MFIs
Social Activist, Germany
OK, so I’ve never been a social activist, but I felt pretty good in my new role. The incoming guests looked around, not knowing what to do. Some would rather have hidden. But it was an auditorium with tiered seating and no escape. Each seat seemed to convey something sophisticated and significant, but with the help of some background music, the initial trepidation was transformed into pleasant expectation.
I took a seat on the podium next to the director of the university and a group of professors. There then followed a succession of never-ending speeches in Telugu, the local language. I kept hearing my name and “Germany” … and then it was my turn to make a speech. I gave encouragement to the people, told them that they’re not alone, that the world is looking out for them and that their problem is known about in Germany. I also told them that money had been donated by approximately 80 people in Germany. That we’re all brothers and sisters, that we’re all one and that they shouldn’t lose their hope in the future.
While background music played, the cheques and envelopes containing the cash were presented. There were balls for the children, as well as oranges and some pens.
Each child was called to the front. The cheques seemed relatively insignificant to them compared with the ball. Children play cricket on every street corner in India. For this reason a friend from Berlin had given me tennis balls – thankfully! For the children it was a real highlight to receive a ball, and the first and a rare moment that their sad faces lit up and radiated with sheer joy.
In the photo are the children with the cheques. There were reports in the local papers and the national Hindu News the following day.