Land Inequality and Resistance Movements


            Inequality in the distribution of resources is a problem that cuts across both developing and industrialized economies. In particular, land disparities between wealthy landlords and poor rural peasants are an issue that affects most developing countries. This is especially true for Philippines, India, and Brazil, which have some of the widest gaps in the distribution of land ownership. In light of the above, many nonviolent resistance movements have emerged in an effort to address this persistent historical injustice. These movements have gained strength for more than five decades as a result of deeply entrenched disagreements on how to redistribute land. As a result, alternative paths to redistribution such as state-led or beneficiary-led models have often been proposed. Mechanisms of land acquisitions have also often formed the basis of these nonviolent resistance movements. For instance, strategies such as confiscation, expropriation, negotiation, or market purchase have always been proposed. These intense conflicts often turn the emotive issue of land redistribution into a strongly sensitive political issue. Philippines, Brazil, and India are developing countries that have attracted international attention in regards to the issue of nonviolent land resistance movements aimed at calling for redistribution.

Emergence of Nonviolent Movements and Clamor for Land Redistribution

            Land distribution is a problem that has confronted many nations for centuries. These have been the heart of politics of different countries such as Philippines, Brazil, and India. In these nations, land ownership patterns and distribution has always been unfair and unequal because they were done in periods when classes of rulers employed force and coercion to extract rents from peasantry. Over time, such disparities would persistently be challenged by numerous peasant conflicts, wars, and nonviolent revolutions (Franco, 2008). Even then, the question of distribution of land property rights remained unequal across the world. In these countries, land reforms are often viewed as one of the first steps towards the realization of a classless social system. The second phase, after redistribution of land to peasants, entails collectivization of farm production to attain economies of scale. However, collectivization efforts have often failed in the past. Therefore, nonviolent land resistance movements have emerged in Philippines, Brazil and India. The approaches employed by these movements often vary across different countries. Furthermore, they are founded on the premise that a country comprised of insecure tenants and rootles employees, who view little hope to improve their lot, is an unstable social system, subject to sporadic violence and easily persuaded to follow false leaders.


            Philippines is a developing economy with one of the broadest land-based inequality. In the last five decades, the rule of law and legal reforms has grown to become major concerns for national governments, international financial organizations, and development agencies (Franco, 2008). These concerns are partly driven by the need to expand access to justice for the landless peasants. Nonetheless, not much effort has been channeled towards examining the role of justice sector structures in influencing the opportunities and limits of redistributive justice (Feranco, 2008). Little attention has also been placed by the government on the actual steps or obstacles entrenched within the justice sector to land reforms.

            Landless Filipinos have often avoided seeking the support of state structures and legal mechanisms to address the problem of inequality in the distribution of land resources. Such efforts have been driven by the fact that not so much has been achieved by using the formal legal and political structures (Franco, 2008). Therefore, rural Filipinos have embraced an aversion tactic when it comes to utilizing state legislations and formal legal structures. Instead, they have resorted to using private justice. The emergence of private justice was catapulted by renewed anger on how the presently-defunct agrarian in courts acted to reinforce the current inequality in power relations between landowners and tenants. In addition, Agrarian courts fell out of favor of rural peasants because when such courts were mobilized, the outcomes would be amicable settlements, indicating that they served more as leverages in out-of-court negotiations than as instruments for social change (Franco, 2008). Consequently, past land reforms only led to limited redistribution of land resources to peasants, rendering approximately 83 percent in the control of only 5 percent of Filipino families at the end of 1980s.

            Mobilization and demobilization efforts by poor and landless Filipinos emerged because the legal structures did not solve the problem of land inequality. Although institutional reforms expanded peasants’ access to legal support which is the Department of Agrarian Reforms, other institutional access channels remained closed to social change pressures (Franco, 2008). Furthermore, the rural poor communities’ access to redistributive justice depended upon support for political and legal mobilization. This is especially true when it came to a rights-advocacy movement with interpretive resources to exploit the possibilities of utilizing the law to claim land rights. In order for democratizing to go on after national electoral transitions, openings below the national level, particularly at regional levels where rural elite powers is  most concentrated must emerge. Thus, social movements emerged in Philippines where peasants engaged in purposive collective actions. These actions involved building alternative justice systems from below in the absence of authoritative state laws and legal institutions (Franco, 2008). They were also reoriented towards regaining effective ownership or control over major natural resources, particularly land. In addition, these movements are oriented towards regaining the right to have rights, a concept referred to as rightful resistance. Many actions have been directed at regional land elites who have often enjoyed national regime transitions and protection. It utilizes defiant steps of resistance against exclusions and marginalization by state and non-state elites.


            In India, land disputes could not be solved solely through conventional political channels and legal structures. This problem was partly attributed to the fact that political systems would isolate poor landless villagers, who were often susceptible to violence and dispossession (Schock, 2015).  Ekta Parishad is an example of movements that seek to mobilize peasants to bring social change and land redistribution. It is a network of rural based development and socials service organizations that are founded on Gandhi’s ideals and strategies for social change (Schock, 2015).  Rather than working as a centralized body, this movement operates as an umbrella coalition that connects several villagers and NGOs involved in land and resource struggles.

            Ekta Parishad has managed to successfully mobilize different communities and piled pressure on the state government in regions such as Madhya Pradesh. These efforts have been made successful through marching, protesting, and picketing.  These campaigns and rallies often require planning and resources. They regularly undertake short protests as a means of generating media publicity. These methods have been embraced in ways that coincide with the Gandhian tradition of truth force, a concept Gandhi employed to his ideology and principled practice of nonviolent resistance. Due to these relentless efforts, state governments have managed to develop taskforces and formula for land redistribution.


            Land inequality in Brazil can be traced back to the period of Portuguese colonization during the 16th century (Schock, 2015).   During this period, the Portuguese monarchy issued concessions that granted the right to utilize land to only a handful of individuals. This led to displacement of indigenous occupants of Brazil. By 1970s, resistance movements by landless locals emerged out of growing dissatisfaction from locals over inadequate redress on the land reform issue (Schock, 2015).  This led to a massive nonviolent uprising referred to as the MST.

            The mechanism used by MST to settle land disputes and inequalities were largely nonviolent. For instance, the MST would mobilize local landless communities across the country to employ a mixture of both nonviolent and violent resistance. Unlike in India and Philippines, the MST used to implement actions that took the form of lobbying and destruction of structures that are believed to have been acquired through unequal means (Schock, 2015).   Other actions entailed long marches along major national highways, resulting in government plea for an amicable settlement.


            The strategies employed by different nonviolent movements across these three developing countries were effective in various ways. For instance, mobilization campaigns proven to be efficacious in calling for policy changes. These campaigns resulted in widespread civil resistance to foster change through institutional channels. In addition, the approaches were successful since they leveraged constitutional ideologies and laws to support the process of land reforms. This made them attract both local and international attention as using measures that are within the law. Finally, such movements were successful in sustaining and maintaining mass mobilizations, territorializing, and upward scale shifts.


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