Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan

Caste Divide at Work in NREGP

Basaundha, Chitrakoot district, UP, 15 August

In the village of Basaundha of Uttar Pradesh's Chitrakoot district, at an NREGP worksite, about 60 workers surround an elderly villager who explains to them and instructs them even as the rest nod obediently.

The lean, bare-chested 62-year-old village patriarch Shyam Bihari Misr is not a job card holder. He has a measuring stick in his hand and standing next to him with head bent is the pradhan's son Ashok Kumar, a yadav, who is the de facto pradhan here.

Misr decides everything here by virtue of his being the village elder, a Brahmin and being an inter passed retired school teacher. It is an informal arrangement devised by the village or rather by himself to carry out development work here. So far so good.

But the job card holders at the site are all Dalits while the mate and many absentee card holders are Yadavs and Thakurs who don't wish to dirty their hands with mud or work on the same site running shoulders with Dalits. Mate Tribhuvan is the sole Thakur at the site and the water supplier, Jageshwar, is a Kahar – a Backward Caste. The mate at most work sites is a Brahmin, While the Dalits are seen doing all the dirty work from breaking rocks to sweating it out in the fierce summer heat.

Ashok Kumar says of the 300 job cards, about 50 belong to non-Dalits. But they are not coming for work as they don't want to work with harijans. "I will now get another site readied for them for I know they are as needy as any for work," says Kumar, who is a graduate. There are two or three Brahmins in the village who are desperate but they have not even applied for job cards. I know they never will, says Kumar.

Bhagwat Prasad, director of the ABSSS, the Chitrakoot-based grassroots organisation says Harijans are looked down upon by an extremely feudal society here in Bundelkhand. "Among job card holders, about five per cent belong to Brahmin, Yadav and Thakur and Patel communities. These usually stay home and take money, and invariably take up supervisory roles of mate and of the water supplier," he says. According to the NREG Act, at a given site, a job card holder is supply water to workers throughout the day and another to supervise attendance and make payments, and provide necessary first aid – the mate. Another worker can manage a crèche for children. While the last is yet to happen, the other roles are filled by upper castes.

In Haryana's Mahendragarh, the caste divide is such that upper caste men prefer to migrate rather than work with the Dalits in their own village. Upper caste and OBC women are asking for work that would not require them to dig mud with all and sundry. We cannot work on the streets and dig drains, says a woman in Bachod village. Why can't they give us some sewing work instead, says Sheela, a Yadav woman in Bachod.

At Bachod, just one man, Raghubir, and one woman, Vidya, 55, could be seen working at a site. Both were Dalits. The others have gone out for work, says Raghuvir, very happy about getting Rs 3,000 a month staying in his own village.

In Alipur village, the mate is a Yadav while no Brahmin has applied for a job card. Only 25 Dalits have cards here while the rest of the 65 cards are with Yadavs, and Nayaks. But in the Harijan basti, one finds people who have been denied job cards saying they have no access to applications.

No worker has been set aside for supplying water here. Each group has its own matka and they help themselves, says Sarpanch Deshpal. There is no caste system here, he says. We just have 15 separate matkas for convenience, he says.

Ashok Bharti of the National Conference of Dalit Organisations, which took out a Rozgar Adhikar Yatra through the 22 districts of Uttar Pradesh in May-June to push the NREGP, says Dalits have been totally denied any rights in the scheme. This is the only government scheme with no quota for Dalits and it is left to the whim of the pradhan to decide who gets the job cards. Naturally, the Dalit will be last on his mind, says Bharti.

The fact that these Dalits were available for Rs 30 per day in Bundelkhand also makes it difficult for pradhans to pay them Rs 60 under the NREGP, says Bharti.

The law is meant to have work done in the lands of Dalits, but Dalits themselves are being excluded or segregated, he says.

Sreelatha Menon, Business Standard, August 16, 2006

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