Location: Tamil Nadu, India
Profession: Sugar Cane Cutters

Masilamani lives with her husband Chirta in the village of Keezahinjipattu, Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu, India. They belong to the tribal community of the Irulas.

Masilamani and her husband have worked as sugar cane cutters for as long as they can remember and have never owned land. During the off season, they sell fish that they catch in the backwaters to add to their income.

Chirta and Masilamani have three young boys Aravind, 4; Arun, 3; and Mathan, 2. As the children are too young to be in school, the couple must leave the children at home. An arrangement that many families in their condition resort to. The community in such situations plays the vital role of protectors.

Masilamani lives on common land that was also used for crushing paddy. This unoccupied land was open for all the families of the tribal community. She and her husband never imagined owning their own land or home.  

In this arrangement, however, the family faced continuous fear of displacement. Open to physical and economic vulnerabilities, Masilamani and many other mothers like her hoped for a more secure future.

Realizing the importance of land rights, Habitat for Humanity India worked with the Irula tribal community to advocate for their land and housing rights with the local government. 

Through the advocacy of Solid Ground Advocacy Campaign (SGAC), the Indian government recognized the need for housing for both the landless and economically weaker sections of society. The advocacy and community led demands led by SGAC were successful in getting land for Masilamani and Chirta. Habitat India was then able built a house for the family on the land that was provided by the government of Tamil Nadu.

Masilamani is happy that she is able to give her children a chance to improve their future. The road to owning land that Chirta and Massilamani call their own has been hard and tedious. It involved recognizing their rights and changing mind-sets. However, it has resulted in the Irula community coming forward to voice their need and right to safe and secure living.