An inspiring initiative by women of Bhigun Village in Uttarakhand
Generally, women tie the rakhi on the wrists of their brothers on Rakshabandhan Day (on August 20 this year) and in return the brothers give them gifts. But at Bhigun Village in Uttarakhand the festival of Rakshabandhan is celebrated with a difference. Here, every women of the village tie rakhi to at least one tree and pledge for its protection. It is a big festival every year and is attended by all villagers.
Through this tradition, the women of the village have developed and preserved a huge forest sprawling in around 15 sq km. The initiative has received applause not only from District Panchayat but also from the State government. The District Forest Officer felicitated the village women for this outstanding work at a public function on August 15, 2003. Impressed over the initiative, the women of around 18-20 surrounding villages also have started the similar work in their villages and the results there too are encouraging.
Bhigun falls under Tehri district. It is in the east of Budha Kedar, a holy pilgrimage place in Balganga Valley. The inspiring work is going on here since 1980 and now it has almost turned into a movement. The women not only plant the saplings but also protect them as their own child.
One more interesting part of the campaign is that these trees have been dedicated to local deity known as Kshetrapal Devata. Since it has been dedicated to a deity, nobody from the village harm them. “Since the forests have rare herbs, the forest mafias always keep an evil eye on them and make repeated efforts to procure them at night. But we have created a strong mechanism for the protection of the trees. Mahila Mangal Dal and Mahala Samitis have been formed exclusively for this purpose,” says Shri Vishnu Prasad Semwal, a resident of the village.
“In this situation, the fact which agitates many is that the government efforts on preserving and promoting the forests are aimless. The government agencies normally promote the trees, which are of no use for the local people and which are also not much useful for the ecology of the region. They grow the trees of cheed, which normally requires huge quantity of water. Another big problem with this tree is that it does not allow other trees, herbs etc. to grow in its vicinity. On the other hand the women in Bhigun plant the trees of Banj, which provide fodder for their animals. Apart from it the trees of fruits like Akhrot (walnut), Nashpati (Pyrus pyrifolia), Chulu, etc., are also planted on a large scale. Not only this they also promote the plantation of some rare herbs like Pashan Bhed, Mahamedha, Jeevat Rishiwat (Ashtvarga), Salammisri, Vajradanti, etc. All these herbs have been mentioned in Bhavprakash Nighantu, Saligram Nighantu and Madhav Nidan,” says Shri Prem Barakoti, vice president of Uttaranchal Utthan Parishad, which runs many village development activities in Bhigun since 1988.
Uttarakhand is famous for many movements aimed at preserving the forests. The ‘Chipko Movement’, is one of them. This movement has its own significance, but the work being done in Bhigun is different, as here the forest has been developed by the village women and they have also owned up the task of preserving them. “The special focus in Bhigun is on Banj tree, which provides a good quantity of fodder for the animals. It also plays a bigger role in preserving the water,” says Shri Ramprakash Penyuli, a resident of Bhigun.
Uttaranchal Utthan Parishad has played a key role in various development activities in this village. Founder of the Parishad Dr Nityanand himself visited the village for motivating the village youth. Basically, Shri Vishnu Prasad Semwal and Shri Ramprakash Penyuli played a key role in all the development activities.
Apart from preserving forests, the villagers here also have started some significant steps for involving the villagers in development activities. They set up a Pravasi Panchayat to involve the villagers who live outside the village. Dr Hedgewar Trust donated a mobile medical van to Bhigun. It was flagged off by the late Bhaurao Deoras. Later, Bhrigu Arogya Dham Charitable dispensary was also set up to provide permanent medical facilities to the villagers.