MGNREGS has brought about financial independence to a certain extent for them
Women, particularly Dalits, in rural areas of Madurai district find the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) to be empowering, resulting in financial independence to a certain extent.
The percentage of workers among the Scheduled Castes seeking MGNREGS jobs has remained constant in the district, only with a few changes over three years from 2009-10 to 2011-2012. Participation of households in each panchayat remains higher among the SCs in the district.
A visit to some of the villages in Tirumangalam, T. Kallupatti, Sedapatti and Kalligudi blocks and interviews with workers provide an idea of how the scheme has brought about changes in the lives of rural people, especially the Dalits.
K. Mariammal, a Dalit from Muniyandi Street in T.Pudupatti, whose husband Kalimuthu works as a mason in Madurai, says that the economic contribution has helped her solve domestic problems. Her experience at work is cordial and there is no caste bias. Mariammal feels that women in her village are empowered because they do not have to depend on their husbands’ earnings for running the house. Harassment at the hands of moneylenders has also reduced, thanks to the scheme.
The scheme also has the income effect, where an increase in the paid income of a woman worker consequently increases her ability to choose her consumption. For example, K. Poongodi of Mela Theru, a mother of two, says, "We normally never go out for work. But MGNREGS has helped us come out of our domestic space and made us participate and also save some money. Moreover, being part of a self-help group’s saving scheme, I am able to buy a piece of gold after a long time without getting money from my husband."
The scheme’s provisions — priority for women in the ratio of one-third of total workforce, equal wages and crèches for children — have increased the participation of women. The MGNREGS here has helped them meet everyday needs of household in the short run and strategic needs in the long run. It has reduced the dependence on male family members for their basic needs and also had freed them from subordination and subjugation on the basis of caste.
Though the scheme has its positive effects in the case of SCs, it is also mired in problems. Discrimination on the basis of caste has led to a situation where access to the job and provision of lower wages compared to others are also reported in a few cases.
In Ulaganathapuram Adi Dravidar Colony at Aatukulam village under Melur taluk, there are complaints of discrimination in provision of wages.
Beneficiaries say the fixed amount of Rs.130 is never given to them. Even if they complete the work, they are given only Rs.60- Rs.80.
A Dalit panchayat president P. Janagar of L. Kottanipatti village under T. Kallupatti panchayat union complains that due to discrimination, he is not allowed to look into the records of MGNREGS work. He has lodged complaints against his subordinates who usurped his powers.
G. K. Arun Sundar Dayalan, Additional Collector and Project Officer, DRDA, says that most of the villages in the district are heavily reliant on MGNREGS as livelihood support programme. SCs, who are traditionally agricultural labourers, have benefited a lot from the job scheme.
The Project Officer claims that whenever discrepancies are reported action is taken immediately. Different clusters in each panchayat have prevented caste-based discrimination.
He says that pit-wise measurement for wages has resulted in lessening the work burden and an increase in participation.
There is now a competition among workers to perform better to earn better.