Mighty women of the Himalayas, turn into guardians of the mountains

Posted By: Staff
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Pithoragarh (Uttarakhand), April 8 (ANI): Though the issue of 'Women Empowerment' has become a buzzword in elite circles and among various political parties, the actual plight of the women in rural parts of the country seems yet to be thoroughly understood.

A visit to Uttarakhand's Pithoragarh district would indicate the status of women in the social life of rural India and the myriad roles that women perform. They protect not only their families ut also the community and the environment

The difficult mountain terrain and the cold climate mean a harsh life for its people.

To take an example, meet Gaura Devi, an illiterate woman from Ranai village in Garhwal. In 1973, she began spreading the message of saving forests by visiting virtually every house of her and neighbouring villages.

During her visit she would tell: "We will survive if the forest is saved, and the forest is saved only when we are united. Forest is our employment, our 'Mayeka' or, mother's home, our life." Gaura Devi's impassioned plea had an effect. It not only flowered into the famous 'Chipko Andolan', a movement in which women would hug trees to prevent their felling by contractors commissioned by the government.

Not only did they stop this mindless destruction of forests, women undertook reforestation in areas, which were denuded. Garhwal has since seen a large number of Mahila Mangal Dal who have taken up this cause. Thalisaind, Dabsoli, Tangsa, Khula to name a few. ne of these groups comprising women of Bacher village under Chamoli district came into direct confrontation with local mafia that was involved in illegal felling of trees.

Trucks loaded with wood were waylaid by these women emboldened enough to question the contractors directly.

"This forest belongs to us. Who are you to take the wood?" remained their refrain.

The stellar work of Mahila Mangal Dal was recognized by the government and it was presented with the 'Indira Priyadarshini Vruksha Mitra' award in 1984 by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Yet it is not accolades or prizes which drive these women but a fundamental belief in sustaining and augmenting the natural resources which they view as integral to a life of peace and plenty.

Prema Devi of Upradi village, Uttarkashi, could not bear to see the surrounding forests being denuded. She began a one-woman crusade, which gradually gained momentum. Today these women have the motivation and resilience to take on the forest mafia operating in the region. n village Tangsa, in the same Janpad, it was quite different. Here, unlike Bacher village, there were no trees to protect. The land was denuded, barren and life was difficult.

Women here decided to begin a movement to plant fruit trees outside the village. In a few years the area went through a transformation with abundant greenery and an end to the problems of fuel and fodder. Today the fruit-bearing trees provide economic sustainability to many. Here in Tangsa village, through collective action, the women had effectively become protectors of their land, water and forests.

The spirit of these women seems to resound across the mountainous region. And the issues they have taken on, are critical to the region i.e. mining.

In 1977, women of Kheerakot, Almora have raised a powerful cry against the mining for soapstone that was reducing their entire village to a dust-bowl. A powerful lobby that these women were pitted against, they were threatened, coerced and alternately offered incentives or 'baits' to make them quit. Yet all this came to naught in the face of an unflinching belief, which united these women. Finally, in 1982, the government was forced to shut down mining activities that was a triumph of the indomitable spirit these women showed.

According to Charkha Features, all over Uttarakhand, such movements have spontaneously risen but in a sense they go beyond being location-specific events. They reflect an underlying belief running like a common thread through the women in the region. Their efforts, at individual levels and through collective action are really attempts to bring back into society, into the environment, the harmony and respect for natural resources which is a crying need today not only in this mountainous region but across the country.

These women living in villages, near forests, in tiny hamlets all over the hilly terrain are far from being tutored formally in principles of science, ecology, economy or social behaviour. Yet they represent a voice of reason, sanity and harmony in the region.

Whatever they are doing today in the public space reflects a wisdom, an understanding of core principles on which a society can live in harmony with the environment. This is what needs to e respected and nurtured and tuned to the benefit of not only the entire community but also the environment, which if we will protect, will protect and nourish us. By Dinesh Pant (ANI)

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