Rajkumari is a shop owner who lives in the Bartala village, which falls in the Bhetua block within the state of Uttar Pradesh. She has five children and resides with her husband, two sons, and one daughter. All of her children currently attend or already finished private school. Her elder two daughters completed grade 12 before getting married, and her oldest son is in his first of three years at Industrial Training Institute (ITI), a post-secondary trade school in India. She is covering his fees with a loan she received from her local self-help group.
Rajkumari grew up the daughter of a coalminer. She went to school until grade 8, and then married at the age of 14. After her father died 25 years ago of lung disease, her mother and two siblings faced serious financial problems. She and her husband supported them as long as they could, but eventually needed her brother to carry his own weight. Unfortunately, he struggled to secure a career like their father had and earns a living as a day laborer.
Rajkumari and her husband are rather entrepreneurial and have cultivated a few diverse sources of revenue. They have a little less than two acres of land—quite a bit more than the average for rural households in their region—which they farm for subsistence and income. Her husband sells vegetables to local villagers on his bicycle and makes 100-200 rupees per day. The shop Rajkumari runs out of their modest brick home earns 40-50 rupees per day. Prior to the shop she had a PCO business—basically a phone booth where people could pay to make calls. However, after mobile phones became ubiquitous, the PCO business was obsolete. She’s now been running the shop for about 10 years.
Rajkumari’s house is connected to the electric utility, but supply is erratic. She uses the bike to charge her mobile phone and to provide light for her shop. She says she pedals while she waits for customers. Prior to the bike she had to shut down her shop at dusk, but now she is able to stay open much later. With light powered by the bike, Rajkumari is also free from the dangers of kerosene lanterns. Recently she lit one in her shop and it ended up catching fire. Fortunately she escaped unharmed, but she incurred significant inventory losses, from which she still has not fully recovered.