This story is about how awareness about the flagship programme MGNREGA created a ripple effect in the minority communities of Assam. It proves the innate capacity of women collectives to break the chains of restrictions and exploitation they were facing till time, all they wanted to ignite the inner fire was a piece of information and a resultant push from the women collectives towards bringing a change.
It is in June 2017, the convergence project started to operate in Borsola block. Dhalaguri is one of the Gram Panchayats in Borsola block, where the PRI-CBO Convergence project is being implemented. The Panchayat has a mixed population of various tribes and minority communities. Usually the minority community remained hesitant to mingle with others and were always confined to themselves. As part of the project activities the LRG members were oriented about various centrally and state sponsored schemes and the benefits. Since Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (hereafter MGNREGS) being a demand driven scheme, LRG members realized their scope in working with it. They noticed that there was a stark difference in the women participation under MGNREGS. This was because women were not willing to apply to under MGNREGS since it was always considered to be something meant only for men. This made the women from minority community reluctant towards MGNREGS. In addition to it, the scheme was not properly implemented in their GP due to discrepancies in fund flow and utilization. To bring a change in this picture, the LRG members mobilized the SHG network and sensitized about the unexplored opportunity they have with them in working under MGNREGS. One of the LRG member, Saheli who hails from minority community took the initiative of sensitizing her community and motivated the women to work under MGNREGS. Slowly, the SHG network realized that MGNREGS protects their right to be employed and hence it doesn’t exert any barriers to be employed, be it gender, caste or age.
Women from Dhalaguri Gram Panchayat participating in MGNREGA work
For majority of the people at Dhalaguri GP, the job card was a mere document they were keeping for the past two years. It was the same with minority community too. They were demanding for land levelling of their iddgah* field from 2016 and the same was approved in Gram Sabha too. But the work was never initiated till 2018. As part of the MGNREGS mobilization, it was on 15th August Gram Sabha, the villagers submitted their work demand under MGNREGS for land levelling of their iddgah field. This time woman from SHG network also demanded for work, inculcating the sprit and perseverance shown by their LRG member Sahela. But, the Gaon Sevak kept on postponing the dates. Sahela and the members of SHG federation approached the secretary of the Gram Panchayat and demanded that the work should be given to women. As a result of the constant effort put by the women collectives from the SHG federations, the work for the Iddgah field got approved. Making a history in Dhalaguri GP, twenty-three minority women from minority community came forward to work under MGNREGS for the first time. They were given ten days of work. The Block Development Officer (hereafter BDO) inspected the work site and was impressed to see the change which the women collectives could bring in that village. The Gram Panchayat developed a trust towards the SHG federation and LRG in their efforts and they were given the task of monitoring the quality of the work.
Sahela, the Local Resource Group member
On the other hand, the Gram Panchayat Secretary said “It is quite surprising to see minority women
coming for MGNREGS work in Dhalaguri GP. I have been working here for the past four years and
the LRGs have been working extremely hard to bring out women who were only part of household
work. Now they are also part of MGNREGS work for their livelihood this shouldn’t stop here and
should continue in the days ahead.
Also the LRG Sahela said “Initially it was quite difficult for me to motivate the women to come for
MGNREGS work. But Gram Sabha has been a platform which has bought women together and
discussions on various schemes have been happening. Today I have shown path to these women
and it gives me immense happiness that I have been able to change their lives in a small way”
Sahela said with tears rolling out from her eyes with happiness”.
It is a term used in South Asian Islamic culture for the open-air enclosure usually outside the city (or at the outskirts) reserved for Eid Salah, Islamic prayer offered in the morning of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.