Nilima Topno is the President of an organisation called the Ath-Kosia Tribal People’s Organisation, based in Sundergarh district, Odisha, India. Ath-Kosia is a 40,000-member strong tribal rights organisation fighting on behalf of tribal and rural people for forest land rights. “We’ve made real progress in terms of land rights, says Nilima. “Now we are focusing on how to solve the problems faced by single women.”
The organisation is lobbying the government to address the issues faced by single women in India. “As I myself am a single woman, all the other single women selected me as their leader.” Most single women are deprived of their land rights and have difficulty in achieving economic stability. Ath-Kosia is asking the government to ensure that single tribal and rural women have access to a minimum amount of land for a home and also for agricultural purposes.
Nilima herself is also a farmer and practices SRI. For her and her colleagues, SRI and SRI practices with other crops such as millets, have made it possible to grow enough food on a small plot of land. Nilima farms collectively with other organisation members, meaning they do not have to rely on others for labour. But land ownership laws and, more importantly, land ownership in practice, do not favour women. Single women are frequently landless and, with low incomes, even leasing land can be unaffordbale.
The demographic referred to as ‘single women’ includes widows, divorcees and spinsters. Some opponents of single women’s rights argue that if such women are living alone they may not have too many needs; they are unlikely, for example, to have children to take of. But this ignores the fact that many of those single women are not living alone. Many divorced women have children to be cared for and to be educated. As they have no secure livelihood or income then how could they fulfil such needs? “But until now the Government has not implemented any specific policy or schemes exclusively for the benefit of single women,” continues Nilima. “So Ath-Kosia has organised a wing dedicated to single women’s rights so we can make effective our demands to the Government.”
“We think that we have certain human rights, the right to a dignified life, the right to a livelihood and other entitlements such as social security schemes.”