"The link between a woman and her land is an inborn and inherent one. It is not a right that anyone bestows on her, it is her birthright."
This International Day of Rural Women we talked to Antariksh Venkataramanan, a young activist from India who works for ILC member Swadhina in Kolkata. Antariksh is a Fellow of ILC’s Future Leaders Fellowship Programme 2021-2022 and a Delegate for the Global Land Forum Youth 2022 (GLFY).
Throughout the training period, Antariksh and other ILC Asia Youth Fellows began the drafting and consolidation process of the six action plans. Antariksh’s action plan aimed at establishing Women’s Resource Centres, managed by local volunteers, providing women and youth resources to access the government’s online land schemes.
Join us as we learn more about his views on the situation and implications of women’s land rights and his idea of securing the rights of indigenous communities and women.
Why and when did you get involved with women’s struggle for land rights in India?
I represent SWADHINA which is an organization that exclusively works for women’s empowerment and action for nearly 36 years. We have worked majorly in extremely remote rural areas, making women aware of their rights and building opportunities for them to access their rights. Youth have always been actively involved in every action of our organization, however, since 2021 we now have a Youth Desk, where I am the Coordinator, overseeing projects and programs that involve youth directly to ensure gender parity and non-discrimination.
When Swadhina began to function nearly four decades ago, there were only a handful of organizations working for women, however, the gender disparity was large, and discrimination was overwhelming; this was especially true for rural and working-class women. So, we decided to focus on this core area in an attempt to build a more gender-equal world. Personally, gender and youth have both been issues close to my heart since I was raised in a family of social activists. As I grew up, I had numerous chances to visit the working areas of Swadhina and having observed situations first hand I decided to contribute by bit as a student to carry forward the mission and vision of the organization.
What are the biggest challenges faced by rural women in your state when it comes to their land rights?
One of the biggest challenges is definitely the lack of awareness about rights and entitlements related to land and livelihood of women. To what extent is their right and how to ensure their rights is something they are much less aware of and this is the area where Swadhina has been addressing for many decades – using different modes of awareness generation.
What are some of the lessons learned from your work in advancing women’s land rights? How do you feel when you are on the ground?
For one we have learnt that it is not just enough to make laws in favour of women, the socio-legal mechanism should be strong enough to ensure that such laws are implemented in reality. Also, it is important to ensure the right access to such laws and schemes – from the translation of laws in local languages to strengthening the medium of access to file applications – everything needs to be more pro-poor and pro-marginalized in approach so that a woman who is hardly literate and from tribal areas is able to access the same. We find a lacking in this regard when it comes to the ground reality. So, efforts are on behalf of the government and organizations like ours to convert rights in reality.
What is your message to women farmers on International Day of Rural Women?
While referring to our earth we call her ‘Maa Vasundhara” – Mother Earth. The link between a woman and her land is an in-born and inherent one. It is not a right that anyone bestows on her, it is her birth-right. Being the grower and nurturer, every woman farmer is an embodiment of Mother Earth herself. As we are ensuring the rights of woman farmers, we are not doing them a favour, we are helping them get what is rightfully theirs!