Reclaiming the Land

As brought to our attention by InfoChangeIndia, the phenomenon of urban migration is a multidimensional issue, with social and economic repercussions, both for rural and urban India. As described in an article entitled, “This Land is Ours!”, as a result of urban migration, women in rural communities are undergoing changes in terms of their roles within the family structure:

The village [Narsenahall, Karnataka] is part of a nationwide trend in agriculture, which over the last few years has seen huge changes. While more and more men are migrating to urban areas and large industrialised farms looking for paid work, women stay in the village and are increasingly taking over cultivating the land. According to estimates by Bina Agarwal, an academic researching and writing about women and land rights, almost half of the land in India is now farmed by women. The changes mean that in the rural areas the vast majority of women — around 85% — are now farmers.

This change in gender roles – termed the “feminization of agriculture” – has not, according to Agarwal, created inroads for women in terms of legal or social recognition. Despite women’s increased presence in the fields, both patriarchal and government structures have remained apathetic to the question of women’s land rights.

Despite research findings from other countries that “demonstrate the link between women’s ownership of land and wealth creation, partly because they can manage the crops, fodder and trees themselves, and partly because they can also access credit and mortgages for themselves”, the Indian government has moved slowly on this issue, and NGOs / rights groups have chosen to focus on the broader issue of land rights for the poor:

These research findings come mostly from other countries and evidence of the link between women’s land rights and wealth creation in India is rare. The lack of evidence may be one reason why the government has given the issue so little attention. Progress on land rights for women has also slipped down the agenda of development organisations working with women. A 2002 survey of women and land issues in Karnataka, conducted by the US-based Rural Development Institute, says interventions by non-governmental organisations have succeeded in empowering women in areas such as literacy, access to credit, job skills and health, but have not significantly increased claims for land ownership rights.

But the survey also showed that 64% of women polled thought government lands should be granted jointly to them and their husbands, indicating a growing awareness.

Despite these obstacles, women are beginning to organize and clamour for their rights in villages such as Narsenhall, citing “security” as “the main reason for wanting the land to be registered in their name, or at least jointly with their husband”:

If they have access to land, they can provide food for the family instead of needing money to buy it. With enough food coming in, they have time to look for other ways of earning money, by making and selling leaf plates, for example. This means they are able to buy clothes, school books or medicine.

Unfortunately, despite growing land insecurity, and the increasingly gendered dimension of land ownership, women’s rights in this matter remain low on the state agenda. Combined with entrenched social and cultural attitudes towards women (despite laws that grant equality of land ownership), progress has been slow. Yet, women like those from the village of Narsenahall continue to fight.

One Response

  1. […] Make Their Voices Heard Posted on March 14, 2008 by prernasri As mentioned in a previous post, land ownership is a critical factor in determining social and economic status in rural […]

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