The power of Benevolence Blended with Valor: Chetna Gala Sinha, Founder of First Rural Women Co-operative Bank


We tend to notice too many inequities around us. But how many of us would abandon our hectic yet posh life to go after such imbalance, disparities, and problems seen in our society? Most of us would either feel sad and then forget or give some donations and feel less guilty but Chetna Gala Sinha is a different brand of powerhouse. Not only, she gave a makeover to the poorest and the most droughts stricken area of rural India but also helped the women to be trained with entrepreneurship qualities.

The Silent Samaritan’s Story of Empowering the Rural Women

Born and raised in Mumbai, Chetna from a young age was drawn towards human pain and helplessness. While doing her graduation and master’s in economics, she was inclined towards Jayaprakash Narayan’s brand of socialist politics. She shifted to Mhaswad in 1987, after her marriage to Vijay Sinha, an activist farmer. This relocation from Mumbai to Mhaswad was the limestone of a new beginning. It turned out to be a definite and fruitful move.

Her path was not an easy one and the changes took a lifetime of energy, power, and determination. She had a ringside view of the difficulties faced by women when she started her life in the drought-prone rural district. For basic facilities too, she had to raise her voice. She recalls her experiences, “When I arrived, I had no idea they didn’t have a toilet in the house. The next morning, when I asked Vijay about it, he told me to go to the fields behind the house and carry a stick should pigs come following. I decided that’s it; we needed to change a few things in the village. This also brought about a paradigm shift in my political agenda: From ‘down with capitalism’ slogans to petitioning for toilets in the house, electricity in the village, and fighting with bus station masters about three-hour delays.”

The idea of a Unique Banking System

The idea of opening a bank nurtured and took shape in her mind when few rural women approached her for advice and help for opening a savings bank account. Her activist side emerged after she witnessed the plight of those women who were looking for a place to deposit their savings and secure a better future of their family. However her plan to start a bank was not easily achieved. She suffered a major setback when RBI rejected her application on the ground that some of the promoting members were illiterate. Even though she was disheartened, she received wholehearted support from the village women who encouraged her to pursue her dreams and even organize classes for them. After five months of struggle, undying will-power, passion and women’s strong support led to the start of her unique bank. ‘Mann Deshi Mahila Sahkari Bank,’ license was granted.
The bank was first of its kind in the country: A bank by and for the rural women. Chetna even initiated doorstep banking for the women so that they wouldn’t lose any working days income. From the time it was set up in 1997, the bank is reaching great heights. It has been providing financial backup and emotional motivation to 3, 10, 000 women and helping them in becoming successful entrepreneurs.
Chetna can easily segue between the roles of a farmer, an economist and an activist with ease. But the most relevant thing about her is how she translates her vision into practices that work in the rural and local areas too. Her five ingredients to winning attitude are patience, passion, persistence, humility, and listening. She finds inspiration from the women around her who she feels are more powerful and determined than her.

Flourishing and Reaching New Heights

Chetna was motivated by the village women, who always had a positive attitude towards business. She was amazed by their confidence in money matters. This led to her next stride towards women empowerment. Once again she was struck by an exceptional idea of starting a business school. Her idea reached to its fruition and fulfillment in 2006 with the starting of the business school at the Mann Deshi Foundation. It didn’t have a regular vocational course, but it had modules specially customized to train rural women in setting up their own small businesses. The average annual income had an increase of 13,200 rupees after the rural women have taken business development classes.

The emergence of the business school led to its partnership with the Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute, which helped Mann Deshi to conduct its most successful programmes – training women in the vaccination and artificial insemination of goats. This was breaking into a male bastion.
Chetna’s journey remained steadfast on the financial well-being of the rural community. She has become a paragon of humanity. Even though her journey saw peaks and troughs; she came out as a winner. When Mhaswad faced one of the worst droughts, her convictions never left her, which motivated her in the building of 10 check dams within the next five years. When the whole nation came under the confusion of demonetization, which left the local vendors in the lurch, Mann Deshi officials went from door to door providing coins in exchange for old five hundred notes.
She connects with people naturally. Effortlessly she managed to bring out the creative side and the potentials of the villagers. She has launched a community radio station, a platform for sharing and creative self – expressions for the rural women as well as started sports championship programme for the natural athletic Mhaswad people.

Chetna’s Vision and Future’s Objectives

Her drive for women empowerment is far from done. She is a warrior on way to fight for the poor and the needy.
“For me, the potential of women is not just in doing something for themselves or their families: we inspire the women to change society. We’ve achieved so much, but this is just the beginning.”
Wishing for a successful journey in Chetna Gala Sinha’s every historic leap ……

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