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NES India: Reflections on the National Workshop Day 1

As part of ILC’s National Engagement Strategy (NES) processes in the region, member organizations in India have begun conducting their series of NES formulation workshops.  Following regional workshops in Lucknow in the north and in Tirupathi in the south, the national workshop for NES kicked-off in New Delhi on 13 July 2012, with partners of the network from different states and organisations working on issues of poverty and rights to chart out broad contours for critical engagements on land rights for the poor.. The NES workshops are conducted in partnership with Rural Development Institute (RDI).

The two-day workshop is a culmination or consolidation for the regional process that saw consultations in the north and south regions through grassroots organisations, community-based organisations, campaigns on land and resources rights for the poor. These were held at Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, and Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, with close to 70 participants from nine states.

The participants at the national workshop clearly took an overview in terms of approach towards influencing and engaging with the national policy space on the issue of land, and this was the only perceptible change at the level of discussions, but the core issues were a continuation from what came up at state-level discussions.

Here are some important observations, themes, and positions that came in from the first day of the national workshop:

  • The complexity of land as an issue, both from legal and economic angles, and competing pressures on it as a scarce and expensive resource  needs to inform discussions on land rights for the poor.
  • The need for looking at land reforms struggle in a comprehensive way as a redistributive agenda must be accompanied by effective engagements to stop further alienation, especially for indigenous, dalit, nomadic, and other marginalised communities.
  • Women’s access to land and productive resources continues to remain an afterthought and there is need to not only make effective policy interventions but also to infuse a gender perspective in the on-going discussions and campaigns.
  • Access to land is a social mobilisation and empowerment process. While there is a need to build democratic pressure for greater political will, there is also a need to develop an approach that engages with existing regimes that can empower land security and access.
  • Engaging with state and administrative institution is critical. It needs to be based on a strategic understanding that sees governance and democratisation as a participatory agenda, while keeping the interest of poor and landless/land insecure communities at the fore.

One of the important themes for the consultation process has been to highlight and share learning that demonstrate real engagements with the communities and state administration – both policy and implementation – that have enhanced land security and access to land.

The national workshop saw some compelling presentations by participants on the theme of community engagement through land mapping exercise and facilitation towards accessing land rights.

Three distinct experiences were shared: Community Resource Person model of making land inventory for allocation and possession: experience from Odisha; Sharing community land mapping from Bihar; Community Land Mapping and Land Mapping in Chitoor district, Andhra Pradesh.

The experience from Odisha highlighted an innovation that empowered implementation of a land security and distribution programme by bridging the gap between access and policy to get titles for largely indigenous families and households.

The experience from Bihar, that had seen coming together of a mass campaigning energy with research advocacy expertise, illustrated how community mapping can be used not only to get clarity on land records and possessions, but also on developing a power map and assertion to develop it into a narrative and evidence for advocacy.

The presentation on commons once again highlighted the significance access to land has for rural communities for nutrition, energy and water and close to 75 percent of rural population is linked to these resources. The engagement on secure land must also draw linkages to rights and access to commons.

One of the key observation or intervention that came from the participants, particularly those linked with state-level movements, was to revisit large number of land reform and redistributive programs or interventions to both learn and seek contributions these made towards access to land.

A land Inventory Program was carried out with the support of Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), Government of Andhra Pradesh at BV Kandriga Mandal of Chittoor District, Andhra Pradesh.

The day also witnessed presentations by INGOs – ActionAid, Oxfam and ChristianAid – on where the land rights are placed in their respective strategies. The purpose of this session was also to underline areas of synergy that is needed for concerted and collaborative efforts.

ActionAid India spells its approach to land rights as a human right issue, linked with dignity and livelihood, critical for changing power relation — land owner and landless, men and women, upper caste and socially backward caste.

The strategic target that the anti-poverty agency has towards its land rights agenda is policy environment towards social justice that ensure food sovereignty with the fundamental principles of right to food and right to land.

In terms of approach, ActionAid aims to work through partnerships with community based formations, social movements and other social organisations, fellowship support to activists to strengthen leadership among the dispossessed communities, strategic engagement with the state, dialogue between the dispossessed communities and the state to help evolve appropriate policies to generate alternatives and through joint action.

Oxfam India’s engagement on land rights is on three axes of rights of tribal and indigenous communities over forest land; women farmers’ access and control over agricultural land; and challenging land grabbing and land alienation.

One the key global campaign around which, Oxfam is messaging its land rights demands is called ‘Grow’, which links nutrition, food security and sovereignty.

Supporting women farmers’ struggle for their rights over land and other inputs also came up as one the key areas of engagement in the presentation.

ChristianAid works on poverty and exclusion with dalit and tribal community. Dalits have been historically dispossessed and constitute a major portion of agricultural labor but do not own land; tribal community is confronted with displacement, non-implementation of PESAFRA.

In terms of approach, ChristianAid works to empower the excluded to negotiate for state-led land distribution with community support. With the strengthening of democracy land should be accessible to poor and excluded.