Goodbyes and more: As the final four participants pressed their faces against the window rails of the train to say their goodbyes, it was a moment amalgamated with a whole lot of emotions. For the last three days we had all bonded together – over discussions, over tea, through sharing of a room. Having 58 participants, covering 9 states of India and 4 countries together wasn’t an easy task to handle but at the end of the three day event we were like one big family. As our fingers clutched each other for the final good-byes there was this one common line which we all expressed – phir milenge – will meet again. Because we knew that this was just the beginning of a long camaraderie towards a common goal – ensuring land rights for women!
When Experience meets Youth: The Leadership Training Programme for Grass-root Women was unique in more ways than one. One of the prime features of the training was the variety of participants. On one hand there was Sukurmoni Hembram – a popular tribal Panchayat Head from Jharkhand, Panchayat Pradhan Ratnammma from Andhra Pradesh, veteran land activists like Sherbahadur and Ghanshyam Bhai ; on the other hand there was young tribal girl like Panjan Murmu from Orissa, vibrant Mamoni Das from Bihar, Dhara – a young activist from Gujarat who works for the Maldhari community. This gave a wonderful scope of mixing experience with learning. While on one hand the ones who were just getting into the foray of land rights issues for women were provided the scope of learning, those who had been working for the issue for a long time were encouraged to reap in the rich benefit of their direct, field-level experiences.
Knowing each other: The introductory session itself was a learning process. The candidates were divided into ‘friend circles’ of three each. They were then asked to interact with each other over a cup of tea. The ‘new friends’ then introduced each other to the rest. With participants coming from different backgrounds, speaking different languages things seemed like a hurdle in the beginning. But gradually they warmed up to each other – attempting to understand each other’s body language, way of expression they soon understood each other beyond the barriers. As a result, Hirawati from Uttarpradesh could fluently introduce her friends Rathnamma from Andhra Pradesh and Tapasi from Jharkhand without knowing a word of Telugu or Bengali!
Understanding Leadership : Having participants from two different strata, the training focussed on two major aspects of Leadership – 1) Understanding the basics of Leadership and 2) Finding the Challenges of Leadership. The participants were divided into four groups. Three language based groups under the leadership of a Group Resource Person focussed on understanding the basics of leadership – qualities aspired in a leader, functions of a leader etc. The fourth group – comprising of veteran grass-root leaders focussed on discussing about the challenges of leadership as they experience in their own areas. They then shared their concerns with the other participants – making them aware of the challenges they might face as grass-root leaders.
Explaining the challenges of leadesrship, veteran grass-root activist Deepamala said, “ If we, as women, become grass-root leaders, the easiest way the society uses to suppress our voices is to raise finger at our character. It does not come as a surprise that every woman leader is branded as a ‘notorious and spoilt’ woman”. Adding to this, another activist Dheeraj Kumar said that more often than not, the society at large always questions the intention of a grass-root leader. “How much money do you get to do this work is the common question we are asked”, he explained.
Having learnt about the different qualities of a leader, Nirmala from Orissa best summed it up during group discussion, “All of us are not born leaders. But many of us have the potential in us to be good leaders. Somewhere, somehow the spark is in us. Capacity building programmes give us the scope to hone our skills and become able leaders.
Dealing with Land Issues: One of the crucial aspects of the training was understanding the basic nuances of land rights. Four major land issues were dealt with during the training: effective leadership effecting women’s land rights, forest rights and it’s impact on women, land of commons as a process of collective empowerment of women, the loopholes in land laws affecting women’s empowerment process.
Having organised grass-root meets for women on land rights for the first time, Seema from Bihar, shared the fact that most women she interacted were clueless about equal land rights for women and even if they were aware, they were plagued with the social stigma of married women never claiming a right to their father’s property!
Providing feedback on Forest Rights Act, Ghanshyam from Madhya Pradesh, said that Forest Rights Act was supposed to be the simplest of laws, providing support to the forest-dependant indigenous communities. But he rued the fact that this was one of the most abused and misused laws.
Tapasi from Jharkhand shared a strong story of women’s collective strength in her group while discussing on Land of Commons. The local women’s committee to which Tapasi belongs, had leased out the piece of Common Land that was provided to their women’s committee. The ones who had taken the land on lease, began to misuse the rocky piece of land by setting up a stone quarry in the area. The group soon realized their mistake. Being always covered with a layer of stone dust, their health suffered, their land productivity declined. They felt that it was enough! The women, being led by Tapasi, then collectively went to the owner of the quarry and withdrew the lease agreement – forcing the outsiders to shut shop and leave their village!
Highlighting the problem with land rights issues among the indigenous community, veteran activist Supriti, explained how within their own group women were hesitant to change the customary land laws which did not guarantee any land rights to the women belonging to the indigenous community. Shobana from Uttar Pradesh added more this by explaining that it is not that the women do not want rights but they are conditioned and brought up in a way that they are ready to give up their rights and their expectations from land.
