How Indian Financial Infrastructure Failed during the Pandemic
In November 2019, the ODRIIS Observatory in collaboration with Royal Holloway, University of London and various partners in India and Cambodia, started the research project Depleted by Debt? Focusing on a gendered lens on climate resilience, credit and nutrition in translocal Cambodia and South-India. Based on in-depth interviews with 60 male and female villagers in three Tamil villages, IFP researchers documented the consequences of the pandemic and the lockdown on local livelihoods and how financial infrastructures have strengthened or weakened them. The first results have just been published and highlight the failure of financial infrastructures to deliver on their promises. On the side of digital payments, which are supposed to facilitate the delivery of cash transfers, improve transparency and thus promote citizenship, the field evidence shows that digital finance is facing many dysfunctions and is missing its target. As for self-help credit groups, which are supposed to help the poor, through women, to cope better with the uncertainties of everyday life, field evidence shows that it is unfortunately the richest (and the upper castes) who benefit. The pandemic and the lockdown reveal the burden of chronic debt, both by the private providers that have flourished over the past decade in the countryside and by informal debts, including ceremonial debts between peers. In times of crisis, rather than a tool of resilience, credit – and its other side, debt – turns out to be primarily a tool of dispossession.
— Isabelle Guérin
ReferencesGuérin, I., Guermond, V., Joseph, N., Natarajan, N., & Venkatasubramanian, G. (2021). ‘COVID-19 and the Unequalizing Infrastructures of Financial Inclusion in Tamil Nadu’, Development and Change. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/dech.12674