Shafiq R Khan


Women & Land Rights

A walk down the lanes of Harchandrapur and Maharajganj in Rae Bareilly parliamentary constituency, particularly with one’s sights trained on the walls, can be an educative one. Take a look at the telling graffiti that has sprung up since the onset of campaigning for the 15th Lok Sabha elections. ‘Mahila ko kisan ka darja jo dilayega, vote hamara payega’(Those who get women the status of agriculturist will get our vote). Another declares, ‘Jitni hogi bhagidari, utni hogi zimedari’ (The level of participation will determine the level of responsibility).

Women’s empowerment is an integral part of our freedom as a nation and our democratic traditions. The women’s movement has been led by social activists who have achieved many milestones in terms of enacting laws and affecting policy for protection and empowerment of women. Yet, many perceive this as a threat to societal balance and oppose all efforts in this direction.

Such issues notwithstanding, the question which needs to be addressed is whether in any substantial sense, are women today free, are they independent? If the answer to that is a Yes then other questions follow. Do women have a legitimate share in family property?? Are they entitled to equal wages?
The graffiti emerging in Rae Bareilly district, the parliamentary constituency of Smt Sonia Gandhi, President of the Congress Party is not surprising. The demand for recognition as ‘farmers’ is a reflection of local aspirations, rooted in the historical trend of women’s movements.

During the Tebhaga agitation in Bengal in 1946-47, women fought for their rights along with their men folk, rising against oppressive landlords. The cause of the women was scuttled, though, because of an entrenched patriarchal outlook.
In 1978, a student and youth movement spearheaded by Sangharsh Vahini, took root in Bodh Gaya and evolved into a movement for land rights. Faced with a statement by those opposing such moves that it would not make a difference whose name the land is in, the response by the women was quick and sharp. They said, since it did not make a difference, then why not let it be in women’s name!

This however did not change the district authorities’ routine procedures in giving ‘pattas’ to the men alone; and simply refused to give it in the name of the woman of a household. With the support of Sangharsh Vahini, the women again mobilized themselves and made another effort by taking up the issue with the authorities. This time they were successful and the state government recognizing this right in 1983, directing the administration to make them lawful owner of their lands.
The Bodh Gaya movement highlighted not only the issue of land rights but also the very nature of agricultural labour, where women play an equal role.

Despite these successes, the continuing discrimination against women is demonstrated by the fact that women are excluded from the ‘Kisan Credit Card’ program. This contrasts with the fact that, in any move related to land ownership or the traditional ‘patta’ system, women are traditionally considered as heads of households. Indeed, those who govern need to understand not only the broad issue but the nuances to take a progressive and positive step in the recognizing and upholding land rights of women.
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