Real fighters are not the ones who fight with swords and fists, but those who use 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, breathing under the terror of local mafia, Jamuna Tudu did something unbelievable. She not only stood against them, but also worked extremely hard to save the nature.
Culture of worshipping nature
It started back in 1998, when Jamuna moved to Muturkham from Odisha after getting married. The entire village looked very different from what she was used to seeing. She was appalled to see a forest full of tree stumps. This was painful for her because she grew up in a family that worshipped nature.
Jamuna was shocked to learn that all these trees were cut down illegally by local timber mafia who would sell the wood to get their daily booze. Although educated only till STD 10, Jamuna was well aware about the downside of deforestation. She knew that acts of this one good can endanger the survival of all the villagers.
When Jamuna talked to the locals about the issue, she realized that everyone was scared of facing the mafia. The villagers dreaded saying anything against him. But she was not a woman who would bow down to some gundas’ threats.
Jamuna started talking to the local women and warned them about the adversities they would face if they do not defend their heritage. She would explain the cultural laws and tribal rituals which equated cutting trees to committing a sin. With unwavering resilience, Jamuna kept encouraging her fellow villagers and finally managed to build a group of 25 women.
The group was named Van 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 in.
However, the path was not very easy for Jamuna. She had to face many challenges which only made her stronger. By 2004, when she had formed over 50 samitis, and this irked the mafia big time. They came slyly and wrecked her house.
In 2009, when she was at a railway station with her husband Manshingh, they were attacked with sharp stones. Her husband was hit on the head after which fainted and fell down in a pool of his own blood. Ever since, fear does not exist in Jamuna’s dictionary. She sent five to six miscreants to 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.