A series of grass-root level meets were organised to highlight the need to mobilise women to understand and claim land rights. Another objective of the meets was to share the different land-based initiatives taking place in other countries. These meets were organised as a part of CBI-4 initiative of International Land Coalition: Women’s Land Rights and Gender Justice. Following is a glimpse of the activities taking place in different states of India:

1)  Odisha

In the state of Odisha two Grass-root Meets have been organised in the villages of Bhrudabani and Mahulia – under the Mayurbhanj district.

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In Bhurudabani, the programme was organised on 10th of June 2017 from 2:15 pm to 6:30 pm. The day began with a rally of about 35 participants. Comprising of women and supported by local men, the rally highlighted the need to have Land Rights for Women-Now! Hand-made by the women themselves, the placards spoke what the women had never dared to speak earlier. As the women went through the village streets, more and more women, as well as men joined them. The meet then began at Bhurudabani Primary School with a total number of 57 participants. Mr. Sawna Murmu, a staff of the Revenue Inspector’s Office was present at the meet. Speaking on the issue he mentioned that it is a very common experience for him  to come across women who have been forcefully evicted out of her home and land because of her husband’s remarriage. He felt that the need to legally endorse marriages to stop the trend of remarriages – even in traditional set-up, is vital for women. Having heard about the Joint Land Ownership initiative of Nepal, he too felt that the need for joint ownership was vital for women to prevent social vices and land related complications. The women heartily took part in interactive discussion on the issue.

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In Mahuliya, the programme took place in the local Adivasi Community Centre . The programme here began with a procession too. As the women marched through the villages, shedding their inhibitions, it seemed a bold first step towards asking for something that was their own – their land, their property! A total of 47 participants attended the meet. Mr. Binod Murmu, Panchayat Samity Member, represented the local government. Mr. Sarat Tudu from local Land Revenue Office was present at the meet. Significantly, the local indigenous leader – the tribal head-man of the village Mr. Dakhin Murmu, was also present at the meet. The entire meet was conducted by social worker Ms.Nirmala Sahu. Mr.Binod Murmu said that he had been a witness to many land-related violence – mostly due to hurried sale of land by men to procure money for drinking or gambling. He felt that if women are equal owners of land, it would not be easy for men to sell the family land easily. This would control the sale of land to a large extent and the land related violence would reduce. Moreover, given in the hands of women, the productivity from land would also increase. It was interesting to note that breaking the traditionally patriarchal barrier, the Village Tribal Leader was vocal in favour of women. He said, “ Tribal women put in the maximum effort t when it comes to agriculture. It is they who do the maximum hard-work, But when the same land is sold or purchased no one takes the consent of a woman. Is this justice?”.

The village women participated whole-heartedly in the group discussions that followed, especially being vocal about their contribution towards agriculture.

2) Bihar

In the state of Bihar three grass-root meets have taken place so far. The first meet took place on 25th of June 2017 at Patrakar Bhavan, Motihari in Belbanwa district of Bihar. Around 35 participants took part in the meet. On behalf of the local government, Panchayat Ward representative Ms. Reeta Devi, former district co-ordinator of Nehru Yuva Kendra Mr.Rambabu Singh , Social Workers Ms.Putul Pathak and Ms. Rambhabala Srivastav  and advocate Ms. Putul Pathak were the chief Resource Persons.

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For the local women the meet was an enlightening process. Most of the women present had no idea that legally women can claim their share of land from their father or their husband. Advocate Putul Pathak asked women about their opinion regarding the issue of equal land rights. “How can we claim our rights? We are made to be dependent on our men folk”, answered one. Advocate Pathak used this very cue, “ You answer lies in your question. We have been ‘made to be dependent’. It is because we are conditioned to think that way”.  Ms. Reeta Devi highlighted the fact that the violation of land rights for women is ingrained in our system and the discrimination begins with the birth of a girl child.

The women found it very interesting to know how efforts were being made globally on women’s land rights. It was a realization for them that it was a collective cause which was being endorsed globally.

On 4th July 2017, a meet was organised in Rulahi village in East Champaran district. Attended by 45 particpants, this meet was held at Rulahi Primary School. Inaugurating the meet, former Principal of Rulahi High School, Mr. Subhash Chandra Das said that equal land rights for women was not just about equal rights, it was about equal opportunities too. When we are bestowing equal land rights, we are asking women to be equal participants in the process of development. Mrs. Madhavi Das from agricultural department said that it is a known fact that women contribute majorly to agriculture but it is unimaginable for the society to ensure equal land rights to them, She stressed on the fact that women farmers are much more able of handling their land and produce.  Discussing on the problems related to women’s land rights during group discussion, the women pointed out to the fact that in most cases a huge amount of dowry is given to the girl from her parents during marriage. So, it is taken for granted that she will not ask for her share of the property. As a result, women are compelled to accept domestic violence because they realize they cannot go back to their father’s house, nor can they have their own piece of land which they can use for their sustenance. So, one way to ensure equal land rights for women was to do away with a vice like dowry system.

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A similar meet was held at Patura village on 8th of July 2017. Attended by 35 participants, the event was graced by Malti Devi, social activist and moderated by Rambha Srivastav. Malti Devi said that the meet was crucial as it is the first time women are actually discussing about an issue that is considered taboo by the society – women asking for their land rights. The women present hailed the efforts taken in Nepal to promote Joint Land Ownership of women. They felt that Joint Entitlement of Land was one way to ensure their social as well as economic security. Some of the participants also spoke about the need to ensure that land related decision-making process also involves the active participation of women. ‘Having a right legally written on a paper is not enough, we must be heard too’, one of them demanded.

3) Jharkhand

At the tribal village of Surda in East Singbhum district of Jharkhand, a grass-root meet was organised on 9th of June 2017. Held at the local Tribal Community Centre of Lohia Bhawan, 41 rural participants attended the meet.

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Welcoming the participants, Supta Mukherji, founder of Swadhina, stressed that women’s land and property rights was crucial to women’s empowerment. Ms.Sudharani Besra, who is in charge of the Tribal Community Hall stressed on the need to ensure land rights for tribal women – even though the customary law was not pro-women. She felt that tribal women were much ahead in terms of education and they need to raise their voice and demand for land rights for themselves. Leader of local government, the Panchayat head, Ms. Surkurmoni Hembram said that participation of women in local level governance was crucial in order to introduce policies that would support women’s land ownership.Ms. Smriti Srakar facilitated the group studies on initiatives in Nepal and Bangladesh towards women’s land rights.

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On 11th of June 2016 a seminar on women’s land rights was organised at Little Angel School, Ghatsila, East Singbhum. 42 participants took part in this meet. Led by Tribal Rights Activist, Ms. Supriti Murmu, the meet focussed on the initiative by the Jharkhand government to provide registration free of cost to land registered in the name of women. Ms. Murmu said that such initiatives were needed to introduce a positive social change. She highlighted the fact that tribal women face a lot of discrimination when it comes to land laws. Endorsing her views, the participants felt that it was necessary to bring in positive laws and policies that would enforce land rights of women. The benefits of pro-women policies like the free land registration in the name of women was highlighted and was well covered by the media representatives present at the meet. The purpose of the Commitment Based Initiative as a common platform for women’s land rights was also highlighted during the meet.

(Reported by: Swadhina members – Nirmala Sahu, Deepak Srivastav, Smriti Sarkar)

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