The people of Bheeti Block, Ambedkar Nagar in Pandey Pakoli are distraught. Since the appointment of the new Pradhan, the people, especially the women, have not been given any work under MNREGA. People have been alleging that in spite of work being available, they have not been given employment. According to Anjali and Vidya, no new work under MNREGA has been assigned by the newly appointed Pradhan. They have not worked a day since he took office.
Kamlesh, another woman who has been regularly employed under MNREGA adds, “I have been working for the last 5 years but now I have no work and when I go to ask them (about the work), they tell me to leave”.
We ask Rajmani Pandey, the new zila pradhan about the status of the MNREGA. He responds by saying, “The previous work under MNREGA has been filed and sent to the office and some is still left to be assessed. A canal is to be built here through the SDM under NREGA, and so new work has come to the block. This has also been included in the plan of action.”
When we inquire about the women who worked under the MNREGA previously, and whether there has been an increase or decrease in employment since his appointment, he says, “There were about 40-50. But because there has been no work it is hard to assess if there has been an increase or decrease, so we don’t know”.
Upon questioning him about the allegations levelled by women who were previously employed under the MNREGA, he retorts, “Women who do not want to work but want to get paid just by sitting at home, are the ones spreading these rumours. It is not possible to just send the money into their account. There will be a meeting soon where a new proposal will be put forward and only after that we will decide on something.”
Whether or not the Pradhan is genuinely responsible for the lack of new MNREGA work, his response is symptomatic of a larger attitude towards women. First, he blames women for being unemployed because of their laziness—ignoring all evidence to the contrary. Second, he vilifies the women who dared to voice their concerns, thus advocating a culture where women do not question and are cowed into remaining silent. Finally, he draws upon the trope of men ‘sending’ money to take care of domestic women, ignoring the fact that these women have worked for several years under the MNREGA and are, and have been, bread-winners in their families.
We must take note of these statements that detract from the hard work and suffering of the people of Ambedkar Nagar. After all, the livelihoods of countless people rely on the whims of their local administrator. And further strengthen the skewed gender notions in an area where it is already a burning issue.
In partnership with Khabar Lahariya