Petarwar women with Chola Ram Mahto (left) and Chakradhari Mahto during their campaign to save forests in Bokaro on Thursday. Picture by Pankaj Singh
Forests of Naxalite-affected Petarwar block in Bokaro district have found new friends in the form of women vigilantes.
Dozens of local residents have turned into green crusaders and launched a mass campaign — Jangal Bachao Hariyali Lao — to mobilise community participation and protect the dwindling forest cover.
On Thursday, they took out rallies across the block in villages like Sadmakala, Takaha, Orma, Acheya, Jhirke, Jebra, Jobhiya, Sisiyari and Sariyatand and exhorted the women to join their movement and the men not to cut trees.
If they do and are caught, they would have to pay up a penalty of Rs 5,000.
The state forest department has given a go-ahead to this women group to collect the fine from offenders, which will be used for afforestation activities in the zone.
Bokaro district forest officer Arvind Manish said: “My officers and I have pledged to give all support to the women, who are considered to be more close to nature than men. They can play an instrumental role in saving the forests.”
Manish confirmed they had allowed the group to collect the fines from offenders. “The entire amount will be used to compensate the ravaged greens by planting more trees,” he added.
The mission to save forests was taken up by women such as Sheela Devi, Basmati Devi, Arti Devi and Meena Devi on the prodding of social workers Chola Ram Mahto and Chakradhari Mahto.
Department officials had told the male social workers to approach women, saying unless the latter took up the cudgels, it would not be possible to save forest wealth.
Chalo Ram and Chakradhari had then approached “tree man of Bokaro” Jagdish Mahto, who has till date planted more than 6.5 lakh saplings at Kasmar, Petarwar, and Gomia blocks of this district. He influenced the women to come forward for this noble initiative by organising nukkad nataks (street plays).
Local artistes Yogo Purty, Ganpati Mahto, Nepal Murmu, Habib Naz, Vikas Mahto, Namita Chatterji, Gulab Chandra and Parmeshwar Naik are staging awareness play Faisla Apka (The decision is yours) at villages for the last few months.
Women will now move from one village to another telling residents how after cutting trees and plants, land mafia grabs plots. “Jungle bachana hai varna aane wale vinaash ke liye hum khud zimmewar honge (we have to save forests, else we will be responsible for natural calamities),” said green activist Sheela Devi.