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July 29th, 2013
During the recent “Follow Up” event, the Meppadi center graduates took on a new problem for their “LEE in Community Event”: a petition to the Chief Minister of Kerala and the Wayanad District Collector to recognize the land rights of a local community. Since 2002, the government has not recognized the ownership of a community’s land due to some confusion over ownership lines and the close proximity of government and corporate land holdings. This community sits between a state forest reserve and the tea plantation, and is home to two of the WE Project participants as well as a tribal community and others. The government officials there did not allow the community to pay their annual land tax because they thought the land belonged to the government or corporation, even though this community has invested in and lived there for several decades. Once the tax is paid, a formal document of ownership is issued which serves to protect land rights. The petition was to correct this error and allow the community to pay their tax and receive the certificate of ownership.
Apart from collecting over 200 signatures, the women also took video interviews of the local people as documentation of the problem. A group of 10 WE Project graduates presented their petition to the “Akshaya E-Governance Center” that handles all formal petitions to the chief minister and district collectors. The graduates waited in the hours-long queue and ensured that everything was documented properly and their contact information was recorded. For all of the graduates, this was the first time they had made a formal complaint to the government. This activity shows the women properly participating in their community’s democratic process and demonstrates how strong their voices have become since taking the course.
UPDATE- August 8th, 2013
After the petition was submitted, many of the graduates thought that was it—from the past experiences they have had with the government, they expected only silence in return. Surprisingly, a couple of government officials came to meet with the graduates and offer solutions to their petition. They have promised to permanently solve the land ownership issue soon. The graduates were surprised and ecstatic that their petition brought results, and proves the value and strength that can be found in participating in the democratic process. The WE Project graduates have found their voices, and their communities are far better for it.
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