Women banking with women, since 1974
Jyoti Makwana begins her day walking through the alleys of Ahmedabad’s Gulbai Tekra slum, where she lives. She meets a neighbour, makes small talk with her and goads her to pay the instalment on a bank loan she had taken. As she moves on to the next house, Jyoti smiles. Mohan Makwana, an idol-maker, has asked her if men too can get such a loan.
Shri Mahila SEWA Sahakari Bank Ltd is run entirely by women, over 200 of them, and serves only women. Jyoti, who sells toys for a living, also works as a bank saathi.
The country’s first all-woman public-sector bank, announced in the Union budget, is due to come up in November. The SEWA bank has been running for decades, a cooperative set up under a trade union in 1974.
Jyoti hands over the day’s accounts to Nikita Rawal, “a hand-holder” with the bank. Nikita takes a survey of the area once every 15 days, prodding loan defaulters and savings accounts holders, at times gently, at times sternly, over cups of tea and between small talk.
Jyoti is one of over 100 women from needy backgrounds working with the bank that began under SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association), a trade union that grew out of the textile mill labourers’ movement. It was founded by Gandhian and lawyer Ela Bhatt. Beginning with an initial capital of Rs 1 lakh collected by 4,000 women, it today has seven branches in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar that serve four lakh needy women, most
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