Alicia Evangelides

Alicia Evangelides (Vikalp Women’s Group): Alicia received her BA degree in International Relations and Spanish from Tufts University. She then worked as a Publications and Communications Coordinator for Rotary International, where she co-authored and edited publications international development. At the time of her AP fellowship, Alicia was pursuing a Master of International Affairs degree at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). After her fellowship Alicia wrote: "I learned a lot about the culture, legal system, and human rights situation in India. I also learned a lot about doing on the ground fieldwork, and about the challenges that come with that. This experience has made me more aware of the challenges facing grassroots NGOs, and of the challenges of putting development and social justice into practice."



MORTGAGING LAND TO FULFILL CUSTOMS

06 Jul

Many families in the tribal villages in which VIKALP works are forced to mortgage what little land they own, if any, in order to pay for traditional customs such as bride prices and dowries. The following is one such case taken on by VIKALP. Note: I have copied this case directly from VIKALP’s files, so I cannot take credit for the documenting of this case. 

Background Information:

Name: Sumitraben Bachubhai Baria
Age: 35 years
Education: 8th standard
Village: Gangadia
Name of the Mandal (group): Shree Vikalp Mandal
Number of family members: 4 (2 elder and 2 younger)
Total land: 8 acres
Land mortgaged: 1 acre
Type of land mortgaged: black, goradu, irrigated and fertile land
Value of mortgaged land: 10,000 rupees

Sumitraben Bachubhai Baria belongs to Gangadia village. She is the Pramukh of the Mahila Mandal (women’s group), which has been formed by the intervention of the women’s group, VIKALP.

Sumitraben studied till the eighth standard. As a leader and a member of the Mahila Mandal, she has intervened several times for the development of the village and her own self. In addition to doing the household chores, she also takes care of the animals (feeding, cleaning, and milking them). She works on the land as well. As a leader she conducts village meetings and interacts with the government people on behalf of her group. Tall, slim, and recognizable from afar, she is known for her calm poise that shines through the conflicts she negotiates to arrive at settlements for different parties.

There are four members in her family; all survive on the produce from the land. The family owns eight acres of land, of which seven are infertile and rocky. Such land in the area is identified as korat jameen, and it limits cultivation to only one crop in a year. The extent and the quality of the produce are determined by the rainfall. Inadequate/lack of water leads to dependency on monsoon season, making agriculture and lives vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather. Most farmers in the area have small land holdings, adding to the severity of constraints. Sumitra’s family, like many others, rarely meets the daily food needs from the produce of the land alone. In spite of their own land, they have to buy the daily necessities from the market.

Though difficult, life was nonetheless going along at a minimal level of basic needs fulfillment for Sumitra and her family, until they had to fulfill the custom of Mosalu. Mosalu is the tradition of giving ornaments, clothes, and the like to their soon to be niece-in-law on the eve of the marriage of their nephew. (The nephew’s name is Bhatrija, and he is Sumitra’s husband’s sister’s son.) Sumitra and her family were barely able to meet their day to day needs. Against this context, the looming expense of Mosalu became a festering sore.

The remainder of the story is told in Sumitra’s own words from an interview with VIKALP. 

“How could we cope with this extra expense, when we find it so difficult to get the money for our everyday needs? But there was no getting away from the custom of the community that made it imperative for us to spend 50,000 rupees. We feared loss of respect in our society and our own self esteem went down. We felt hunted, as if trapped. People may not tell us anything right to our face, but people talk, you know that. So six years ago, we mortgaged one acre of our land to our relative from our own village for a sum of 10,000 rupees. This one acre of land was the better one. It was Korat land, which is black in color and sticky like clay. From that land, we always reaped a very good crop. That is the piece of land we parted with.” Her voice still tinged with sadness during her interview as she reminisced those days.

“Mortgaging the land, we met the expenses of the Mosalu and completed all of the formalities. Six years had passed to the day, when Vikalp intervened to resolve our problem. Until then, we were not able to get our land released. Everyday we struggled to cover the costs of our day to day lives. Mortgaging is like a slope. Once you set your foot there, it seems there is no way up but to slide down. With each passing day, it gets slowly worse.”

“Then Vikalp came in. They said the government was willing to give money to get our lands released, with seeds, manure, and everything, provided that we return the money in small sums. Vikalp gave us the money and took a written word from us that we would never again give away our land. So with the land returned to us, we reconnected with the best piece of our farmland. We feel proud to say that we have already returned the money.”

Posted By Alicia Evangelides

Posted Jul 6th, 2012

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