Bharat’s Little Known Climate Warriors

The lanes of climate change crusade are heaved with swamp of activist roaring for action for mitigation of climate crisis and protest increasingly becoming radical filled with hardening rhetoric, anger, resentment and fear mongering thinking. Protestors carrying forward the movement have started drifting away towards a more disturbing side, importuning the world order and governments to bring in a quick radical reform.

Earlier, as the movement started as a genuine protest to bring a sense of responsibility and accountability in world leaders, it was supported by parents and leaders. But now as the movement takes a radical turn away from realism and civil disobedience; the same leaders have started showing a feeling of rue. 

The biggest winners of these activism are activists like Greta Thunberg and her protest groups including the new radical Extension Rebellion. They espouse a trend advocating antagonistic activism over moderate incremental on ground reformism, a trend indicating favouring of street heaving activist swamp over conscientious prudent actions. The amount of significance world is heeding to them, attests a lot about the quality of climate crusade they expect. The making of the war-crying activist as climate change prom queen in many people’s – especially liberartian – understanding; indicates how less they know of the real climate warriors. 

Ideally there are many better crusaders, deserving of recognition, than noise making activists, who have dedicated their entire lives preserving and nurturing the environment, fighting for the cause of better climate, years before climate activism even came into being. These real warriors have, without any institutional support – solely on their own – done tremendous work as environmentalists. Humble beings who have moderately, without any polarisation or vitriol or without emanating menace, done great service to humanity and mother nature. The true champions with no objective other than service have been the greatest inspiration to those who know about them. 

In this piece we talk about Bharat’s such little known true champion environmentalists and climate warriors. 

Salumarada Thimmakka

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Born in Gubbi Taluk village in Tumukuru district of Karnataka, Salumarada Thimmakka also known as ‘Vriksha Māte’ (Mother of Trees) has dedicated her entire life for the cause of planting and nurturing trees. Akka Thimmakka, aged 106 years, has planted around 385 banyan trees and more than 8,000 other trees for a long span of 65 years, across the SH94 from Hulikal to Kuduru village.

Her story is of sheer grit, determination, humility and greatness. Faced with sorrow, she reportedly wanted to commit suicide when she was 40 as she was unable to bear a child. Instead of falling prey to negativity, Akka chose the path of social and environmental service. She found solace and happiness in service for nature, and with support of her husband, she started planting trees, nurturing them as her own child. 

Both of them arduously and conscientiously worked for plantation and care of trees. The couple did tremendous hard work as they had to, sometimes, bring water from distance as far as 4 kilometres. Adorned with the greatest jewel of kindness, her smiling face with tripundra on forehead, always reflects motherly greatness. She was awarded with a Padma Shri earlier this year for her decades long contributions. 

Jadav Payeng

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The Forest Man of Bharat, Jadav Payeng, planted an entire forest on his own. He spent 30 long years planting trees in a place, which once was in a very disturbing plight, creating a real man made forest of 550 hectares (1360 acres or area equal to 15 football fields) – the Molai forest in Majuli island, Jorhat, Assam. 

Molai forest reserve, spread across 1,000 hectares, was under grave threats of extensive soil erosion on Brahmaputra’s banks. It had already shrunk by more than half in past 70 years. Government, in 1980, made a plan of a reforestation drive in 20 hectares area only to get abandon 3 years later. Then came Jadav Payeng who single handedly planted an entire forest with his determined effort. 

The Molai forest planted by Jadav Payeng is larger than New York’s Central Park. As a result of his service to environment, the Molai forest is now home to Bengal tigers, Indian rhinoceros, reptiles, over 100 deers, and rabbits in addition to monkeys and several varieties of birds, including a large number of vultures.

Along with Bamboo – which  alone covers an area of over 300 hectares – thousands of other trees, including valcol, arjun (Terminalia arjuna), Pride of India (Lagerstroemia speciosa), royal poinciana (Delonix regia), silk trees (Albizia procera), moj (Archidendron bigeminum) and cotton trees (Bombax ceiba), among others. Payeng not only planted trees, he created an entire biodiversity.

Ranaram Bishnoi

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Turning sand dunes into a tree garden might seem to be a byzantine task for other, but not for the 70 year old Ranaram Ji from Ekalkhori village near Jodhpur, Rajasthan, who has converted a whole sand dunes area into a beautiful tree garden by planting around 27,000 trees sprayed across 25 bigha land (around 10 acres) single-handedly all on his own. His startling effort has earned him the sobriquet of ‘tree-man’ in the area. 

Despite being a septuagenarian, he walks 3 km every day from his house to reach and climbs the dunes every alternate morning, watering the trees by fetching water from a friend’s tubewell on other lower side of the dunes. In this manner, he has planted about 27,000 indigenous trees like Neem, Rohida, Fig, Khejri, Kankeri, Babool and Bougainvillea.

Ranaram Ji considers it as his duty and responsibility, as better explained in his own words “The plants are God-like for me and by serving them I feel accomplished and relieved,”.

