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Land Rights Campaign

Lack of land is a central reason for Dalit impoverishment.

The Land Rights Campaign therefore forms part of the backbone of Navsarjan’s work.

Though many Dalits are entitled to land under a variety of government programs, actually gaining control of the land is a difficult endeavor. The following are some of the obstacles standing in the way the rightful possession of land by Dalits:

  • Land encroachment by “upper” caste neighbors
  • Intimidation
  • Political interference
  • Lack of money to legally challenge the authorities
  • Insufficient knowledge of applicable government programs

Possession of arable land often coincides with the ability to educate children.  When a family does not own any land, they are often forced to migrate in search of seasonal labor, taking their children with them.  Gaining possession of land for Dalits is one way to stop the cycle of poverty and exploitation. 

Since its establishment, Navsarjan has been taking legal action to combat unlawful land encroachment, and to make sure land is given to those who are entitled to it. Thousands of community meetings and training programs have been held in hundreds of villages, and tens of thousands of acres of land have been surveyed for this purpose.  As a result of these efforts, and of legal action, more than five thousand acres of land have been legally awarded to hundreds of Dalit farmers, giving them a tool to pull themselves out of poverty. 

Navsarjan has also been empowering the community itself to take more responsibility through the creation of grassroots community groups dedicated to working on land issues.  Navsarjan holds meetings within villages to educate people about their land rights, leading to additional applications for land.

One such community group is the Jamin Adikar Sena, or Land Rights Army, which has hundreds of members.  Navsarjan trains the group’s leaders—both women and men—and the group functions autonomously, working to gain land for its landless members. 

Navsarjan also coordinates with other NGOs for this campaign, helping to procure government assistance for farmers with only small plots of land. 

Impact:

  • Thousands of acres of land have been awarded to formerly landless laborers.
  • Housing plots have been awarded in women’s names.
  • Community groups are taking charge and demanding their rights.

Challenges:

  • Dominant caste resistance to acquisition of land by Dalits
  • Government refusal to actually follow through on its plans for land redistribution, and on its court awards
  • Violence and threat of violence in response to acquisition of land
  • Continuous land encroachment and crop damage

 

Please see "Law of the Landless", a study done by Topher McDougal of the Massachussetts Institute of Technology in collaboration with Navsarjan.