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Indian couple win Alternative Nobel

Krishnammal and Sankaralingam Jagannathan’s years of working for land and livelihood rights for the poor in three districts of Tamil Nadu has been recognised with the 2008 Right Livelihood Prize given annually to those “offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today”

Krishnammal and Sankaralingam Jagannathan and their organisation Land for the Tillers’ Freedom (LAFTI) have been named winners of this year’s Right Livelihood Prize -- also known as the Alternative Nobel -- given by the Sweden-based Right Livelihood Award Foundation. Another Indian, Ruth Manorama, campaigner for women’s rights, won the award in 2006.  

The Jagannathans share the prize with Amy Goodman, US founder and host of the alternative radio and television show ‘Democracy Now!’ that reports on issues ignored in the mainstream media, Somali women’s rights activist Asha Hagi, and Monika Hauser, a German gynaecologist who works with women victims of sexual violence around the world.  

The Right Livelihood Prize was established in 1980 by Jakob von Uexkull, a Swedish-German philatelist and former member of the European Parliament, to “honour pioneers for justice, truth and peace-building”. 

The Jagannathans played an active role in Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement which sought to distribute land to thousands of landless poor across several Indian states. 

Though they have been working in the field since 1969, LAFTI was registered in 1981 as a non-profit organisation working in the Nagapattinam, Thiruvarur and East Thanjavur districts of Tamil Nadu. Its purpose is to empower people, especially women, and its projects include land distribution and cultivation, housing construction, adult training, youth housing and education, and various income-generating activities. 

LAFTI has brought landlords and the landless poor to the negotiating table, obtained loans to enable the landless to buy land at reasonable prices, and helped them to work it cooperatively so that loans can be repaid. 

Though progress was initially slow, with banks unwilling to lend, by 2007 LAFTI had transferred 13,000 acres to about 13,000 families through social action and through a land-purchase programme.

LAFTI is also involved in village industries like mat-weaving, rope-making, carpentry, masonry and fishery and gives training to dalit boys and girls. It runs three boarding hostels for around 150 children, ranging from ages 8 to 18, who had no access to education in their villages and who now attend neighbourhood schools while LAFTI provides for their boarding and other basic needs.  

LAFTI was involved in the famine relief programme in 1987, and the tsunami reconstruction programme in the coastal areas of Nagapattinam. 

In 1992, the Jagannathans led major protests against commercial prawn farms that were springing up, polluting ground and river water and destroying agricultural livelihoods. In 1996, Jagannathan took his case to the Supreme Court that ordered the shutdown of almost all prawn farms in Tamil Nadu by March 1997, an order that has been ignored. 

The Jagannathans are the recipients of another humanitarian award this year -- the Opus Prize Award which Krishnammal will receive at a ceremony at Seattle University on November 18, 2008, before travelling on to Sweden for the Right Livelihood Award in December. Her husband Sankaralingam is no longer able to travel.  

LAFTI’s housing programme will be the beneficiary of the prize money that accompanies these awards. According to the website, with the money from the two awards and other donations: “Krishnammal’s dream of building 10,000 houses may some day become a reality. Ten thousand women will be able to move their families from dilapidated, rat-infested mud huts into small brick houses.” 

Source: IANS, October 1, 2008
             The Statesman, October 1, 2008
   , October 2008