PATNA: About 150 Grain banks being run in Patna, Bhojpur, Gaya, Jamui and Saharsa districts by Dalit women have come as a great relief for Musahar and other poor families.
Fed up with hunger and poverty, around 2,000 Musahar Dalit women had set up Grain banks in 2002 in about 60 villages under Paliganj subdivision comprising Paliganj and Bikram blocks in Patna district. These banks, which provide grains on loan to needy Dalit families, have proved a boon for the poor and destitute families of the region, who had to hitherto depend on rich farmers and moneylenders in times of crises. Later, such banks were opened in Bhojpur, Gaya, Saharsa and Jamui districts.
Not only has the move helped the Dalit families to overcome hunger, it has also instilled self-confidence among them. It has rid them of high interest rate on loan besides encouraging the savings culture.
Says Sudami Devi of Maner Telpa village under Bikram block in Patna district, "Earlier, we were forced to live in penury as we did not get enough wages as farm labourers. We were left to the mercy of rich farmers for sustenance. Now, we get grains at low interest rates from these banks," she said.
Jirmania Devi of Paliganj block said, "These banks meet the needs of around 35 Musahar villages in Paliganj, with nearly 400 Musahar families benefiting."
"Exploitation led to establishment of these Grain banks as Musahars and other landless agricultural labourers were exploited by landlords and not given their due wages, " said Pradeep Priyadarshi of Pragati Gramin Vikas Samiti, who was the man behind this initiative of Grain banks.
"For a day's labour, we used to get one kg of grain, which sometimes went down to half-a-kg on the excuse of having been adjusted against pending loans. This encouraged us to set up the Grain banks," said a village woman, who refused to disclose her identity. "We were also humiliated on failing to return the borrowed foodgrain,"
Starting with an initial stock of 55kg of grain in 2002, the bank today has 1,560kg of rice as capital, said Punam Devi, one of the 26 members of the village samiti in Maner Telpa. The family borrowing wheat and rice has to pay one kg grain as interest for every five kilogram of grain, said Sudami Devi, the bank's secretary at Maner Telpa village. The banks do not charge interest from extremely poor women. Besides, they also donate foodgrains to families free of cost in the event of any death or physical disability.
When contacted, food and consumer protection minister Shyam Rajak said, "The government is willing to provide help to such groups financially as well as in developing infrastructure. We would provide all possible help to them."
Courtesy: TOI, June/15/11