Real fighters are not the ones who fight with swords and fists, but with their wit and determination. They stand up not just for themselves but also for the society, bringing about a social change. When the people of Muturkham village in Jharkhand were sitting quietly, too scared of a local mafia, Jamuna Tudu did something unbelievable. She not just stood against him, but also worked extremely hard to save the nature.
It started back in 1998, when Jamuna moved to Muturkham from Odisha after getting married. She was appalled to see a forest full of tree stumps, as she grew up in a family that worshipped nature. However, she was surprised to know that the trees were cut down illegally by a local timber mafia who would sell them to get his daily booze. Jamuna was educated till STD 10, and was well-acquainted with the jeopardy of deforestation that could endanger their survival in the near future. When Jamuna talked to the locals about the issue, she realized their fear of facing the mafia.
The villagers dreaded to say anything against him. Jamuna also observed the condition of the women who were discouraged to embark on an outrageous endeavor. But she was not a woman who would bow down to mere threats. Jamuna started talking to the local women and warning them about the adversities they would face in the future if they do not stand up for themselves.
She would explain the laws and tribal rituals, which says that cutting trees is illegal. With unwavering resilience, Jamuna kept encouraging her fellow villagers and finally managed to build a group of 25 women.
The group was namedVan Suraksha Samiti, which was fortified with bows and arrows, bamboo sticks and spears to tackle the goons of the forest. When the men of the village saw these courageous women fighting for their forests, they decided to join.
However, the path was not very easy for Jamuna. She had to face many challenges that just made her stronger. In 2004, when she had formed over 50 samitis, the mafias wrecked her house. In 2009, when she was at the railway station with her husband Manshingh, they were attacked with sharp stones. Manshingh was hit on the head and fainted in a pool of blood. Ever since, fear does not exist in Jamuna’s dictionary.
She sent five to six miscreants in jail, threatening the mafia. “I felt scared in the beginning but then I thought that if we keep getting scared then we would not be able to save the jungles and fight against corruption in this industry. Today, neither the ministers nor Naxalites can scare me,” says Jamuna.
Today, Van Suraksha Samiti has more than 10,000 forest protectors across 300 villages. They have held night patrols, stalled felling of tress spanning over 125 acres and have also assisted in reforestation activities. On top of that, they have also initiated ceremonies like Raksha Bandhan and Bhai Dooj to create a close bond between the locals and the trees. People from eastern Jharkhand lovingly call her Jungle Queen and Lady Tarzan.
“I don’t have children, but I consider all plants and trees as my children. I also tie a rakhi on every Raksha Bandhan and take a pledge that we will go on protecting them,” says Jamuna.
She believes that the forest holds enough reserves to fuel the daily needs of the tribal community. If used judiciously, the trees and branches that fall naturally are enough to meet the requirements of the village dwellers. Impressed by the work and commitment of Van Suraksha Samiti, the Forest Department adopted the Muturkham village. This further resulted in the construction of a school and also paved way for water amenities. Encouraging the younger generation to carry on their work, the Van Suraksha Samiti plants 18 trees when a girl is born and 10 trees when she gets married.
Jamuna’s efforts did not go unnoticed, and in 2013, she was presented with the Godfrey Philips Award for her ‘Acts of Social Courage’. She was also invited to the Rashtrapati Bhavan by the then President of India, Pranab Mukherjee in 2015. Jamuna was felicitated by the Women Transforming India Award by NITI Aayog celebrating the exceptional achievements of women across India.
Women like Jamuna prove that nothing is impossible if you are strong enough. There are millions of people like mafia but they can be eliminated from the society if people gather the courage to stand against them.
(By Shreshthangsha Sayan Biswas)