Unlike any other rural development programme, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) has moved from strength to strength, to become more inclusive and democratic, agree women.

According to a District Rural Development Agency official, any MGNREGS worksite hosts a predominantly female work force, also by design. This has increased the visibility of women as significant units to be factored in rural growth. The scheme has deepened grassroots democracy in unexpected ways, believes Birla Thangadurai of the district Bonded Labour Monitoring Committee. Earlier, women would hardly speak up in a Gram Sabha. Today, the Gram Sabha meeting that chalks out the works to be taken up under MGNREGS sees the participation of panchayat level federations of women’s SHGs. A hitherto invisible women’s workforce has suddenly been made visible at the panchayats, agrees Kalaichelvi of Agarakadambanur Panchayat. The patron-client set-up of a feudal order has fizzled out.