New Delhi, Jan 30: Micro-credit has been slow to pick up in India, says Bangladesh's Nobel Prize winning economist Muhammad Yunus, even as he believes that one day poverty will be banished to the museums.
"(In India) it hasn't picked up in the manner it should. The banks are not sure about recovery. Moreover, there are apprehensions that such a facility will get entangled in abuse and corruption," Yunus told IANS in an interview here. He is in India to attend a two-day conference on the ideas and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.
More than three months after bagging the Nobel Peace Prize, Yunus, known popularly as the "poor man's banker", has only one overarching dream: to create a world in which not a single human being is poor.
"When I got news of winning the Nobel Prize, I didn't know how to react to it. First, there was complete disbelief. I thought maybe somebody was joking," Yunus recalled that glorious and humbling moment when he was told he had won the coveted Nobel Peace Prize last year.
"And within five minutes, my phone started ringing and kept ringing for what seemed like hours, with people from every corner of the country and the world calling to congratulate me."
Clearly, winning the Nobel was a transforming moment.
"Suddenly everyone got interested. People came on the streets and hugged each other and kept on crying and crying out of sheer joy. I knew the expression shedding 'tears of joy'. But this was the first time I experienced what it meant," recalled Yunus, his face radiating serenity and joy at this recognition of his life-long fight against poverty.
But all the Nobel euphoria sits slightly on him. The 66-year-old economist has a new fire in his eyes that wants to convince everybody around him that the war against poverty is not some impossible oddball idea but one that can be won.
"I want the world to believe strongly that we can create a world where not a single human being is poor. Poverty will belong to museums and not to here and now," he said.
"Eradicating poverty is not some utopian idea. But it's doable, achievable," he stressed, as he recalled how the idea of small loans for the poor came to him when he returned from the US to Bangladesh in 1972.
"I was shocked to discover that 42 poor people had taken a total of $27 from various moneylenders. I was scandalised that people had to go through so much hardship for this small amount of money.
"I then decided to free them from their debts to save them from the torture and exploitation by moneylenders. This is how the idea of Grameen Bank was born," he said. Grameen Bank, the joint winner of the Nobel, set up in 1976 has now 6.6 million borrowers, of which 97 percent are women.
The results of his pioneering micro-credit for the poor have been duplicated globally and are there for everybody to see.
"During the 1990s, poverty reduced by one percent in Bangladesh. That meant a net reduction of poverty by 10 percent. For the next five years, poverty reduced by two percent per annum making for a 20 percent reduction in poverty," Yunus said.
"If it goes on like this, Bangladesh will be one of the first few countries to achieve the millennium development goal to halve its poverty by 2010," the pragmatic visionary said.
Yunus is, however, appalled at the "bad politics" in Bangladesh that has created instability and chaos there ahead of the elections this year.
"Bangladesh is essentially a liberal Muslim society. I am sure it will pass," he stressed while alluding to the culture of jehad that is growing in his country.
The eternal optimist, he continues to have undiminished faith in "better politics and economics" that can one day banish poverty to some no-no land.