Being a true environmentalist he believes that non-human species have equal or rather more rights to live on earth than humans. He said that “the plants and the animals were on the planet much before we landed here. They have more rights on the planet than us and if we cannot give that to them at least we can ensure we don’t destroy them in our greed.”

Daripalli Ramaiah

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The 70 year old Daripalli Ramaiah hails from Reddipalle village in Khammam district of Telangana. In his quest to promote afforestation and to bring back the lost green glory of Mother Earth, Ramaiah Ji has reportedly planted more than 1 crore saplings in and around Khammam district. His arduous and tremendous work has earned him the names such as ‘Chettu Ramaiah’ (Tree Ramaiah) or Vanajeevi Ramaiah (Forester Ramaiah).

Ramaiah plants trees wherever he sees a vacant space or land. He carries seeds in his pocket wherever he goes. Through his sincere efforts, many wastelands are now lush green terrains. Ramaiah uses the money received from people to procure more plants. He collects seeds and raises a nursery of red sanders which are later distributed free of cost among people for plantation.

Ramaiah used to take plant saplings and various seeds along with him wherever he went. He travelled indefinite distances to reach a spot of barren land so that he could plant the seeds and saplings he was carrying. His passion for plants can be summed up through his own words, “Planting saplings is not just a hobby for me, but a passion. Wherever I found a spot of barren land in my area, I planted a tree. My objective is to see that every sapling that I plant survives. Even if one plant wilts and dies, I feel as if I have lost my life.” He was awarded Padma Shri in 2017. 

Balbir Singh Sacchewal

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Also known as Eco baba, the 57 year old, Balbir Singh Ji from Punjab was conferred Padma Shri in 2017 for his incredible work of cleaning and infusing life into once dead Kali Bean river, a 160-km rivulet where Guru Nanak is believed to have earned enlightenment about 517 years ago. It took 16 years of voluntary service of eco baba to rejuvenate the rivulet, which was reduced to a “filthy drain.” He along with cleaning the river, also beautified the river banks and built bathing ghats and brick roads, making it a more lively place. 

The rivulet rises from Hoshiarpur district of Punjab before flowing into the confluence of the Sutlej and Beas was once a place, clogged with silt and hyacinth and was polluted by effluents from industry and residential areas, where no human would have dared to enter. And through his effort and effectively mobilising public support from around the 72 villages and 6 towns across the bank’s of rivulet, eco baba managed to turn a putrid rotting stretch into a polite picnic spot.

The man roped in simple saffron robes has, through his diligence, brought light to once extremely dark realm. 

Jamuna Tudu

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Living in Jharkhand’s Purbi Singhbhum district’s Maturkham village, Jamuna Tudu – who is 38 years old – has earned the name of ‘Lady Tarzan’ for herself, when she started her crusade against the local timber mafia 21 years ago. A tremendously courageous woman, who along with her army of 10,000 women are protecting the forest from illegal loggers. 

In 1998 after getting married into Maturkham village, Jamuna Tudu was disappointed to see the mafia destroy forest of the village. She decided to gather the women of Maturkham – all Adivasis – to form a Van Suraksha Samiti (forest protection group). These women, only some of whom had completed primary schooling, were initially sceptical about rising against the mafia, but influenced by determination and strength shown by Jamuna Tudu, women accepted to challenge the forest destroying mafia. “Only if our forests are alive can humanity thrive,” Jamuna said to them. 

Her crusade was not easy for her, as she and her husband were attacked by mafia several times, their house wreaked; but she continued on her path. Lady Tarzan and her 10,000 protectors started patrolling across around 300 villages, assisted reforestation activities, while initiating ceremonies such as Raksha Bandhan and Bhai Dooj to create a close bond between the locals and the trees among them. She was bestowed with Padma Shri by government.  

Simon Oraon

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At 89, Padma Shri awarded Simon Oraon’s routine has been same for past 60 years. Get up early in the morning, take care of the saplings he has planted around the village, walk around the forest he has grown all on his own while facing great odds. 

Oraon a resident of Khaksi Toli village, Jharkhand; while working in 51 villages of Bero to protect natural flora for decades, has changed the lives of thousands of villagers with a massive tree plantation drive and has organised a well and pond digging initiative to store rainwater as well. 

He is more known for his water conservation initiatives. Reeling under stress from erratic weather and severe water crisis, villagers were facing great problems, when Simon single handedly transformed the course with his water conservation drive.

4 years ago when he won the Padma Shri, he spoke to The Pioneer and gave his views, he said “We are the ones wasting water. Huge apartments are being built but without soak pits to recharge the groundwater level. Concrete drains are being built. We are consuming water but not giving it back. Rains have been scant but we are blocking recharge ways to sources of water,” adding “We will be saved if we pay heed and change our ways, otherwise everything will end,”. 

There are many such climate warriors in Bharat who are unknown to the outside world. Unlike activists they don’t take the route of protest, instead they choose to bring change in their own capacity. The compassion, humility, diligence and unwavering gritty determination form their character, not pessimism and populist radicalism. It for us to understand and carefully choose our heroes.


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About the Author

Yogendra Thakur
A student and two time state topper in Astrophysics and Art of Lecturing. Primary focus areas are Indology and Economics.