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People of Bharat: Pinky

I arrive at Pinky’s house in Aurangabad, a small town in Bihar. Pinky’s husband welcomes me at the door and tells me Pinky is doing pooja. I wait and in a few minutes Pinky emerges from an interior room. Pinky is 35, well-groomed and talks animatedly to me about herself. Pinky was born in a village in Jori near Chatra in Jharkhand. She was the youngest of the three siblings. Pinky’s father ran a small and moderately successful grocery store in the village. He sold grains, oil, vegetables and dry snacks such as biscuits. Her father also worked seasonally on farms spraying pesticides during the flowering season. He also sold the same in his shop just like many other seasonal products. Her childhood was comfortable and the family managed to survive on the income of her father. Pinky studied till the tenth standard and then took up a local course in sewing. She paid Rs. 1500 for it — although at the time it seemed to her a large amount. ‘What did you do after you finished school?’ I ask. ‘Well I didn’t run away with someone! My family got me married’ she laughs. Pinky came to Aurangabad in Bihar after her wedding and settled here with her husband and in-laws. Her husband’s parents both died in quick succession, a couple of years back. Her husband and his brother shared their inheritance equally and amicably — a house that had belonged to their parents. Pinky and her husband live with their two children, a daughter aged ten and a son aged seven in their own house outside town. The house is very old and in need of repairs but its looks ordered and well-kept. The family owns a TV, a refrigerator, a cooler and a tractor. Pinky tells me her husband is the same age as her and works as a ‘thekedaar’ or contractor on construction projects in and around Aurangabad. He uses the tractor to supply raw material such as sand, bricks and cement to clients. Pinky was a housewife until three years ago. With mounting expenses of running a household, she stepped up to contribute. ‘Chota chota bacha tha, abhi bada ho gaya toh socha kuch karna chahiye’ (At first my kids were small, but since they are older, I felt like I should do something). Pinky had developed a regular savings habit. She would squirrel away some cash every month from the money her husband gave her to run the household. She used her savings to buy a mixer grinder and a refrigerator. Three years ago, she used her savings to buy a sewing machine. She started taking orders for stitching women’s garments and soon gathered a group of loyal customers. Pinky also teaches sewing to about five or six women who live in her vicinity. Pinky starts her day by getting her children dressed and sent to school. Since the lockdown, her children have been attending online classes. She finishes her morning chores and does her pooja (morning prayers) before starting her sewing work. Pinky charges Rs. 250 for stitching a salwar-kurtaset — she also takes orders to sew pillow and mattress covers at Rs. 50 and Rs. 100 respectively. On an average month, Pinky spends Rs. 500 on thread, lace, chalk and buttons. Her average monthly income ranges from Rs. 2500 to Rs. 5000 depending on season and the number of orders she is willing to take. ‘I don’t take too many. I have my house to mind as well’ she says. Pinky’s husband makes Rs. 15,000–20,000 a month but his income is highly variable depending on availability of projects. The household spends an average of Rs. 7000–8000 on groceries, Rs. 1500 on utilities, another Rs. 4000 on school fees and Rs. 1500 on private tuitions for the children. The family pays Rs. 800 in fortnightly loan instalments on a loan of Rs. 33,000 taken from a microfinance organization by her husband. Her husband needed the money for his work. Pinky saves on a regular basis — stashing some in cash at home. More recently she started saving with Kaleidofin and also refers Kaliedofin’s saving schemes to other women in her area. So far, she has got 22 women to save with them. The flexibility of making payments without inviting a penalty for skipping monthly payments appealed to Pinky. She tells me women get intimidated by regular savings schemes if they are not sure they will be able to save every month. When the lockdown was declared, her husband’s income stopped, but fortunately she bagged a contract to make cloth masks. She was given the design of the mask as a drawing and a sample from which she was able to produce similar masks. ‘Jo silayi kartein hain unko bas design chahiye — use dekhke bana payenge’ (Those who know tailoring only need a design to be able to stitch anything) she replied confidently when I asked how she was able to adapt to a new requirement at such a short notice. Pinky along with four other women made 10,000 masks for which they were paid Rs. 3 per mask. During the lockdown the family survived on their savings and borrowing some from their family members. They also got a ration card issued to avail free/subsidised government rations during the period. Though work is slowly getting back to normal, their household income has been halved when compared to normal times. Pinky tells me she also feels very confined at home due to social distancing norms. Pinky aspires to expand her business someday by turning it into an independent women’s apparel store. She also wants to renovate her home, educate her children and be able to save for her daughter’s wedding. ‘Sudhaar laana chahte hain. Humaari sthiti jaisi thi use ache sthiti unko mile’ (I want to improve my current living situation. I want my children to have better living conditions than what we had). I ask her if she wants to share a message with fellow women. Pinky says she wants women to cast aside fear and take up more responsibilities. ‘Women should stand up alongside their husbands and help in earning an income. During hard times, this additional income can become a saviour for families.’

This story has been developed in partnership with Kaleidofin. A portfolio startup of CIIE.CO. Kaleidofin is a FinTech platform that propels under-banked customers towards meeting their real life goals by providing intuitive & tailored financial solutions.

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