Courage comes in all sizes. And often it is someone’s simplest acts of courage that inspires an almost indefatigable sense of strength in the rest of us. Recently, we found that inspiration in a young girl, Rutani, who lives in the Kula Sing village of Odisha.

14 year old Rutani has never been to school; she works in the fields and takes care of three younger siblings. Her father works in another state and her mother does not keep good health. While teens her age obsess over things like fashion and Facebook, Rutani’s daily struggles are about scrounging enough food for her family.

Rutani’s family belongs to a primitive tribe called Sabaras, inhabiting the predominantly tribal district, Gajapati, in Odisha, India. The Sabaras are one among the several groups who have benefited out of a collaborative intervention between the Government of Odisha and RDI-India. The initiative seeks resolution of land issues in the area with a goal of “zero landlessness”, with the help of RDI trained Community Resource Persons (CRPs).[1]

The land settlement process that started in November, 2010 ended on August 10, 2011 with the distribution of pattas (legal land ownership document) to 155 eligible families including Rutani’s.

Despite her young age, Rutani recognised what this single sheet of paper meant: legal rights to the land her family has tilled for the past four generations. As land owners, the family would be eligible for basic government schemes, could apply for loans and other services. Most importantly perhaps, a patta meant freedom from the uncertainty of forced eviction.

So, on the day the patta granting ceremony, Rutani left her sick mother and three younger brothers at home, and travelled 20 kilometers to receive the patta on her family’s behalf. “There is no food at my home today. But that’s okay, this is more important than a day’s work. This will be good for us,” she told us in a simple, matter-of-fact manner.

Meeting Rutani served as a moving reminder of the importance of RDI’s work.  Secure land rights can potentially transform the lives of millions of families like hers’.  Tim Hansted, our CEO, summed it up well after meeting Rutani at the patta distribution ceremony, “Today, children across the world have a wealth of opportunities while Rutani has been denied so much. And even the patta perhaps came too late to dramatically impact her path in life. But secure land will certainly help her siblings and her parents make the most of their land by availing opportunities denied to them earlier.”

[1] Since early 2011, RDI is scaling the CRP model with Odisha Tribal Empowerment Livelihoods Programme (OTELP), an externally aided project of Government of Odisha, in seven districts in Odisha with tribal communities to ensure every family, in the more than 1,000 villages across the districts, has their own plot of land – both homestead and farm.