Genesis of the Nabadwip Federation – Looking Back
Nabadwip Block Haritala Mahila Unnayan Samity (NBHMUS) which was later registered as Prajanma Mahila Samiti since 2013 and Manasi Samabay Rhindan Samity Limited, (a registered Cooperative Society from 30-08-2016 under WB Multipurpose Cooperative Act 2013) is an outcome of SPADE’s intervention in Nabadwip which was originally a consequence of a devastating flood in 2000. Nabadwip, in the District of Nadia, is located at the confluence of the Bhagirathi and Jalangi rivers. Agriculture is the backbone of the local economy though Nabadwip is also famous for its handloom products, particularly for the traditional Jamdani Saree since time immemorial.
The whole area is very much flood-prone and flood is almost a yearly event here. But the flood of 2000 broke all its past records in terms of severity and scale of devastation. There are many instances of families who, in search of high altitude places, had to move 4 or 5 times, had to live without food and were forced to drink contaminated water before the relief arrived. Nabadwip rural and urban areas were submerged under a record 11 feet of water. Even the main images at the birthplace of Shree Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had to be moved to higher floors as the main shrine was submerged. More than 70% of Nabadwip’s population was stranded. Huts were washed away and the homeless were moved to shelter homes and schools. 18 people lost their lives in Nabadwip. At a time when weavers do some good business ahead of Durga Puja, incessant rains have rendered thousands of them jobless.
During this period, SPADE, with active support of OXFAM came forward to participate in the relief distribution activities among the distressed villagers in Mahishura GP of Nabadwip. SPADE personnel stayed there for few days to perform the assigned tasks and thus a rapport was built with the flood victims. Some comments of those victims were like “…you will return to Calcutta after your job is finished, but we will be right here with the same destiny of suffering and hardship due to flood year after year…” really initiated some serious thoughts regarding doing something, which shall create a sustainable impact on these people. This line of thinking actually gave birth to the philosophy of community participation and involvement in the whole gamut of flood preparedness and thus to minimize the flood damage as far as practicable. So, in the process, the Project, Community based Disaster Preparedness (CBDP) took shape with the other IAG partners.
A survey was conducted in Mahishura and Fakirdanga-Gholapara GP and several Linkage Meetings with the GP Pradhans and Members and also with the local influential persons was organized by SPADE to identify what exactly is needed to reduce vulnerability of the rural poor and to make them prepared to face disasters. It was evident that the economic vulnerability was the predominant one and it was at the centre of all miseries and sufferings of the people. So, a decision was taken to build institutions like Self Help Groups, Clusters, Federation comprising the most vulnerable section of the community. During their association with the flood victims, SPADE functionaries realized that in rural areas, the economic and socio-political conditions made the women the most vulnerable section of the community. But they can play a vital role to mould the future of the country. Hence, SPADE personnel, with the approval of the respective GPs, started promoting Self Help Groups (SHGs) in full swings In July, 2001, SPADE first formed some SHGs in Mohisura GP and later on activities were replicated at Fokirdanga GP. Through these SHGs, the poor women started to save small amount of money individually and took loan on priority basis without any outside financial help. So, from the very beginning, they were on their own feet and self reliant.
After the formation of few groups, Nadia Gramin Bank, Mukundapur Grameen Bank, UBI Nabadwip and the local Post Office were approached for liking the SHGs and opening accounts therein. But the bank officials were skeptic. Even other service banks in the nearby area like SBI, PNB, Allahabad Bank, Central Cooperative Bank also refused to open accounts for the SHGs. Hence, the idea of developing a new institution for the poor and vulnerable rural women emerged gradually. Towards this end in view, the following steps were taken:
- Legal structure and formalities were finalized in consultation with an ex-banker who was recruited to facilitate the process of Federation formation two months ahead of the date of inauguration
- Awareness generation among the SHG members regarding the formation of a Federation in a Cooperative form
- Out of the five GPs in the SPADE’s functional area, Mahisura GP was selected for pilot testing
- In that GP, a meeting was arranged and each group was asked to send two of their members – one of whom would be the elected representative of the concerned SHG in the proposed Federation
- Out of 80 SHGs in the GP, about 50 groups came forward initially to join the proposed Federation
- All financial information relating to savings and credit of the individual group members were collected and recorded in a separate register and finally these individual level information were merged into a consolidated group level savings and credits account
- All financial activities of these 50 groups were then shielded for about a month so as to undergo the formalities associated with Account opening
- Initial documents and stationeries were procured and kept ready for opening the Federation
- On 1st January 2006, the Federation was formally inaugurated and on that day, 21 groups opened their accounts in it. Each group has four different accounts, viz.,
- Group Savings A/c
- Group Loan A/c
- Group Fund a/c
- Thrift Fund A/c
- Field level staffs of SPADE were initially collecting the savings from the group members and depositing in the accounts of the respective groups.
- Now they are strong enough with more than 410 groups covering 6 GP areas and they have made themselves organized in “Nabadwip Block Haritala Mahila Unnayan Samity”, a full fledged and flourishing SHG Federation. The most interesting part of this Federation is that the society is entirely run by the women and all its members are women. In this way, over the past two years, NBHMUS is conducting microfinance activities in Nabadwip.