Far from the world of home delivery and fast food, in the villages of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Bihar, the foot soldiers of microfinance companies are also risking their lives to make a living.
Carrying large amounts of cash in remote areas and with little protection, they have always been targets of robbers. But of late, a new threat has emerged - villagers determined not to repay their loans.
Aware of the risks their field staff deals with, large microfinance companies now take life and health insurance cover of around Rs 100,000 for their agents.
The chief executive of a microfinance company says that during their training, the agents are also told not to take any risk in the event of a robbery.
Before the microfinance crisis hit Andhra Pradesh in October 2010, the state held one-third, and the largest, share of the market.
There were 45,000-50,000 field workers across the country.
The number has since fallen to 32,000 due to two factors: one, with business in the doldrums, the incentive has come down; and two, there is the fear of being robbed, beaten or arrested.
Two years ago, an employee of a microfinance company was attacked and killed by robbers in Karnataka’s Shimoga district. He was on his way to offer fresh loans to the villagers and was evidently carrying a sizeable amount of cash.
For young men, aged 20-25, coming from poor families and educated only till the 12th standard, this is a big price to pay for a meagre salary of Rs 6,000-8,000 per month.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, for fear of a political backlash, microfinance leaders admit that for their field staff in Andhra Pradesh the job has never been this dangerous.
The chief financial officer of one Secun-derabad-based micro-lender says recently a villager invited one of his employees to his house promising to repay the loans.
"When he went there, they locked him up in a room and called the local politician and the police. He was arrested, apparently for trying to recover money from the villager illegally," the executive says.
Micro-lenders say that ever since the sector plunged into a crisis, instances of field staff getting arrested by the police or beaten by the public have increased significantly. "It is difficult to put a number to it. There are numerous instances," says the chairman of a Hyderabad-based microfinance company.