Never equal

What does development-engineered displacement mean for the other half?

By Enakshi Ganguly
Published: Tuesday 31 October 1995

-- (Credit: Pradip Saha / cse)THE Environmental Activists' Handbook edited by Gayatri Singh, Keban Anklesharia and Colin Gonsalves carries the pic an old fdic of a woman, named Sunderbai, on its cover. coptim below reads - "Sunderbai, twice displaced by 0 Am project, eventually died of starvation on 21.1.93". nor picture provoked many questions in my mind. Did dn6ai die merely of old age and poverty? Or did the trauma i(diiiplacement hasten her death? And, is the fact that she a Asipleced woman of any significance?

Me oll of displacement due to developmental projects is well kwwrL But is there a gender dimension to this as dough women have been identified as a vulnerable ip, thieve is very little documentation available on them. qatstion that can well be asked is, since displacement is a eastic experience for anyone undergoing it, is it any asset for women?

Is ahmost all displacement analyses and policies on relocation it has been assumed that the household or the 'family' is asellear unit of convergent interests wherein the benefits berden; of existing policies are shared by all its members, Ih of aparse includes the women. However, while there is small tegative effect on the poor, there is bound to be a ar silinct on the women and the female children, This is sea of intra-houschold inequalities that already exist in ralsafthe literacy skills, health, nutrition etc. MA disparities tend to get aggravated in times of economic tic stress Involuntary displacement R is definitely such a time. The Ile examine the intra-household isadow of specific strategies and strategies, therefore, can ke passed adequately without considering the gender dimension. It M lardworous, of course, to club Male a homogenous category digir experiences, even as as. would differ with their caste, sed etisnic background.

ww*Wment processes have gennerated lwased social inequalities. What a awe worrying is that gender is is is suse form in all of them. In we. the transition to modern my bas meant the exclusion of masong number of women from r participation in the developement ploceag; For them, it has meant am than stagnation, increasing ,y. greater vulnerability and sometimes even a decline of opportunities and status.

The key element of a just development policy is the provision for women to have access to productive resources and to own and manage property. The right to own property is essentially a human rights issue. People who cannot own property can be excluded from their homes and livelihood.

These factors are of crucial importance in the event of displacement because they determine who an'oustee'or'affected person' is, thereby giving the person a right to compensation and rehabilitation. It is therefore not surprising that the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 - the main law of acquisition - reveals a gender bias. Section 42(2) of this Act specifies that if the'person interested' is riot available to receive the notice for acquisition, then it may be handed over to, or served on, any other adult male member of the family who resides with herthim. If no 'adult male' is present, then the notice may be served by affixing a copy of the notice on the outer door of the house, or in sonic conspicuous place in the office of the collector or court house etc.

To put it plainly, if the notice is served on a woman, it is not legal. The Act does not mention what is to be done if the 'person interested' is a woman, or one of the 'person interested' is a woman, in case of joint ownership.

Sanitation is another major problem faced by displaced women. But since this is an issue peculiar to the opposite sex, it seldom draws any attention. Not only does this make the lives of the women physically uncomfortable, but also makes them more vulnerable to physical and sexual harassment.

Besides, social evils like alcoholism, ;s" prostitution and gambling are a defi nite fallout of displacement. This has a direct bearing on the lives and status of the women and heighten the violence inflicted on them.

Given this backdrop, would it be totally out of context to ask whether Sunderbai was more vulnerable because she was a displaced woman? What we have discussed so far may only be some examples, but they definitely nitely suggest that the gender aspect needs further examination. While these differences may not be important in themselves, they are significant for policy alternatives and strategies, especially in a situation where displacement seems to be becoming an increasingly repetitious phenomenon and the government is planning and formulating a National Rehabilitation Policy.

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