Case studies

Road to Self-Determination

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In the village of Teghariya, in the Kishanganj district of Bihar, women belonging to subjugated castes worked in their neighbours’ fields for bags of grain, while their husbands had to migrate to cities for work. However, with the support of PACS and partner IZAD, they learned to collaborate to demand their entitlements under government schemes, increasing their wages and challenging corruption. They are now developing ambitious plans to overhaul local infrastructure.

Women of Teghariya village, Bihar, flank the road they constructed under MGNREGA work allotted to them.

Challenging corruption

Teghariya is a remote and isolated village situated along a tributary of the Ratua river in the Kishanganj District of Bihar. It looks much like any other village in eastern India. But its newly built, all-weather access road with houses on either side provokes a visitor’s curiosity. The road’s construction was the result of the MGNREGA work undertaken by the women’s community-based organisation (CBO) in the village, and there is an interesting story behind its creation: a story of women’s empowerment and unity in the face of corruption. 

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which guarantees rural households 100 days of paid work a year, leading to improved employment options, is arguably the most progressive and radical legislation in the history of independent India. It has the potential to transform the face of rural areas. Unfortunately, large-scale corruption and irregularities obstruct the implementation of this programme in states such as Bihar. While most of these irregularities remain unaddressed, often unnoticed, in Teghariya, the fraud perpetrated was detected – and by the smart villagers themselves.

Women belonging to the local CBO meet to discuss village issues.
Nirmala Devi, one of the CBO leaders in the village recalls: ‘When this road was being made, the cement:stone:soil ratio was not maintained properly. We came to know about this a few days after the work started in April 2014. The road was not strong and it was cracking in places. We realised that the panchayat rozgar sevak (livelihoods worker) who was supervising the work was involved in corruption.’     

Taking action

The women informed Field Coordinator Renu Devi of IZAD, a PACS partner. The group immediately held a meeting and it was decided that, until the rebuilding of the road was sanctioned, they would not work on its construction. The matter was reported to MGNREGA Programme Officer Priya Ranjan who visited the village, inspected the road and assured the CBO members that the road would be reconstructed in a proper way.

The work resumed a few days later, and the construction was completed in the expected 12 days. The road is currently 200 m long and about 2.5 m wide. CBO member Mansa Devi says: ‘All the members of our CBO (25 in total) worked on the construction of this road. We were paid Rs.144 per day (today the revised wage is Rs.177). Some received Rs. 2,220 while others got Rs. 1,000, depending on the total number of days they worked. But we were happy that the construction work went on properly, without any fraud this time.’

Gaining this employment under MGNREGA has not only benefitted the women financially, but has also ensured safe and convenient transportation, especially during the Monsoon season when the entire region floods. As local resident Kamala Devi says: ‘During the rains, the road used to get slippery with mud and slush. Our movement was restricted. Sometimes there were accidents and getting timely medical attention was impossible here. But now we can safely send our children to school because of this all-weather access road.’

Pushpa Devi of Teghariya village, Bihar, shows the job card she acquired that allows her to claim her share of MGNREGA work.

Information and collaboration

Three years ago, the villagers’ circumstances were starkly different. Most of the women worked as agricultural labourers in the fields of landowners from dominant castes, often for few bags of grain, while the men migrated to the cities in search of work. These women bore the brunt of caste discrimination and their voices were ignored. Rama Devi, an elderly resident attests: ‘The People from dominant castes used to berate us constantly and deny us our rights.’

The women state that they only grew to know about MGNREGA when IZAD coordinators visited their village. Initially, they were informed about the Kaam Maango Abhiyan (work demand drive) organised by PACS to help the people from socially excluded communities exercise their right to employment through MGNREGA. The women were taught to form a CBO and to demand work jointly.

Another CBO member Indira Devi explains that, previously, the women had lacked information about their entitlements. ‘After PACS came, we formed the CBO and became aware about MGNREGA and our rights. We understood the procedure to apply, demand work and how to get an unemployment allowance. Now, we have a plan to convert our CBO into a self-help group (SHG), so that our unity is intact and women can also gain financial returns.’

Catalysts of change

Today, these proactive women hold meetings in the village to improve infrastructure, such as constructing a bridge over the stream, which would connect them to the main road; without it, they have to travel an additional eight kilometres. This would help them travel to distant villages in search of work out of season. Villagers also need proper drainage canals to drain stagnant rain water. 

From being illiterate, timid and submissive, these women have learned to fight for their rights, becoming catalysts of change in their village.

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