Skip to main navigation menu Skip to main content Skip to site footer

How do the poor handle money? What do the financial diaries of char dwellers tell us about financial inclusion?

Space and Culture (Vol 1, No 1)


Derived from livelihoods surveys and ethnographic material about people living on the chars, or river islands, in deltaic lower Bengal, this paper illustrates the complex, diverse and ingenious ways that the poor manage money. These islands constitute some of the most vulnerable housing locations of some of the poorest communities; state services and facilities do not reach the chars because they are not listed as land in revenue records. It demonstrates that the poor live in a diverse economy where community spirit, family assistance and trust play roles equally important to markets. In doing so, it puts forth a grounded-in-the-field, evidence-based, critique of the slogan ‘financial inclusion’ that has gained prominence in recent years.


Poor, livelihoods, money management, financial diary


Author Biography

Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt

Resource Environment and Development Group, Crawford School of Public Policy, College of Asia and the Pacific,


Alfonso Castillo S.M. (2004). ‘Limiting possibilities’ in Nirantar’s Dilemmas and Questions: Micro Credit and Women’s Empowerment, World Social Forum Seminar Report, New Delhi: Nirantar.

Altman, Jon. (2009a.). ‘The hybrid economy as political project: Reflections from the indigenous estate’, Keynote address to the Indigenous Participation in Australian Economies conference, 9 November, Canberra. Available at (accessed on 20 August, 2011).

Altman, Jon. (2009b.). ‘The hybrid economy and anthropological engagements with policy discourses: A brief reflection’, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 20(3), pp. 318­­-29. Available at:;dn=2010015007;res=APAFT (accessed on 20 August 2011).

Bannerjee, Abhijit and Esther Duflo (2011). Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, New York: Public Affairs.

Burra, Neera, Joy Deshmukh-Ranadive and Ranjani K. Murthy (2005). (eds) Micro-Credit, Poverty and Empowerment: Linking the Triad, New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Cheston, Susy and Lisa Kuhn (2003). Empowering Women through Microfinance, A Draft Report, UNIFEM.

Collins, Daryl, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford and Orlanda Ruthven (2009). Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

de Aghion, Armendariz and Jonathan Morduch (2010). The Economics of Microfinance, 2nd edition, Cambridge: MIT Press.

Dewan, R. (2011). ‘Twelfth Plan: Patriarchy as Macroeconomic Construct’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XLVI No.42 October 15, 2011.

Duvendack Maren, Richard Palmer-Jones, James G. Copestake, Lee Hooper, Yoon Loke and Nity Rao (2011). What is the evidence of the impact of microfinance on the well-being of poor people? London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

Geertz, Clifford. (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures, New York: Basic Books.

Guerin, Isabelle and Jane Palier (2005). (eds.) Microfinance Challenges: Empowerment or Disempowerment of the Poor?, Pondicherry: French Institute of Pondicherry.

Gibson-Graham, J.K. (2006). A Post capitalist politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Harper, Malcom (2011). ‘The commercialization of microfinance: Resolution or extension of poverty?’ in Milford Bateman (ed.) Confronting Microfinance: Undermining Sustainable Development, Sterling, Va: Kumarian Press, pp. 4959.

Hulme David and Paul Mosley, eds. (1996) Finance Against Poverty, London: Routledge.

Hunt, Juliet and Nalini Kasynathan (2001). ‘Pathways to empowerment?: Reflections on microfinance and transformation in gender relations in South Asia’, Gender and Development 9(1): 42-52.

Kabeer, Naila (1998). ‘“Money can’t buy me love?” Re-evaluating gender, credit and empowerment in rural Bangladesh’, IDS Discussion Paper 363, Institute of Development Studies.

Kabeer, Naila (2000). ‘Conflicts over credit: Re-evaluating the empowerment potential of loans to women in rural Bangladesh’, World Development 29 (1): 63-84.

Kabeer, Naila (2005). ‘Is microfinance a ‘magic bullet’ for women’s empowerment? Analysis of findings from south Asia’, Economic and Political Weekly 40(44&45): 4709-4718.

Kalpana, K. (2005). ‘Shifting trajectories in microfinance discourse’, Economic and Political Weekly 40(51): 5400-5409.

Karim, Lamia (2011). Microfinance and its Discontents: Women in Debt in
Bangladesh, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Krishna, Anirudh (2003). ‘Falling into poverty: Other side of poverty reduction’, Economic and Political Weekly 38(6): 533-542.

Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala and Gopa Samanta (2007). “Like the drifting grains of sand’: Vulnerability, security and adjustment by communities in the charlands of the Damodar river, India’, Journal of South Asian Studies, 30(2): 327-349.

Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala and Gopa Samanta (forthcoming) Dancing with the River: Hybrid Landscapes and Livelihoods in Deltaic Bengal, India, Canberra: ANU E Press.

Morduch, J. and B. Haley (2002). Analysis of the effects of microfinance on poverty reduction, NYU Wagner Working Paper 1014, New York: New York University.

Murray, Robin (2009). Danger and Opportunity: Crisis and the New Social Economy, Provocation 09, September 2009, London: National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.

Nirantar (2004). Dilemmas and Questions: Micro Credit and Women’s Empowerment, World Social Forum Seminar Report, New Delhi: Nirantar.

Reserve Bank of India (2006). ‘Economic growth, financial deepening and financial inclusion’, Address by Rakesh Mohan, Deputy Governor of
the Reserve Bank of India, Annual Bankers’ Conference, 26 September 2006, Hyderabad.

Reserve Bank of India (2007). ‘Financial inclusion: The Indian experience’, Address by Usha Thorat, Deputy Governor of Reserve Bank of India, at the HMT-DFID
Financial Inclusion Conference, London , UK, 19 June,

Samanta, Gopa and Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt (2005). ‘Marginal lives in marginal lands: Livelihood strategies of women-headed, immigrant households in the charlands of the Damodar, West Bengal’ in Sumi Krishna (ed.) Women's Livelihood Rights: Recasting Citizenship for Development, New Delhi: Sage-India Publications.

World Bank (2001). World Development Report 2000-2001: Attacking Poverty, New York: Oxford University press.

Zaman, Hassan. (2004). The scaling-up of microfinance in Bangaldesh: Determinats, impacts and lessons, World Bank Policy Research Paper 3398, Washington DC: World Bank.


Download data is not yet available.