March 9, 2015

by Devesh Khatarkar

The world witnesses forcible displacement of millions of people in the name of development especially in developing countries of the Third World. More than 60 million people have been displaced in India since development. To keep pace with developed countries, governments of developing countries are speedily clearing projects for dams, defense manufacturing, public -private partnerships, etc. For the purpose of all these projects they require land on which marginalized communities, like tribal people, have been living for years practicing their old-age customs and traditions. In the process, displaced people lose their homes, kinship networks and livelihood and face untold misery. Women of the displaced communities have to bear a large part of the costs of displacement, be it emotional, cultural or financial. (Kour, 2014)

“This occurs due to the gendered division of labor that has arisen from socio-historical processes of men’s traditional incorporation in wage earning and performing labor oriented tasks while women remain on the land jobs and its management on a daily basis. The insensitivity of the regimes constructing large developmental projects in the state has created conditions where women have been the greatest sufferer.” (Asthana, 2012)

In India, the Land Acquisition Act 1894 had serious gender-biased provisions that denied women significant roles in the acquisition process. “Whenever practicable, the service of the notice shall be made on the person therein named or on any agent authorised to receive service on that person’s behalf” directed Article 45 (2) of the Act. On the other hand, Article 45 (3) mentioned nothing for the female member of family: “When that person cannot be found and no agent is authorised to receive on that person’s behalf, the service may be made on any adult male member of his family residing with him; and, if no such adult male member can be found, the notice may be served by fixing the copy on the outer door of the house …or ..in some conspicuous place in the office of the Collector and also on some conspicuous part of the land to be acquired.” The British, who had crafted the Land Acquisition Act, made no provisions for female members and widows of the displaced family.

However, to make land acquisition pro-people and to provide better compensation and rehabilitation to displaced people, a new act, The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013, was passed in parliament last year. But the new act does not have better provisions for women’s role in the acquisition process. Women have no say in rehabilitation and resettlement. Compensation is usually provided to male member(s) of the family. As compensation is handed over in cash to men, there is higher possibility that they waste the money in alcoholism and not contribute to the household budget in the new place. There is also time lag between resettlement and compensation which leads to more problems for poor women. Moreover, when female members of families are given the compensation money, they have no say in how it is utilized. Because of such patriarchal mindset, the process of resettlement and rehabilitation becomes a psychological trauma for women.
When displaced families shift to a new land, their economic and social status degrades. Tribal people who used to be proud cultivators before acquisition of their land become wage earners. Emotional stress increases alcoholism in men and the atmosphere of the family takes a turn for the worse. Illiterate tribal women are vulnerable to exploitation in a new place. These women become unemployed since they have no job orientated skills.

If displaced men don’t get employment in nearby areas, they migrate to other places, and women are left alone to run families for months. In her case study of the hill areas of Uttarakhand, Vandana Asthana writes:

“Most men migrate to the plains in search of jobs and mostly get recruited in the army or work as truck drivers. Being a money order economy, the task of planning the household and the community is left to the women. Women are the able-bodied men and take care of household needs, trudge long distances to get water, work on land, get fuel and herbs from the forests and earn additional income for household by doing side business.” (Asthana, 2012).

Displaced women become victims of social evils as marriages are delayed. Attitude of women changes due to exposure to urban centers and industrial set ups. Control of women’s sexuality is also a serious issue in this case. To earn additional income women for their children’s education and health care, work as domestic labour or daily wage earners. They suffer greatly in slums for lack of privacy and sanitation.

“Sanitation is a major problem specific to displaced women. Not only did this make their lives physically uncomfortable, but also made them more vulnerable to physical and sexual harassment” (Kour, 2014).

Tribal lands are especially vulnerable for acquisition as they are located in mineral-rich areas. Hence tribal women special victims of development induced displacement. Displacement of tribal land leads to adverse impact on social and cultural lives of tribal women. Social kinship networks, which are very important for tribal women, is destroyed after displacement. Tribal women are fond of festivals but displacement causes reduction in number of festivals. Also, loudspeakers and bands replace traditional music and dances. Many tribal people convert into mainstream religions due to inducements of money, better health and education facilities for their children. Thus, they not only fall prey to fundamentalist religious organizations but also lose their cultural identity.

Navleen Kour (2014) points towards higher status of women in tribal society:

“… compared to the mainstream society the tribal community allows greater freedom to women. Bride price instead of dowry is indicative that women’s labour is respected and sought after. Widow re-marriage is allowed and women do not have any social taboos as smoking etc. After displacement many of these things change.” (Kour, 2014)

Tribal communities are forced to adopt traditions and customs of mainstream society. Pathetically, bride price is replaced by dowry. Taboos of mainstream society are enforced on tribal women that didn’t exist in their own culture. In her study, Vandana Asthana mentions one woman named Rukhi Devi of Uttarakhand who sums up her plight from the loss of cultural identity:

“British colonists took away our culture, similarly today this project is also like an imperialist conquest on the hill people‘s culture. It is an ethnocide in a region, which we struggled to establish for our separate identity and development.” (Asthana, 2012).

Some state-level legislations have tried to address the concerns of women. For example, Orissa R&R Policy, Amendment, Resolution of 3rd August 2013, creates equal treatment of women and men with regard to eligibility for R & R benefits. In fact, Orissa R&R Policy 1994 recognizes households headed by women and manadtes that they be treated equally for benefits. Compensation amount, house, and loans should be given in accounts having joint names. There should be consultation with women regarding resettlement facilities, and planning for house layouts. Privacy for women should be ensured to prevent sexual harassment in resettlement colonies.

The new legislation must direct officials to take some important steps to reduce trauma of development induced displacement and should plan with women, for incorporating facilities that reduce their drudgery in work. Creation of livelihood opportunities, along with women from host communities, need to be facilitated. Provisions should make sure that places for sanitation facility with privacy are built in resettlement colonies. The new land acquisition act 2013 has provisions for educational and basic health facilities for women as well as for children. It also makes it compulsory to build Anganwadi in resettlement colony so that pregnant women get basic nutritious food and care during pregnancy as per government schemes. Even then, the new act 2013 is a set of rules which are gender biased, and symbolize the patriarchal mindset of Indian society. It needs to include many other points securing dignity for women, and also needs to provide equal rights to women and men in the resettlement and rehabilitation process.

While women have participated as equals in the movement against displacement, it has not been recognized in legislation.

“The problems of displacement are enormous for them [women]. Although women have participated in the protest movements against the development projects inducing displacement, still they have not yet been provided with equal beneficiaries’ status in the relief and rehabilitation packages. Until the relief and rehabilitation authorities are represented by women, who are able to address the gender issues and concerns in rehabilitation, genuine development is possible” (Kour, 2014).

Such biases are nothing but the reflection of the patriarchal mindset of society. Acquisition of land is supposed to be a process for achieving economic growth and prosperity of the country. But policymakers need to mull over the path they follow. Economic growth should not be achieved at the cost of poor women’s lives by displacing them from lands and giving them sufferings. Inclusive development can be achieved only when women enjoy fundamental rights and are ensured a dignified life.


Asthana, Vandana. (2012): Forced Displacement: A Gendered Analysis of the Tehri Dam Project in India. Economic and Political Weekly, December 01.

Government of India, Ministry of Law and Justice (2013): The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013

Government of India, Ministry of Law and Justice (1894): The Land Acquisition Act 1894.

Kour, Navleen (2014) Development-Induced Displacement: The positioning of Women, Online International Interdisciplinary Research Journal, Volume-IV, March.

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