It was a deal struck almost 40 years ago by a poor, illiterate farmer, driven by desperation after a drought wiped out his crops and left his family close to starvation.
The agreement: 10 acres of land, the size of four soccer pitches, for a mere 10 kg (22 lbs) of sorghum grains.
“My father-in-law pawned the land for food,” said Kowasalya Thati, lifting the hem of her grey sari and stepping into the muddy field of rice paddy in Kottasuraream village in Andhra Pradesh.
“When he returned the grain later, the land owners refused to give it back. They claimed it and we had no document to prove otherwise. For 28 years, we had to work on the land we once owned. Without land, we had nothing … not even enough food. It’s a miracle we got it back.”
Kowasalya’s family is one of hundreds of thousands who belong to India’s 700 listed tribes who are at last gaining legal titles to the land they have lived on for generations, thanks to a legal aid scheme run by the Andhra Pradesh government with international advocacy group Landesa.