No one spares even the poor
Recently I got an opportunity to visit Chianttar and shoot a few corruption-related Citizen Journalist stories. Located around 45 km from Patna, Chianttar is a tiny village with a population of around 2000 people - mostly Mahadalits
It all started with a phone call and after short listing a few stories I was good to go. The focus was corruption in key government schemes like MNREGA, PDS and Old Age Pension - schemes that are meant for the poor but which seldom reach them.
Amid the excitement, a few doubts lingered on. I was going to Bihar after all. Despite its improved reputation, there were a few things I was unsure of. Like how would people there react to my 'probing and prodding'? Would I be able to shoot as and how I want? Will the villagers really speak up and more specifically speak on camera? I was going too far to have to come back with nothing but the very best.
But Chianttar turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The villagers were welcoming, polite, cooperative and strikingly innocent. Every villager had a story to tell, one riddled with constant struggles and sacrifices. It was disheartening to realise how far off they were from benefiting from any of the government schemes which are supposed to help them live a less difficult if not an easy life.
Jagannath Mahato was our first Citizen Journalist. A soft-spoken man, he lives with his wife and four children in a small one room hut. Jagannath had not worked a single day under MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act).
Yet, the MNREGA Website shows that he has been working regularly on different government projects since 2008 and was also getting paid for the work done - a total of Rs 8000 rupees so far.
It was the same with almost everyone in the village. Their job cards had been made five years back but the village head took away their cards making false promises.
Like most men in the village, Jagannath works on sand mining boats and earns about Rs 2500 a month, barely enough to take care of his family.
Then there was Dhanrajia Devi, struggling to take care of her family of 12. With only two earning members in the family, Dhanrajia is dependent on the monthly ration that she gets on her BPL card. But the depot holder operates at his own will, weighing less but charging much more than the government subsidised rates...a good Rs 40-50 extra. Moreover, ration is distributed only once a month. Miss the day and you get no ration.
My last CJ was Basmatiya Devi, a 75-year-old lady who has been fighting to get her old age pension. Basmatiya lost her husband a year back and lives with her two grandsons. With no source of income, it's a tough life. She barely manages two meals a day. But what is pitiful is the lack of support from the village head and the officers in charge of the scheme.
In all these three cases, the village head's son (the village head being a lady) is at the centre of all problems. He has deprived the villagers of their right to work under MNREGA, has turned a blind eye to the dealer's misdoings and has no qualms in asking for a bribe from old and desperate villagers who themselves are in dire need of money. When confronted, he was quick to dismiss all the allegations.
The officers manning these schemes at the grassroots didn't surprise me either. They were at their ignorant best. Either they had no clue about what was going on or, as villagers and NGOs allege, are hand-in-glove with the village head.
Chianttar is just one of the many villages in India where corruption has ensured that the needy don't get their rightful share. Illiteracy and fear in turn has forced them to remain silent spectators for years.
It's a real shame when one exploits the underprivileged. What the villagers told me is a bitter truth that only resonates loud and clear. They said, "No one spares even the poor."