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No Man’s Land No More: Land Rights and People’s Movements in Nepal

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Maggie Callahan
October 24, 2019

In Nepal, land rights are insecure: over 25% of tillers are landless, and over 50% of peasants are informal tenants and insecure in their livelihoods. These land rights are connected to government services, including citizens certificates. Consequently, the most vulnerable, landless individuals are disenfranchised and lack access to government services like water, electricity, bank loans, birth registrations and marriage certificates.

The National Land Rights Forum is a peasant-led advocacy group that lobbies at all levels of Nepal’s government on behalf of landless tenants. In 2004, the campaign began to strengthen peasants’ organizations to participate, mobilize and negotiate policy processes and practices that affect them. The social campaign attracted funding from international and local organizations, but the movement remains led and directed entirely by peasants with facilitation and capacity building trainings from a Nepali civil society organization, Community Self-Reliance Center.

Through forums beginning in 2005, leaders were appointed at the village and district level and began participating in discussions on how to best lobby the government on behalf of their interests. One male and one female representative from the village make up the district level forum, and a national forum is made of up 50 members from the village forums.

Multiple activities take place in the village, district and national forums. Though these activities do not always coordinate, there is strong synergy between the levels of forums and their activities. The village and district campaigns focus on claiming land rights for tenancy, tiling and housing. National campaigns focus on policy changes on behalf of land-deprived people.

Since 2005, over 3,000 village-level land rights forums have been formed and organized involving more than 98,000 people. At these forums, land deprived individuals discuss how to best enact change and increase mobilization at the various levels of government. There is a consensus-based decisionmaking process, in which outcomes are decided by the group reaching consensus through discussions.

Through sit-ins, encircling government offices, hunger strikes and padlocking government offices, marches, lobbying, letter writing and demonstrations, National Land Rights Forum has inspired constitutional reform in favor of land rights, the passage of the Reconstruction Bill including provisions for housing rights at the national level and the amending of the Land Reform Act to allow for filing tenancy applications and cases. Moreover through the land rights forums, over 45,000 formerly landless peasants and tenants have received land certificates, and more than 5,000 landless people have gained access to public land for their livelihoods.

What was formerly no man’s land is now no more thanks to the National Land Rights Forums. Nepal’s National Land Rights Forum and its village and district counterparts highlight the power of people’s movements. Through mobilization and active deliberation and participation, the group has secured much positive change on behalf of the landless and formerly landless in Nepal.

To learn more about this case visit https://participedia.net/case/5659. To read about other innovative applications of public participation, visit www.participedia.net.

Author: Maggie Callahan is a master’s student of public diplomacy at Syracuse University and a graduate assistant for the Participedia Project at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She holds a bachelor’s in political science and economics from Mercer University and has worked in Georgian, Moroccan and Nepalese nongovernmental organizations and the American government. Follow her on Twitter: @laissezmaggie


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