Hit by COVID-19, Women in Telangana’s Self Help Groups Reel Under Debt Crisis

Many rural women who were hit by the economic crisis driven by COVID-19 are finding it difficult to clear the loans.

3 min read

“For the last one-and-a-half years, farmers who used to hire us for daily wage agriculture have stopped. They're doing the work on their own, in order to reduce their expenditure and as a result, we are finding it difficult to pay off the loans we have taken through Self Help Groups (SHGs),” says G Anjavva, a daily wage worker and member of a Self Help Group (SHG), in Jukkal in Telangana’s Kamareddy district. Anjavva comes from an agricultural labour family and is a beneficiary of a loan taken under the Streenidhi scheme through the SHG she is part of.

Like many rural women who were hit by the economic crisis driven by COVID-19, Anjavva is finding it difficult to clear the loan of Rs 60,000, which she took prior to the onset of the pandemic.


Over 4 Lakh SHGs in Telangana

Telangana has over four lakh SHGs supervised by the Department of Rural Development and Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP).

According to some estimates, there are over several lakh women in these SHGs, cutting across sections which include Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), Backward Classes (BC) and others.

Several rural women who are members of SHGs from different districts say that their financial condition was affected by the pandemic, even pushing them further into debt. Most of them either work as daily wage earners or as agriculture workers. In several districts, they are also employed as beedi workers.

The SHGs, which usually consist of around 10 to 15 women members, function under the Grama Mahila Samakhya programme with the direct support of Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP). These groups are meant for inclusive financial development of rural women, who comprise a majority of the state’s population. They are given loans with lower interest rates.

Sunitha Peddolla, an SHG member and representative from Badangpet in Sangareddy district said that they have taken loans right before the pandemic, and are finding it difficult to pay them back on time.

“Most of us had taken loans either for household needs or for small-scale businesses. Unfortunately, as we started paying installments, the COVID-19 pandemic came and things changed rapidly with lockdowns. Businesses were hit and in the last few months, our group was irregular in repaying the loans, as most of us were affected."

She added, “Those who are into agriculture were able to pay, while those who are dependent on daily wage had to take petty loans and go further into debt. Officials are saying that they will ensure more loans are given only if earlier dues are cleared.” Like Sunitha, another woman, Mallamma, said that the fear of COVID-19 has prevented women from going beyond the village.

Sangareddy district stands at sixth position in the state, with 17,410 SHGs and around 1.82 lakh members, followed by Nalgonda, Khammam, Nizamabad, Rangareddy and Bhadradri Kothagudem districts.

Malavika N, a beedi worker from Nizamabad's Bhimgal said, “Until a few months ago, we were taking petty loans from neighbors to pay off the monthly installment of Rs 2,000. There was a lockdown and even beedi kharkanas (factories) stopped giving us work for sometime.”


Buchavva B from Narsingpally in Bhimgal said, “I can’t say the situation is as bad as it was a few months ago, but having to meet medical expenditures beside paying off loans taken from others and those from the SHG is tough. We can’t evade either.”

While the women in SHGs are not seeking an exemption from paying off the loans, as they are fearful of the consequences, activists who work with rural, marginalised communities, have been demanding a loan waiver.

Shankar P, the national secretary of the Dalit Bahujan Front (DBF) said, “Large scale companies with high margin of profits were given tax exemptions, moratoriums and special incentives in the name of COVID-19 pandemic. Why isn't the government thinking about waiving off the loans of these women, which they took prior to the pandemic?”

He added, “These groups comprise women, mostly from SC, ST, OBC and other landless communities. Other than daily wage work, they have no alternative. How can they repay these loans? Even a loan of Rs 5,000, which they were given amid the pandemic, is being collected every month. The government should waive off their loans and sanction fresh loans.”

(This was first published on The News Minute and has been republished with permission.)

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