Securing land rights helps break cycle of caste-based oppression in India – World Habitat Awards Gold Winner 2019 – ActionAid India
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Securing land rights helps break cycle of caste-based oppression in India – World Habitat Awards Gold Winner 2019

Date : 10-Dec-2019

New Delhi, 09 Dec | A transformative 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.

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.

The Koraga tribal community suffered centuries of oppression under India’s historic 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. She said: “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!” read more about the project here.

The World Habitat Awards judging panel 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.”

Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director, ActionAid Association India, said: “The Koragas have, for centuries, been treated as being ‘the lowest’ in the socio-economic order. They are ostracized, face discrimination, untouchability and bondage situations. Their assertions for claiming land rights and other entitlements over the last decade have helped secure nearly 49,000 acres of forest land – 47,000 acres under community forest rights and 2,000 acres under individual forest rights, in addition to 1,000 acres of agricultural land for tribal communities. Besides, 19,000 families have obtained grants to build houses. 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.”

David Ireland, Chief Executive of World Habitat, said: “The caste system is now illegal in India but tragically, its legacy remains. There are few communities across the world who have been discriminated against to this level. The way this project has tackled this discrimination – through encouraging self-sufficiency of building homes, growing food and other support – has transformed the lives of an entire ethnic group.”

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.


Media Contacts

Joseph Mathai, Head of Communications, ActionAid Association India, +91 9810188022 or

Varsha Rani Tirkey, Communications Officer, ActionAid Association India, +91 7838542567 or

Ed Melia, Head of Communications, World Habitat, on +44 (0) 7843 38 44 50 or

Elena Garcia, Communications Officer, World Habitat, on +44 (0) 1530 510 444 or

Notes to Editors

  1. The World Habitat Awards established in 1985 are the world’s leading housing awards. They are organised by World Habitat in partnership with UN-Habitat. The two Gold Award Winners receive £10,000 and the opportunity for international development activities. More information about the Awards and this year’s winners is available at:
  1. ActionAid Association is an Indian social organisation committed to building a world without poverty, patriarchy and injustice in which every person enjoys the right to life with dignity.ActionAid Association is a part of a global federation of ActionAid International, that has presence in over 40 countries, worldwide. Standing in solidarity with the most marginalised communities since 1972, ActionAid Association’s work in India is spread across 25 states and one union territory. Together with supporters, communities, institutions and governments, we work for equality, fraternity and liberty for all, in harmony with the planet.
  1. The Gold Award Winners for 2019 are Viviendas para las entidades sociales, Spain and Restoration of Dignity and Human Rights of Indigenous Tribal Community in Karnataka, India.
  1. Alongside the two Gold Award Winners are one Silver Award and six Bronze Awards:
  • Discus Housing First, Netherlands (Silver)
  • Building with EARTH, China (Bronze)
  • Healthy Homes for Humanity, Guatemala (Bronze)
  • Odisha Liveable Habitat Mission, India (Bronze)
  • La Borda housing co-operative, Spain (Bronze)
  • #GreenNFit Neighbourhood Rebuild, USA (Bronze)
  • Dzivarasekwa Slum Upgrading Project, Zimbabwe (Bronze)
  1. The Final Judges of the World Habitat Awards are:
  • Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat; and
  • Leilani Farha, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing.
  1. The members of the World Habitat Awards Advisory Group (judging panel) are:
  • Dr Angus Kennedy, Chair, World Habitat;
  • Christophe Lalande, Head of Housing Unit, UN-Habitat;
  • Dr Claudia Murray, Research Fellow at the School of Real Estate and Planning, University of Reading;
  • David Ireland, Chief Executive, World Habitat;
  • Dr Graham Tipple, Consultant in housing and urban issues in developing countries; previously Reader in Housing Policy and Development, Associate Director of GURU (Global Urban Research Unit), University of Newcastle upon Tyne;
  • Professor Jo Richardson, Associate Dean Research and Innovation / Professor of Housing and Social Research, De Montfort University and Trustee, World Habitat;
  • Sorcha Edwards, Secretary General, Housing Europe;
  • Stephanie Gill, Senior Programme Manager (World Habitat Awards), World Habitat;
  • Terri Alafat, Chief Executive, Chartered Institute of Housing; and
  • Professor Yves Cabannes, Development Planning Unit, University College London.
  1. The World Habitat Awards 2020 will be open for entries from 1 January 2020 until 23 March 2020. More information is available at:
  1. World Habitat believes that everyone everywhere has the fundamental right to a safe and secure home. That is why we seek out and share the best solutions to housing problems from across the world.