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Meet Lakhimi, Financial Whiz For Rural Women
Ratna Bharali Talukdar

Is the banking sector in India women-friendly, especially for the poor and distressed? According to Lakhimi Baruah, 65, who spent a better part of her life working for a bank before establishing the Kanaklata Women Urban Cooperative Bank - the first all-woman bank in the Northeast –commercial institutions have been largely unable to address the needs of those for whom stress-free banking services could be their only way out of a life of penury, providing them freedom from shady money lenders. Years ago, Baruah had realised that for women in difficult circumstance, like someone fighting a bitter divorce battle with an alcoholic husband for instance, approaching a ‘regular’ bank for even a small loan was nothing short of a nightmare, given that there would be complicated paperwork to negotiate and uncaring personnel to deal with. That is why she quit her secure banking job to set up Kanaklata women's bank in the upper Assam town of Jorhat. Overcoming teething troubles and stiff fiscal challenges, Baruah today has not just managed to keep the institution going but is expanding it to reach out to a customer base that chiefly comprises poor, abandoned, single women.

“A woman who is facing discrimination at the hands of her male family members would obviously find it tough to approach a male employee in any financial institution. This is just one of the women-specific issues that our traditional banking system has failed to address.”

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Tribal Children Learn To Dream
Pamela Philipose

The Sahariya tribals of Madhya Pradesh, one of India's most marginalised communities, have been subjected to upheavals of all kinds caused by widespread poverty, increasing deforestation and project related displacement. It is the Sahariya children who have suffered the most as a consequence, whether it was in terms of poor nutrition, interrupted schooling or indifferent health. This is why the Freedom from Hunger and Fear Campaign, a unique intervention focusing on the Sahariya community in the two states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, paid special attention to children. By setting up Bal Adhikar Kendras, or child rights resource centres, in 88 villages where it had a presence, the FHFC could empower Sahariya children in unique ways and help them take charge of their lives.

“I have this dream of becoming a doctor. My marks in science are good and I will make every effort to realise that dream!”

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The Banker, The Crusader: Mumbai Poll's Study In Contrast
Smita Deodhar

One has a lifetime of activism to her credit, while the other is well known in corporate India as the former CEO of a major international bank. One chucked a teaching job and left behind a half-completed PhD to spent 30 years criss-crossing the country, exposing corruption, protesting against large dams and land grabs, agitating for the rights of the displaced and the marginalised; the other, a Harvard alumnus with astute economic sensibilities, has had considerable experience in policy formulation. This election, the Aam Aadmi Party has given the poll scene in maximum city Mumbai two contrasting, yet powerful, women. Medha Patkar, 59, and Meera Sanyal, 55, are candidates from North East Mumbai and South Mumbai, respectively. But while the development trajectories envisioned by the two women look quite different, both believe that for inclusive growth, all opinions must be taken into account.

“The AAP has brought people like activist Medha Patkar and me to sit across the table and talk to each other. Creating jobs and conserving the environment at the same time – that's our policy for growth.”

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Battling Child Marriage In Assam's Tea Gardens
Azera Parveen Rahman

Most of the workers in Assam's tea plantations are tribal migrants from Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. Their ancestors were brought here as labour more than a century ago and they have stayed on. But while Assam's tea industry has made tremendous progress over the years, reaping large profits, the situation of the workers who constitute its backbone remains dismal. Ignorance, illiteracy, poor health and poverty plague the community and the prevalence of child marriage is only a reflection of this. According to government data, although the prevalence of child marriage in Assam, at 40 per cent, is lower than the national average there are pockets - such as the tea gardens - where the levels are much higher. All hope, however, is not lost. A positive intervention to tackle child marriage in the tea gardens has been the Adolescent Girls Clubs, whose young members have even successfully prevented such marriages.

“Elopements take place all the time. My niece, the daughter of my sister Rupa, was just 15 when she went away with a boy who was around her age from a neighbouring line.”

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Bearing Witness To Kamala Das
Merrily Weisbord

‘Your book should show truth, like the store that sells knives – the glitter, the gleam, and the violence…It is like burying a time capsule with the dates and data accurately written down, with people coming after centuries to dig it up and free it.' By her own admission, Canadian writer Merrily Weisbord's life and work has been greatly influenced by the words and experiences of Kamala Das, the daring poet and litt?rateur from Kerala. Over the course of their decade-long friendship Das shared a lot about her life with Weisbord, which inspired her to ask for formal permission to write about her. As she gave her approval, Das's only condition was that as her designated biographer be brutally honest and publish the work only after her death. ‘The Love Queen of Malabar' is an uncensored and soulful look at the life and times of Kamala Das. Here's an excerpt that describes the creative life she had enjoyed at Nalapat and the confidence instilled in her by her grand-uncle Nalapat Narayana Menon, a brilliant writer, who gave her a taste for salons and wit, and a free rein of his eclectic library.

“Ask the books that I read why I changed,” she says, “Ask the authors dead and alive who communicated with me and gave me the courage to be myself.”

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