A people without children would face a hopeless future; a country without trees is almost as helpless, said Theodore Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth president of the United States. A little over a century later and over 13,000 km away in India, bow and arrow wielding Jamuna Tudu, a fierce woman who knows the value of trees, protects the forest from the timber mafia like it was her own brother.
She even ties a rakhi to the trees on every Rakshabandhan for their well being. Speaking at “enGendered Dialogues…Women Changing the World”, Tudu remembered looking at the thinning forest on one of her runs to collect firewood several years ago, and realisation dawned upon her to save the area.
Born in Odisha, she settled in Muturkham village of Jharkhand’s East Singhbhum district after marriage. Surrounded by 50 hectares of forest land, Muturkham was plagued by the forest mafia and poachers before Tudu decided to take the matter in her hands.
“I didn’t want to see the area lose the forest cover,” says the 37-year-old activist, who has spent almost two decades protecting the forest. As she formed the ‘Van Suraksha Samiti’ (Forest safety committee) in 1998 with a group of five women, her pledge to save the forest was met with opposition from the villagers.
“Initially, there was opposition even from the villagers as they asked me why I wanted to save the forest as it was the source of firewood,” she recalled. But she managed to persuade them to use only the smaller branches as fuel and leave the bigger ones untouched.
Now she has more than 300 such groups, with around 30 people in each group, working in the whole area to save the forest land from the mafia. They work in three shifts – morning, afternoon and evening – carrying bows, arrows, sticks and even dogs to ward off the mafia.
Her group has filed many FIRs and helped the Jharkhand Armed Police, which now works with her in protecting the forests, and nabs several mafia men who refused to relent. As expected, such deeds did not go down well with the mafia. She received many death threats, her house was looted and she was nearly killed in an attack near a railway station.
But that didn’t deter her from continuing what she believed was a noble cause. “We have vowed that we will protect the trees till our last breath.” While she wishes to get support from the State and Centre, the state forest department has adopted the village, where it now provides with water and education. Tudu has set such an example that the village women plant 18 trees when a girl is born and 10 trees when a girl is married.
Her story not only promotes the spirit of brotherhood and tribal activism, but also has been a lesson for sustainable development. Organised by Shift Series in association with Niti Aayog and The Global Education and Leadership Foundation (tGELF), the event was part of “Road to Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES)”, an important Indo-US initiative under the Trump administration.
The day-long event held here on Saturday was attended by eminent proponents of women’s rights and empowerment including Sapna Bhavnani, Robin Chaurasiya, Kanchan Chander and Pooja Bedi. “From grassroots warriors to theatre and TV personalities, no topic concerning women empowerment and uplift was left untouched.
“The speakers moved the audience from tears to laughter through their no holds barred presentation. Surviving sexual assault to fighting the forest mafias, the speakers shared their deepest personal journey at the event,” the Shift Series team said.