CHENNAI:Kalpana K, assistant professor, department of humanities and social sciences, IIT Madras, began her journey with self-help groups (SHG) in 1997. Since then, she has been actively involved in documenting SHGs, beyond the accounts of women empowerment. The academician-cum-activist organiser recently released her book ‘Women, microfinance and the State in Neo liberal India’ at the IIT Madras campus.
Among the many present at the book launch was Nithya Rao, professor, gender development, University of East Anglia, UK and she said, “I found it to be constructive when Kalpana did her thesis on the same topic. However, a thesis to be converted into a book is a tough job and she has done an extremely good job. I hope this has a big readership as it deals with a current development challenge.” Pointing to Kalpana’s background in activism, Nithya added, “This book gives a sense of confidence and conviction as it is written from knowing ground realities.”
After a stimulating panel discussion of her book by Madhura, MA student and Aswathy, a research scholar, Kalpana goes back to her initial activism days and talks about being part of the People science movement in 1997. “The vision that SHG’s were instruments that could mobilise women and hasten a transformative change, drew me to it. They didn’t see them as tools that could enhance banking and financial inclusion. But, it was more of a women’s collective to move towards the path of gender equality,” she narrated.
Soon enough she realised that micro credit brought unavoidable challenge. “I started documenting how peer solidarity could become an oppression, and how supporting each other could crucial,” she shared.
From the global summit on micro credit (1997) to the grameen bank being rolled out in 2002, Kalpana had an eye on changes and says that it pushed her to take a more critical stance on microfinance. “It made me think about the potential in India. It seemed India was on to something new and I wanted to explore the new innovative model,” she shared.
Thanking numerous women whose stories Kalpana narrates in the book, she says, “These are tales of women who are full of spirit, struggle and grit. They never had an option on giving up. I write about what their struggles were with each other and with the state… it has been a moving, inspiring and exciting journey,” she smiled. Thanking the institution and her department for giving her the time to write the book, she adds about her future goal, “Micro credit may not be my entry point into research world. My abiding interest will be on gender, poverty and women’s collective action.”
(K Kalpana’s book is available on Amazon)