Disclosing the Microfinance epidemic that brutally tangles upon poor village women and tortures them is another media mission Lanka News Web and Nelumyaya Foundation collaboratively performs.
She, who lives in Galnewa Janaudana village, is 57 years old. She is not just living with her sickened husband and 91 year old mother in the roof-tiled house falling down and tearing apart with the rain; she merely survives only. Even at the very moment you read this article, she does not have one rice seed or onion peak in her house. All she could offer to feed her greying mother’s yesterday’s hunger for lunch, when heavy rains fell down, were some fried jackfruit seeds left in her home. Yesterday night she fed her mother’s hunger by borrowing a spoon of rice from a nearby neighbour, as usual. Their hunger at most must have been resolved by the tear drops they drink.
“Pay by Monday the all three instalments with the arrears.. Otherwise don’t call us bad men.. We’ll drag you into the Police..” The Microfinance agent came from HNB Grameen by now has issued a threatening red notice to her.
This vulnerable and poor mother makes her living in picking Curry Leaves; in her words, ‘Cutting Curry Leaves’. What is her daily income in selling Curry Leaves in a land she walks for acres, in a land that is packed with rouge elephants?
“I can earn some Seven-to-Eight Hundred Rupees maximum in a day.. But for god’s sake even that has become impossible now.. With the drought all Curry Leave trees gone dried off..” she said in tearful eyes with the Nelumyaya Foundation.
We asked from her, “For how much you can sell Curry Leaves per kilogram?”
“Only for 25 Rupees!”
This skinny old mother, who earns 850 Rupees maximum daily and carries a weight of 35 kilos of Curry leaves unbearable to her age, is called by the HNB Grameen for a weekly loan instalment of 2300 Rupees. She has been unable to pay three loan instalments by now. Never assume that women like herself has been of debt to just one finance company. They have had multiple borrowing from companies who offered them money competitively. The loaning companies and the loaning unions, who visited into these villages, have searchingly and willingly been giving money to poor women, even those who are neither knowledgeable of proper life skills nor livelihood but living under hired labour. We admit that borrowing a loan that cannot be paid back is a culpability. Nevertheless, willingly lending a sum of money that cannot be paid back should also hold equal accountability to a culpability.
“I borrowed 90,000 Rupees from HNB Grameen. They have given me only 86,000 deducting a sum of 4000 for documentation charges..”
The Contract is in English!
The contract given for her loan was written in English! But she does not know a slightest bit of English. “They have taken our signatures in hundred places in a document written in English.”
“Did they explain you what was in these papers in English?”
“No. We don’t know English.. Neither did they explain anything mentioned in those papers. Accounts are open for us in the bank. They put money into our account..”
Reason behind her Vulnerability to Pay the Instalments
When gripping with a case related to victims of the Microfinance crisis, we, the Nelumyaya Foundation, are frequently aware on why did they borrow money, what did they do with the borrowed money, and what made them fall into vulnerability to payback.
“I had been paying back my instalments. But the drought slowly downed my income. My husband was diagnosed with Dengue fever last December, and suffered a lot.. We even have the card issued by the hospital. The doctors said that it’s not good for him to work. Now he’s bed-resident sickened and unable to do anything. I became more and more vulnerable to paying back my instalments. Only the income from the Curry leaves is what I have for making my living and paying back the instalments. Now there isn’t a seed of rice left in our house”, she begins to moan again.
What the HNB Grameen Agent Said
“I returned home the day before yesterday, because I was admitted to the hospital as I suffered with Gaastik (gastritis)”, she mentions of her latest incident. It is no wonder to be diagnosed with gastritis when you have to fool your stomach for a meal and skip two for the poverty. “Therefore I couldn’t go to cut Curry leaves these days. It was when this gentleman from the HNB came.”
“Ariyawathi, put the instalment”, said by the agent.
