MADURAI: Hailing from a humble background, this 67-year-old woman from Pilluseri village went on to win Padma Shri award this year for having empowered lakhs of rural women, salvaging them from usury through her community banking movement 'Kalanjiyam Iyakkam'.
P Chinnapillai (67), born in the family of agricultural labourers is the youngest of four siblings and was married off early to Perumal, an agricultural labourer when she was a child.
"Our family was poverty-stricken and it was time when most families of farmers were caught in the evil clutches of usurers and no bank was willing to extend the loan to the women whose families were already sinking in debts," narrated Chinnapillai.
With the help of the Madurai-based NGO, Development of Humane Action (DHAN) Foundation, in the year 1990, Chinnapillai started the first micro-credit / community banking movement 'Kalanjiyam Iyakkam' which had about 15 members who made a meagre contribution of Rs.10 - 20 each. The sum thus pooled in by all was lent and was repayable in instalments for interest, to the group's member who needed it the most. The group also maintained books of records and accounts which helped Kalanjiyam Iyakkam in obtaining bank loans at times of need for a huge sum of money.
"Kalanjiyam translates to granary where we store the grains harvested after months of toil in the fields and we called the first Kalanjiyam as Pillu Kalanjiyam, named after our village," she shared.
Faced by initial apprehension from the rural women, the initiative soon began to pick up mainly due to Chinnapillai's untiring efforts in popularising it by coaxing several hundreds of rural women into the micro-credit system that improved the social and economic status and boosted the self-confidence of the women.
Today, Kalanjiyam Iyakkam has spread its wings far and wide across the country and has its presence in 16 states with over 55,000 Kalanjiyam groups, the sexagenrarian smiles. In the year 1999, Chinnapillai shot to fame when the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, touched her feet as a mark of reverence for her social service while awarding her the Mata Jijabai Stree Shakti Puraskar.
Speaking to Express, she, mother of two sons, expressed elation on having won the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award. "The journey does not stop here. A lot more has to be done to reach out to women living in inaccessible hilly and tribal areas and I wish to strive for their empowerment in a small way that I can, through Kalanjiyam."
She who is now the Advisor of Kalanjiyam Iyakkam also said that her fight for bringing about total prohibition will continue. "Alcoholism has destroyed families and continues to do even today," she added.
In June last year, she was also the proud recipient of Tamil Nadu government's Avvaiyar Award. She usually donates half of the prize money that she receives along with awards to the Kalanjiyam Iyakkam.