For years, there had been indiscriminate felling of trees in the Birsa area of Balaghat district in Madhya Pradesh rendering acres of fertile land barren. As things came to a head two years ago, local women came together, wielding lathis, to shoo away those felling trees and impose a fine on them.
“We had to take ownership of the forest near us, take its responsibility. This was the only way to protect it,” said Kavita Sahu, 28, on the phone, from Kaniya village. Foresters tasked with curbing the felling patrolled in vain. A challenge had to be mounted from within the community. And women took the lead.
Nearly 250 acres of land is now seeing a revived foliage with foresters planting saplings and women taking initiative to protect them. In addition, the 34 women members of the Van Devi Suraksha Samiti from four villages are preventing deforestation by imposing a ₹500 fine on those found with an axe.
Since women are tasked with venturing into forests to cut trees, fetch fuel wood, only women can stop them, believes Ms. Sahu, president of the group.
“Sustainable use of forests by picking fruits and medical plants judiciously, allowing enough time for their replenishment must be the way,” said Kamla Bai, 52, a member. Three times a day, the women in groups of four-five patrol the forest having harra, bahera and teak varieties, keeping foresters informed of any illegal activity.
Leadership roles adopted by women have united them, made them more aware of environmentalism.