For Usha Babu, the only woman auto driver in Ernakulam district of Kerala owning her own auto was a pipe dream. She drove a rented auto rickshaw for the last 12 years, and despite the hard work didn't make enough to buy her own vehicle. And then the Shanmugam branch of Syndicate Bank funded her dream. A Rs. 1.29 lakh mudra loan helped her buy her own auto rickshaw, and there has been no looking back ever since. 

But Usha isn't alone. Babita too is a shining example of what a single dedicated woman can stitch together! Babita bought 7 sewing machines with money borrowed under Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana and now employs 5 women besides training many more on tailoring, stitching and knitting.

Usha and Babita aren't the only silent revolutionaries, Mehraj Bee sensed an opportunity in the Swachh Bharat Campaign. With an initial investment of Rs 15,000 mudra loan her handmade brooms spiked her daily income by almost 50%. 

Being self employed has a different connotation across various social and economic strata of India. A unicorn based out of Bengaluru is a case of self-employment just like Suman, under the neighbourhood tree with a single sewing machine. 

But it is the start up capital that haunts entrepreneurs, big, small, medium and micro. It is especially true for the less privileged, where a lot of men and women who don't have access to institutional credit are often exploited at the hands of money lenders. They don't just pay exorbitant interest on principal amount borrowed but are also often at the whims of an opaque credit system.

That's where schemes like Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana play a pivotal role. True to its powerful tag line, 'Funding The Unfunded', these small loans are looked at through an entirely different lens. The premise of money lent through a scheme like Mudra is to fuel opportunities and expect earnings to be sufficient to repay the sum borrowed. The Mudra scheme entails a loan of up to Rs 50,000 under Shishu category, Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh under Kishor category and Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh under Tarun category.  

Let's turn focus to how this scheme is empowering women all across the country. Women have for long nurtured families, many also nurture ambitions and choices. But India is still an extremely patriarchal society, in large parts of the country not only is education of the girl child subservient to a boy's but even property is largely owned by male members. This puts women at an obvious disadvantage while borrowing loans. Lack of collaterals squeeze the borrowing capacity for women from financial institutions and banks.

A Mudra loan on the other hand is for small requirements, ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 10 lakh and is directed towards many women eager to tap opportunities, big and especially small. Government data reveals that a total of Rs. 3.5 lakh crore has been disbursed through the Prime Minister Mudra Yojana to over 9 crore beneficiaries. Interestingly 76% of them are women and a majority of them from the SC, ST and minority communities. 

It is often said that educating a woman means educating an entire family. It's true for economic independence too. A financially independent woman's spending decisions are far more productive, centered around her children's education and the well being of her family.  

Traditionally women in India haven't been decision makers, despite being the genesis of a family. Micro finance through the government's Mudra loan scheme is a powerful product to change the social fabric. A dip stick check across income groups will testify that a woman who contributes to the family's income has more power and authority, so a Mudra loan, however small does help pave the way for tectonic shift in power equations within families; both nuclear and joint

While microfinance has been the big domain of self help groups, it's heartening to see the government throw its weight behind this meaningful exercise. The big caution though, that policy makers must take is to ensure women who take these loans have say on the usage. Besides, the PM Mudra scheme needs to be judged for not just access to clean credit but sustaining measures which will guarantee the societal changes it was envisaged for in the first place. 


(Supriya Shrinate is a journalist with over 15 years of experience and currently Executive Editor, News at ET NOW)

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