Largely rural and tribal visitors to a popular festival in India’s Andhra Pradesh were in for a pleasant surprise this year. Not only did they receive blessings of the local deity like every year, but also got key information on land rights and schemes, sparking hopes for a shot at getting a land title.
Lack of access and control over land pushes poor families, especially women, into a poverty trap with no way out of it as they do not own any assets. But getting one’s own land to live and grow food on is a life changing experience that every landless family in India dreams about.
“I have been growing crops and vegetables on forest land for thirty years. But I have no security,” said Veera Laxmi from Paloncha in Khammam district.
“I now have information on how to get a land title or Patta. I will now knock on the offices of the officers concerned as mentioned in this paper,” the 56-year-old adds pointing to a printed handbill in Telugu language.
In a major pitch to reach out to thousands of rural and poor communities on the issue of land entitlement and educating them on how to access it, Rural Development Institute (RDI), a global network working with state agencies and communities, used a cultural festival which drew close to a million visitors.
This year the congregation for Medaram Festival was held from 8th to 11th February, drawing tribal and rural people from Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.
The festival is a unique space. Though it is steeped in tradition, it has evolved to reflect everyday realities of tribal and poor communities. So you have a massive congregation for a carnival, woven around a tribal deity, where state administration and various departments, apart from scores of non-governmental organisations, throng to talk about entitlement schemes and projects.
Access to land for the poor and legal entitlements for marginalised families has never been part of events at the festival. But we know from our work, the potential a platform like this has to get across to social groups and communities that can benefit most from land related information and support.
So we got together a range of awareness materials — from posters to leaflets from video installations to announcement systems — to make visitors aware about the entitlements that landless families have and how they can access these.
“I have been coming to Medaram Jatara for blessings of the goddess. But I had never seen people disseminating information on land issues. I will share all this with others in my village,” said Ellandula Sammaiah, a 45-year-old farmer.
RDI works with communities, revenue officials and state departments to enable legal systems to deliver secure land titles. The team in Andhra Pradesh has pioneered a range of communications materials, including a very popular television show called Bhommi Kosam. The show is a dial-in programme where landless people get legal advice on securing land entitlements.