I was widowed at a young age. My in-laws were very poor and could not afford to support my three small children and myself but I refused to go back to my maternal home (in shame). I would somehow find a way to bring them up. Initially, managing my own kitchen was very hard. Before this Dastkar was set up, I had to work for a pittance doing hard labour on a daily wage. At night I would sew pieces to sell for what little I could get.
When I had some cash in my hand I would buy necessities like oil, flour, dhal in small amounts, just for 3 or 4 days at a time. Even then, I managed to put little little bits aside, I had a daughter to marry off and two sons to educate. I had to think of them and their future. There was no one to help me. I think that women think of the future even when they have to manage on daily earnings, but the men don't. If there is cash in their pocket they will spend it.
Then Dastkar came after a few years and I joined the women's cooperative. At that time (18 years ago), everyone in the village was against this scheme. What? Women should not be going out there to earn money. It would spoil them, it was disrespectful, it would bring shame. During all of that, I was going there because then I had no choice. I had to find a way to support my children.
Today of course things are different. They saw how we earned our income working here but still maintained our dignity and self respect. We are not 'loose women'. I have established a bank account, I built a pukka house, I got my daughter married off well. I didn't educate my elder son too much, he had no head for it (ROI) – he's now got a shop selling caps and tshirts (outside the Tiger Sanctuary) but my younger one is studying. He helps his brother in his business as well.
The widow's daughter-in-law in yellow (privacy requested)
See, now that the child is weaned, I have brought my daughter-in-law to be trained here as well. Money empowers a woman, she can spend it as she likes and save it too. Its her money to do as she likes. Nobody can tell her what to do with it. She has earned it herself.
We (the senior women at the cooperative) have begun a lending circle among twenty of ourselves. We charge each other interest for borrowing against the common pool of money that we have deposited at the bank as security against these loans. Yes, its an extra 2% a month on top of the bank's interest rates but we see it as a way to make our money earn for us and deposit it back into the account. Our lumpsum has grown tremendously and we started with just Rs 200 per member. This gives us a chance to draw a major loan against our own money for weddings or building a house or some other major expense.
(She beams shyly yet with pride, her innate strength and determination that led her to this respected status in her community, though a widow, obvious in her every word and gesture.)