The International Women’s Day is being celebrated in Bangladesh, as elsewhere across the globe, on 8th March highlighting women’s rights and equality. The theme for International Women’s Day 2020 is “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.” On this Day I would like to share how women made history by conserving biodiversity in our neighbouring country, India, back in 1730.
There were so many women who sacrificed their lives for conserving nature. If we look at our neighbouring country, India, where we see Chipko movement was initiated by a woman. Bishnoi is a Hindu religious sect found in the Western Thar Desert in the northern states of India. It is the place where Chipko movement originated. They follow their Guru Jambheshwar who gave his followers 29 precepts, ‘bish’ means 20 in the local dialect and ‘noi’ means nine in the local dialect, which became the “Bish+Noi” name for the sect.
Of his 29 principles eight have been prescribed to preserve biodiversity and encourage good animal husbandry. These include a ban on killing animals and felling green trees, and providing protection to all life forms. The community even avoided firewood with small insects. They did not wear clothes of violet blue colour because this colour was extracted from the indigo plant by cutting a large quantity of shrubs.
There was a lot of greenery in the Bishnoi villages even in the middle of Thar Desert. The maharajah of Jodhpur, Abhay Singh, requiring wood for the construction of a new palace, sent soldiers to cut trees in the village of Khejarli.
Amrita Devi was a member of the Bishnoi sect. She protested against King’s men attempting to cut green trees as it was prohibited in Bishnoi religion. She said that she would rather give away her life to save the green trees. She spoke the following words: “If a tree is saved even at the cost of one’s head, it’s worth it.”
Noticing soldiers’ actions, Devi hugged a tree in an attempt to stop them. Her family then adopted the same strategy, as did other local people when the news spread. The axes, which were brought to cut the trees, severed her head from her trunk. The three young girls Asu, Ratni and Bhagu were not daunted, and offered their heads too!!
Amrita Devi inspired as many as 363 other Bishnois to go to their deaths in protest of the cutting down of Khejri trees in September 1730. Thus 363 Bishnois were killed protecting the trees Khejri.
Another great woman, Professor Wangari Maathai, was a renowned Kenyan social, environmental and political activist and the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize in 2004. In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement (GBM), an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights.
GBM encouraged the women to work together to grow seedlings and plant trees to bind the soil, store rainwater, provide food and firewood. she introduced the idea of community-based tree planting. She continued to develop this idea into a broad-based grassroots organization whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting. Professor Maathai has assisted women in planting more than 40 million trees on community lands including farms, schools and church compounds.
In Bangladesh many women are contributing to biodiversity conservation. The sustainable use of the environment by women is the result of their closeness to nature. Most women, especially in rural areas, are involved in household activities like the collection of food, water, fodder and fuel, which enhance their knowledge of the environment, thus enabling them to implement the appropriate conservation practices and technologies. Women play a key role in saving and selecting the seeds of traditional crops, greater than that of men who tend to source seeds of modern varieties. Women have been involved in several governmental and nongovernmental forestry and environment programmes.
Suraiya Islam is an intern at WildTeam