At a time when intellectuals are worried about the declining Sex ratio of India, it is a pleasant surprise what one man’s will-power can do to turn around the situation; that too in one of the most remote areas whose residents receive the backward mindset against women deserving equal status and rights, as an inheritance. While the government takes all possible social and legal measures to prevent female foeticide, the statistics still remain alarming. And so will they remain till the time people have a genuine shift in their thinking. In order to uproot this mindset, one needs to discover its cause. One wrong practice creates a never-ending chain of wrong practices in society.
One man, Mr Shyam Sunder Paliwal realised this and detected that the major reason for female foeticide in his village Piplantri, Rajasthan is the social practice of dowry at the time of marriage. Another grave concern for Piplantri was the availability of drinking water due to excessive marble mining in nearby regions that led to deforestation, and thus a scarcity of fertile land for agriculture, and water preservation. While these two problems look completely unrelated on the surface, Mr Shyam Sunder Paliwal created a connecting link that resolved both problems.
As a teenager, instead of migrating to cities in search of a job, he decided to stay back and help uplift his village. As a result of his constant efforts, he became the youngest Sarpanch of Piplantri in 2005. A year later his beloved daughter passed away at a young age of 16. He was deeply shattered. He planted a tree in the loving memory of his daughter, and that gave birth to his eco-feminist idea.
He came up with a plan that will have parents plant 111 trees at the time of the birth of a girl child in the village. The trees that were medicinal like neem, or fruit-bearing trees like mangoes, Amla, and others such as Sheesham, allowed them to trade the by-products of the trees and become financially stable. The major concern of the expense of dowry would be resolved as the cultivation of these trees would take care of the expenses of the girl as she grows up. All the relatives, women self-help groups and the Panchayat themselves look after the maintenance of these trees.
He realised that this practice could also pave the way for the survival, independence and self-reliance of women in his village. Apart from making parents plant trees, they also make a Fixed Deposit for the girl child at the time of her birth that amounts to Rs. 31,000 out of which Rs. 10,000 are borne by the parents, and the rest by the gram panchayat. Along with the FD, parents are made to sign an affidavit with the following conditions –
- No family member would be involved or practice female foeticide
- 111 trees, as well as the girl child, shall be raised with love and care
- Their daughter would not be deprived of education
- Under no circumstances would the daughter be indulged in child-marriage
- The maturity amount of the FD would be spent on either daughter’s education or marriage or both
- The trees planted would be a property of the village
The FD would mature into a few lakh rupees by the time the girl hits her puberty and becomes an adult. Along with her, the saplings planted at the time of her birth would also grow into huge trees, not just sustaining the livelihood of the villagers but also providing them with an abundance of nature’s goodness in the form of oxygen, ground-water, flora, and fauna. In order to prevent termites from eating into trees, the village has planted more than 2.5 million Aloe Vera plants.
They gradually realised that Aloe Vera has a huge demand and can be used in a variety of ways. This has greatly boosted the village’s economy. Today, Piplantri has seen a tremendous surge in the survival rate of the girl child. With the help of self-help groups and state government, a lot of women who were confined to the kitchen and kids have stepped out to attain financial freedom.
Along with ecofeminism scheme, Mr Shyam Sunder Paliwal has implemented many progressive welfare schemes for his village. One of them is “the door-step panchayat” wherein the panchayat committee visits every house in the village at regular intervals to speak to people about their problems first-hand, and educate them about various social and moral responsibilities. He also started “Swajaldhara Yojana” to create awareness and take appropriate new-age measures for water conservation and preservation.
Under his visionary leadership, Piplantri has transformed from a backward village struck in poverty to an ideal prosperous village that has been looked upon as a model studied by various villages, professionals, and the government itself. It has also won the prestigious “Nirmal Gram Award”, and the person behind his success Mr Shyam Sunder Paliwal has been honoured with the President’s award in May 2007.
This story also highlights the role of local municipal government bodies, and how choosing the right leader at the municipal or Gramin level can lay a strong foundation of progressive democracy. People often take a deep interest in central and state government affairs, and rightly so, but often ignore to question, debate, and help the local municipal bodies. Leaders like Mr Shyam Sunder Paliwal are not a rare breed. But, in a democracy, we need to identify such selfless leaders and bring them to power. To go a step further, we need to embody him and become leaders in our own capacity to better our society, environment, and country. After all, no step taken towards betterment of humanity is ever considered little!