Land Rights for Women – 23 Jan

The day progressed rather slowly on this sultry winter day through vast stretches of dry jungles and arid agricultural land that gave a glimpse of the hardships of the farmers in the Vidharba region of Maharashtra. Interactions with school children were followed by presentations in the evening on women empowerment, in these cases, through ‘land for women’ movements.

The padyatrees enjoyed a lazy morning with an early lunch scheduled in the Shiv temple premises, just the spot for a reinvigorating overnight stay right in the company of gods. The hill top sanctuary is home to many small temples that house ancient idols of Shiva and other gods and goddesses. This, it seemed was a much needed respite as the peace march nears the end of the four month long Indian leg of the yearlong peace walk.

The School Interactions

In the drive to impact the young minds on Peace and the Jai Jagat vision, interactions with the school children have intensified as the four months of the Indian leg of the yearlong yatra nears it’s end in a week from now.

Jai Jagat has been interacting with school children, visiting two schools a day ever since the entry in Maharashtra. In the course of the march from Nagpur, isited two government senior secondary schools schools while a small team went to a primary school, in the enchanting landscapes of rural Vidharba.

Women empowerment through rights to land

During a tree shade meet, visiting Ekta members shared their experiences of working for land and women empowerment. The presentations showcased how movements begin as a struggle and sustained on nonviolent strategies lead to constructive action that bring about positive sustainable change, in these cases, women empowerment in the traditionally repressive tribal and feudal regions of North and Central India.

Pradeep, Ekta activist from Bihar, spoke of the success of Mahila Bhoomi Adhikar, an organization working for ‘land rights for women’ movement that had been successful in the adopting a strategy of crop-sharing and collective land lease facilitated by shared savings of women farmers. This has encouraged women participation in agrarian economy as producers and has also brought about greater engagement in agricultural produce for secondary income.

Bihar, like most of northern India, was in the hands of the Zamindars, a land owning class, established under the colonial system of governance that turned millions of people as legally landless. Under this system, the tenants tilled the land for the zamindar at highly exploitative rates that would often leave the family with no money for themselves and soon turned them into bonded labourers. This was the situation at the time of independence which began to change not because of structural measures like land ceiling but more because of the migration of the zamindar families that left vast stretches of agricultural land without any cultivation.

The women’s group got organized into self help groups where they saved money and when they had enough, approached these landowners for land lease for a period of time.
Pradeep also highlighted the issue of youth migration and landlessness in general besides the violence that breeds in the hinterlands of Bihar as a result of these land based inequalities.

Manju, a fellow Bihar based activist, spoke of how land is only granted in the name of the male members of a family. She worked with Ekta to change the situation and slowly, again with the help of women based SHGs, they were able to get land as well as habitat in women’s names from the government. Her initiatives address male centric legislation that perpetuate patriarchal values in rural power structures. Her efforts have resulted in the government’s recognition of the rights of women to be granted land in their names rather than that of their male counterparts.

Anil, who works in Jaura, MP, also spoke on how women SHGs were successfully changing the lives of women in this part of the state. The efforts for women empowerment focused on creating secondary income resources through forestry and agricultural produce. Honey and sunflower based products are two highly successful sources for enabling women groups to make a difference in their lives.

In these examples we can identify a structure for a successful social movement. A movement begins with identification of the problem around which then a community is mobilized. The first step then is to unify which is followed by struggle till a process of dialogue and negotiations is initiated. A successful model of nonviolent social movement must result in constructive actions that leads to upward mobility in the economic and social spheres of marginalised groups fighting for their rights.