At a time when boys are favoured over girls – who are usually viewed as a financial burden on families – in many parts of India, a village in the Rajsamand district of Rajasthan is fighting this prejudice which chained not women's aspirations but the old norms that once chained them.
Known to celebrate and empower girls and women, the villagers of Piplantri plant 111 trees for every girl child born and the community ensures these trees survive, attaining fruition as the girls grow up. Not just this, in order to ensure their financial security, the villagers contribute Rs 21,000 collectively and take Rs 10,000 from the parents. The total amount of Rs 31,000 is invested in a fixed deposit, redeemable when she turns 20.
To make sure that the girl child receives proper education, villagers make the parents sign an affidavit which also restricts them from marrying her off, until she attains adulthood.
The vision of one man
When Shyam Sunder Paliwal, former sarpanch of Piplantri village, lost his 17-year-old daughter in 2007, he planted a tree in her memory near the entrance of the village. He went on to channel his grief into a mission, and this set the start of the gender-equality drive, albeit unintentional at that time.
After his daughter died following a bout of dehydration, Paliwal vowed there would be more wailing when a girl child was born. Henceforth, the birth of a baby girl would be celebrated with the planting of trees.
That is when the idea struck him that if the parents of newborn girls planted trees and nurtured them for 18 years, they could arrange enough money for the girl’s wedding when she comes of age.
Soon Paliwal spearheaded a nationwide campaign to plant trees for every girl child, for which he even collaborated with the government.
Initially, Paliwal faced hurdles in the implementation of this plan. However, after winning many awards for the execution of various government schemes, the Piplantri villagers got motivated to try out this idea.
Setting an example
Once the trees are planted, women self-help groups, elderly ladies, grandmothers, aunts, etc take care of its maintenance from time to time. These trees witness the honor that girls bring to the families and help regenerate the environment simultaneously.
This invaluable work is being done under the Kiran Nidhi Yojna, adopted by Paliwal- named after her daughter Kiran.
As the idea took off, the villagers realised that there was no need to worry about dowry because the trees they plant when a girl child is born will take care of her expenses in the future.
In recent years, Paliwal's simple idea has expanded into a broader eco-feminist movement. Along with tree planting, new parents of daughters also sign an affidavit saying they won't marry them off before they turn 18 and will let them finish school.
Not only does this beautiful tradition foster a deep appreciation for females in the village, but it also instills a remarkable sense of environmental stewardship. The campaign has also involved building check dams on the pastures on nearby hills to recharge the groundwater level under Paliwal’s leadership and turned Rajsamand into an oasis full of trees.
The village sets an example of how the birth of women should be celebrated in India rather than considering it as ominous.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)