Can poverty be solved by giving 1 lakh cash to poor families?

CashRelief.org, a non-profit, hired me recently to help them bring out the story of why they started this crazy program to offer close to 1 lakh rupees to all families in a village, unconditionally. I have tried to show what the typical perception of most urban Indians is, when it comes to using cash to help poor and why the co-founders of CashRelief don’t necessarily agree with the predominant narrative. This video-story would help them in raising funds for expanding this pilot in different parts of India. I also created a behind the scenes video from the few days that I spent in the village in Rajasthan, where the pilot has been rolled out!

This was a pretty stimulating experience for me. When I first heard of the program, I was both excited (because something like this was never done in India before) and skeptical – how will something like this ever work? In fact, it was my idea that I should meet some of the funders of this program to ask them why they agreed to be a part of this? And that day of meetings with many of them, did make it easy for me to understand their thought process and why this experiment deserves a fair chance! That’s pretty much what this story is about. What do you think?

Rajasthan, India. 2018. It was a struggle to get this picture right. I am glad I got it right. Ambalal and family are trying to finish their house. There is a flash hidden on the left side (of the photograph) and there is natural light coming from the right. Let me explain why it was challenging to make this photograph. It was a hot day today. This is a small village in Rajasthan. It was so hot that my flash (Godox AD360ii) started acting absurdly and would fire only once in a while. Now I pretty much knew I wanted a picture of the family right here, but without flash this picture wouldn’t look as good as it looks right now. When the flash would fire, the expressions wouldn’t come great and when the expressions were great, the flash wouldn’t fire. But I kept at it, and kept the family smiling to the extent that I could (kids lost interest in my jokes pretty soon). Finally, I got this. And I showed it to them the moment I got it, because I knew I had gotten my shot. Why was I so keen on having the family smile? Because I know they are genuinely happy for the fact that they very recently received a gift of INR 96,000/- from CashRelief.org – a first of its kind initiative in India that selects a poor Indian village and grants this much money to each family in the village with no strings attached / no conditions imposed. The money has been pooled together from various rich donors. This village is the first pilot and I am documenting the story as a film-maker. The whole photography thing, is just a side thing. I do have something interesting in mind, for some of these pictures though! 🙂 Ambalal and his family put most of the money they were gifted to finish this house that had been under construction for over two years now. It is very difficult for the poor to save / raise enough money to build a ‘pakka’ house. From what I have observed in this village of 34 people so far is, those who have started building a house, are using the money to finish it. Those who have a house, but no animals, buy cattle. Those who have cattle, buy other stuff from a motorcycle (to ease their commute) to a fridge in a small shop.

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This is Hiralal, and his wife. They are blushing because I asked them to imagine themselves as newlywed. 34 families live in the village where Hiralal lives. Most of them own farming land but are able to produce only enough to consume themselves. There is little money to be made / saved. When there is no farming work to do, all the villagers go for daily wage which fetches them between 200 to 300 rupees per day. On an average, the monetary wealth they can create in a year is about 50,000 rupees. But how does it matter? Every villager wants to have a safer, better house that doesn’t collapse in rain. And a house like that costs anywhere between 1 to 2 lakh if not higher. So it takes villagers like Hiralal five to six years to build a decent house, that could have been built in six months. The house you see behind them is that house, btw. Eventually everyone takes loan from somewhere or other, mostly at absurdly high interest rates (upto 10% per month) and live a poor life, all their lives. As part of new program initiated by a private entity (cashrelief dot org), close to 1 lakh rupees was given to Hiralal and each family in the village – all the 34 of them – to see what they do with that money if there are no strings attached and no conditions imposed. Hiralal already had a decent house, so he bought a buffalo. He still has 70k left. He says, the first priority now is to make a shed for the animal. And then the two of them will figure out what next to do with the money. He really wants to figure out how to double the amount that he has received. Many others used significant portion of the money to pay off their extremely costly debts. Others put that in finishing their house (thus freeing up productive man-years for the family). It’s been less than a month that this money was transferred to the families. #documentary #story #stories #rajasthan #ruralindia #photojournalism #documentaryphotography #3ms #3minutestories #couple #strobe #ruralcouple #bharat #cashforrelief #ruralstories

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One comment on “Can poverty be solved by giving 1 lakh cash to poor families?”

  1. R.Muraleedaran says:

    I would like them to get involved with some NGO who can get them trained and fetch some bank loan with this as seed money.
    they could have got around Rs.3 to 4 lacs.

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