30Aug2014

Villagers occupy their land after 5 years

Collective action in Raniyala village, Mewat district, Haryana, yielded positive results in a long-pending land dispute. Village women got together to end the struggle of 76 Below Poverty Line (BPL) families. The BPL families waited five years to take possession of plots allotted under the Mahatma Gandhi Grameen Basti Yojna in 2008-09, which allots free residential plots to eligible Scheduled Caste, Backward Class, and BPL families in rural Haryana.

Despite the allotment of plots, many recipient families remained landless as some influential members of the Block Samiti used their local political power to acquire their land illegally. Seeking to break the stalemate, some of the BPL women sought information on the allotment process at Sehgal Foundation governance training sessions. In these trainings, villagers learn about their rights, entitlements, appeal process, and responsibilities as a citizen.

Women persevered to secure their families' land rights

Women persevered to secure their families’ land rights

Governance training sessions gave the women the information they needed to act. They decided to file a collective complaint in the Mahila Gram Sabha (gathering of village women). The full Gram Sabha discussed the matter in November 2013 in the presence of 250 women and encouraged the women to collaborate to seek possession of their plots. They decided to meet the additional deputy commissioner, followed by the deputy commissioner (DC), on the advice of Sehgal Foundation staff.

On the advice of the block development and panchayat officer, the women first sought help from the sarpanch (village council head), who provided constant support, but the illegal occupants threatened him. The women also received repeated threats from local goons against the lives of their family members.

Even though men in the community were losing hope of ever getting back their plots, the determined community women came forward and stood up for their rights. The sarpanch realized the sensitivity of the situation and advised the women to gather further support from others in their community. He asked the women to meet the DC. The women went to the DC’s office only to find that he was not available to meet.

The apathy of the bureaucratic system made the fight even more difficult for these women. Sheela, one of the complainants, recalls, “We went to meet the DC thrice but could not succeed. He came to meet us only when we made it clear that we wouldn’t leave the office until we met him.”

When the DC finally met the women and listened to their problem, he promised to help them.

Eight months later, when women had more support from other villagers, they sought and secured a transfer of the case to the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) of Ferozepur Jhirka block. The SDM acted on the matter and asked the police to evict the illegal occupants.

The grit and perseverance of these village women led them to the possession of their land, finally, after five years.

“The training sessions made us realize the importance of our rights and showed us the way. We traveled to the DC’s office several times to pursue the matter with the authorities,” said Jaituni, a beneficiary and citizen leader.

This inspiring story shows the power of information that generated confidence among BPL women to combat local bullies and a nonresponsive bureaucracy. It demonstrates that persistent community participation can prevail in the fight against corruption.