Bihar’s silent revolution: 30,000 women now own land

By Imran Khan, IANS,

Patna : Until two-and-a-half years ago, Parvatia Devi and Kamla Devi were among the poorest of the poor. They worked as farm labourers and did odd jobs to eke out a living. But today they are proud owners of land and part of the silent revolution through which nearly 30,000 women have been provided land across Bihar.

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The state government has distributed over 14,000 acres of land among the poor and landless women in the last three years.

“The state government has distributed 14,722.22 acres of ‘bhoodan’ (redistributed) land in the last three years (2007 to 2010),” an official of the chief minister’s office said here.

A revenue department official told IANS here that for the first time, land ownership rights of the bhoodan lands were being given to women in Bihar.

Last year, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced that the state government will provide land ownership rights to women in landless families.

He said the decision will strengthen women’s position in society. “It will give them (women) more power,” he said.

And if Parvatia and Kamla’s examples are anything to go by, the initiative seems to be bearing fruit.

Owning around half acre of land each, the women, residents of the drought-hit Gaya district, supplement their income from the farm produce.

And with the economic independence, however marginal, they are also seeing an improved social status, and are respected both by their families and their communities.

Vimla Devi, who works as a wage labourer, said it was a great feeling to be able to own land.

“I am thankful to the state government for it because now I have my own place in my family and society,” said Vimla, who lives in a village near Naubatpur in Patna.

Another beneficiary, Shakuntala Devi, said having ownership rights will help women be more assertive of their rights.

“At last, we can have a say in decisionmaking,” she said.

Bihar Bhoodan Yagna Committee president Shubham Murti said distribution of bhoodan land among women had been made possible by the positive approach of the government.

The land distribution programme is one of the Bihar government’s many women empowerment initiatives.

A total of 50 percent of seats in village panchayats, block development committees and district boards are reserved for women. Three years back, the government also reserved 50 percent of teaching vacancies in government-run primary and secondary schools for women.