Mumbai To Mukteshwar: In Udaipur Women Talk About Facing Barriers In Accessing Resources & Low Digital Access

Udaipur Shinjini Kumar

Our journey from Ahmedabad to Udaipur was relatively short. I have been to Udaipur many times; as a tourist, to visit friends or to attend weddings. It is indeed a lovely destination for almost everything, and so it turns out for my journey of discovering insights on #WomenNMoney.

We were to stay with a friend, but some last-minute issues arise and we discover that all the lovely hotels in Udaipur are still closed due to the pandemic. We stay at the Club Mahindra on the outskirts of the city, almost on the Highway. We are quite impressed by their efforts to maintain hygiene and COVID-19 related protocols. Over the next day and a half, I have the privilege of meeting women who work with their local communities to ensure access to livelihood, resources and/or financial services. These women are working on the ground and talk animatedly about what works and what does not. What strikes me particularly is how each one has an equally strong but different insight on the subject, born of their own experience as well as that of their communities.

Read all Mumbai to Mukteshwar stories here 

Anuradha Kanwar’s Story

Anuradha Kanwar is a young woman who works as a coordinator for the Rajeevika program. She started working a few months ago and gives her earnings to her father. Her father saves the money in ‘FD, RD and LIC’ and she does not ask him for details as it is awkward to ask. I ask her how she learns about new things and she talks about Google and YouTube, but she mentions that this does not include learning about money. She knows that FDs are better than saving account because the interest rate is higher, but she doesn’t feel the need to understand more about LIC. The person who sold it to them explained it to her father. That seems to be a motif across the country. Banks are seen as an extension of government and the banker is seen as an unapproachable official. LIC, on the other hand, is seen as a saving instrument and its agents are approachable and trusted. It is ironic, but factually, it is one of my key learnings.

Also Read: Women And Money: How Can The Two Be Better Friends?

Uma Sharma’s Story

Uma Sharma works for the Rajivika program as a block technical co-ordinator for Financial Inclusion. She has some killer insights for me. When she talks to groups of women about borrowing, saving and formation of Self Help Groups. Inevitably some women emerge as leaders in every group and educate other women. I ask her what part of her pitch is most attractive to these women in her community. “Profit” is her pat reply. “What is in it for me?” is what elicits interest from the women who enrol for the programme. This is no different from any client anywhere. I ask Uma about her own money. She also gives it to her father, but only because her father is a member of Committees where she can get higher returns and trust the people, as compared to the returns in her bank account. She has even persuaded her husband to contribute to this kitty and she is so good at understanding and explaining the ‘profit’ inherent in different forms of savings, that even her ‘Dubai-wala-cousin’ calls her for advice. The pride on Uma’s face will stay with me forever.

The appeal of a Recurring Deposit as a saving instrument is not to be underestimated. In Ahmedabad, Jayashree Ben of SEWA Bank had talked about the power of compounding and Recurring Deposit as an intuitive saving instrument for her clients. Lakshmi Thakur, Programs head  at Seva Mandir, Udaipur reiterates the power of Recurring Deposits, her first saving instrument. I have always admired the work done by Seva Mandir. But today, I want to talk to Lakshmi about her journey of money and she has indeed travelled a distance.

She talks about portfolio diversification and moving from RDs and FDs to SIPs. Her husband helped her make investments in some stocks, including blue-chip stocks that have done very well. Her one regret is not having invested in land early when it was still affordable. She talks about how men in her kind of families were always encouraged to buy land but she never thought she could do it. So she bought a small flat in Udaipur instead. In retrospect, the same money would have bought her a decent piece of land that would have appreciated a lot more. We go on to talk about COVID-19, her work and her community and I pray that life in this city of lakes returns to its usual vibrancy soon.

She emphasises that one needs to work not only with the women, but the men around them and the ecosystem as those could be significant inhibitors.

Also Read: Why women need to have conversations about money and finance

Saloni’s Story

Saloni is an impressive, articulate young woman who joined the Ajivika Bureau after graduating from Delhi university. She works in and around Gogunda district, a primarily tribal area that supplies construction and kitchen workers in neighbouring cities as well as other parts of the country. Saloni talks passionately about her work and the different tiers of solidarity group they work with. Among other things, they also find ways to deal with social constructs that inhibit women. I ask her what works when they seek to change habits. She shares that sharing of success stories, a reiteration of ideas and working with community leaders all have a role to play. She emphasises that one needs to work not only with the women, but the men around them and the ecosystem as those could be significant inhibitors.

A great example she cites is their effort to train women beyond becoming tailors or beautician. They tried to train girls for mobile repairing. The girls learnt and it was encouraging, but as a community, there was no support, so few could start a shop or work at a shop to do this job. Her killer insight is that while women bear the primary burden of providing for their families, they face the most barriers in accessing these resources because digital access is low. She cites examples of government programs like UIDAI, subsidies etc. I have a lot to chew on and a journey to continue the next morning…

The views expressed are the author’s own