January 16; Darbhanga, Bihar
Most often, to get the government machinery working, all that is required is a nudge in right direction. For many in India’s poorest communities factors like caste and class stand in the way of approaching officials and getting things done. It was therefore that nobody in the village of Gangapatti had thought of writing an application to the District Magistrate to bring to his notice the fact that 25 Dalit families hadn’t received their Ration Cards for years.
Only when Community Correspondent Mangnuram did so on their behalf, did the authorities tune into action. Ration Cards were distributed soon after benefitting 125 people from the families.
The unavailability of Ration Cards was a grave concern. For about a decade, the basis of Public Distribution System was out of reach for those who needed it the most. Without it people were forced to spend large fractions of their meagre incomes on buying food supplies. Each family was spending close to INR 2000 more on their monthly supplies. They would have preferred using that money for other essentials such as study supplies for their children and medicines for those sick in the family.
CC Mangnuram himself was one of the deprived but unlike others, he knew he could do something about it. Change things for himself and for others too. Having made the video, he started getting people together so that they could make an appeal together. Mangnu screened the video he made to a small gathering of about 20 people on a laptop.
“I thought I should go to the public hearings that the District Magistrate holds, I also wrote an application on our behalf,” he told us later. The result was swift: after a survey of the area, Ration Cards were distributed within a month.
On another occasion, CC Mangnuram managed to get a new drainage system built for a Dalit colony, by simply bringing the issue up in the Gram Sabha (Village meeting). The town of Gangapatti is small enough for residents to talk about people’s houses as landmarks. “The drainage system had broken down from the house of Mahindra Mondal to Ram Tola,” a resident told CC Mangnuram. In the absence of a drainage system, the place had turned into a swamp. “There have been frequent cases of fever, vomiting, malaria and diarrhoea,” said another.
When CC Mangnuram raised this issue in the Panchyat, the Sarpanch (highest government authority in the village) got involved. Soon, a bunch of labourers working under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme started constructing a new drain for the neighbourhood. This was a coup of sorts—MGNREGA, as a scheme, stresses on providing rural jobs while simultaneously creating community assets like roads and drains.The problem that had been lingering for a couple of years was solved in a matter of weeks and had also managed to provide a few days of employment to residents.
“People here are very laid-back. When something is wrong, they don’t know what to do. So they just wait for something to happen,” CC Mangnuram said later. Mangnuram is a resident of the same village, but his training as a Community Correspondent launched him into a different mind-set. He sees things for what they should be, instead of what they are.
It is not always that Impacts are achieved in such a smooth fashion, but what counts, at the end of the day, is a functioning drain and ample food, acquired by the Ration Card. The population of Gangapatti is no more than 1400. In a small town, these small changes look grand. For Mangnuram and his Dalit community they have established the right to hold authority accountable; a right to demand services. Until a year ago this hadn’t been possible—the ‘upper-caste’ authorities had threatened Mangnuram for being a potential rabble-rouser with his camera. These two stories alone signify a step away from the old times. All it took was a voice, willing to change things.
About MGNREGA –
The “Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act” (or, MGNREGA), is an Indian labour law and social security measure that aims to guarantee the ‘right to work’.It aims to ensure livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every household. It also has the objectives of building community resources and curbing migration.
About Ration Cards:
Ration Cards are the identity and eligibility proof on the basis of which India’s Public Distribution System (PDS) works. The card is essential to get rationssuch as wheat, rice, kerosene and sugar at subsidised rates of INR 2-3 per kg. The ration card also serves as an identifier of beneficiaries of Government schemes aimed at those living below the poverty line. Every person is entitled to a ration card, which is classified in three categories: Antyodaya (extreme poverty level), Below Povery Line (BPL Card) and Above Poverty Line (APL). The government replaced it with a microchip-installed Smart Card in some parts of the country.