Since the days financial inclusion was introduced to the nation in the name of Jan Dhan Yojana and banks were informed to open zero-balance accounts, the story behind the fence of tea estates changed. Satya Sawar, a tea labourer from Doomdooma in Tinsukia district of Assam, says, “We were asked to stand in the queue to open our bank accounts. But we are illiterates. We eat what we earn. How can you expect us to go to the bank in between our work to deposit or withdraw money.”
There were times when tea estates decided to credit the wage of the labourers in their respective bank accounts. But again, the use of ATM or the trouble associated with the withdrawal of his/ her wage from the perspective of the labourer, made the tea estate administrators to continue paying the wages in cash after 15 days. Post demonetization, the Government of Assam came up with Chah Bagicha Dhan Puraskar Mela 2018. In the first phase, Rs. 2,500 was credited to the accounts of all the tea estate workers who opened bank accounts. After the passage of six months, in the second phase, an additional amount of Rs. 2,500 was credited to the accounts of tea estate workers who kept their accounts running.
One of the most empowering tool for the women in the livelihood sector is the creation of Self-Help Groups. There are instances where National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) helps a group of women form self-help groups by providing revolving fund and bank linkage. In Tengakhat and Joypur, NRHM recognized them as intensive block while Borbaruah block is in its nascent stage. In these SHGs, you will hardly find women from the tea tribe community. It is because most of the tea tribe community are employed in tea estates thereby giving them very little time to get associated with SHGs and create a scope for alternate livelihood.
But why don’t the Adivasi women get loan from the bank for starting a small business?
In conversation with Nabajyoti Handique, Regional Manager of HDFC, Sustainable Livelihood Initiative was an initiative to empower the un-banked population. In such an initiative, a group of 10-12 women are given a loan of 1.50 lakh rupees at an interest rate of 15-18%. These groups are either Self-Help Groups or Joint Liability Groups. In Dibrugarh district itself, there are 1,200 groups but there are very less groups in tea estates. Why are our tea estates isolated from the realm of banking? The initiative requires that the beneficiary meets three criteria viz. he/she must own a house, have an income and must have a job. On the other hand, Bandhan Bank provides dedicated Doorstep Service Centre and General Banking. In case of DSC, the DSC head looks into the household condition of the applicant and disburses the loan. Thus this is a challenge for the women from the tea tribe community who lives in quarters as allotted by the tea estates and earns a meager amount as wage.
Will taking deposits from the Adivasis work? No. When we talk about creating an alternate economy for the women of the tea tribe community, we have to make our loan disbursement to be inclusive so that a woman who does not have a house of her own or a good income source, can apply for a loan and set up her own little entrepreneurial venture. Until and unless, the tea tribe community can be included in the financial credit inclusion, the generations of tea tribe community will remain tied in the shackles of poverty running around the field for 8-9 hours.