|In a village somewhere between Bacchau and Bhuj, in Kacchh in Gujarat the village sarpanch cannot find people to register for the NREGA (National Rural Guarantee Act) program. He needs poor, unemployed citizens of India who want to avail of 100 days of manual labour and get paid Rs. 100/- a day. .You see Kacchh is an arid region with low rainfall but somehow everyone has some land. Since the canal from Narmada reached here the land prices have gone up ten fold. Not that much of the water from Narmada is reaching all farms, but huge numbers of industries have moved in, taking advantage of cheap land and water from the Narmada.
We, that is Meeta and I, work in Kacchh with a hand-block printer who is a harijan/dalit. .Now how does a harijan/dalit land up doing block printing which is traditionally done in Dhamadka by only Muslim Khatris. .Our block printer’s uncle started working as a boy with the Ajrakh printers and since he was smart, picked up the trade and skills which are hidden by every artisanal caste in India from every other caste. .So his uncle became a flourishing artisan and his whole extended family picked up the skills, while the uncle set up an NGO and a school to help educate poor children.
Our block printer is a young man of 25, who has been to Dubai and Port of Spain on exhibitions. .A few years back he sold his motorcycle to buy some land when he realised land was a good investment. .Now he dreams of a second hand Maruti Gypsy which he will run on gas.
So now to get back to the main story, of the sarpanch not finding people for NREGA. Our printer tells us that no one in his village wants to do NREGA work of pulling out bushes from road sides and cleaning old wells or digging holes. So the sarpanch goes home to home enlisting old people. Our printer’s grandmother is between 80 and 90 years old and is a NREGA card holder. She refuses to spend the 700 rupees she gets a week on herself or her family. She tells the sarpanch to buy grain to be given to the birds! The sarpanch is not cutting into her wages and respectfully comes every week to give her the wages; after all she is donating it to charity and birdfeed!
Our printer tells us another NREGA story from his father-in-law’s village. .His father-in-law has been enlisted similarly in his village for NREGA by the sarpanch. Not only the father-in-law but many such senior citizens, and they all had decided to turn all this state money for building their village temple! I hear the temple has modern tiles and flooring!
The Government of India might have decided not to put resources of NREGA into raw material but some citizens of India would rather build religious infrastructure!
Meanwhile our young printer bought some printed scarves from a shop at some airport from Mumbai to Port of Spain. He just showed us the prints he was charmed by… they are the logos of Louis Vuitton, Coco Channel and Fendi hand block printed on 20 rupee cotton. Our printer couldn’t understand why so many foreigners were laughing when they pass his stall in Crafts Museum in Pragati Maidan! He was surprised when he saw these brand websites on our laptop, and then exclaimed that from now on he would only print silk scarves with these logos!