Landless community in Bangladesh stand their ground against local elites

Thursday, 13th April 2017

In a country where approximately 25% live under the poverty line, and more than 10% are considered extremely poor[1], one of the greatest riches one can dream of is having land and benefiting from its bounties. As the saying goes, "land is life" and in the case in Rampur – a landless peasant community in Bangladesh – this is no exception.


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The village of Rampur, in the Dinajpur district of Bangladesh, was established on state-land in 1953 by landless farmers. This land was redistributed for their common use and benefit, and has been protected under the law from individuals claiming private ownership. Commonly referred to as khas land in Bangladesh, many communities like Rampur depend on this communal land system to provide for their households and communities – to put food on their families table.   This type of system however is not without its challenges. In fact, it's full of them.

Due to the nature of the laws ambiguity, a group of local powerful elites used intimidation tactics to try and evict the villagers from the115 acres where they had built their homes and started earning an income through fishery projects. The local elites went as far as to file false claims, putting many of the villagers into jail anywhere between 15 days to 9 months.

In the 1990's, ILC member Community Development Association (CDA) supported the villagers to establish a community based organisation to fight against the group of powerful local elites. For a community that had an 80% illiteracy rate, CDA provided training on adult literacy, group management and facilitation and on their rights to access state land. CDA was able to give villagers the tools to start a fight that – little did they know -  would last almost 20 years. 

Thanks to a campaign launched by CDA, the conflict got some traction and moved to the streets. The local demonstrations gained media attention, including from the BBC and CNN, which in turn helped to  get over 100.000 signees to a petition addressed to politicians and government officials.

With CDA's intervention and legal support, the courts dismissed the false claims against the villagers in 2000, and nine years later they were awarded formal ownership of the land. Ultimately, the long struggle gave them a voice, made them aware of their rights and most importantly, unified them in an organisational platform.

The story of Rampur and CDA's intervention is important for people-centred land governance. The lessons learned throughout the almost twenty years are documented in the case study “Twenty years of legal struggle to obtain ownership of public ‘khas’” published by the ILC as part of its database of Good Practices.   


 

[1]General Economics Division: Planning Commission, Government of the People’s Republic of  Bangladesh (2015b): Seventh Five Year Plan FY2016‐2020, Accelerating Growth, Empowering  Citizens.  http://southernvoice‐postmdg.org/wp‐content/uploads/2015/10/Bangladesh‐ Planning‐Commission‐Seventh‐Five‐Year‐Plan‐FY2016‐–‐FY2020‐Final‐Draft‐October‐ 2015.pdf [Accessed: 03.03.2016