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May 04 2011

Paralegals Bringing Legal Aid to Women in India

An ambitious new campaign aims to bring land rights, stability, security, and opportunity to 43,000 poor and landless women and their families in the State of Andhra Pradesh, India.

The program, which began in November 2010, trains paralegals to identify and help poor landless women. Many of these women live on and farm government-owned land or land whose ownership is unclear.  Often, their families have lived in such a precarious situation for generations.

These women can’t securely invest in their plots to improve their harvests because they don’t own the land and can be evicted at any moment. Moreover, in India, families without land titles cannot send their children to government residential schools or take advantage of many of the government’s most effective poverty alleviation programs.

The Indian government is working hard to rectify this – creating channels through which these women can apply to gain ownership of the government land they currently farm. Unfortunately, many of these women lack the information or legal guidance to process their application. This new program, created through a partnership between Andhra Pradesh Mahila Samatha Society, RDI-India, and Landesa aims to bridge this gap.

In this new program, paralegals help landless woman through the application process to gain ownership title to the land on which they currently reside. The paralegals walk her through each step required to receive full ownership rights to their parcel.

Thus far, 244 paralegals have completed their training and begun work in their villages. By March 2012, our goal is to train 430 paralegals, who will work in 4300 villages to help identify and support 43,000 women through the patta (title) application process.

Such a program is sorely needed in Andhra Pradesh. Fourteen percent of rural households in the state are completely without land. Often these families stay with relatives, live on their employer’s land, or squat on government or other vacant land. Secure land rights changes their situation fundamentally. When they can invest in their land and increase their harvest, they can improve their family’s nutrition and health, and afford to send their children to school. When distributed broadly, secure land tenure becomes a fundamental building block for the development of sustainable, prosperous and peaceful societies.

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