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Published in the 1-15 Feb 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Muslim traders caught in the veesi vortex

By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

Ahmedabad: When Noor Mohammad Sheikh who runs a small restaurant in the Astodia area, started a chit-fund group known as veesi, little did he know that it would bring him in trouble. He is now heavily indebted and owes Rs. 70 lakh to people. He said that it was a result of compulsion and greed. Some veesi members defaulted after taking lakhs of rupees in loan.

Sheikh said that things got complicated when he started another veesi hoping to pay back the loans, but once again he ran into trouble. The members of Sheikh’s veesi blame him and call him a cheat. They are small traders and businessmen. Some of them have lost a few lakh rupees.

In Muslim dominated areas of Ahmedabad, there are many small traders and businessmen like Sheikh who are running such chit-fund groups. They are forced to join veesi groups because banks turn down their loan applications, on the pretext that their businesses are in high-risk localities.

Sayeed Ahmad Sheikh, who runs a poultry farm said that no bank was willing to give Muslims loan. We have tried many banks for loan, but all of them refused. The bank official said that our locality is situated in a negative zone. But they gave a loan to a Hindu for buying TV sets. the shop of that person is just opposite to my shop across the road. This is the reason that there are hundreds of veesis being run in Muslim areas of the city as Astodia and Jamalpur and Juhapura. The veesi is called so because traditionally it was run by a group of twenty people, and in Gujarati twenty is called vees. But now the veesis may have as many as 40 members. They are united by mutual trust.
Veesi members deposit a fixed amount every month. A month’s collection is given to a member who needs money. Repayment is done in equal monthly installments that may even continue for many months. 

But often things do not go in the right way. Borrowers default. Some of them after taking money disappear from the scene, and some dare and clash with veesi operators and members. If the help of musclemen is taken to retrive the money, the situation often takes a violent turn. There are also instances of the debtors committing suicide.
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