“Please sir, I just came from the hospital.. I won’t be able to put the instalment. I don’t have a single Rupee in my hand.. I said to the gentleman. Then he said to compulsorily put the instalment along with the previous instalment by Monday; along with the arrears. Then I cried and told him, that I’m even unable to put the instalment, that there’s no way I’m able to pay the arrears, because I couldn’t cut Curry leaves due to the drought, and I might probably die footing into that forest packed with rouge elephants to pick Curry leaves… I cried..”, she said to that agent.
“That’s why there is insurance.. if you borrowed a loan payback. Otherwise we’ll go to the Police, and file against you, the gentleman threatened me”, said by her (We hold evidence to prove that). The HNB Grameen provides Microfinance loans after they are put with insurance.
“Then I cried and cried, and watched them leaving..”
This woman talked to us in a way as if she was crumbling with the fear of death. “Now I have to put the instalment by Monday. I don’t have a single Rupee in my hands.. I will be taken to the Police..”, she said through tearful eyes. Dragging into the Police, hammering into behind bars and courts, sealing their houses.. are some of the famous confronting stances the Microfinance agents have been making to terrify the village women, verbally harassing them to forcibly consume the payments. Little do not they know that it is even illegal to threat as such, despite being motivated to payback? Thus it is quite tragic to realize that the Finance and Microfinance companies in Sri Lanka, both registered and recognized, are fallen into such desperation--to threat one, “Doesn’t matter if you die – just payback our money!”. Also do not these agents know that legitimately the Police are neither of authority under a Magistrate Court order to handle issues as such, nor there is responsibility appointed to the Police at a case of dulling in loan and interest payment?
“Please son, at least feed me a pile of rice given for dogs.”
“For I can’t afford to keep my mother in hunger I went today morning to keep her in my brother’s place. I have to pay 350 Rupees for the wheeler. Because I don’t have a single cent in my hands, I called somebody I know and borrowed a wheel.” She went to her elder brother’s place to keep her mother there.
“My brother told me that he can’t accept mother, that he can’t afford to feed her. Mother said, Please son, at least feed me a pile of rice given for dogs, because I need to drink my medicine.. I’ll stay. But my brother still refused. So I returned with my mother crying all the way.”
She moans loudly.
The Government Program Makes No Relief for her!
A program to relieve women from 12 rural districts suffered from drought from the Microfinance crisis has been implemented by the Ministry of Finance by now. In having relieved so, the victim shall be of those remain struggling to pay back the Microfinance companies registered under the Central Bank or the Microfinance Practitioners’ Association for three months from 30th of June 2018. What Nelumyaya Foundation questions at all times is, “Does the Microfinance agent who visits the village allow to remain without paying the loans for three consecutive months?” According to the research conducted by Nelumyaya Foundation, neither of the women in Galnewa Janaudawa village is entitled for this program. Because all of them are those who managed to pay back their instalments to their maximum capabilities. This mother is also the same.
The theme slogan of HNB Grameen is ‘Andura Duralana Sonduru Mehewara’, denotes the Beautiful Devotion to Light the Darkness. HNB Grameen, you may not be able to light the darkness in her home. Because there is a red notice of Two Thousands Rupees at her doorstep, and not very long ago the worker from the CEB cut off her electricity telling her, “I can’t do anything mother.. I have to do my job”, when she was begging at his feet confessing, “Please sir, I can’t take my poor old mother out from home for a call from nature even with a candle light.” This woman lives in an economy she is not capable of paying an electricity bill of Two Thousand Rupees. You have lent a sum of Eighty Six Thousand Rupees to buy a milking cow to a woman as such. You are culpable on an equal scale for lending money to that of this mother for borrowing money. Little did you explore into this woman’s life whether she bought that milking cow for her wellbeing, if the entire goal of Microfinance Industry is to empower rural women to develop the Rural Economy, if you are engaged in Microfinance Industry with the same will? Your company brags with the slogan ‘to strengthen your life’, little did you know that women like herself are sinking in their pools of tears to eternal torment??
- Radika Gunaratne | Nelumyaya Foundation