Sikha Roy

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2004


This profile was prepared when Sikha Roy was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004.
The New Idea
Sikha has grasped a timely opportunity for rural women in West Bengal to obtain and cultivate unused farmlands through village-level tactics that avoid conflict while effecting a profound change in local economic and political relations. While working for a rural development organization in the dry zone of West Bengal, it occurred to Sikha Roy that the lessons on nutrition for women and children she was teaching were of little significance to families without land or other assets with which to meet their basic food needs. Exploring the possibilities for women there to escape degrading and impoverished conditions, she devised a means that rests not only in lessons on health and agriculture, but in awareness of the law and ability to advocate for one’s rights.
Sikha has not foresaken her work on sustainable agriculture and nutrition in favor of an alternative approach; on the contrary, she uses it as an entry point through which to win the confidence of village men and women. She begins with discussions and simple activities on farming, health and self-help. She then forms groups of women who approach the local councils with carefully researched proposals that they be allocated land under little-known regulations intended to ensure its equitable distribution. These claims are opportune, as the government of West Bengal is in the final stages of devising measures to increase physical participation in local councils, as mandated by national laws introduced during the past decade. Once the women have obtained access to land, Sikha works closely with them to grow crops suited to the harsh environment, and ensure that the success of their legal claim is met with the fruits of their labor.
As more women stay close to home and work their own land, they and their children’s lives are improved, and their role in village affairs enlarged and secured. As cohesive groups of women are formed in more villages, they will have a deep and lasting effect in their regions, and in turn, the whole of rural India, where hundreds of millions of women subsist in similar conditions, and where in most places comparable laws for transfer of lands exist. But irrespective of specific regulations from one place to the next, everywhere, Sikha reminds us, women take pleasure and pride in producing and preparing food for their families; it is this simple but intrinsically human quality that makes her idea work.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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