Skip to main content
Advertising

Picture This

Seattle Times photographers offer a glimpse into what inspires their best visual reporting.

March 16, 2013 at 8:00 PM

  • Share:
             
  • Comments (1)
  • Print

Seattle's Landesa aims to help rural girls in India


ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Chandana Barman, 14, rides her bike to fetch drinking water for her two younger siblings and parents. Between school and chores, Chandana attends local girls group meetings. The Landesa "Security for Girls Through Land" project aims to increase West Bengal girls’ knowledge of gardening, land rights and ownership as a way to improve their economic and social status. Chandana's mother has seen her daughters' self-confidence increase since attending the groups.

India is home to more poor people than any other country on Earth.

Images of vast slums in megacities, portrayed in popular movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” may first come to mind.

However, the majority of India’s poor live in rural areas.

According to the Seattle non-profit Landesa, about 20 million families are completely landless — living in encroachments, doubled up with family or working as tenant farmers. Another 40 million families, many of them indigenous villagers, don’t have secure rights to the land where they live.

In December, reporter Melissa Allison and I traveled to the Indian state of West Bengal to learn about Landesa’s “Security for Girls Through Land” project, which focuses on the advancement of the girls living in the lowest depths of poverty.

Landesa secures “micro-plots” of land for rural families in India, with the belief that a small piece of land — roughly the size of a tennis court — can help a family generate income, increase food and physical security and keep children in school.

The pilot program focuses on increasing West Bengal girls’ knowledge of gardening, land rights and ownership, as a way to improve their economic and social status. Girls in these communities are sometimes subject to neglect, gender-based violence, malnutrition and human trafficking.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Morning commuters ride bikes and buses through the early morning fog in West Bengal, India. The state, located in eastern India, is bordered by Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. The Seattle-based non-profit Landesa works around the world to create partnerships with governments and other non-profits to help rural, poor families obtain land rights.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

A woman works in the rice paddies in rural West Bengal, India. According to Landesa, around 1 billion of the poorest people around the world live in rural areas and rely on the land to subsist, yet do not have legal rights to the land they till.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

A vendor sells farming tools at a market in rural West Bengal, India. Agriculture is the main industry and source of jobs in West Bengal.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Families live in encroachments on railway land in the town of Cooch Behar, West Bengal. Landless families in urban areas often have more options for employment opportunities, like rickshaw driving and maid work, than those in rural regions who have no other means to support themselves than off the land. Urban families sometimes send money back to poorer relatives who live in the country.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Men work in the brickfields near Cooch Behar, West Bengal. Many of the workers migrate from other Indian states such as Bihar. The majority of landless families in India are tenant farmers (who live and work on someone else's farms), migratory workers from other states or daily wage earners who are doubled up with relatives or squat on someone else's property, according to Landesa.

ERIKA SCHULTZ/ THE SEATTLE TIMES

Samaru Das, 45, and his wife, Purnamoyi Das, 35, had to sell their land to a relative to pay for their daughters' dowries. They lived on the land for an extended period, despite their relatives' desire for them to leave. They recently received land from the government of West Bengal through the program "Nijo Griha Nijo Bhumi."

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Pedestrians walk by a statue of the Hindu goddess Kali in rural West Bengal, India. The state, located in eastern India, is bordered by Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Mamata Barui, 16, hopes her garden — filled with pumpkins, radishes and bottle gourds — will produce enough money to stop her father bringing marriage suitors to their home. Mamata was taken out of school at age 12 because of economic difficulties at home.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Mamata Barui, 16, works in her garden in rural West Bengal, India. She was sent to work as a maid, but returned to her family after she described bad treatment.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Sambhu Barui, 45, believes he has little choice but to marry off his eldest daughter, Mamata, 16. "It's a daughter, so what can she do? Nothing much. I have to marry her," he said. Although child marriage is illegal in India, the practice is still pervasive in society. Poor families often have a financial incentive to wed their daughters early to avoid dowry or offer them as maids so the girls can earn their dowry, according to Landesa.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Rumpa Barui, 12, waters her family's kitchen garden in rural West Bengal. Her sister Mamata expanded the garden, which includes hot green chilies, pumpkin, radish, bay leaves and bottle gourd. Mamata helps lead Landesa's girls group in her area.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Mamata Barui, 16, makes tea inside her home in rural West Bengal, India.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

As the eldest daughter, Mamata Barui, 16, oversees chores and her younger siblings. She loved studying history before she was taken out of school. She hopes to prolong her childhood a little longer, and deter her father's wishes for marriage.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Shanti Kungor, 35, tends to her cows in Choto Dorko in West Bengal, India. In some communities in India, parents do not invest in their daughters' education and development because the girls eventually will live in someone else's home after being married. A Landesa official heard one villager say, "How long are you going to feed someone else's cow?"

