One of the unique aspects of the National Land Reform Agenda currently being pursued by the Central Government of India (viz Ministries of Rural Development and Tribal Affairs) is the right to land for shelter. This evolved as a part of what is being seen as a second round of land reforms in India yet-to-be realized in the coming years. Setting minimum holding and not simply ‘ceiling’ for landholders has been an important addition to reduce inequity and poverty. The Right to Land for Shelter may be finally put into law and as such it will have a similar effect as the Right to Food, the Right to Education and other rights that are recognized as social justice principles derived from the fundamental rights of the Indian Constitution.
To be effective, land reform has to address the need for land for agriculture and the need for land for housing. Historically the discourse of land-rights only meant rights over land for agricultural purposes. But including the agenda of right to shelter in the broad discourse of land-reforms enables the development of solidarity between marginalized groups in rural and urban areas and this strengthens the overall efforts for social-justice. In the rural context right to shelter can easily translate into rights over homestead land but in urban context, with the high premium for land, it becomes more challenging. Land is thus a matter of security, of dignity; it is a matter of citizen's respect and protection; it is a matter of recognition of a link to land which is not only a question of pure food security, but also a source of culture and identity for indigenous as well as non-indigenous marginalized groups. In that sense, right to land is more than ever a human right.
In international law, the Right to Adequate Housing is part of the Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) and there cannot be adequate housing without a piece of land along with it. It is implicit. Similarly in the Right to an Adequate Standard of Living, which is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UPR), it implies that you have some kind of safety, security and it is suitable to climate or climatic changes. The rights to adequate housing, food and life with dignity are also found in the Charter of Indigenous Rights recognizing the importance of land within the indigenous cultures. Recently the UN has been moving towards a Right to Land as a Normative under the International Human Rights Code. As well the Peasants Declaration for Land Rights and the Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Land Tenure, all converge in pressing for a right to land for the poorest section of the society.
Women who form the largest segment of small farmers and agricultural labourers in India necessarily need a right to land for shelter in order to maintain their dignity in the family and society; they need an identity to ensure that they are recognized as farmers; and they need assets to provide for family well-being and to resist violence from the family and society especially in the case where they are vulnerable and single. The right to shelter land therefore provides an indispensible piece in the thrust for human and inclusive development.
As discussions are going on at the moment with the indian Goverment, we – Ekta Parishad - would like to share ideas and opinions on this link between right to land and right to shelter. How can we make linkages between right to land and right to shelter when right to shelter can mean different things for rural and urban contexts? Have you experienced similar assessment around the globe and how did they affect local situations? On a gender perspective, do you think that a right for a land to shelter really impacts on the protection of all citizens? Should the issues of landlessness and homelessness be addressed seperately, according to you?
Thank you very much in advance for your active participation. A report of the discussion will be available online after the closing.
Some questions to frame the discussion:
What is your experience of land reforms?
Do they have an impact on homelessness? As an activist, what arguments can be used to create a real link between right to land and right to shelter?
Do you believe that a right to land for shelter is a human right?