South Asian Projects
The Trap-M. Nipunika Fernando (Sri Lanka)
This is the true and painful story of women who caught up to micro finance mafia in Sri Lanka. Microfinance institutions threaten and violate human rights when they collect debts. Around 200 women along with their children suicide due to the physiological and physical violence on them by debt collectors of microfinance institutions.
‘The Trap’ tells the story of the Sri Lankan women who have been caught in to microfinance trap in Sri Lanka. The microfinance system considers as an initiative to strengthen and support to eradicate poverty but the microfinance debt trap becomes a burning issue for women in Sri Lanka. Microfinance companies are growing very fast but poverty is increasing day by day. Till today 201 women have suicide as they were unable to pay the monthly interest. In 2021 three women suicide along with four children. Micro Finance loan interest rate is 35% in Sri Lanka. There were 200 Micro Finance institutions in Sri Lanka in the early 2000 and it had grown to 14000 by 2015. Among these institutions, only four companies have registered in the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. As many victims say micro-financing companies are calculating interest rates in an arbitrary way. Most rural women have no English literacy. They sign the microfinance agreements without having a clear idea about the conditions in it. Microfinance companies are giving loans within three days. They do not ask so many documents or proof of evidence to check the capacity of these women. When the agreement says it is 18% when they pay the interest collecting officers take26%. The debt collectors come to houses at 6 am and sit there all day till the innocent women pay the interest, however. Sometimes when the husband is not at home the officers come and that situation leading to fights at home as the husband thinks his wife is unfaithful after hearing the rumors neighbors say. Women have pawned their jewelry and household goods to repay the debt. These women are in great pressure and tension. Because when they hear a Moto bicycle sound they feel frightened. They run their backyard to hide themselves from the debt collectors. If the debt collectors see only children are at home they use filthy words to children as well.
Comparing to men most women are caught in the microfinance trap. As a result of unregulated microfinance, there are 2.8 borrowers and 2.4 of them are women. Interest paid ranges from 28 percent to 89 percent. Most of the time they take a loan to develop their home-based businesses or for their cultivation purposes.
Many politicians gave false promises as a part of their election campaigns. But still, these women are struggling to find a proper solution to get out from the microfinance trap that is spreading in their villages so fast and destroy innocent lives and families.
The idea of making this documentary came a couple of years ago when a housemate came to my aunt’s place. That woman is a good mother and had a happy family. She came to my aunt’s place to stay there and work full-time as a servant. Why? She needs money to pay monthly interest. She needs a place to stay outside the village as debt collectors have already destroyed her good name in her village. She wanted a place to hide which is far away from her home. Every moment I talked with her she cried and reveals her story. How they were happy as a family. How she took alone to start a family business, how she fell into debt trap, who debt collectors and neighbors started to spread gossips about her. How her two sons started to hate her mother. Then I researched a lot and met other victims who have damaged themselves in different ways due to the microfinance debt trap. Poor men and women are struggling to live while paying debts. In 2016/17 there was a raising in suicides among women because of these microfinance loans. It is similar to the suicide epidemic in Andhra Pradesh India in early 2010. These suicides get no attention in Sri Lanka. They are unheard of. Their crying and suffering are unheard of. As a women filmmaker, I really feel that I need to be a voice to these unheard women. I need to make a documentary that makes an impact to change these victims’ lives.
Mala is talking about the early life they had before they caught to microfinance trap. She talks how happy they was with limited resources. Viewers only hear her voice only. Some birds are flying freely in the sky. Viewers sees the beauty in the village. River flows freely. Then the house of the protagonist appears on the screen. We go inside with the camera while hearing what she says. Viewers see some old photographs on wall and some are on the table. Everything seems happy and normal. Suddenly viewers hear a sound of a motorbike. Camera is running and hide. Breathing Fast…
While panting protagonist start talking again. ‘It is the debt collecting officers bike.’ She says. Viewers sees the surrounding of the place where she hides. Suddenly camera captures her stressful face. She says her story while hide in that place. Camera is also hiding with her and records her story. Time passes.
Again slowly she comes out from the place she hides and enter to her house. Environment seems not very peaceful as before. She shows the receipts which she got by the micro finance institute. She says about the other women who faced the same issue like her. She says that her friend Mala who faces the same issue will tell viewers her story.
An activist who is fighting for the microfinance issue talks about the microfinance industry in Sri Lanka. How they violates human rights of the victims. How government acts. What the future will be and about the poor rules and regulations in the country related to microfinance industry.
Camera visits Madhuka. Madhuka is with her children at that time and she makes tea and viewers see little about their daily routine. While involving her work she tells us about the worst experiences she had to face because of the loan she took. She talks about how it affects her family life. How her children suffer because of the issue. She cries. Camera is looking at the empty sky. Madhuka gives a phone call to one of the woman who is also a victim of the micro finance issue.
Camara meets Kusumawathi.A 60 year old woman who has a small carpet making business. She says how she caught to this trap. How she sign to an agreement in English. How she lost the cards given by the institute. She tells the viewer’s how she feels at the moment. Whether she has hope or not. How she suffers with her illnesses. Camera captures how she makes carpets. While making carpets she says the stories about women who suicide. How they pressured to get that kind of a decision. Camera spend some time with Kusumawathi.
A lawyer who is standing with micro finance victims will share her views and legal side of this micro finance issue. She will explain how they fight collectively to gfind a better solution for the issue and how the future will be. She mentions that most of the microfinance institutions are not even registered in Central Bank of Sri Lanka.
Another young women talks to the Viewers and say how she caught into microfinance trap. She shows viewers the deeds of her properties which she lost because of her loan. She explains how friendly was officers when they gave the loan and how debt collectors now use filthy words when they come to collect money.
Viewers meet Jayathilaka Bandara who is a music activist. Who sang at the Sathyagraha. He explains the lyrics of a song which is about the victims. He start singing song. Video of sathyagraha will appear on screen. He talks how art can be a voice to un heard. He welcomes general public and artists to be a voice to these women victims.
The rest of the songs plays again and titles appear on the screen.
* News footage, press conference footage will use whenever it is needed in the documentary.
Nipunika Fernando is a Sri Lankan writer, film director, and literary translator. Her short film ‘Sheysha’ was premiered at the 10th European Film Festival in Sri Lanka in 2017. Nipunikas’ films have been screened in many local and international film festivals. Her recent short film ‘an Emergency’ was funded by Gothe institute and it is in the post-production stage at the moment. Nipunika has translated three novels into the Sinhala language.
At the moment Nipunika is in the script development stage for her debut feature film.
Nipunika is a self-taught filmmaker.
Budget: USD 30000
I have started researching the microfinance issue in Sri Lanka in 2015. ‘The Trap is currently in development stage.
No funding has been secured for the film yet. We have a team of dedicated, hard-working, and enthusiastic people. We are expecting to start our shooting as soon as possible.