Ramsakhi has fought many social and administrative battles for her community to ensure they get the employments and wages that are rightfully theirs. As the Secretary of a collective of 13 self-help groups in the area, she represents them at the District, State and national levels in the Confederation.
Ramsakhi became a Community Correspondent in February 2013 through the VV-PACS community and with that gained another tool to help put forward the issues faced by her community to local officials. Through her very first video she ensured that 20 Dalits in Ghogri Village, Madhya Pradesh, got their dues for the work they had done under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
The MGREGA scheme is India’s flagship scheme to provide the rural poor with at least a 100 days of employment. The scheme aims to create employment opportunities while people work on projects like building roads or digging wells, basically activities that will also enhance the community. It unfortunately is plagued with corruption and communities like Ramsakhi’s face the brunt of it.
“ I have been working to spread awareness about the right to work and the procedures to do so for some time now. I knew that in every village in my district, Sagar, numerous discrepancies exist within the MGNREGA implementation and our families suffer because of it. I was keen to raise these issues.
As the secretary of the self-help group collective, I facilitate 2 meetings per month for the SHGs in my purview. It is here that many of the issues faced by the villagers are discussed in addition to the business of the self-help groups and solutions are sought.
In one such meeting, the women from Ghogri told us that they had worked for 2 days and hadn’t been paid for more than 3 months. In January 2013, after two days of work the village head had told them he would pay them only 8/- per day. They could work if they wanted to. He didn’t care what they did, he said. They refused to work further without proper wages.
Hearing this, we planned and visited the Chief Officer, Basanti Dubey at the Block office on 10th March. She wasn’t there as usual so I spoke to her on the phone. She said she would visit the village the next day but never turned up.
On 11th March 2013, 14 women and 2 men from Ghogri along with me went to the District Collector’s office. The local Srijan Desi Nagar office (the NGO I work with) provided a vehicle for us to reach DC Yogendra Sharma’s office. We waited for him till 5pm as he was in a meeting with the Chief Minister.
When he finally met us, he called the new Chief Officer Vijay Sharma and asked him to make an enquiry. The DC asked the CO to stay in the office till all of us reached there.
At 8pm the group reached the Desi Nagar Block office where CO Vijay Sharma was waiting for us. As we got off the jeep, he greeted us. The women informed the CO of the incident. The MGNREGA program officer, who was also present, said that the women were lying. I told him that since he doesn’t believe us women why not check with the men too.
The CO checked the files on his computers and saw that no muster roll had been made for the work done. He called the village head and was told that they didn’t have a muster roll and hence the payment was not made. The muster roll is an important part of the MGREGA scheme as it lists out people who carry out work under the scheme.
The village told him that I wasn’t from their Panchayat but the ladies informed the CO that I was the secretary of the SHG. I explained to the CO that I was also a correspondent with Video Volunteers and speaking about these issues was my job. He asked me for proof at which point I showed him my ID card. The CO said it was good that I was doing this work and that would come and speak to the villagers the next day at 11am.
During this process, the villagers were pressurizing the village head to pay them.
On 12th March, everyone gathered at 11 am when the CO and the MGNREGA Program Officer arrived to meet with the village head and secretary of the Panchayat. All the women and men from the previous evening were present. After authenticating the claims made by the community members, the CO said to the village head:
“You’d better get the payment for the work done within 8 days. Open the bank accounts if they haven’t been opened within 2 days. If you don’t pay them we will cut the amount from you salary. You are trying to prove these women wrong but I’m finding that you have made serious mistakes here.”
The very next day 12 of the 13 people received orders for 5 days of work which they accepted. In 8 days time, the bank accounts were open and in 2 weeks the money was paid. The person who worked for 2 days received Rs. 240/-- 200 in hand and 40 in bank; the other 12 people who worked 7 days in total received Rs. 700/- each in accordance with the measurements of the work they did.
I worked hard and we succeeded. If I had not worked then these people wouldn’t have gotten their dues. Two days after this, when my husband was going to the market, the village head Salak Ram stopped him on the way and warned him that if I didn’t stop interfering with his Panchayat’s work he would have me kidnapped and killed. My husband told him that I was not doing anything wrong so nobody could do anything to me. Not the Chief Minister nor the Prime Minister. He told him that if he had the guts he should face me.
My family was worried that I would get into trouble. But when they heard about the success and progress that was made, they were very proud.
When I went back to complete my footage for this video, I ran into the Village Head. He spoke to me a little hesitantly and apologized for threatening me. He said he hadn’t realized who I was! He said if we had any more matters to raise, we should go to him and he would help as best he can.
After this, I have visited Ghogri many times and feel no fear now. The last time I checked, the villagers had received 12 more days of work and were paid within 7 days of completing it. There is so much more to be done in this area because several stories of corruptions and delays have come to my knowledge. I will work on them and tell you how it goes!”
About the Partnership: The Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) Programme and Video Volunteers have come together to create the Community Correspondents Network. The videos generated by the network will be able to highlight voices from the margins, providing skills to social communicators to provide advocacy tools to community based organizations.
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