Fifty-year-old Jitendra Bhattarai lives in Karmaiya of Sarlahi with his mother, wife and three daughters. His wife Devmaya is 44. Jitendra and Devmaya are married for 28 years now. They have five daughters, two of whom are married and settled in Mahottari. Two of their daughters are studying in school and one of them is staying at home, helping her parents.
In a society that prioritizes boys over girls, it has been difficult for Devmaya who is a mother of five girls. Her 75 year old mother-in-law always wished to have a grandson. She often proposed her son to re-marry. This kept Devmaya and her relatives worried most of the times. However Jitendra kept denying and didn’t re-marry.
In 2012, after the government endorsed Joint Land Ownership (JLO) policy through budget speech (financial bills), Community Self Reliance Center (CSRC) and National Land Rights Forum
(NLRF) who are the main actors in bringing about the policy, conducted widespread JLO campaigns. The main activities in the campaigns were door-to door visit and couple counseling on equal rights of women in land, the importance of JLO certificate and equal stake of men and women both over a piece of land they own.
Regarding the same, Ambika Adhikari, an activist from District Land Rights Forum (DLRF)Mahottari met the couple at their home in 2013. She met Jitendra and his wife couple of times for counseling sessions. In the first meeting, she had only introduced the couple about JLO. The JLO policy simply ensures women’s stake over land. The policy is set on principles of gender equality, allowing a couple to register land in the name of both husband and wife.
It was not very difficult for Ambika to convince the couple who were seen willing to adopt JLO from the initial meetings. “Along with me, my wife was excited too” said Jitendra. However it took him around two months to convince his mother. When his mother knew about the policy and that his son and daughter in law were willing to adopt it, She often said to Demaya- “Why do you need property when my son is still alive?”.She is not very happy with the idea even now, said Jitendra.
With help of Ambika and DLRF Mahottari, the Bhattarai couple made a JLO certificatefor 0.5hectare land which previously only Jitendra owned. The process cost them a 100 rupee. The activists facilitate couples willing to acquire JLO on documentation and coordinate with the officials in Land Revenue Offices. As of now, CSRC and NLRF jointly have helped 4142 couples acquire JLO for 1405.16 hectare area of land.
“I saw my wife’s eyes filled with tears when she was holding the ownership certificate” said Jitendra. Devmaya had often felt insecure after their third daughter. “I never wanted him to re-marry, and thankfully he didn’t despite family pressure” she said.
According to Devmaya, JLO has not only made her feel secure yet but has given her a feeling of ownership. “I can later divide the property amongst my daughterequally, no matter what happens now”, she added.
Devmaya and Jitendra are amongst the first couple to make JLO certificate in Sarlahi and an exemplary to their community. “People in the community are now understanding why JLO is a good practice...we thank the DLRF for such widespread campaigns”, said Jitendra in contentment. Further, the couple has used the JLO certificate as collateral in the bank to renovate their house and to invest in livestock.