Women Protest for Freedom from Debt

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Freedom from Debt Day observed

Responding to the call given by AIPWA and Self Help Groups Sangharsh Samiti, Freedom from Debt Day was observed across Bihar on 13 August 2020.

Speaking on the occasion, AIPWA National General Secretary Meena Tiwari said that loans given by micro-finance companies and private banks have become a deathly debt trap for rural women who are unable to come out of the vicious cycle. The interest rate is so high that in many cases it has become equal to the principal amount. This is the new form of usury. If the central government can give waive loans worth billions of rupees and give bail-out packages to big corporates, why cannot the loans of small debtors be waived?

The following demands were made by women on Freedom from Debt Day:

  1. Waive group loans of all women in Self Help Groups.
  2. Waive all Lockdown period installments of individual loans up to Rs 1 lakh, whether they are loans taken from the government, micro-finance companies or private banks.
  3. Stop debt collection on all small loans till 31 March 2021.
  4. Ensure employment for women in Self Help Groups and guarantee procurement of their products.
  5. Make loans up to Rs 1 lakh interest-free.
  6. Make education loans interest-free.
  7. Form a State level Regulatory Authority for group loans.
  8. Interest rate for loans for self-employment up to Rs 10 lakhs should be 0-4%.
  9. All small loans for which interest has been paid equal to or more than the loan amount should be closed.

Rural women, Rasoiyas, Jeevikas and other SHGs participated with great strength in the Freedom from Debt programs.

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In addition to capital Patna, protests were held at Ara, Beguserai, Arwal, Jehanabad, Gaya, Patna Rural, Siwan, Darbhanga, Samastipur, Madhubani, Nalanda, Nawada, Aurangabad, Gopalganj, Eastern Champaran, Jamui and other Districts. The protests at various places were led by AIPWA leaders Saroj Chaube, Shashi Yadav, Anita Sinha, Rita Barnawal, Savitri Devi, Matari Ram, Sohila Gupta, Indu Singh, Sangeeta Singh, Shobha Mandal, Shanichari Devi, Meera Thakur and others.

Speaking at Chitkohra in Patna, AIPWA Bihar Secretary Shashi Yadav said that the Reserve Bank of India has issued orders banning debt collection till 31 August, but micro-finance companies and private banks are forcibly collecting installments even during this time. At some places they have backed down due to women’s movements but at other places they are intimidating women and forcibly collecting installments. In one case where a woman expressed inability to pay, she was told to sell her body and arrange the payment! Where women are not in a position to pay, their household goods are being taken away. Corona and Lockdown have already broken the back of households; in this situation how can women be expected to pay installments?

AIPWA Bihar State President Saroj Chaube said that the Lockdown is not yet fully lifted. Small jobs and livelihoods are shut. Women who took loans before the Lockdown did not do so because they wanted to but because they were constrained to do so. Today when even basic meals are difficult to arrange, how can they pay loan installments? Therefore we demand that debt collection from women should be stopped. The protest at the Party State office in Patna was joined by CPIML leader Umesh Singh, RYA leader Sudhir Kumar, and Vibha Gupta.

AIPWA and CPIML leaders protested in front of the BDO office in Patna and submitted a memorandum on the issue of loan waiver.

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Uttar Pradesh

13 August was observed as national Freedom from Debt day, while 14 August was marked by protests against the arrest of CC member Balindra Saikia in Assam and the harassment and 8 hour long interrogation of Kisan Mahasabha leader Purushottam Sharma by the Delhi Police under a false case. Save Constitution-Save Democracy-Save the Country day was observed on 15 August.

State Secretary Sudhakar Yadav addressed women in Chandauli District protesting under the AIPWA banner on 13 August. He said that in view of the Corona crisis, loans given by micro-finance companies to women in Self Help Groups should be waived. This debt trap is a new kind of slavery. Lockdown and Corona have ruined the common people economically, in urban as well as rural areas. The government is waiving billions of rupees in loans to big capitalists and also giving them financial help and subsidies; why are they not waiving loans of the poor? The meeting was also addressed by District Secretary Anil Paswan and AIPWA District Vice President Shyamdei.

Dharnas were organized by AIPWA at several villages in Banaras. AIPWA State Secretary Kusum Verma led the protests in Banaras City, while the protests at Devariya and Bhatpar were led by Geeta Pandey, Poonam Yadav and Geeta Yadav. AIPWA national Executive member Kabootara Gautam led the protest Dudwadharampur in Bhadohi District. At Allahabad the protest was led by Rupa and Manju Gautam and a memorandum was submitted to the President. The dharna at Sitapur was led by District President Sarojini, while dharnas at Lucknow and Hardasi Khera were led by District Convener Meena and other women. Arati Rai and Jeera Bharti led the protests at Lakhimpur Kheeri and Mirzapur. Freedom from Debt day was also observed at Ghazipur, Gorakhpur, Azamgarh, Mau, Ballia, Jalaun, Mathura and other Districts.

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Prayagraj: Under the countrywide Freedom from Debt Day organized by the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) protests were held at the Prayagraj District HQ and a memorandum addressed to the President was submitted to the ACM. Maintaining physical distancing, women protested with slogans demanding freedom from debt.

AIPWA leader Rupa and Freedom from Debt campaign activist Manju Gautam said that Lockdown has been implemented due to the Corona crisis, employment and livelihoods are shut down, and women running Self Help Groups have been consistently raising the issue of loan waiver for many months now. The Reserve Bank of India has issued orders banning debt collection till 31 August, but micro-finance companies and private banks are forcibly collecting installments even during this time. At some places they have backed down due to women’s movements but at other places including Prayagraj they are intimidating women and forcibly collecting installments. In one case where a woman expressed inability to pay, she was told to sell her body and arrange the payment! Where women are not in a position to pay, their household goods are being taken away. The Lockdown is not yet fully lifted. Small jobs and livelihoods are shut. Women who took loans before the Lockdown did not do so because they wanted to but because they were constrained to do so. Today when even basic meals are difficult to arrange, how can they pay loan installments? Therefore we demand that debt collection from women should be stopped.

Today women are being trapped in a new kind of slavery to moneylenders. Capitalists fail to repay loans of billions of rupees and the government repays these loans from the National Treasury (which we citizens fill with our tax money). These women have always repaid their loans earlier, but the government is not helping them even in this time of crisis.

Today the Corona pandemic is spreading rapidly. People are afraid and desperate for lack of health care facilities, but the finance companies are bothered only about their debt collection without giving a thought to the people’s difficulties.

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No.34
Vol.23