“Of virtue and women”- 3 August 2011

When Nileema Mishra met the group of visitors to her Bhagini Nivedita Gramin Vigyan Niketan in the small village of Bahadarpur in Maharashtra, she did not know the purpose of their visit. They asked searching questions, tried to probe deeper into the manner and method of work the Niketan was doing for poor women, and talked to many a woman in the institution, Nileema got concerned. Why should they ask so many questions, she wondered to herself?

That sense of slight irritation turned into one of satisfaction when the 39-year-old Nileema Mishra got a letter from the group to state that she had won the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, an Asian equivalent of Nobel Prize. Of course, she was happy, and contented, but for quite a different reason: She would get a purse of Rs. 22 lakhs ($50,000/-) which she could donate for the cause to which she has devoted her life.
For, when Nileema tried to know what the women in her village needed, she realised that all those women were afflicted by poverty and nothing else. They had the drive. They had the necessary willingness to make sacrifices to learn things. But they did not have the money to do so.
So, Nileema decided to help those women exactly in that area. That was how she launched an ingenuous private programme of lending money to needy women to launch their own small businesses. Small credit, but big faith, was the basic idea. It clicked, and now the Niketan is working in 200 villages in Maharashtra.
As she lends these women small sums of money and helps them to start their own enterprises that fetch them good returns, Nileema’s biggest strength was her trust in the character of those women. ‘They are honest to core; they will never want to ditch me. So, when they return the money, I will give it to many more’, Nileema Mishra assured herself. She has had no chance and time to regret. Money comes back regularly, and goes out to other women in a neat pattern of disbursement and repayment. There is no non-payment at all.
Nileema Mishra’s work has a great parallel – in the faraway Bangladesh where a professor of Economics in the Chittagong University – Prof. Mohammad Yunus — had started a micro credit programme exclusively for women. The famed Gramin (rural) Bank of Bangladesh today has motivated similar movements in as many as 60 countries. For Prof. Mohammad Yunus, the concept brought a Nobel Prize, but more than that, it brought to him a sense of fulfillment of a vision based on trust.
Gramin Bank lends money only to women, in small sums, and enjoys a recovery of nearly 99% of the money given to poor women in Bangladesh. In fact, after years of successful running of the micro credit programme, now Bangladesh is in a position to claim that in a few more years, poverty in rural areas would be a thing of the past.
That Prof. Yunus had to face many an ugly political game later on, is another thing. But the fact cannot be erased that his programme was successful beyond words.
In both these cases – of Prof. Mohammad Yunus, and Nileema Mishra – success came because the collaborators were women. Both, Prof. Yunus and Nileema Mishra, worked on a simple belief that women are basically virtuous and do not like to cheat or lie or steal or defraud, negative exceptions notwithstanding.
The point to make here is simple: Many great social upliftment programmes around the world have been successful because women participated in those. News items in the media are commonplace that women of the village or a locality came together to have liquor shops banned, or gambling dens closed.
Of course, this is not at all to suggest that men are no good. Men also have their own virtues, and have contributed vastly for larger good of the society. But, it is also equally true that men seem bogged down by greater limitations than do women. It is commonplace experience that women have a tremendous ability to withstand adversity that flummoxes men all the time.
The world has several examples to endorse the sublime experience of Nileema Mishra and Prof. Mohammad Yunus that working with women is actually working with a virtuous and ethically –driven lot (exceptions, again, notwithstanding).
And then, to put this thought rather light-heartedly, women are very good, which is why they are called the ‘fairer sex’!

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