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Latehar activist shares tribal woes on Aamir show

- James Herenj speaks of hurdles in implementing rural job schemes in a rebel-hit district

Tribal rights crusader James Herenj, who is associated with MGNREGS Sahayata Kendra in Latehar’s Manika block, recently had his tryst with television when he appeared as a special guest in Season 2 of Aamir Khan-hosted Satyamev Jayate on March 23.

The episode, Sachha Loktantra Kisko Kahenge, saw discussions on various aspects of Indian democracy, including state employment schemes, RTI provisions, social audit and self-governance. Guests from various backgrounds and age groups shared their opinions on the issues.

Shyama Singh, also associated with the MGNREGS centre, appeared on the show with Herenj. Speaking to The Telegraph, Herenj said: “We were invited as special guests on show and during our interaction with Khan saab, we apprised him of our daily struggles for the implementation of MGNREGS in Naxalite-affected Latehar district.”

On being asked how they got the opportunity to appear on the much-coveted programme, Herenj said that it all started when the show’s research team visited Manika block in January.

“The team captured videos of our work under MGNREGS. These were shown to Aamir Khan and we were invited on his recommendation,” he added.

Shyama Singh said that during the episode, they told Aamir and the audience how the benefits of government schemes did not reach most villages. “We also shared our achievements. We motivated residents of Swadih village in Manika block to construct roads without any help from contractors,” she said.

The duo recalled interesting behind-the-scenes conversations with Aamir and other special guests on the show.

“A day before this episode was telecast, Aamir Khan asked us why we did this work. We replied, ‘Aamirji, someone has to come forward and become the tribals’ voice. In places like Latehar, villagers suffer in silence owing to fear. We decided to come forward and implement schemes like MGNREGS so that they can earn a livelihood,” he said.

Both Herenj and Singh went on to say that even after six years of MGNREGS implementation in Jharkhand, people were unaware of their rights under the Act.

“We are struggling to ensure timely payment of wages to NREGA workers and making efforts to employ as many people as possible,” said Herenj.

He added that in Manika block alone, there were around 22, 000 MGNREGS workers. Of these, only 50 per cent were currently employed. “We’re trying our best to streamline this scheme. Now we have another problem. Due to forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, our people are again out of work,” he said.