Daad village in Khudarda panchayat is located around 15 kilometres from the Aspur block headquarters in Dungarpur district of south Rajasthan. Towards the end of 2012, 45 workers worked under the MNREGS scheme to construct a concrete cement road that led to their village. Each of them worked for 90 days under the scheme and completed the construction in February 2013. They were collectively owed Rs. 5,58,000 for the work they had performed. However inspite of repeated enquiries with the village sachiv and met the payment was never processed. 3 months passed without any news of their due payments.
Aajeevika Bureau had worked intensively in Khudarda panchayat for over 3 years. Several of the 45 workers were also members of the labour collective at the centre. At first, they patiently tried to resolve the matter by speaking to the local administration; however after 3 months of being overlooked, they decided it was time to demand their payments. On May 1st – Labour Day, the collective members mobilized 400 workers from nearby panchayats and marched to the Block Development Officer’s (BDO) office in Aspur. 50% of those workers were women who had never before raised their voices to demand their entitlements.
When the workers calmly began explaining the matter, the BDO dismissed it, demanded proof and even tried to forcefully throw out workers from his office. At this point the women in the group raised their voices and latched the gate of the Panchayat Samiti refusing to let the BDO leave until the matter was resolved. While the BDO was locked up in his own office, the women workers told him that even workers deserve the same dignity and respect as anyone else and their voices too need to be heard. The BDO finally gave in and within a week each worker received his/her dues amounting to a total compensation of Rs. 5,58,000.
This was a watershed event in the region. The courage shown by women workers in particular had spill-over effects in other panchayats and let to other incidents of workers holding the local administration accountable. For instance women’s groups in Rincha panchayat now demand receipts each time they apply for work under MNREGS. They also check the muster rolls to ensure that no fake names have been added to the list.
Furthermore, it has also made the local administration more responsive. In another incident in Rincha panchayat, the met collected 50 rupees each from 200 women who had applied for work, assuring them that he would pay them for a whole day’s work even if they did not show up to work. All they had to do was show up for a political rally organized by the Chief Minister. Sagar bai the local ujala kiran and two of her friends, refused to make such a deal. They immediately approached the sarpanch and the sachiv who ensured that the women were refunded their money and that the met was brought to justice.
Several of the 400 workers who participated in the Labour Day march now feel confident to approach the BDO with matters related to their entitlements. As a result of this, several members of the panchayat administration have also opened up new communication channels. They insist that workers approach them first with their problems rather than the BDO and in several instances cases have been resolved swiftly at the panchayat level. Banks in Aspur have also become more sensitive. Earlier, they would make workers run around in circles each time they went to collect their NREGS payments. However workers report that since the Labour day incident, they quickly process all payments and treat them with greater respect.