Case studies

Helping adults find employment

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Scheduled Tribe (ST) residents of Jalpaiguri district, in West Bengal, in eastern India, have little knowledge of their entitlements under government schemes. With few jobs, low wages and no opportunities for alternative livelihoods, child trafficking and starvation deaths were increasing in the area. PACS and partner organisation CINI have worked to raise awareness around the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which guarantees rural households 100 days of paid work a year.

Inushila Hembram of Hartalguri-tin-Line village was one of those successfully enrolled under MGNREGA.

Job shortages

Inushila Hembrem, aged 27, belongs to the Santali tribe and works at a tea garden in Hartalguri-Tin-Line village in the Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal. She earns the meagre sum of Rs. 122 (USD 1.80) per day, provided she is able to pick 25kg of tea leaves. Although she is a university graduate, with no other livelihood alternatives in the area, Inushila is forced to work as a temporary tea garden worker. ‘Only one member of every family has a permanent job in the tea estate,’ she says.

However, with the help of PACS and partner organisation Child in Need Institute (CINI) – a CSO primarily focusing on health, nutrition, education and child protection – Inushila and her family members were enrolled under MGNREGA, which guarantees rural households 100 days of paid work every year doing unskilled manual labour. 

Addressing child trafficking and starvation

PACS and CINI started their work in Jalpaiguri district in 2012. The 219 households of Hartalguri-Tin-Line, Dhupguri block, Jalpaiguri, belong to a ST, members of which generally speak Santali, a local language. Traditionally, the community has been employed as tea workers. However, with working conditions deteriorating over the years, low wages and no alternate livelihood options, child trafficking and migration have been on the rise.  

According to Asim Mondol, District Coordinator of the PACS Programme: ‘Starvation deaths have also been reported from the region and within the community. CINI, as a child line partner, has prevented several [incidents of] trafficking of young girls and boys from the region and within the community.’

Out of the 219 households, only 113 families have permanent employment at the tea gardens, while others are temporary workers. Poonam Oraon, a 24 year-old ST member of one of the local self-help groups (SHG) says:  ‘The temporary workers get three-to six days of work in a given month while others are engaged daily but the wages are very low.’

PACS Community Mobilizer Aarti Kami adds: ‘In 2012, when we started community meetings in the village, few people used to come. Our focus was on health and nutrition, particularly maternal health. We only had a few women attending the meetings.Most of them had work all through the day and could not find the time.. But as the meetings started having more discussions on alternate livelihoods, there was more interest and people mentioned that the community had no MGNREGA job cards.’

To address the lack of job cards, CINI and its community volunteers decided to form a group through which to explain to community members their rights and entitlements under MGNREGA, and encouraged them to file a ‘right to information’ (RTI) request at the gram panchayat (village council). A play was organised with local people to help communicate the details of filing an RTI, and RTI on job cards was subsequently filed by about village women. 

Several weeks later, they had still received no response to their RTI. The women decided to escalate the matter to the Block Development Officer and job cards were issued. By September 2015, 80 families had been issued with MNREGA job cards.

Limited success

While CINI continues to focus on health and nutrition, its efforts around access to government initiatives have raised local people’s awareness of their entitlements. CINI has ensured women are able to access schemes such as Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna (RSBY) health insurance and has co-ordinated with all stakeholders to provide the same benefits to Hartalguri-Tin-Line workers. 

With its community mobilisers, CINI has trained women to provide action plans under MNREGA and submit these to the gram panchayat. As a result of these efforts, local people have managed to gain work, but for limited periods. CINI, and members of the local community, continue to push for job cards for all households in Hartalguri-Tin-Line. 

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