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The Case for Land Reform in India

A farmer works in a cabbage field in Tripura, India. (Jayanta Dey / Courtesy Reuters)

The most powerful predictor of poverty in India is surprising. It isn't caste. And it isn't illiteracy. It is landlessness. More than 20 million poor rural families across India own no land, and millions more lack legal rights to the land they work and live on. Landlessness contributes to many of the social ills associated with poverty: malnutrition, illiteracy, conflict, child marriage, and women's disenfranchisement. It thus casts a shadow over the prospects of both individual families and the nation.

So who are the landless? For the most part, India's rural landless are day laborers and tenant farmers. Demographically, the landless population spans ethnic groups, age, and geographic location. The rural landless work for a variety of employers, from individual landlords to large corporate farms, and usually have no way to escape grinding poverty. Neither do their

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