The day before yesterday Alka brought to my attention a very interesting piece of news that proves that when it comes to finding solutions, the only thing that manifests a result is the desire to get the result.
There is a person in Uttarakhan (a hilly state in Northern India) who has succeeded in single-handedly increasing the forest cover of the entire state. Whereas big organizations and governments are bickering at the UN Climate Change Conference at Copenhagen with no real intention of protecting the forests and clearing up the air, Mr. Kalyan Singh Rawat has practically triggered a major ecological revolution, according to this link in The Pioneer. Instead of trying to make people aware of the importance of protecting the existing trees and planting new trees (this would have meant banging his head in the wall) he associated the act of planting a tree sapling to the marriage ceremony. Planting a tree just after tying the nuptial knot became an auspicious act.
Religion can create hurdles and given the right direction it can also usher great positive upheavals and that’s what Mr. Rawat has achieved with an ingenious idea. How did he achieve this?
A nuptial couple plants a sapling in the maternal village of the bride to be nurtured by her family: The cost negligible. This practice spreads and becomes a tradition at every wedding solemnised: The return a quantum leap in the forest cover of the area. This is the Maiti movement, meaning mothers home, the vision of Kalyan Singh Rawat, an unassuming common man with an uncommon urge to protect the environment. Then a teacher in the Government Inter College, Rawat brought a humble but determined start to the movement in 1995 in Gwaldam hamlet in Chamoli district of Garhwal.
After the tree has been planted it becomes the responsibility of the girl’s family to make sure that it remains green and grows into a full tree. Since it is associated with the girl’s prosperity and fertility, a tree dies in the rarest of the rare situations and the survival rate is almost 100%.
This has significantly increased the forest cover and people of even adjacent states are quickly embracing the practice. It has taken him 15 years and almost no money, and now 6,000 villages in 18 states are following this practice.
This news reminded me of Mahatma Gandhi. He also used (at least I think so) a weakness into strength. He knew that it was not physically possible for the Indians to throw the British out (at that time perhaps). But they had a great tolerance for violence. So no matter how much violence the British inflicted upon them, they kept their movement peaceful.
Mr. Rawat has achieved the same thing. He realized that people in India follow religion and tradition like a herd and once the planting of the tree caught on, it would be very difficult to deter them from doing it. Great thinkers and philosophers like Raja Ram Mohan Rai also used religion to re-awaken people’s pride and rid the society of cruel and demeaning rituals. What if somehow we’re able to associate religion with keeping our cities clean, eradicating corruption, illiteracy and poverty and loving fellow citizens?