MADURAI: Ailing from a humble background, this 67-year-old woman from Pilluseri village was awarded the Padma Shri this year for empowering lakhs of rural women against usury through her community banking movement ‘Kalanjiyam Iyakkam’.
P Chinnapillai is the youngest of four children born to agricultural labourers. She was married off to Perumal, also an agricultural labourer, when she was just a child. “Our family was poverty-stricken. Most families of farmers, at the time, were trapped in the evil clutches of usurers and no bank was willing to extend loans to women whose families were already sinking in debt,” recalled Chinnapillai.
With the help of the Madurai-based NGO, Development of Humane Action (DHAN) Foundation, in 1990 Chinnapillai started the first micro-credit or community banking movement called ‘Kalanjiyam Iyakkam’ with 15 members who contributed Rs 10 to 20 each. The amount they managed to pool together was given as loan to whichever member of the group was most in need of the money. The loan was repayable in instalments at an interest. The group maintained records and accounts which helped Kalanjiyam Iyakkam obtain bank loans when there was a need for a huge sum of money.
“Kalanjiyam refers to ‘granary’ where we store the grains harvested after months of toil in the fields. We called the first Kalanjiyam Pillu Kalanjiyam, after our village,” she said.
Despite initial apprehension from rural women, the initiative soon took off, mainly due to Chinnapillai’s untiring efforts in popularising the effort. She coaxed several hundreds of rural women into the micro-credit system which improved their social and economic status and boosted their self-confidence.
Today, Kalanjiyam Iyakkam has a presence in 16 states with over 55,000 Kalanjiyam groups, the sexagenarian smiles. In 1999, Chinnapillai shot to fame when then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee touched her feet as a sign of respect for her social service, while awarding her the Mata Jijabai Stree Shakti Puraskar.
The mother of two sons, was elated at having been awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India. “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 the small way I can, through Kalanjiyam,” she said.
Now the advisor of Kalanjiyam Iyakkam, Chinnapillai said her fight for total prohibition would continue. “Alcoholism has destroyed families and continues to do so even today,” she said. Last June, she was the proud recipient of Tamil Nadu’s Avvaiyar Award. She donates half of the prize money she receives
with the awards to the Kalanjiyam Iyakkam.
CM, Stalin commend awardees
Chennai: Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and DMK president MK Stalin have congratulated the eight Padma awardees of Tamil Nadu and former President Pranab Mukherjee, the Bharat Ratna awardee. In his greetings, Palaniswami said: “On behalf of the people of Tamil Nadu and myself, I congratulate the Padma Shri award winners.” Stalin said the Padma awardees have established the pride of Tamils not only in the country, but also in the international landscape