Lakhimi Baruah started the Konoklota Mahila Urban Cooperative Bank in 1998 in Jorhat, Assam, to help women from underprivileged backgrounds become financially independent and secure.
Lakhimi Baruah was named as one of the recipients of this year’s Padma Shri awards for 2021 in recognition of her efforts to financially empower the Assamese women.
Baruah is the founder of Konoklata Mahila Urban Cooperative Bank that has provided credit to thousands of women and made a positive change to their lives in Jorhat, Sivasagar and Golaghat districts.
After working for more than a decade in the region, Lakhimi realised that to bring a change, she had to start a bank. It is a bank for women and run by women.
Lakhimi was born in the small village of Jorhat, Assam. She had to drop out from college in 1969 due to financial constraints in her family. She got married in 1973 and went on to complete her graduation in 1980 after she started working in a bank.
Lakhimi Baruah’s mother passed away during her birth and her father died when she was in her early teens. Her relatives raised her despite hardships and made her realise the importance of financial security, especially for women. The difficult circumstances made Baruah stronger.
“I am very encouraged and inspired by the honour. It is a recognition of the difficult and arduous task that we have taken up and been pursuing for years. I want to express my gratitude to all who have been part of this journey and hope we reach more women.”, she said.
Baruah understood first-hand how women from very poor backgrounds faced problems because of lack of money or a place to safely keep their earnings during her involvement with various women groups and her work in a cooperative bank.
“Most women were unaware of how banks functioned. My work in a cooperative bank made me realise that these women needed a bank that they could access easily, save their earnings and take easy loans when in need. That is how the idea to set up the bank came.”, she said.
Despite no specialised knowledge of banking, Baruah applied to the Reserve Bank of India in 1990 to set up a cooperative bank for women. The approval came in 1998 and the bank was set up two years later in Jorhat with an initial investment of Rs. 8.45 lakh and 1,500 women members. The bank employs only women and now has four branches, 21 regular employees, and 45,000 account holders, mostly women.
“Women can open accounts with us with zero balance or as low as Rs20. Till now, we have given loans to over 8,000 women and around 1,200 women self-help-groups. Our turnover for the last year was nearly Rs16 crore and a profit of Rs30 lakh,” said Baruah.
“We operate with the deposits of very poor women. We hope after this recognition, the government schemes or works related to MP or MLA local area development funds are also done through our bank so that we are able to expand and help more women.”, she added.