Global award for project that secured land for Karnataka’s tribal people

A trans-formative initiative supporting the Koraga people and nine other tribal communities in the state of Karnataka to access land for the first time has today been named a Gold Award Winner in this year’s World Habitat Awards.

Human rights group ActionAid Association India’s Restoration of Dignity and Human Rights of Indigenous Tribal Community in Karnataka project – working in partnership with the Koraga Federation and Samagra Grameena Ashrama – has secured thousands of acres of land for tribal communities and 19,000 people have accessed grants to build homes. This has acted as a foundation for them to rebuild their lives. A state-sponsored nutrition programme has improved food security and health among the Koraga community, and now more children attend school and have access to scholarships. Koraga women increasingly hold leadership positions within the community and more than 1,000 have become self-sufficient.

Each year the World Habitat Awards are presented to the most outstanding and innovative housing projects from across the world. In 2019 almost 200 projects and programmes entered the Awards.

Established in 1985, the World Habitat Awards are organised by World Habitat and U.N.-Habitat, the settlements agency

The Koraga tribal community suffered centuries of oppression under caste system. While caste-based discrimination is technically illegal today, many of the practices and prejudices remain. These include ‘Ajalu’, where Koragas are made to eat leftover food from upper caste households mixed with hair, fingernails and other inedible substances.

Through its community-led approach, the project empowers marginalised tribal groups to access their basic human rights, restoring their dignity and transforming their lives for generations to come.

Gowri, who lives with her husband and four sons, became the owner of an acre of agricultural land.

“Before land was allotted to us, I used to work as a labourer in the houses of upper caste people. We were treated as untouchables. We were doing long hours of work; it was a painful struggle of life. Now, we have obtained homestead land and have constructed a decent house which depicts our dignified living. Now our efforts are to support and ensure every Koraga claims their right to land for a decent survival and dignity as land is inextricably linked to dignity. With pride, I wish to say that land is a breakthrough in my life to come out of the oppression. Now I am self-reliant!,” Gowri said.

“This is a very strong rights-based project focused on empowerment – supporting this community to realise there is a way beyond what they have always known. With people very much at the centre, this is so much broader than housing – the Koraga tribe are for the first time in history being treated as human beings and claiming rights they were already entitled to,” the World Habitat Awards judging panel observes.

“In partnership with Samagra Grameena Ashrama and ActionAid Association India, the efforts of the Koraga community to seek equality and justice have been an important part of their historical movement against the discrimination and exclusion faced by them. The World Habitat Award 2019 is a timely recognition of the courageous and sustained efforts of the Koraga community and would send a message of hope and optimism to other communities across the world in their struggle for a life of dignity and sustainability,” Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director, ActionAid Association India, said.

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