Indian women cook their way to self-sufficiency
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Purao decided that the women needed to shake off their dependence on moneylenders. She approached some government banks for loans and negotiated to get these at 4 percent interest.Skip to next paragraph
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BUT then another problem arose. The women were not willing to go to the banks; they were afraid. ``Who will respect us at the bank?'' they asked. ``They will laugh at us poor women and send us away.'' The moneylenders also tried to scare them, saying that bank investigators would come to their houses and they would have to pay taxes. But after some persuasion, 14 women, mostly long-time trade union members, agreed to get bank loans.
When these women went to the public taps to fill water or to the bazaar to shop, other women would point to them and say, ``Look, here are the women who went to the bank.'' When they saw that nothing drastic had happened to them and that, in fact, they were able to pay off the moneylenders and were busy giving TV interviews, the word spread. The next week, 26 women showed up to go to the bank with Purao. Now 18,500 women have joined Annapurna and have taken loans amounting to $20 million.
Many Annapurna members say joining the organization has given them a great sense of security and confidence.
``We have many difficulties in our lives; we can't live well, and getting this loan makes a big difference,'' says Rukmini Phule, who has been an annapurna for many years. ``Now we have no fear of the moneylender, our anxiety is less and we can share our problems with other women. Before, I got money from the moneylender, less money at very high interest - 150 percent. My husband is a millworker. Sometimes he gave me money and sometimes he drank it away, and I had to somehow feed my five children. Now I have steady income and have learned many new things.''
PREMLATA GAZNI, a cheerful, bustling woman, is manager of the kitchen at the catering center. She handles the stores, plans menus, mediates personal disputes, and supervises the cooking. She used to work in a textile mill but was laid off. She has three children.
``My earlier dhanda [work] was daru [selling liquor],'' she admits reluctantly. ``I belong to the bhandari caste and we are liquor sellers, and I also sold liquor. My family suffered for two years, we were heavily in debt, nearly starving. Then this lady asked me to join. I was hesitant. I said, `I do this daru dhanda, how can I cook?' She convinced me and so I stopped selling liquor. Now when people ask me if I like this work, I say, `Why shouldn't I, I'm so good at it.'''
Ashalata Towri, a woman with an impish smile, adds shyly, ``Earlier, lots of women did this work but they were badly hit during the textile strike. Many sold their jewelry, utensils, and clothes just to continue feeding the workers. Many were deeply in debt, and some even ran off to their villages to escape the moneylenders. But now with the association most have recovered and are doing well. We feel very secure. We are no longer tied to the house, we are free to go out. Everyone knows we are annapurnas.''