Self-help groups might have resulted in significant upward movement in the status and role of women in society, but a recent study reveals existence of casteism in the SHGs.

Conducted across eight States covering a sample of over 1,942 groups, the study indicated that caste played a dominant role in the formation and functions of the SHGs. At least 29 per cent of the groups surveyed reported different etiquette for different social categories and preference to same caste could be seen in the selection of members of the respective groups.

According to C.S. Reddy, CEO of AP Mahila Abhivrudhi Samakhya (APMAS ), which instrumental in the study, from the initial stages when the groups had representation from different social categories, a majority of them were now found to be homogenous. “As a result, there is a sharp decline in the number of members in individual groups -- from over 20 a decade ago to around 10 at present,” he told The Hindu.

While the SHG movement was founded on social, political, cultural and economic empowerment of women, ‘overemphasis’ on the economic aspects ‘corrupted’ the concept. The members are found to be pre-occupied on loans and other financial aspects rather than focussing on broad spectrum of issues including caste related aspects.

Same leaders

This is manifest in the form of resistance to leadership change in the SHGs as the dominant member of the group could manipulate the other members who are either from the same caste, relatives or have some working relationship with the leader. The study revealed that 59.2 per cent of groups continue with same leader, while over 36 per cent opted for a change once/twice.

The groups where leadership change took place more than four times is pegged at 0.8 per cent.

One of the main reasons for the situation, according to Mr. Reddy, is the government’s treatment of the SHGs as channelising agencies for delivery of welfare schemes. “Once they look at the government as benefactor, their strength to question the system automatically subsides,” he says.

The larger issues such as caste-related and other social inequities will continue as long as the SHGs remain beneficiaries rather than emerging as a demand system.