On 18 July 2020, Kamlesh Bhagat, a Dalit sarpanch of Pochhal A-2 panchayat in the Kishtwar district of Jammu and Kashmir, resigned from her post. In several letters to district officials, the lieutenant governor, and the president of India, written prior to and post her resignation, she complained about rampant corruption in the local administration and caste-based discrimination. Since April, Kamlesh had been fighting a battle to secure wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, or MGNREGA, for Dalit and Muslim workers who she said had not been paid their full dues.
The MGNREGA guarantees 100 days of paid work in a financial year to rural workers, referred to as job card holders under the scheme. According to Kamlesh, Dalit and Muslim workers in four wards within her jurisdiction had been discriminated against because of their caste and religious identities. She said the junior engineer responsible for their payment was demanding a commission to release their full wages, and wrongfully marking the workers as absent. Kamlesh told me that when she complained about this corruption to senior officials, Suresh Sharma, the Kishtwar block development council chairman, insulted her with casteist abuses.