Her needs find a voice

Published in The Hindu Business Line on 24 February 2017
How a community radio came to the rescue of women post demonetisation

How a community radio came to the rescue of women post demonetisation

Afsana from Salamba village in Mewat, Haryana, had no choice but to part with her ‘secret savings’ of ₹5,000 when demonetisation was announced. She had no bank account, so the money had to be deposited in her husband’s account. It was the same story for 22-year-old Renu from Gangoli village. The ₹3,000 she had saved found its way to her husband’s account.

“I am a housewife, the money I had saved had been given to me as cash gifts by my relatives, some during my vidai (farewell after the marriage ceremony),” recalls Renu. And like her and Afsana, hundreds of women never thought they needed to open a bank account or could benefit from it.

In 2011, community radio Radio Mewat started a financial inclusion programme as nearly 80 per cent of people in the area did not have bank accounts. They were dependent on moneylenders, resulting in deep debts. Although over 24,000 accounts were opened, not a single one was that of a woman.

Run by non-profit SMART (Seeking Modern Applications for Real Transformation), with the support of rural development bank Nabard, Radio Mewat took up the challenge of promoting financial inclusion of women, starting with the Nuh block. It did this in two ways — by airing specially designed awareness programmes and through field visits.

The influencers

Over 30 young girls and women were given four days of intensive training to help them open accounts for other women, and educate them on various schemes and ways to go cashless.

Mujahida, who could not continue her education after Std XII, is one of the trained women. She says women are enthusiastic about opening their accounts and now there is always a rush at her place with requests to fill account opening forms.

“What appeals to them most is the fact that their money can increase with monthly interest.”

With the literacy rate here among the lowest in the country, many women did not know this. Nor were they aware that the subsidy for cooking gas could be deposited directly in their account.

Another member of the campaign team, Sangeeta from Kari village, found that initially women were hesitant and non-committal about opening accounts. They wanted to ask their husbands. But now they are interested.

Accounting for all

The Radio Mewat team has reached over 8,400 households through a door-to-door campaign. The target is 12,000 households.

The heavy rush and cash crunch after demonetisation have slowed down the account opening process at many banks. Moreover, banks are insisting on a deposit even to open accounts under schemes like Jan Dhan and this is a dampener, says Archana Kapoor, Founder SMART and Director Radio Mewat.

Some banks are asking for a deposit of ₹1,000. Despite the odds, 250 women have since opened their accounts. Fifty women have also applied for benefits from schemes like Fasal Bima Yojana, Suraksha Yojana and Atal Pension Yojana.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi