Umeed scheme gives wings to dreams of rural women in Kashmir’s Pulwama

Umeed scheme gives wings to dreams of rural women in Kashmir’s Pulwama

Umeed scheme gives wings to dreams of rural women in Kashmir’s Pulwama

Access to loans under the State Rural Livelihood Mission has financially empowered the women by helping them try their luck at varied businesses

Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir: The Urdu word umeed means hope. True to its name, the Umeed scheme aka the State Rural Livelihood Mission (SRLM) has turned out to be a harbinger of good times for the women of South Kashmir’s Pulwama district by making them a significant contributor to the family’s income.

Mir Masarat Qounser (42) from Sharshali panchayat in Pampore block of Pulwama is a community mobiliser, being the first leader and bookkeeper under the project. She is also the president of the cluster-level federation and leads the 13-member Bagh-I-Jannat self-help group (SHG). 

“I am also associated with at least 15 other SHGs in my area. The total strength of these SHGs is 300. At least 200 members are very active and performing well. The Umeed scheme has given a new meaning to our lives,” Qounser tells 101Reporters.

Under the scheme, a group of at least 10 village women can come together to form an SHG, with each contributing Rs 100 every month. The mission provides Rs 80,000 grant-in-aid, also known as capitalisation amount, which helps the SHG to launch its activities before applying for a bank loan. This is released in three tranches — Rs 15,000, Rs 40,000 and Rs 25,000.

The members of a beneficiary SHG need not always launch a joint venture, and have the option of taking up different trades. For example, Qounser got acquainted with the scheme when the SRLM officials visited Sharshali. She independently started Zaman Cloth House dealing with ladies garments and kids wear in March 2018, which was fully funded under the Umeed scheme.

“First, I express gratitude to Almighty Allah and then to the SRLM officials who motivated me to join the scheme,” says Qounser, who has completed her schooling. Besides Bagh-I-Jannat, Qounser is also a member of SHGs such as Rehmat, Apple, Bhat Kongposh, Madina, Izzat, Sehnoor, Azmat, Musa, Usmania, Nowsheen, Pakeeza, Daisy, Unique and Anza. Their varied business interests include running provision shops, poultry and sheep units, dry fruits units and kangri making.

Mir Masarat Qounser was reluctant when SRLM officials first visited her village. But she is now a believer, leading the 13-member Bagh-I-Jannat self-help group and presiding over the cluster-level federation (Photo - Jehangir Rashid Malik, 101Reporters)

A 2019 batch anesthesiology graduate, Bilqees Binti Arshad (27) of Kadlabal-Pampore works as a mobiliser for Bismillah SHG. “Some members have plunged into the transport business. They either have their own passenger vehicles or are supplementing the transport business of their dear ones,” she says.

Touching on their diverse activities, Arshad says, “Our team leader Roohi Ashraf’s shop deals with handmade sweaters. Three other members are into mobile repairing, while another runs a unisex beauty parlour.”  

Easy loans

The Umeed scheme has made interaction with the banking system easier for women. “Once they access the grant of Rs 80,000, we act as the bridge linking them with banks. They can take loans up to Rs 20 lakhs per SHG. The first tranche is of Rs 1 lakh, followed Rs 2 lakh, Rs 5 lakh, Rs 7 lakh and Rs 10 lakh,” Aijaz Ahmad Wani, District Programme Officer, SRLM, Pulwama, tells 101Reporters.

Noting that loan repayment is a continuous process, he says 70% of the beneficiaries have repaid the loan amounts on time to different banks to date.

According to Nadeem Bhat, District Programme Manager, Institution and Capacity Building, SRLM, 2,848 SHGs have been formed since 2019 in Pulwama district, with Rs 23,64,80,000 totally disbursed as loan amount to them. “The capitalisation amounts disbursed to date come to Rs 9,38,80,000,” he informs.

The contributions of Rs 100 per month from the members are saved in the respective SHG’s bank account. This amount totals Rs 4,21,30,481 in Pulwama district. This is a continuous fund as the contributions from members are regular.

“The SHGs do not receive any subsidy under the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM). Instead, what they get is interest subvention by the NRLM against prompt repayments to the bank,” says Bhat.

The government does not provide any support with respect to registration and accounting. The marketing support is in the form of exhibitions at different places showcasing their products. The SRLM also organises time-to-time awareness programmes and workshops.

SRLM Block Programme Manager Arshad Ahmad tells 101Reporters that 24,000 women have so far been associated with the scheme in Pampore, Kakapora, Tral and Pulwama blocks. 

Over 24,000 women from Pulwama are part of SHGs and are involved in various businesses including running provision shops, poultry and sheep units, dry fruits units and kangri making (Photo - Jehangir Rashid Malik, 101Reporters)

Ishrat Nazir, SRLM Cluster Coordinator for Pampore, says financial assistance has played a decisive factor in making rural women self-sufficient. Qounser agrees when she talks about her present income. “I applied for the bank loan in 2020 and it got sanctioned in 2021. My monthly average income used to be Rs 10,000 to 12,000 initially, but it has now reached Rs 16,000. I have appointed a salesgirl for a monthly salary of Rs 1,500.”

Qounser says she could contribute to the family income even during the COVID-19 period. “The pandemic did affect my business, but not in a big way. At that time, banks relaxed loan repayment for us. I started to pay the installments regularly only once the situation improved.”   

Changed perspectives

There is no doubt that the Umeed scheme has become the pillar of strength for the women of Pulwama. But not everybody was convinced about the scheme at one go like Qounser. “Launching the scheme in my village was not easy. People suspected the SRLM officials to be cheats. However, all that changed with the passage of time,” she says.

Some women presently have a working capital of Rs 5 lakh at their disposal. In the past, the SHG members would not have met the magistrate or officer concerned without difficulties. “We face no such hassles today. The Umeed scheme has given us a sense of pride. We get due respect whenever we visit an office, which was not the case earlier,” says Shazia Bashir (26).

District Programme Officer Wani agrees that women nowadays have become so confident that they are meeting the respective officials with ease. “I would say the community as a whole has come forward to support them. These women are the role models of our society.”

Bashir had managed her wedding expenses on her own by generating income from her saffron business. A resident of Konibal and humanities graduate, Bashir leads the 11-member Jannat SHG.

Nighat Ayub used to rue that despite being educated up to class 12, she would sit idle at home. Now she is the team leader of Habba Khatoon SHG and is associated with dry fruit and saffron businesses (Photo - Jehangir Rashid Malik, 101Reporters)

“My father has been into saffron cultivation for decades now. All along, we have seen middlemen exploit us by quoting throwaway prices for our produce. They then sell it for higher prices and earn huge profits,” explains Bashir, who now sells the produce directly to prospective buyers. 

“The year 2021 brought about the much-desired change. While attending a training programme on saffron harvesting by experts from Hyderabad, I got acquainted with some buyers who now directly contact me for the produce,” says Bashir. With her income, she could also support her brother in running his provision shop.

“Despite being educated up to class 12, I used to sit idle at home five years ago. But now, I am the team leader of Habba Khatoon SHG and am associated with dry fruit and saffron businesses. Two of my SHG mates have helped their husbands set up tailoring shops. Another SHG mate has started a dairy business,” says Nighat Ayub (24) from Chandhara. Some other members of Jannat SHG have scripted success by foraying into male-dominated work like sheep rearing. 

Cover Photo: Products by Bagh-I-Jannat SHG (Photo - Jehangir Rashid Malik, 101Reporters)

Edited by Rekha Pulinnoli


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