NREGA didis of Kurhani -Rajendran Narayanan

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published Published on Nov 4, 2020   modified Modified on Nov 6, 2020

-The Indian Express

A collective of NREGA women activists discovers its political voice.

As Jean Dreze recently observed, one of the key ideas behind NREGA was that it would serve as a platform for increasing the overall political capacities of workers. It was hoped that people would organise themselves to collectively demand work and, in the process, learn about other legal and constitutional provisions. While learning about the latter has been patchy, it would, however, be reasonable to say that the NREGA workers, known locally in Kurhani Legislative Assembly in Muzaffarpur district, Bihar as “NREGA didis”, have grown to assert their rights under NREGA and the National Food Security Act (NFSA). The NREGA didis are members of a people’s collective called MNREGA Watch (MW).

An independent candidate in this constituency is Sanjay Sahni, a migrant-worker-turned-activist. Sahni’s unusual trajectory has received some media attention. Very briefly, during a casual visit to his village Ratnauli from New Delhi in 2011, he learned that workers — largely landless Dalits — were being cheated of their NREGA wages by the local elites in collusion with the administration. Sahni managed to get senior state government officials to conduct special social audits in his village, leading to perpetrators being penalised. The workers, perhaps for the first time, felt that upper-caste masculinity could be challenged. Sahni relocated soon after, educated himself about people’s rights under NREGA and began organising workers around these rights. This led to the birth of MW — the majority of its members are Dalit women, who have put their weight behind Sahni.

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The Indian Express, 4 November, 2020,

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