A powerful story of transformation of a village brought about by a systemic approach and a committed community
Eco-feminism involves philosophy and movements that connect feminism with ecology. It is believed that there are some significant connections between women and nature. A society that respects women also values reciprocity, nurturing and cooperation. Certain societies that lack gender equality also witness self-centric, materialistic mindset with oppression of nature and women. A village in Rajasthan, India has become a role model in implementing eco-feminist practices and miraculously transforming itself in the process.
Piplantri village in Rajasthan was once suffering from huge problems – industrial pollution from the nearby marble factories, water scarcity, lack of electricity, child marriage, female foeticide, illiteracy, crime and what not! The then ‘surpanch’ of the village, Shyam Sunder Paliwal, had a vision- to make Piplantri an ideal village. In 2006 he began a unique initiative to plant 111 trees when a girl was born in the village. And today after ten years, Piplantri is in deed an ideal village, which many villages around the country are looking up to.
The journey started when a youth, who had only studied upto eighth grade, decided to improve the situation in his village rather than migrate in search of better opportunities. He contested the election and become a young ‘sarpanch’ in 2005. Shyam Sunder Paliwal is the man who has revolutionized both regressive social outlook as well as the ecology of a state. Through a series of visionary initiatives, consistency in purpose and cooperation from all the villagers, he completely changed the socio-economic fabric of the village. Hailed as the “Father of Eco-Feminism”, the first impression that hits you when you talk to him is that of simplicity, humility and love for the people.
It was clear that the ‘change’ could not be brought about without an active participation of villagers. The Gram Panchayat started a day-and-night program – “Panchayat at your door”, visiting every home, understanding their problems and discussing the vision that panchayat had for the village. Program called “Swajaldhara Yojana” was launched to create awareness and take concrete steps to conserve water. While the village started to witness a new wave of change, a tragic incident left Shyam Sunder devastated. He lost his beloved daughter Kiran. Paliwal did not deflect from his mission, in fact he emerged out as a much stronger leader.
“How a person chooses to conduct himself in the worst of circumstances, shows his inner strength” he believes.
In the memory of his daughter, Paliwal started an initiative of planting 111 trees when a girl is born. To safeguard the child’s future, villagers commonly make a donation Rs. 21000, which along with parental sum of Rs.10000 is fixed in a bank account under the name of the child for 20 years. Parents also sign an affidavit to ensure that the money can only be withdrawn if they provide education to their daughters, get them married only after the legal age and care for the trees they planted. This has not only helped in securing the future of girls but also helped in improving the water level thus eradicating the water scarcity, lowering pollution and providing employment. Over a million trees stand tall in and around Piplantri village, as a symbol of this amazing bonding between social issues and the environment. The village is now covered with Neem, Mango, Amla and Sheesham trees adding to its beauty. This also gave rise to increased economic activity and source of livelihood, as locals have set up units to produce Aloe Vera products. The village has toilets, safe drinking water, electricity, streetlights, lower crime rate and above all peace and harmony. Paliwal recalls the visit of social activist Anna Hazare, who was very happy with the progress made by the village.
Paliwal’s vision along with the efforts of villagers has finally helped Piplantri earn the prestigious “Nirmal Gram Award”. On 4th May, 2007 for his rigorous efforts and far-sighted vision, Shyam Sunder was also honored by the President’s award. The “Piplantri Model” is now being followed by many Panchayats of the country and the Piplantri Gram Panchayat is now openly inviting the villagers, professionals and other individuals to study this model and implemented it in their villages.
“Long-lasting change is most likely when it’s self-motivated and rooted in positive thinking. So the three points that bring about change are motivation, attitude and positive thinking. Amalgamate these three things and change happens. And in the process of bringing the change, become a go-giver and not a go-getter” advises Paliwal to the young people of the country.”