Speaking on the loopholes, the group felt that one of the biggest loopholes in Indian laws favouring women was that the land rights were perceived in terms of a woman’s marital status – as someone’s wife, as someone’s daughter or as someone’s sister. It is time to visualise a woman as a singular entity and ensure laws to protect her rights as an individual.
Inspiring Movements- Inspiring Change: One of the major highlights of the training was the inspiring presentation from across the region. This gave an excellent opportunity of knowledge exchange.
A moving documentary on the land rights movement in Nepal and an excellent follow-up presentation on women’s land movements in Nepal by Kalpana Karki from CSRC moved the participants immensely. Watching women march with flags, staying together, negotiating with government officers gave the participants the much needed boost. A very vibrant Kalpana egged on the participants to shout out the slogan of : Andolan me Mahila; Zamin chahiye pehla (Women in Movement take a vow , We want our Land Rights Now!). She also took the special effort to make her presentation in the local language of Hindi!
Rowshan Jahan Moni, from ALRD –Bangladesh, gave a wonderful presentation on the Khas Land movement in Bangladesh. Having the same land situations in India, the participants could relate to the land movement in Bangladesh – especially related to the common land called khas zamin. Having had a long standing experience in the land rights movement in Bangladesh, Moni gave a vivid description on how often the khas land which is supposed to be a support system for the landless ends up in wrong hands. To connect better with the participants, she too took special initiative to explain her points in the local language of Hindi.
Chea Sokleang from Star Kampuchea-Cambodia gave a wonderful insight into the situation young women are in , in their country. She also explained how Star Kampuchea was using the power of women to lead their talks and negotiations with the government. The Gender based social study within their communities, in the lines of Gender Audit or Social Audit was especially a very interesting aspect for the participants. Despite her young age she showed her total involvement in the cause by providing a very in-depth analysis of women’s rights situation in their country.
The question-answer session that followed the guest presentations was witness to the fact that the presentations had deeply touched the participants.
Learning through Group Activities: One of the best, yet subtle way of learning is through Group Activities. The participants were divided into four teams – Trees. Birds, Land, Sky. It began with preparing group songs using the name of the group as the central theme. In many rural circumstances, social songs are a proven way to initiate movements or to build awareness. The group songs presented was a proof of immense the talent possessed by the participants.
The next task was equally interesting. The groups were asked to develop a poster each, comprising of different catchy slogans and phrases related to women’s land rights. The myriad slogans and phrases coined spoke of the immense involvement of the participants in the issue of women’s land rights. One among the many which stood out was: “Aadhi duniya Naari hai, Zamin ke adhikaari hai”-
“We comprise half Earth’s might, Owning Land is our Right”
Added to this there were fun events like making a chained garland using coloured paper streamers. As the participants enthusiastically decorated the meeting hall with colourful chains, they were made to understand that every community comprises of varied ideologies, opinions, ideas – just like the varied colour streamers. A good leader is one who is able to tactfully put together all the varied ideas and opinions and channelize into a singular objective of brining a positive change.
Enriched ideas through Women’s Land Rights Toolkit: One of the important sessions was a detailed discussion on Women’s Land Rights Toolkit – developed by ILC. The Toolkit which was available in English was translated into Hindi for better understanding. The discussion on tools to ensure women’s land rights gave the participants a wonderful opportunity of understanding the different applicative procedures by different organisations all over the world to ensure women’s land rights.
Learning about the tool of Earth Festivals, Kavitha from Andhra Pradesh exclaimed, “This is a good process of using local culture to spread message on women’s land rights.”
Sharing a piece of culture: Cultural expressions were an integral part of the training. Amidst cheers and clapping, songs were sung in varied languages. Never mind the language, Shobhana, Nirmala, Rina, Lata cheered on as Karmi Kisku sang her Santhali Song. Similarly Nirmala’s Oriya song was well appreciated by all. But the real fun was when the group of indigenous women present showed their moves to a tribal song. The camaraderie and the situation was so positively infectious that one by one the others joined them too. As soon as the music died down, Bhavna from Gujarat suggested they try out the steps to the Gujarati beats of Garba. So, the group then matched their steps to the beats of Garba. Never having danced to the tunes of Garba, each one attempted her own way – adding to the spirit of oneness.
Those moments reflected the exact spirit of the training – an attempt to unify the diversities and channelizing the spirit of collective effort towards one common goal – ensuring equal rights for women!
(The training was a part of the Commitment Based Initiative of International Land Coalition. Organised by ILC partner Swadhina, the training took place at Kolkata, India from 21st to 23rd July 2017 and was attended by 58 participants )