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

A micro-plot of land allowed single mother Shanti Kungor, 35, to leave her marriage, in which she was the second wife.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Ratna Kungor, 15, walks home after exams at school in rural West Bengal, India. Ratna lives on a micro-plot of land where she and her single mother grow a garden full of yams, mangos, guava, spinach, eggplant and papaya. They also raise goats, chickens and cows.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Nirobala Das, a neighbor of the Kungors, dries turmeric, used as a spice and as medicine. Both of the families live on a micro-plot of land they received from the West Bengal government through a Landesa-designed program.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Ratna Kungor, 15, at center in red, attends a girls group in Choto Dorko in West Bengal, India. The Landesa "Security for Girls Through Land" project aims to increase West Bengal girls' knowledge of gardening, land rights and ownership as a way to improve their economic and social status.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Prabhati Barman, 43, at center in green, watches a girls group meeting in Choto Dorko in West Bengal, India. Leaders of the group believe the program helps girls become more articulate, vocal and confident.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Shanti Kungor, 35, and her daughter, Ratna Kungor, 15, live on a micro-plot of land they received from the West Bengal government through a Landesa-designed program. The land title allowed Shanti, who says she was in an abusive marriage, to focus on a better life for her daughter.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Chandana Barman, 14, cleans a bowl at the water pump behind her home during early morning chores in rural West Bengal, India. According to Landesa, women need access and control of resources in order to be independent and avoid exploitation.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Santana Barman, 12, and her sister, Chandana, 14, not pictured, wear safety pins on their necklaces. In rural areas, it is common for women to wear safety pins on their jewelry to fix the loose parts of their saris, dresses or dupattas in a pinch.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Neighbors Ruma Biswas, 8 (in yellow), and Mallika Barman, 11 (in pink), help Kashinath Barman and his daughter Santana, 12, plant hot green chilies in their micro-plot garden. The garden saves the Barmans about $109 a year, and it helps them pay for school fees and tutoring for their three children.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Bulbuli Barman, mother of three, is a life-long agricultural worker in rural West Bengal. She uses a "kulo," or narrow basket, to separate the straw from rice grains. According to Landesa, around 1 billion of the poorest people around the world live in rural areas and rely on the land to subsist, yet do not have legal rights to the land they till.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Bulbuli Barman, upper right, threshes rice in the fields not far from her home in rural West Bengal, India. Bulbuli, a lifelong field worker, wants an easier life for her daughters than she has had. In India, landless families in urban areas often have jobs that help them survive. Most rural, landless families only have the land to support themselves.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Kashinath Barman milks his cows after a long day working in the agricultural fields. Until a few years ago, his family lived in this bamboo-and-jute-stick cow shed, and they starved two months of the year. A micro-plot of land helped the Barmans out of extreme poverty.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Koushik Barman, 10, plays with other boys in his rural West Bengal village. The Barmans are eating better and able to save more money after receiving their micro-plot. More than 200,000 families in India have received micro-plots, according to Landesa.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

A West Bengal villager poses for her portrait. According to Landesa, India is home to more poor people than any other country on earth.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Chandana Barman, who has the same name as her 14-year-old neighbor pictured below, washes Rakhi, 1, outside her family's home in rural West Bengal. Chandana's family married her off at the age of 13. "We made a mistake," her mother, Phanibala says. "We're poor, and we married her early because there was not much demand for dowry."

