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Surviving debt, survival debt in times of lockdown

Isabelle Guérin, Sébastien Michiels, Arnaud Natal, Christophe Nordman () and Govindan Venkatasubramanian

No 20-009, Working Papers CEB from ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles

Abstract: This article focuses on the consequences of the Indian lockdown in terms of debt. It is based on an ongoing study in a rural area of Tamil Nadu, South India. It draws on a long-term knowledge of this region, longitudinal quantitative household survey data on employment, debt and assets (2010-2016/17) as well as qualitative surveys conducted by telephone since the beginning of the lockdown in March 2020. Our results show: (i) the drying up of part of farm income and the bulk of off-farm income; (ii) the limited role of cash saving and cash transfers; (iii) the debt burden, since the population has faced massive debt growth over the past decade and some households are already very financially fragile; (iv) a predominance of informal finance with, however, a rise in finance; (v) a suspension of repayments, including for most informal lenders; (vi) a halt to unsecured debt and an erosion of the trust that cements most transactions; (vii) finally, the emergence of new forms of secured debt that threaten household assets. The sharp rise in debt observed over the last decade is the result of a widening of credit opportunities, partly formal but mostly informal. These have been made possible by building new relationships of trust but also of confidence in the future, based on strong economic growth that was believed to be sustainable. The lockdown highlights the fragility of these dynamics. For the poorest (mostly, but not only, Dalits), neither the state nor intra-caste or kinship solidarity are sufficient as a safety net. Impoverishment and a return to old forms of dependency seem to be the only way out.

Keywords: Debt; lockdown; caste; employment; India; Trust (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: B55 I13 E24 O18 R20 Z13 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020-07-09
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-dev, nep-iue, nep-mac and nep-mfd
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Working Paper: Surviving debt, survival debt in times of lockdown (2020)
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