Chami Devi - India's Lady Tarzen who saves forest from timber mafia

  • Wed,20 Feb 2019 11:50:52 AM

by Florine Roche

Feb 20 : There are many women across India whose singular efforts and contributions have brought about marked changes in various fields of public importance. In Karnataka we have an illiterate woman in Saalu Marada Thimmakka whose contributions to greener environment by planting trees are well known.

Similarly, Jharkhand is also lucky to have its “Tarzan Lady”, as Chami Devi Murmu is fondly known who strived hard protect local wildlife by saving the forest in Jharkhand which was under the onslaught of timber mafia for long.

What started as one woman’s efforts to safeguard forest and enhance livelihood of locals 24 years back has grown into a giant movement of sort involving over 3000 women of this tribal area. Chami’s efforts have resulted in mobilising women from more than 40 villages of Singhbum and other parts of her village. The SHG of these women has planted over a million trees and has developed watersheds to increase ground water level in the region. What is noteworthy is that this adivasi woman did not get cowed down by Naxal threats or the initial opposition from locals and went about her task with an unwavering commitment and never say die spirit. Thanks to her efforts wildlife in the region has become active once again because of the revival of forest. She has earned the title of being the Tarzan lady and it's because of her efforts that the forests in Jharkhand are only becoming greener and greener.

Woman Power to the fore

A native of Barisai village in Rajnagar district of Jharkhand, it has taken nearly 24 years for Chami to show woman power. She took the responsibility of mobilizing women towards the cause of planting trees and replenishing the depleted forest. In her efforts she has involved orphaned children who form the young brigade of her group that has brought about sustainable development in the area. It goes to the credit of Chami and her determined brigade of enthusiasts that they are able to completely prevent felling of trees and put an end to the forest mafia’s blitz in their state.

Chami was a witness to the systematic exploitation of Rajnagar that began in the 1990’s. Her native village Barisai is basically a tribal area which was prone to drought. Though the Jharkhand government spent crores of rupees for this drought affected area, only 20% of the money allotted reached the target group and farmers were left to fend for themselves. The money earmarked for the district went into the pockets of officials and other powerful people of the area. Naturally Barisai proved to be a fertile ground for Maoist to find a foothold here to stem the exploitation of the tribal people. Most able bodied men of Barsai joined the Maoist and disappeared into the deep forest leaving only old men, women and children in Rajnagar. The situation proved to be tailor-made for the timber mafia who began to exploit the forests of Rajnagar by bribing the forest officials. In the next 20 years the rich and dense forest of Rajnagar began to disappear under the continuous ambush of the timber mafia. Rajnagar’s forests disappeared and became a barren land over a period of time and that is when Chami Devi appeared on the scene and decided to put an end to the havoc.


Taking on the timber mafia

She mobilised women of the area, made them understand the importance of forest and also the need to fight in unison against the systematic exploitation. The army of women under her guidance then took the matter in their hands and stopped the trucks carrying the wood half way through. Her network was so strong the timber mafia could not carry on its nefarious activity for long. Chami took this opportunity to educate the women about the need to grow forest and also the need to fight against the mafia. By now Chami’s achievements had become the talk of the town and she could establish a strong contingent of women who were ready to take on any force that was exploiting them.

The focus Chami Devi and her brigade has been the overall development of the area. So the group focused on planting trees which are beneficial to the people of the area. They have planted Neem, Sal and Sheesham trees as they can be used for making furniture and for building homes, thus helping the locals to improve their standard of living. For example Seraikhela Kharsawan is one of the beckward districts of Jharkhand which has witnessed armed struggle because of Maoist insurgency. It is a backward district of Jharkhand where a majority are farmers living in wretched conditions due to absence of good harvest due to lack of rain. Naturally naxals were able to make massive inroads in this backward region.

Chami and her Sahayogi Mahila Bagraisai helped farmers of Seraikhela Kharsawan, a backward region where farmers were not able to have a good harvest due to scanty rainfall. They built watersheds not only in Seraikhela Kharsawan but in the entire state to save rainwater and use it for irrigation. Their team effort has resulted in making diversion canals and water harvesting tanks to save water. Due to the efforts of this untiring group of women under the leadership of Lady Tarzan farmers of Jharkand have been able to grow paddy and arhar dal and improve their living standard a great deal.

Chami Devi Marmu is a one woman army who had the courage and determination to take on the powers that be in her efforts to save and enhance the forest cover and improve the living standard of the people of her tribal village. She has been a living example to show that there is no task that is impossible if we make up our mind and work towards it with single minded devotion and unwavering commitment. We have to salute the guts of this woman who decided to take the cudgels in her hands rather than blaming others. It calls for tremendous will power and courage. It is for this courage shown by Chami Devi she is aptly called “Lady Tarzan of Jharkhand”. We need more and more people like Chami Devi Marmu or our own Saalu Marada Thimmakka to herald a revolution or movement like the one started by these women.

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