The Candid Eye

December 6, 2009

Anjumans deprive Muslim women of microcredit

Recently SA Aiyar’s article appeared on TOI, which clearly says microcredit to Musim women are hampered by Anjumans.

The government seeks inclusive growth and access to credit. The Sachar Committee is dismayed by the relatively low access of Muslims to bank credit. Yet, neither the government, Sachar Committee members nor intellectuals are raising an outcry against a massive drive to deny millions of Muslim women access to microcredit. This is driven not by Hindu extremists but by Muslim anjumans (community organisations) in Karnataka. Thus, a community complaining of credit deprivation is itself destroying credit to millions of Muslims — because the anjumans are male bastions and the poor borrowers are women.

Ramesh Bellamkonda heads BSS Microfinance, the worst hit of several microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Karnataka. He says BSS has provided microcredit for two years in Kolar, three-and-a-half in Mysore, and eight in Ramanagaram, enjoying excellent relations with its Muslim borrowers and virtually 100% repayment. Today, repayment is down to almost zero, because of non-repayment directives by the anjumans and their goons, who threaten and even assault BSS staff. Muslims constitute a substantial proportion of borrowers, so the anjuman directives can bankrupt entire MFIs, affecting other community borrowers too.


Their eyes reveal everything!!

Their eyes reveal everything!!

Other Karnataka MFIs in several towns face the same problem, and have been obliged to halt lending to Muslims. It is a triumph for the most reactionary Muslims, and a tragedy for Muslim women denied empowerment through finance.

Some other MFIs say that the problem is not just Islamic. In some areas, including Kolar, so many MFIs have started operations that poor women can get multiple micro-credit loans, and so accumulate big debts that they cannot repay. The economic slowdown after October 2008 also affected repayment capability. However, these explanations for loan default are partial at best, since Hindu and Christian borrowers continue to have a good repayment record.

The anjumans say interest on loans is un-Islamic, and so borrowers need not repay, and no further microloans should be given to Muslims. Really? Then why don’t the anjumans demand that banks stop lending to Muslim businessmen like Azim Premji of Wipro, Khorakiwala of Wockhardt, Hamied of Cipla, film producers and stars like Shah Rukh Khan, and hundreds of Muslim businessmen dominating the leather and footwear industry? Why don’t the anjumans send goons to prevent Muslim millionaires from repaying their much larger loans with interest?

Because the anjumans will not take on moneyed males, only poor women. They don’t like female empowerment through micro-credit, and so use the bogus rhetoric of Islamic finance to promote their gender agenda. Possibly, they also hope that violence can persuade the government to provide a loan waiver, as happened to farm loans.

The gender aspect comes through clearly in one anjuman’s explanation for banning microfinance: it says a female borrower rode pillion on the motor-cycle of a BSS agent. Such male chauvinism is outrageous. In contravention of basic freedoms under the law and Constitution, the anjumans claim the right to control the behaviour of any Muslim woman, and the authority to punish all Muslim female borrowers ignoring their illegal directives.


Oppressed muslim women

Oppressed muslim women

It matters not at all to the anjumans that the pioneer of microcredit is a Muslim, Mohammed Yunus, who has won the Nobel Peace prize for his work. It matters not that microcredit has made Muslim Bangladesh world famous. Mohammed Yunus has a far better claim to championing poor Muslim women than any anjuman.

It’s worth recalling Yunus’ reaction to the government waiver of farm loans last year. He said that if there was serious distress among farmers, the government should give the distressed farmers enough money to repay their loans. But repayment discipline must be maintained, so that the entire credit system remained healthy and responsible.

This would be a reasonable approach in Karnataka. But none of Yunus’ sentiments matter to the male chauvinists in the anjumans. And, sad to say, politicians do not want to take on anjumans that they view as vote banks. Hence, the Karnataka anjumans have gained credibility, and the non-repayment virus may spread to other states, shutting Muslim women out of the microcredit revolution sweeping India.

The need of the hour is for Muslim leaders and intellectuals to speak out on this issue. Industrialists like Premji, Hamied and Khokariwala must speak out. So should film stars like Shabana Azmi and Shah Rukh Khan. So should Muslim intellectuals from universities, and even vice president Hamid Ansari.

They should expose as bogus the claim of anjumans to be protecting Muslims from MFIs. Rather, the anjumans are depriving Muslim women of the empowerment that Mohammed Yunus pioneered. They are oppressors, not saviours of Muslim women.


