Pilpantri: a model of environmentalism and feminism

Pilpantri, a village with a population of 8000 , located in Rajasmand district of Rajasthan has been a matter of pride for the entire nation. It is the perfect example of how the cycle of change starts from one person itself. This small village has been attracting attention from all over the world due to its efforts of saving the environment and promoting the girl child birth and education. Now, feminism and Rajasthan in one sentence may be shocking to some as Rajasthan has a tanned image for female infanticide, child marriage and is considered to be one of the least progressive state for females. However, times are changing. Pilpantri, itself being an example of this change which has made it a role model of eco feminism.

This village plants 111 trees for every single girl child being born there. The number of trees being “111” for every girl child has a different story behind it. India is a land of traditions which is what makes us unique. It is a tradition in India that on every auspicious occasion a donation of 101, 111, 1100 or the similar numbers being made ,which is termed as “shagun” in Indian terms. The traditions when used in an innovative way may prove extremely beneficial for the present times. The plantation of such a huge number for every girl child born increases the green cover around the village protecting the people there from the pollution and its aftermath, which is one of the biggest problems in India. The saying “Nature has solution to every problem provided you regard it well” holds true.

History of the plantation drive

In 2005, when Shyam Sunder Paliwal had taken over as the village sarpanch, the entire area surrounded by hills was denuded for mining. The district of Rajasmand is known for marble block mining and is the largest producer of marble in the entire country. Mining leads to the loss of vegetation and invites several problems in the mined areas such as floods, water logging, soil erosion as the natural protectors of environment i.e. the trees are sacrificed in mining and no or least attempt is made to restore them.

Two years later, when Kiran , Paliwal’s 17 year old darling daughter died due to dehydration, he decided to honor her by planting a tree in her name on the village entrance. He then thought of implying this scheme for the birth of every daughter in the village . Not only to celebrate the birth of a girl (which is a very rare practice in India) are trees planted but also to commemorate the lives of those who died. The village plants 11 trees in the memory of every person that dies here.

Pilpantri as a model of feminism

In India, where patriarchy has a strong hold, females are neglected since birth and are seen only as an institution to carry on the generations forward. The birth of the female becomes a matter of shame for the family while some starts to worry about the dowry of a new born girl. To put a stop to all these problems, the people came with a very “horrifying” solution which is to kill the girl before she is born. A report suggests that in Rajasthan, the child sex ratio is 888 girls per 1000 boys. The census also revealed that of total deaths in Rajasthan, over 20% of them were infant deaths. Overall, the female child population (age 0-6) between 2001 and 2011 dropped by 3 million. One journalist referred to this as “the silent genocide.” Female infants are sometimes tragically killed by opium poisoning, starvation, or even being crushed with stones or drowned in water.

Pilpantri , a small hamlet not only cares for the environment with every girl born but also secures her future through the various schemes implemented by the village. As reported by The Hindu, Rs. 21,000 is collected from the village residents at the birth of a girl child and Rs.10,000 from the girl’s father and this sum of Rs. 31,000 is made into a fixed deposit for the girl, with a maturity period of 20 years. Also, the village authorities make these parents sign an affidavit promising that they would not marry her off before the legal age, send her to school regularly and take care of the trees planted in her name.

When the girls grow up, they tie Rakhi( a holy sibling bond signifying the protection of each other) to the trees.

Pilpantri as a model for environmentalism

According to a report by BBC, the region now has more than 350,000 trees, from mango and gooseberry to sandalwood, neem, peepal and bamboo, growing across the once-barren lands and covering an estimated 1,000 hectares. To plant the trees what is required is soil and water along with the saplings. The more the greenery, it will attract higher numbers of birds , bring more rain and prosperity to the region.

The village has also developed a water harvesting system , where the run off rain water is collected through ditches, bunds and dams. Now, clear pools of water shone and adorn the village attracting animals like geese and rabbits.

Also, to protect the large number of trees from termites villagers plants aloe vera in large amounts near the trees which in turn is utilized by the women of the village to make aloe juice ,gels and cosmetics for sale in the market, increasing the village economy and their independency.

In 2018 the state government instituted a training center there to educate people on the “Piplantri Model”. The building hosts engineers, officials and residents from other districts who hope to replicate Piplantri’s model of water harvesting and tree planting elsewhere in Rajasthan and the country. As many as 50 to 60 visitors come to Piplantri some days – most of whom come to attend workshops in the training center – and the village even has a set of cottages to house them. 

Now, the birth of a daughter is no more considered to be a burden but a matter of pride and celebration. It is the efforts of Shyam Sunder Paliwal which have adorned the earlier dried village considering females as a burden , into a developed hamlet which is an inspiration for the entire country in more than one ways. The woman has been associated with “fertile lands” in literary terms by many poets since ancient times . It is not only because of her ability to reproduce which gives her this association but also her ability to nurture and regrow an arid land of which Pilpantri is the best example.