Why a right to land for a tribal woman is secondary?

Jyoti Sonia Dhan
Adivasi women in a village

In Jharkhand, historically tribal society was a collective society residing in the proximity of woods and forest. They had their own periphery within which their social, cultural and political system ran smoothly. Men and women had equal responsibility towards the family and society and played equal roles.

The land was then into a collective system, where a territory was defined and the control over the territory by the village self governance system such as Manki Munda of Ho tribes, Majhi parha of santhal and Parha panchayats of Munda. Not only these but other tribes like Oraon, Birhor and Paharia have their own administrative system which was unique in nature. This was the oral tradition and was functional on certain believes and myths. The women enjoyed equal opportunity and played role of village head in the administrative system.


Through Permanent Settlement Act of 1793, tectonic changes were brought into this traditional administrative system by the British. This Act heavily undermined the traditions and customs of the tribal’s communities. It introduced fixed land revenue independent of local terrain and climatic conditions ( contrary to the Mugal land revenue system); introduced Zamindars to collect it and “ghatwals” to maintain law and order. The peasant tribals were turned into tenant farmers and deprived of the land title including other rights and privileges enjoyed during the Mughal period.

The Zamindars collected the rents of land through different intermediate collectors. As a result multilevel ranks of collector thrived under the Zamindar. The peasantry was subject to deprivation of his share in produce from land and relegated to abject poverty.  The British legislation institutionalized the transfer of land and created the abuse of land-market, which was almost absent in the Mughal period. The strict revenue assessment resulted in huge arrears to local chief (and consequently to peasant tribals) which resulted in auctioning of the land. 

Consequently, there was series of uprising from tribals from 1767 to 1833 and again from 1845 to 1920 in almost in every parts of Jharkhand. The prominent among them are the Santal Hul of 1855-57, master minded by four brothers Sidhu, Kahnu, Chand and Bhairav, and Birsa Munda’s Ulgulan (1895-1900). All this uprising resulted in reformative legislation like the Wilkinson Rule (Under Bengal Regulation XIII of 1833), Chotanagpur Tenancy Act of 1908 (CNT) and Santhal Pargana Act of 1949 (SPT. These all were the written laws by Britishers to protect the tribal land and cultural traditions. 

But, on contrary Britishers introduce patta system or “Khatiyans” (land title deed) in Jharkhand. The communalism is replaces by individualism. Common property became private. Here, came the introduction of the strong patriarchy by writing the names of the male members in the patta or “Khatiyan”. The entry of the women name was restricted. This was more so done by the Britishers in order to create a dispute within the tribal family. This was the start of disintegration of the women in the traditional governance system. Now a days there are hardly any women as village head. 

The struggle for the land did not stop in the tribal belt. The ignorance of CNT, SPT and Wilkinson rule had resulted in massive treacherously, betray by the outsiders specially the migrants from North Bihar and parts of Uttar Pradesh. The tribals had welcomed them as the guest but they were ignorant of their motives, consequently many lands were taken illegally by these migrants who came to settle in the new area. Some of the early migrants got land from the Zamindars. 

The motives of the migrants were so intense that they lured the tribal girls to get married with them. Many tribals girls got married which had resulted in wide spread torture for land. This created anger among the tribal communities and strengthen them towards being more patriarch. Newly, infested thought just ignored the women entitlement to land. This also had its repercussions in the traditional system and participation of women in administrative system almost stopped. Though there were other factors for the loss of traditional system in tribal belt but presence of women became negligible. Even the traditional practice of “Tamen Jom” in Santhal tribe where a daughter is given the share of family land, did not practiced in large. The tribal communities like Munda, Ho and Oraon totally ignored the right of women over the family land. 

The role of the women was reduced to “care taker” of ancestral land but there was no entitlement with their names. The single unmarried women got the land of their father as the caretaker but not as owner. Similarly, the role of the widower became more prominent as caretaker until only her sons got through the land rights. Still today the practice is same and tribal women’s right to land is not in mindset of tribal men or even women. 

There was lot of resistance from the tribal men when asked about giving land to women. This is more so because there have being much of struggle of land by the tribals in past and still it is present today. The term ‘Dikus” has being attached to all the invaders whether to be outsiders or multinational companies who are reaching to grab the tribal land for their profit. In such a situation how can tribal men think to give a share to women? This issue of land struggle of tribals with corporate or multinational companies was attached with women being betrayed through marriage for land in the past. 

One thing that was ignorant from the past happening was that men were also being part in the loosing of land to outsiders which was never narrated in large. They through their easy going and wrong habits gave many lands to others. They even encourage having marrying a non tribals but they could not tolerate a tribal women marrying a non tribal. 

The land for the urban tribal women also emerged from same history which restricted the share to daughter creating differences. The history was repeated gain and again to women so that they could live peacefully with the realization that outsiders were present only to grab the lands. And land right to women does not exist for tribal girls. Even the property right to daughter by the Indian law did not fit to the traditional laws in tribal society. 

The land reforms under the Forest Department had also resulted in loss of the tribal lands. Neither the recent Forest Right Act of 2006 was introduced properly at grass root. This Act was functional on in 2008 but there was no distribution of patta. This Act had benefited the women by joint names in patta in neighboring states like Orissa and Chattisgarh. Unfortunately, in Jharkhand it is still in the struggling phase to implement properly but joint names in patta is still a long way. 

This was not at all in the mindset of tribal men that women are strong enough to deal with all situations. They have seen the women participating strongly for land struggle right from the Brtishers to present day against the multinational companies. But, when comes land right to women they are silent and narrates traditional values and norms. 

Some advocacy was done on right to land to women by many organization and activists but due to the reluctance by the tribal political leaders it did not worked. The other alternative are being worked such as introduction of names of the wives in the “Khatian” (land deed) but still the organization and activists are struggling in this matter. 

There are changing patterns in the tribal society were the acceptance of the daughter are getting reduce this will more so weakens the right to land to women. Hence, mass awareness is needed among the tribal society starting from the traditional groups to urban habitats. Only then can right to land for tribal women be accepted. 

Writer is a Social Activist.


2 thoughts on “Why a right to land for a tribal woman is secondary?”

  1. Wonderful piece of writing. Small correction its not “Majhi parha of santhal” it Majhi-Pargana of Santhals. Kindly correct it.

  2. Tribal and social activists should build opinion among the people and the democratic leaders for the amendment in the traditional procedure, wherein the women should have equal rights to property as like law of the country. Be it son or daughter, they are the children of same parent and it’s high time that the conscious class should now think on this line to provide right to tribal women. I strongly support the views of the writer, Ms Jyoti Sonia Dhan, and stand by her to fight for the cause of women empowerment. When the Indian law to equality is applicable to all, then why are the tribal women bereft of their rights and land title?
    I also thank Gladson Dung Dung for carrying such a story which talks about the orthodoxy and age old mindset that needs change in the contemporary society. Thanks a lot….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s