November 22, 2009

How much wealth is enough?

The rich in India are richer, but what’s the purpose of having all that wealth? Forbes India brought together G.V. Krishna Reddy, an extremely wealthy man of the practical world, and spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to find an answer to that elemental question.

Subroto Bagchi: I have a personal question. When I was a little boy, my mother said that you have Lakshmi and you have Saraswati, two very pretty women, extremely jealous and she said that if I follow Lakshmi, then Saraswati will shun me and if I follow Saraswati, probably Laksmhi will follow at a distance.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Today, there has been a truce.

Subroto Bagchi: Thank you so much, that was really really wonderful, and I wish my mother was here to listen to that point.


H.H. Sri Sri Ravishankar at Forbes India function

The Goddess of Wealth might have made her truce with the Goddess of Learning. But Lakshmi is also the Goddess of Generosity and it seems her devotees have yet to fully learn that lesson.

As the Forbes India rich list shows, the number of Indian billionaires has gone up. Their wealth increased even as the recession took a toll on the economies of the richest countries. However, in a country where slums exist in the shadow of opulent high rises, the rich in India keep their purse strings tight.

This seemed to be the opportune moment to question the purpose of wealth. How much is enough? How does it feel to be rich in a land of poor? Can wisdom offer some solace?

To find answers to these questions, Forbes India brought two very different personalities on a single platform — G.V. Krishna Reddy (worth $1.07 billion), one of the rich men on the list and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a spiritual guru.

“One, a worshipper of wealth and the other, in charge of salvation,” as Subroto Bagchi, Mindtree’s co-founder, Forbes India columnist and moderator of the discussion put it.

The differences were evident even as they arrived. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar walked in wearing a flowing white robe, smiling his trademark smile, followed by long-haired, Art of Living volunteers. Reddy, several inches taller than the guru, came in business formals, followed by similarly dressed colleagues.

Following the discussion were the business elite in Bangalore — Bijou Kurien of Reliance Retail; Ashok Misra of Intellectual Ventures; Suresh C. Senapaty of Wipro; Swati Ramanathan of Janaagraha; K.K. Narayanan of Meta-Helix; and Krishnakumar N. of Mindtree.

Reddy narrated his rags-to-riches story. As a teenager, he said he was naughty and never interested in studies. But once he decided to do well in studies, he topped the class in a year. “My parents could not believe that for five years,” he said. Later, when he wanted to build a five star hotel in Hyderabad, he was laughed at. When it turned out to be a success, he was praised. His recipe was simple — discipline and hard work.

Balance was Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s theme.

“There are different kinds of richness, some are rich in wisdom, some are rich in life, some are rich in both, some are rich in their enthusiasm and some are rich in their art and imagination, and some are rich in their bank balance,” said the guru.

“If wealth leads to discomfort, the purpose is defeated,” he said. The rich have expanded their business horizons into various philanthropic modules but a few have “yet to implement CSR [corporate social responsibility]”.


Forbes India event

“What is it to be a rich man in a poor country?” asked Bagchi.

Reddy said he did not feel rich. As a company, GVK does its bit for the society. It runs schools and hospitals. It is in the process of building houses for slum dwellers next to the Mumbai airport. And it runs the 108-Ambulance emergency ambulance service.

But, this and many such efforts have hardly addressed the basic issue of human suffering. Does it mean that spirituality with its promise of wisdom, love, compassion and salvation; and business with its own secular promises have failed?

“I won’t say they have both failed. They both need more exposure and more growth and more co-ordinated growth,” said Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

The discussions struck a chord with the audience.

“We can’t afford to be capitalistic like in the past, in a country like India where there is such a visible difference between rich and poor. Certainly if we don’t have conscious capitalism, I don’t think we’ll prosper,” said Bijou Kurien, President and CEO – Lifestyle, Reliance Retail.

Hans-Martin Schempp, an economist, echoed Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. “Richness really comes from giving. Like the law of agriculture, till you give away the seed then only will you see a harvest.”

However, the bigger issues of poverty, suffering and inequality are yet to be resolved.

“It’s not a question or answer that’ll get answered in a lifetime. It is a millennial issue. In four million years neither poverty nor [the] spiritual depression has been solved in the world. So our job is to keep trying,” Bagchi said later.

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