Bangladesh: Nanda Rani Das

Despite barely scraping by, and hounded by death threats and false suits, Nanda's work with the landless is a symbol of her indefatigability.

— Nanda Rani Das

Nanda Rani Das (born 1960) is much of many things-women's rights activist, mobilizer of the landless, an ideal of courage and integrity. For more than 24 years, ignoring her own hand-to-mouth existence, she has been organizing landless people to regroup for their rights. Fighting corruption in its every den, she was the first to bring up the issue of land rights for minority community women at the local level.

Nanda Rani Das was the only child of a low-caste but landed Hindu family. When she was barely ten years old, some relatives married her off to a 37-year-old, once-married compulsive gambler. In 1982, the couple moved to Jharabarsha, where Nanda serendipitously met an activist from the NGO Nijera Kori (which means doing it ourselves), and became involved in community welfare activities. Over time, she became increasingly concerned with, and vocal about, women's status in the village, the underbelly of superstition, and religious fanaticism. She organized a mass movement against corruption by some government officials, a movement that proved to be the watershed of her mobilization of the landless to fight for their rights. One of the most crucial elements of her work centers round her concern for the hereditary property entitlements of women from the minority community. National debates on the issue are ongoing, but Nanda was the first to take it up at the local level. As it spread rapidly through landless people's organizations, it became a nationwide focal issue. For the past 24 years, Nanda's work has been the focus of her life. She has had to bear the brunt of reactionary fundamentalist forces and the influential land-grabbers in her village, who managed to usurp the land on which she was living. She has received several death threats and has had false cases filed against her. Meanwhile, she and her family are scraping by. In every sense, Nanda is more than the sum of her substantial achievements, a symbol of the best in all of us.

Jharabarsha Women's Landless Organization