The worksites under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGREGA) at Munoor Gram Panchayat bring back memories of classics such as Mother India and Upkar , where endless rows of men and women working shoulder-to-shoulder and drenched with sweat, work to the tune of ancient Tulu songs.
The MGREGA, which was introduced to counter growing unemployment in rural areas, is having a pleasant effect here.
“The best thing about the scheme is that it has brought the entire village closer,” said Gayatri Anand.
Her friend Maria D'Souza said that she would never have met Gayatri if it were not for the project. “Until now, my only friends were from my community,” she said. “In the beginning, very few people would come forward to work from the Santoshnagar area in the village,” said Florine D'Sa. “Then we went to Santoshnagar and started work on a drainage. For a few days the residents watched us curiously. When they realised that we were having so much fun, they too started signing up for work,” she said.
Today, there are over 70 workers from the area. Gayatri, Florine and Maria are part of the first batch of 42 persons in this village to have completed the guaranteed quota of 100 days' work under the MGREGA.
To mark this achievement, the Karnataka Pranta Raitha Sangha organised a celebration on Sunday where the workers were felicitated. The felicitation was followed by a feast and games in which the entire village participated.
Speaking to The Hindu on the sidelines of the celebrations, MGREGA workers said that they had discovered the joys of toiling together. “I feel a strong sense of oneness with my co-workers when I am out in the field under the hot sun,” said Sashikala Giriyamule (39). The women, almost all of who are beedi workers, said that working under the scheme allows them a chance to experience the outdoors. “Beedi-rolling can be very depressing. It is a solitary, indoor activity. But this is different. It is liberating,” said Maria. They are also extremely happy with the recent hike in wages from Rs. 82 to Rs. 125 a day and said it is much more rewarding than beedi-rolling.
Now, they all want more work. “I do not feel like going back to rolling beedis. The Government should give us another 100 days of work,” said Gayatri, and added that locals should be employed for all public works in the village.