ERIKA SCHULTZ/ THE SEATTLE TIMES

Chandana Barman, 14, bathes with a friend near the rural village of Nakarkhana 2 in West Bengal, India. Many homes this part of rural West Bengal lack electricity and running water. However, the security of owning their land and having it in a good location is prized. Landesa works with the government to identify quality parcels.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Kashinath Barman works for a landowner near his home in rural West Bengal, India. Barman, a father of three, works long days to provide for his family.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

A stubborn cow tests Chandana Barman, 14, near her home on a micro-plot in rural West Bengal. The Seattle-based non-profit Landesa works around the world to create partnerships with governments and other non-profits to help rural, poor families obtain land rights.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Santana Barman, 12, holds her family's "patta," or land title, at their home in rural West Bengal. In the weekly girls groups, Santana and her neighbors learn about the importance of land rights as well as women's rights.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Chandana Barman, 14, keeps her comb in her a hair before attending exams at school in the rural village of Nakarkhana 2, West Bengal.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

A girls' group gathers at twilight in the rural village of Nakarkhana 2 in West Bengal, India. The Landesa "Security for Girls Through Land" project aims to educate girls and their villages about land rights, women's rights and gardening skills.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Chandana Barman, 14, studies by kerosene lamp for her school exams. The five-person family owns three structures — one for cooking, another for the animals and a single room where they all sleep and study.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Working well into the twilight, Bulbuli Barman, mother of three, sweeps up rice at her home in rural West Bengal, India. Bulbuli and her husband, both lifelong field workers, want an easier life for their daughters than their own. "We don't want our children to be there in the darkness as we are," her husband Kashinath Barman, says of wanting them to be literate.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Sunil Barman, 55, weighs fish with a scale at a night market in the rural Kashiabari village in West Bengal. Men control the majority of business and economics within most households, even though women also work in the fields or other jobs. According to Landesa, women need access and control of resources in order to be independent and avoid exploitation.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Men exchange money at a night market in rural West Bengal, India. The night market is held once a week in the villages.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Men and boys work in the vegetable wholesale market in West Bengal. Men control most of the finances in West Bengal households, even though women often work alongside them in the fields. According to Landesa, women need access and control of resources in order to be independent and avoid exploitation.

ERIKA SCHULTZ THE SEATTLE TIMES

Laxmi Saha, 52, works in a rice field in rural West Bengal, India. During the winter months, men and women work long hours in the rice paddies. According to Landesa, around 20 million families in rural India are landless.

ERIKA SCHULTZ/ THE SEATTLE TIMES

Ruma Chatterjee leads a girls group on legal literacy in the rural village of Kashiabari, West Bengal. The discussion touched on issues of teasing, the role of police, land rights, rape and child abuse. The Landesa "Security for Girls Through Land" project aims to educate girls and their villages about land rights, women's rights and gardening skills as a way to improve their economic and social status.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Jahara Biwi, married at the age of 15, second from left, attends a girls group on legal literacy in the rural village of Kashiabari, West Bengal. The discussion touched on issues of teasing, the role of police, land rights, rape and child abuse.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Girls walk down the dirt road in rural West Bengal, India. Although child marriage is illegal in India, almost half of the country's girls under age 18 are married, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

ERIKA SCHULTZ/ THE SEATTLE TIMES

Balaram Dutta fishes in the river near the Nakarkhana 2 in West Bengal, India. The state, located in Eastern India, is bordered by Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Gopal Chandra Barman, center in red, washes with a group of men and boys near the rural village of Nakarkhana 2 in West Bengal, India.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

A worker plows in the fields in rural West Bengal, India. According to Landesa, around 20 million families in rural India are landless.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

A girl sits outside of Singimari High School in West Bengal, India. Although child marriage is illegal in India, almost half of the country's girls under age 18 are married, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Trafficking is illegal too, but the U.S. State Department says the country is a destination for child sex tourism and UNICEF estimates 1.2 million children are prostituted or enslaved in India.

ERIKA SCHULTZ/ THE SEATTLE TIMES

A girl snacks on a radish in the fields near Nakarkhana 2 in West Bengal, India. About a third of the country's population of 1.2 billion people are poverty-stricken. India's average life expectancy is 67 years. About 44 percent of children in this South Asian country are underweight, more than any other place on earth, according to the CIA World Factbook.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Soneka Das, 25, dresses her daughter Sanjita Das, 5, at their home in Choto Dorko in West Bengal. In India, there has been a long-standing preference for sons versus daughters. High prices for dowry sometimes create financial incentives for poor families to marry their daughters young or offer them as maids.

ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Women in Mumbai's red-light district shield their faces to hide their identities when seeing a camera. Girls are sometimes taken from rural communities, including West Bengal, and taken across country so they cannot easily reconnect with their families. The Indian state of West Bengal, near the borders of Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, is known for heavy human-trafficking routes.

Most Popular Comments
Hide / Show comments
"It's a daughter, so what can she do? Nothing much. I have to marry her," he... MORE

Advertising