Gulbahor Rajabova knows what it means to fight for her land. She became the chairwoman of the Nurobod dehkan farm in northern Tajikistan when a state-owned farm was reorganized in 2007. As part of the reorganization process, the farm allocated equal land shares to its 50 members, and the newly constituted farm was left responsible for some $40,000 USD in debt left over from the former state-owned farm.
One of the farm’s members, a well-connected businessman, used improper means to persuade local authorities to reassign half of the Nurobod farm’s land to him. This unlawful redistribution allowed him to start his own farm with the more arable land in the Nurobod farm. The remaining half of the land was largely undesirable land, and without access to irrigation. The other members of the Nurobod farm – mostly women, including Gulbahor – found themselves kicked off the most desirable land and left holding the bill for the entire $40,000 of the inherited debt.
To reclaim the land, Gulbahor submitted numerous requests to local authorities to see the documentation the businessman used to gain control of the land. After repeated denials and administrative hurdles, Gulbahor eventually obtained the documents, and it became clear they were fraudulent. The businessman had failed to list the correct number and names of people in his newly created farm. Despite this evidence, the authorities took no action.
Gulbahor then turned to Nodira Sidykova and the USAID Land Reform and Market Development project and the Bonuvoni Hunarmand legal aid center, one of 10 legal aid centers created by the project.
Gulbahor, with help from Nodira and the legal aid center, brought the case to the Sughd Higher Economic Court, which decided in Gulbahor’s favor and ordered the legal rights to the land returned to Nurobod farm. The court also found that the businessman had earned profits from the land during the three-year legal dispute. With the help of the legal aid center, Gulbahor obtained a separate court decision directing $17,000 USD of the businessman’s receivables to reduce the Nurobod farm’s debt.
The training and support Gulbahor received through the center gave her the patience and tenacity to keep going forward with her cause, Gulbahor says. Furthermore, Gulbahor learned the ins and outs of land rights — from how to obtain a land-use certificate to dealing with taxes, contracts, and inheritance issues. She’s decided to help other farmers defend their rights.
Gulbahor has been affiliated with the USAID Land Reform Project as a tashabbuskor (rural land activist) for more than a year. The project employs 62 tashabbuskors in combination with their 10 legal aid centers. They conduct focus groups, roundtables, and training events for more than 41,000 farmers on their land use rights. They helped farmers execute 272 land transactions and successfully defended farmers’ rights in 35 of 37 completed court cases.