The camel was dead.
Apparently it had slipped off a narrow muddy path and went sliding down into a large ditch. As the rains pounded Surajgarh, the ditch got filled with water and the camel, unable to drag itself out, drowned in this ditch. Dalu Gameti had allowed his camel to go up in the hills for grazing as he had done many times before. Sundown beckoned, and he frantically searched for his camel, the rain impeded his search and he was only able to spot his camel when the sky cleared up, three days later.
Surajgarh is a heavily forested area with dense hills. It also has a fort that existed since pre-British times and now lies in dilapidated condition. This place is also known for wildlife, especially frequent sightings of the panther. It’s quite difficult for vehicles to reach houses here. People living around these areas need to lug bundles of hay-stack, wood, mud and stones. Whenever a family needs hay for their cattle urgently and or has run out of firewood, Dalu and his camel would pitch in. Not only Surajgarh but also other places, in and around Gogunda block of South Rajasthan, with a similar hilly terrain request people like Dalu for their services. On an average, he earns anywhere between Rs. 300 to Rs. 400 per day for his transportation services, making life comfortable for his family of six.
Dalu Partha Gameti, 38, is clearly heavily dependent on his camel for his livelihood. Occasionally he also finds work as a mason but his income from the camel is almost equivalent to that of his other source. He was under enormous pressure now, monsoon meant that construction work had slowed down to a trickle and he was solely dependent on his camel for feeding his entire family.
Facing a shortage of construction work alongside the death of his camel dealt a double blow and suddenly he had no source of livelihood. His cousin’s camel, now alone, would also prove ineffective. Camels, like us human beings, love to work in groups. A camel’s efficiency is reduced when it does not have the company of other camels. There were two families affected by this crisis then.
Across the country, livestock and beasts of burden are one of the top 3 income sources for families – after farming and manual labour. If one looks into the credit up-take, other than household expenses – alongside farming, irrigation and health, purchase of beasts of burden counts as one of the foremost. This is because the perceived income from investment in an animal is very high. However, most often, over-simplification means the family does not account for the monetary value of the effort in attending to them as well as the maintenance cost. To add to it, an untimely death can completely upset the cash flow; sometimes strong enough to put the family back into the credit cycle. The subsequent time required to recover from this and replace it with a working asset, animal or otherwise is also an uphill task then.
The sources of credit in rural India move between formal sources like cooperatives, commercial banks (wherever they are present) and non-formal sources like money-lenders, traders and family. The interest rates in the non-formal space can be as high as 10% per month.
The semi-formal avenues like Self Help Groups and micro-finances however, opened up a whole new world of hope and opportunities in this set-up. Ranging between 2-4% per month, these credit sources are not just affordable, they also have products which are custom made for the needs of the local community as well as have no collateral requirement. Most often, the credit is
given to a group instead of an individual and thus the group becomes the guarantor instead of a mortgaged asset from an individual.
Dalu was already a ‘Shram Sarathi’ client and was now eligible for a loan of Rs. 15,000. A new healthy camel roughly costs between Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 40,000. He obtained a new camel for a lesser amount and put in Rs. 10,000 from his own savings alongside help from friends and family. ‘Shram Sarathi’ disbursed the loan amount within three days of his application and Dalu was able to restart his source of livelihood within a week of losing his camel.
Aajeevika Bureau is a non-profit working with the migrant community of south Rajasthan for over a decade now. Shram Sarathi is the financial services arm of Aajeevika Bureau. Apart from providing micro-loans, Shram Sarathi also delivers other services like savings, insurance and pension.
(Names changed to protect identity)
Shriram Padmanabhan is a 2015-16 cohort India Fellow who was placed with Shram Sarathi for a year (he continues to work with them in designing and implementation of need based financial products and services post his fellowship.) He never once imagined that he will get to know the cost of buying a camel and never thought that a camel is as useful in hilly areas as it is in the deserts of Rajasthan.