Gender and Land Rights Database


In 2008, the estimated population was 1 186 185 000, out of which 572 596 000 were women. About 71 percent of the population lives in rural areas (1). In 2001, women accounted for 49 percent of the rural population (2). The annual population growth rate in 2005-2010 was estimated at 1.5 percent (1). Population density in 2005 was 344 persons per square kilometre (3). The country is extremely diverse as to ethnic groups, languages, religions and castes. The main ethnic groups are the Indo-Aryan who account for 72 percent and the Dravidian who account for 25 percent of the total population. About 83 percent of the population is Hindu, while 11 percent is Muslim (4).

In 2007, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was USD 1 176.9 billion; the per capita GDP was USD 1 046, with an annual growth rate of 4.5 percent in 1990-2007 (5). In 2008, agriculture contributed 17.6 percent to GDP, industry 29 percent and services 53.4 percent (4). Although its contribution to GDP has declined from 57 percent in 1950 and 22 percent in 2002 (6), agriculture employed 55 percent of the total labour force in 2008 (7). Main crops include rice, wheat, oilseed, cotton, jute, tea, sugarcane and potatoes. Farmers are mainly smallholders who cultivate land on less than one third of the country’s total farming area (6).

With a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.604 in 2006, the country ranks 134th out of 182 countries (5). In 2005, 41.6 percent of the population lived under the USD 1 per day poverty line (8). Almost 75 percent of the rural people under the poverty line are found in the central and eastern part of the country. In 2001–2003, the number of undernourished people was 212 million, accounting for 20 percent of the entire population (9). Life expectancy at birth has been estimated in 2005-2010 at 66 years for women and 63 years for men. In 2007, the adult literacy rate was 54 percent for women and 77 percent for men, while the youth literacy rate was 77 percent for women and 87 percent for men (1).

In 2008, women comprised 28 percent of the economically active population (7). About 63 percent of the economically active women worked in agriculture, accounting for 32 percent of the agricultural labour force (7). Much of the work that women undertake, including water and fodder collection, domestic and care chores and work on family land, is not estimated in national statistics. The mode of female participation in agricultural production varies with the land-owning status of the farm households, ranging from managers to landless labourers. The contribution of women in the farm production is estimated at 55 to 66 percent of the total labour (10).

The total country area in 2005 was of 328 726 000 ha of which 180 180 000 ha were agricultural land; the arable land was 159 650 000 ha and the permanent crops area was 10 000 000 ha (7). The total number of operational holdings in 1995-96 was 115 580 000, compared to the 106 637 000 holdings in 1990-91 (11). As of 2003, more than 60 percent of the holdings fell in the definition of marginal and submarginal land holding, totaling less than 1 ha of land (12).

Article 246 of the Constitution grants the states exclusive responsibility on land and water governance. Therefore, natural resource legislation varies from state to state (13). Since the 1950s land reform programmes have been undertaken by most states to redistribute land in excess of ceilings to landless households and smallholders, abolish the hierarchy of interests that existed between the State and the actual cultivator, consolidate fragmented land holdings and regulate tenancy contracts. The degree of implementation of the reforms varies widely from state to the state and according to the type of reform implemented (13).

According to the 2000-2001 Agricultural Census, women account for 11 percent of all holders (31). Aside from the legal constraints hampering women’s access to land, socio-cultural factors, such as the practice of female seclusion or purdah, prevent women from claiming their rights to land.(14). Even where women enjoy ownership rights, they do not exercise effective control over land, being unable to lease, mortgage or dispose of the land and of its products (15).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography