From being landless to landowner Manjuram Devi Sada speaks to VLRF's Bhawani Ghimire to understand what's written in the certificate. Photo by GF
As a tenant farmer, Manju Devi Ram Sada and her husband constantly feared of being evicted from the land, which is both their abode and a source of living. “Today, I feel so safe because my children will never grow up to be landless,” said Sada, elated with the fact that she and her husband now own a block of land for the first time.
On 5 September, Sada’s family was granted land ownership by the government through the Sarlahi District Survey Office (DSO). Sada and her family are of the Musahar caste living in Brahmapuri Rural Municipality, where on the same day, 464 other landless families also received land ownership certificates. These were distributed during a public event organized by the DSO in partnership with the Governance Facility’s (GF) lead partner Community Self Reliance Centre (CSRC) and partner District Land Rights Forum (DLRF). The families who received the land certificates are mostly tenant farmers and wage labourers from the socially marginalized and impoverished Dalit and Madhesi Janjati communities.
“It’s such a great day for many of the families who never had their own lands, and we are proud to be part of this significant event,” said the GF’s head Caroline Vandenabeele, who was invited to join in the special occasion to hand over ownership certificates to families. Among the prominent guests was the ‘Integrity Idol Award’ winning Chief District Officer Pradip Raj Kandel, who handed over the certificates to many landless families.
“A very good thing that resulted from this initiative was to boost local community’s trust and confidence towards the government and our office,” said Sarlahi DSO’s Chief Survey Officer Shatrughan Prasad Yadav, who explained how National Land Rights Forum (NLRF)’s district team had helped to build a bridge between the community and the government.
Yadav recalled that during the initial phase of the land block survey, Sada and many families were afraid they would be evicted from the lands, but were later sensitized with the support of CSRC and DLRF. “They helped to facilitate a dialogue between us, and supported the families to prepare the necessary legal documents, and helped to gain their confidence,” he added.
CSRC’s Campaign Officer, Asha Ghatale explained how the support from the GF had been valuable. “The GF’s support for our local and district campaigns made a positive impact on the local communities,” said Ghatale, explaining that their training on confidence-building and land rights advocacy helped to boost their self-confidence to approach the government authorities for queries and to have dialogues.
The Village and District Land Rights Forums (VLRF) formed by CSRC serve as vehicles for advocating for land rights to improve the situation of the landless and small-size landholders. A collaborative effort between CSRC and NLRF has supported a consultative process to bring together government officials, political leaders, parliamentarians, civil society, and other stakeholders. These processes have engaged, in particular, both the Ministry and Department of Land Reform and Management. Local concerns, voiced during these dialogues, have supported policy reform on land rights issues, including a key amendment to the Land Reform Act 1964.
“After a long time, we are seeing positive results and they are very encouraging,” said CSRC’s Executive Director Jagat Deuja. He explained that nearly 1,500 out of the 15,000 applications for land ownership certificates from landless families have been approved in seven districts of Rautahat, Sarlahi, Mahottari, Dang, Bardiya, Banke, and Sindhupalchowk. CSCR and NLRF have played key roles in supporting the families to process the applications and facilitating obtaining recommendations from the municipalities for land ownership.
A light in the darkness
For many landless families like Manjuram Sada’s and most marginalized communities, owning a land changes their way of living, improving their financial situations and providing economic security. They can use the land as a leverage to get bank loans to invest in their farms or micro businesses, and also have the right to sell off their lands.
“Our lives will be better as we can use our own land in anyway we like. We are very happy to get this certificate,” said Manjuram Devi Sada, who believes that her children might have a better life because of the land which she considers a valuable asset for their future.
“After a long struggle for 10 years fighting for our land rights, we have been successful to own this land,” said Nagindra Sada, holding the certificate in his hand and overwhelmed with excitement.
“I’m so proud to be part of this great moment for the families. That piece of paper is a symbol of hope of a better life for them,” said DLRF’s Sarlahi district secretary Bhawani Ghimire, who had literally helped most of them with processing the documents, and involved in local land rights campaigns in Sarlahi. Ghimire said that the initiative had helped to promote citizen engagement, and build local leaders in the landless communities, and also to forge a good public-private partnership relationship.
Many challenges still remain to address the land rights of thousands of landless families. CSRC believes that its initiatives supported by the GF in the seven districts will consistently continue dialogue among public institutions, landlords and tenants in order to ensure effective and equitable implementation of the new provision (Land Reform Act 1964) and to address new implementation issues.
(Text by GF Staff)